In Defense of DRM (And the Importance of Steam)

XKCD In the Rain

Arguing about Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a lot like talking politics or religion. The two sides immediately polarize into their respective camps and begin lobbing angry comments at each other over blog-walls and forum moderators. For me, the usefulness of DRM isn't a polar decision. Information doesn't "want to be free", and limited-activations are an unreasonable limiation to force on consumers. I have a suspicion that the usefulness of Digital Rights lies somewhere in between those to viewpoints. I have a sense that there’s something of value to the perception of protection, even if that perception is flawed or outright incorrect.

While DRM solutions like those offered by Electronic Arts have been roundly criticized (and from all accounts, rightly so), it doesn’t follow that all DRM systems are created equal. The online activation methodology used by Steam in particular seems to be a measure that PC gamers can get behind. And still, it’s despised and spit on as a prelude to a “rental society” where we can no longer truly own anything. To the folks who would have us toss the baby with the proverbial bathwater, that see all DRM as a waste of time and a slap in the face of consumers: lighten up. To the free-love hippies that see no problem with pirated games as far as the eye can see: get a job. Seriously.

The middle ground between these two poles, the quietly successful business strategy powering Valve, is the Steam publishing service. It's DRM for the common man, and a service well worth defending.

This is obviously a subject that's been tackled on Gamers with Jobs before. The Stardock viewpoint on this issue, both sides of EA's DRM decisions, and even the horrors of Starforce have been explored by fellow GWJ writers. What hasn't is the "reasonable" rights management offered by Valve. Its place in the PC games industry and the ultimate goals of the platform publishers are all given short shrift by commentators on the hard-core anti-management side. That needed addressing.

Anti-Steam Argument #1: Purchasing a game through the service precludes reselling it or lending it to a friend.

You can’t resell a PC game you’ve purchased through Steam to a shop like Gamestop, and there’s no physical media to allow you to lend a game to a friend. This is an understandable frustration, and is the source of the ‘rental society’ crack that so often gets levied against Steam. The ability to make use of your property however you wish (be it to sell it to another party or just give it away) is one highly valued by consumers. There was, no doubt, a goodly amount of ‘re-gifting’ during this holiday season just past for that exact reason.

The issue of reselling games at all is a thorny one, and not worth addressing here, but it’s important to note the relative resale value of PC games generally vs. console games. Piracy has changed the retail landscape when it comes to gaming on the PC platform; that’s the number one reason that PC games can’t be resold to big games resellers like Gamestop. Pawn shops and smaller resale establishments aren’t so picky, but even there I challenge you to get a good value for the game you’re offering. Assuming you exclude cutting-edge graphical hogs and their associated hardware requirements, PC gaming in general is a less expensive hobby than its console cousin. The games are cheaper (usually by at least $10), the barrier to entry is lower, and there are a vast swath of games out in the PC wilds that cost absolutely nothing to play.

As for lending titles to friends, a few of my friends (GWJRabbit among them) delight in sharing their steam-based games with friends. It's actually easier to share a game with Steam than it is with discs - no physical media. A violation of the Steam terms of service? No doubt, but as long as only one user is actively playing on the account at a time it's hard to see a real problem. Just because things may appear harder with the new fangled do-dads and services doesn't mean they really are.

Anti-Steam Argument #2: Online activation is a hassle, and playing games in the future requires you to be online.

Valve has responded to this criticism definitively by providing users an Offline Mode. You don't need to be internet connected 24/7 to fire up Portal in the middle of the night. As long as you keep your games up to date via the online update service, there's no reason you couldn't play Half-Life 2 in the middle of the Sahara.

Many commentators are grumpy with the requirement that their PC be online to activate the title in the first place. In an increasingly connected society, in a culture that more and more values the virtues of online experiences, I find it hard to stomach this as a realistic argument against Steam. Twitter-using Netflix-streaming online gurus can’t have it both ways. It is a restriction, to be sure, but it’s one you have to personally balance for yourself. Purchasing, downloading, installing, and updating a Steam game is entirely done via an internet connection. How is activation of the title online a burden on top of those steps?

Anti-Steam Argument #3: “Will I be able to play this game in ten years?”

This is one of the most valid arguments made against Steam, or any DRM service that requires support from an external server. Someday Valve may go out of business, and the future of Steam-supported titles would be in question. A friend also pointed out a possible future where the service makes a massive update to how it protects games, an update that might be financially infeasible to deploy to every title in the service portfolio. In either of these cases, there is the theoretical danger that you could lose access to your games.

Honestly, there’s no logical or fact-based counter to this. Anything could happen in a world of uncertainty. By that same token, though, your house or apartment could catch on fire tomorrow. Every disc you own could be incinerated, depriving you of your gaming collecting just as decisively. For that added measure of security, you can actually back up the steamapps folder and "save" all of the game files. Restoring your games after a reinstall of Windows, for example, can be as easy as installing the Steam client and then copying the Steamapps folder into the right directory.

Purchasing a game through Steam is a vote, a measure of confidence in the work Valve has done and the power of the Steam service as a whole. If it means that there’s the outside possibility my games may be lost at some point in the future, then that’s a risk I’m willing to take on to support the Steam service of today.

Anti-Steam Argument #4: The games all just end up on torrents eventually anyway.

Despite the best efforts of everyone from EA on down, PC games are pirated at a staggering rate. Even Valve’s games, entries in the Half-Life series built specifically for Steam, are available without those hang-ups if you search out the right torrent site. So, this argument goes, what’s the point? Why frustrate the consumer with DRM if it’s just going to end up on a torrent site anyway? Some developers have even bought into that argument, offering up their wares with no rights management strings attached.

The point, missing from this argument, is that the consumer is ultimately not the only player in this picture. If games publishers and developers look out at the PC market and see a commercial landscape impossible to make profitable, it will scare them away. It has scared them away, to a greater or lesser degree. The ‘PC games are dying’ cry that goes up regularly every six months has as much to do with worthless rights protections as it does any other individual factor.

The point then is to offer a balanced solution between what the publishers want (hard-locks, limited installations, invasive DRM) and what the consumer wants (ultimate portability, no locks, unlimited instillation). The balanced midpoint in the marketplace right now is Steam. Valve’s support of the Steam service, and their dedication to walking that midpoint line, has result in votes of confidence not only from consumers but from publishers. When EA itself effectively walks away from its own online distribution model to adopt Valve’s portal, it speaks volumes about Steam’s importance in the modern PC gaming world.

Blaming Valve For the Sins of Others

Above all else, arguments against Steam’s DRM come from a general distrust of Digital Rights Mangement. Not all DRM is created equal, and beliefs about property ownership held by the creators of SecuROM differ drastically from those held the Steam's managers.

Isn’t the strongest argument for Steam the simple reality that Valve isn’t just another soulless corporation? They’re a development house that has consistently put out amazing games. Unlike detached pencil-pushers, lawyers, or IP vendors who primarily care about keeping their property sacrosanct, Valve has a vested interest in gamers actually playing videogames.

At the end of the day, every purchase on Steam is a vote of confidence. Every new game launched on Steam is a promise to consumers. Give an inch, get an inch. Work together with the PC game publishing marketplace, understand that there have to be some restrictions to make sure there’s a profit, and the future of the PC marketplace is assured. Steam is, bar none, the most important force in the PC games industry today. I vote for it with my wallet on a regular basis because – in this case – I love the DRM I’m being offered.

Comments

Aetius wrote:

It just happened, as we've been talking in this thread. Apple announced DRM-free versions of all of the music on iTunes. Your argument is provably false.

I came here to post that as well. Presumably Apple wouldn't go DRM free if they didn't think it was in their interests, so perhaps the gaming industry really is worrying about nothing.

I'd think that piracy rates in music would be much higher than games, particularly casual piracy (giving a copy to a friend). It was music piracy that brought it mainstream with things like Napster, wasn't it?

Why would anyone share a Steam account unless there is some heightened and unshakeable level of personal / professional trust?

Person #2, could access 99% of Person #1's credit card/personal information, could share the account with someone else they think they can trust, could change the password on the account, etc. How many WoW accounts are hijacked by one person sharing their account details with another, who is either less scrupulous than they thought, or continues to share the goodwill with other 'harmless' 3rd parties who also have their circles of friends?

I guess if such 'sharing' does occur, it is done at a cost:
1) Person #1 cannot play their purchased L4D or TF2 or anything else for that matter when person #2 is using their account (or unknown Person #3, #4, #5's brother's girfriend's neighbor's son).
2) If there ever is a breach, clearly the ToS were broken so I suppose the account could be banned, making all purchases moot.

Hopefully neither of you are vindictive if you end up in some blood feud down the road.

Weird, I can't quote text from the initial post. Anways:

"Restoring your games after a reinstall of Windows, for example, can be as easy as installing the Steam client and then copying the Steamapps folder into the right directory."

If it helps anyone, you can right-click any game, select "Backup". This creates an encrypted file and an .exe to be used at a later date. Neither the encrypted backup nor the .exe are account-locked or account-focused. My brother bought L4D after seeing me play, and since my connection is 1Mbps, it would've taken ages. I dumped the backup on my iPod (used as HDD) and my brother had no problem installing (after purchasing the game, of course).

Valve is both small and private, making it very appealing for big companies such as EA. But Valve doesn't need to sell out because they're also quite profitable. As long as they have a sustainable bank-roll, there should be no threat of being bought.

Is DRM bothersome? Yes, at times. At times because --and here's where Valve shines-- it asks of it's community for very little, it gives back quite a lot.
The Steam Platform tends, services, updates and protects it's users.

Not only does it update, the platform also recommends for new drivers when available to better enjoy your game.

It's all a matter of perspective, but if one chooses (and I do), rather than DRM, I see Valve's account-based business model more like a membership. There's rules and there's restrictions and yes, and at times we'll find them bothersome. But their core intent is to keep the game community amicable, the stakeholder (game devs, publishers, programming and a very long ETC) happy, productive and keep pouring quality games.

Will Valve's DRM restrict me from reselling games? Yes, and that IS an annoyance I believe Valve should look into. There is a BUNCH of money to be made by Steam, and the developer if they thought about this for 2 seconds.

Will Valve's DRM ban a player that is cheating at a game and deactivate ALL the games in that cheater's account, increasing the odds that less people are inclined to cheat out of fear of loosing thousands of dollars worth of games? Maybe. Which one matters most? It's up to you and your need for "freedom".

Finally, and I hate to flame/hate/diss, but... Compare DRM to rape? Really?
Physical and Psychological crimes of violent nature with probable emotional and spiritual aftermath and trauma vs you agreeing to terms and conditions you weren't completely aware of in a GAME you spend $40 ~ $60? Have we gone mad?

Mean Red Worms wrote:
adam.greenbrier wrote:

I would argue that his games being lost—and here I don't mean the save games, which are irrelevant, but the actual games themselves—is not an outside possibility but a certainty. Valve will go out of business one day, and, unless changes are made between now and then, the games on Steam will be lost.

But that isn't true because the games themselves will always exist on your hard drive. So even if Steam isn't there you can find a way to make them work. People who don't like to pay money for entertainment already do.

Aetius already took care of this one. I'm not really thrilled by the argument that DRM is okay because I can always pirate the game later. The logic there makes my brain fizzle.

Mean Red Worms wrote:

And if someone wanted to explore the history of games they very much can do that now whether they have a PC or even the console to play old games. Again this might not always be legal, but if those games are out of print and the companies who made them no longer exist sometimes there isn't another option. They certainly aren't going to come get you for having an Atari 2600 emulator.

I feel like you responded to the letter of my comment while missing the spirit of it entirely. This might be my fault for not having been clear. The point is not that I can download an emulator and play Atari games; the point is that if I bought an Atari I expect to be able to play that Atari until I break it or it's destroyed by Mr. Zenke's house fire. I have made my purchase and should be able to enjoy that purchase legally whether the distributor of that product still exists or not.

It's a value debate, but it deserves more serious consideration than a hand-wave that life is unpredictable.

Mean Red Worms wrote:

Also nostalgia is hardly ever a good reason to go back and play really old games. There's a reason I don't watch silent movies on the weekends.

But there is a reason that Roger Ebert, Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, Akira Kurosawa [...] did or do. There's an historical interest, an artistic interest, and a critical interest that is not served by games being unplayable. Cinemaphiles are still lamenting that so many older films weren't preserved, obliterating decades worth of the history of film; games would be doing themselves a disservice by continuing to do the same to this medium.

Irongut wrote:

Where Steam gets it right and say XBOX Live gets it wrong, is that DRM should represent a household. I, my son, my wife, whoever can sit at my pc, logged into our Steam account and play a game purchased for the family through STEAM.

This violates, technically, the TOS, which is vague. It says, on the one hand, that you can't share access between any two people. Then it separately says that you're responsible for the behavior of your account no matter who is using it. But if we're getting all 1dGaf on it ... you're as much a crook as I am, whenever you let someone sit down at your PC to play a game on "your" account. Technically, even leaving your PC logged in to steam is a violation of the TOS if someone is browsing the web.

Am I choosing to violate an agreement? Yes. I defy anyone to say they are in complete compliance with the letter of every EULA they have clicked through. There are several (I'll dig up the links if anyone cares) in the last decade that, strictly interpreted, do not allow you to actually install the software, use it, or apply patches from the company who authored the software in the first place.

I consider myself on pretty moral high ground when it comes to this stuff, so feel free to poke at me if it's entertaining. I'll go back to paying for everything.

Irongut wrote:
Aetius wrote:

Considering that I just bought Fallout, which is an 11-year old game, from GOG.com to play it, DRM was a big issue - I didn't know what was on the original game, and the company that made the game is long gone.

Seriously, a big $5 issue right? five dollars. What's that, maybe half a lunch?

It's a foot-long.

Sorry.

I think the "company goes out of business" thing is FAR less a problem than the "won't run on my new PC" thing. Re-buying from GOG is much more about convenience and utility than getting around some old DRM scheme.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

The point is not that I can download an emulator and play Atari games; the point is that if I bought an Atari I expect to be able to play that Atari until I break it or it's destroyed by Mr. Zenke's house fire. I have made my purchase and should be able to enjoy that purchase legally whether the distributor of that product still exists or not.

I think your expectation with respect to how your Atari 2600 works is just that, an expectation. If someone writes a game and only licenses under the condition that after two years the game will delete itself, your legal choices are to buy it or not buy it. You can't say that you have the right to play it beyond that because the previous game you purchased let you play it forever. The market can be as grey and muddled as the creators want it to be. It might not be a good commercial move to have weird limitations, but if the majority of people accept them and the game is popular and they survive, then they will go on to make more games and release it with the restrictions (or lack of) that they think will keep them in business.

I guess I am just saying that because something works that way, it doesn't stand as justification for how other things should work.

All you can do as a consumer is be wise and only purchase things that suit your needs and wants to your satisfaction. For Aetius, that means no DRM ever. For many others, Steam is ok but Securerom is a pain in the butt. Personally, I wish the market was such that the most successful games were DRM free. But can I realistically convince the majority of game purchasers to agree with me? Unlikely. Hence, a compromise is succeeding in the market.

Kang wrote:

Abortions for some! Miniature American flags for others!

I didnt mean to call anyone crooked. I was really just commenting more on the level of trust and maybe slightly heightened level of logistics required to do such an account share, which does open a person up to a potential cost/risk. I think in many cases, it has the potential to end badly. I agree with you, ultimately the fact that only one person has access to the purchased content at a time seems a realistic expectation, though any ToS would be written stricter than that out of legal necessity. In journalism, I would expect there is probably a need to do such sharing even in the course of reviewing a product.

rabbit wrote:

Re-buying from GOG is much more about convenience and utility than getting around some old DRM scheme.

you mean...
IMAGE(http://i27.tinypic.com/taq9hl.jpg)?

Damn those wheels were hype. If I still had some of mine, I'd string em up and wear them around my neck like dog tags.

One point - I'm not sure that backing up SteamApps actually allows you to move to a new system, since there are still registry settings to account for. Anyone know for sure? I read that process as moving from one disk in an existing installation to another.

I like the the text under red lines that you needed the little translucent red strips to read. I can only imagine that some publisher was trying to look at the stats for their latest Transformer toy and said, "Well here's an idea!"

rabbit wrote:

I think the "company goes out of business" thing is FAR less a problem than the "won't run on my new PC" thing. Re-buying from GOG is much more about convenience and utility than getting around some old DRM scheme.

It is right now, but only because, as Hobbes has so eloquently pointed out, the old copy protection systems were ... primitive. Modern systems are not - they have layered on enormous complexity in the quixotic search for a way to have an end user use an encryption key without being able to know what the encryption key is.

Robear wrote:

One point - I'm not sure that backing up SteamApps actually allows you to move to a new system, since there are still registry settings to account for. Anyone know for sure? I read that process as moving from one disk in an existing installation to another.

I think the backup includes registry, when registry modification applies.

let me test this out, i'll post as soon as I have something.

BadMojo wrote:
adam.greenbrier wrote:

The point is not that I can download an emulator and play Atari games; the point is that if I bought an Atari I expect to be able to play that Atari until I break it or it's destroyed by Mr. Zenke's house fire. I have made my purchase and should be able to enjoy that purchase legally whether the distributor of that product still exists or not.

I think your expectation with respect to how your Atari 2600 works is just that, an expectation. If someone writes a game and only licenses under the condition that after two years the game will delete itself, your legal choices are to buy it or not buy it. You can't say that you have the right to play it beyond that because the previous game you purchased let you play it forever. The market can be as grey and muddled as the creators want it to be. It might not be a good commercial move to have weird limitations, but if the majority of people accept them and the game is popular and they survive, then they will go on to make more games and release it with the restrictions (or lack of) that they think will keep them in business.

I guess I am just saying that because something works that way, it doesn't stand as justification for how other things should work.

I understand what my legal rights are in this situation, and it is an expectation, but I don't think it's an unreasonable one. If I were to lock my computer away in a vault and pull it out in another twenty years, I'd expect to be able to play the games I have installed on it right now, in much the same way that my CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes would play, but I understand that I don't have any legal right to expect that. I'm probably on the wrong side of some digital age paradigm shift here.

There's no reason phones should not be "always on" on whatever network happens to be handy. Microtransactions or simple accounting of use time between companies could let you just turn your phone on and make a call anywhere. And yet we put up with draconian restrictions - you have to have a phone sold by your vendor and programmed with your unique id before you can even connect, and you have to pay all the fees of the account every month to renew your service agreement, AND you can be physically tracked at will as a byproduct of the technology.

And yet the problem is what, that *games* require you to send a millisecond's worth of data to an internet site to activate? Really?

I'm of the opinion that "perfect" is the enemy of "good enough". Valve's scheme is good enough for me, and good enough for the vendors, and that's the key to it's survival. There is no perfect DRM. Probably never will be. Shouldn't we be happy when a provider gets it right?

Hypatian wrote:

So, it's true that both Apple and Valve could at some point in the future decide to be giant jerks, but... I trust them not to.

You're also trusting them to either not be bought out (perhaps in a hostile takeover during a weak market, or during bankruptcy caused by external problems) by jerks. You're trusting them to continue to supporting something that may be making them absolutely no money while shareholders are screaming for more profits (and may sue).

Sony turned off authorization servers. So did Wal-Mart. Microsoft is doing so soon (it got a temporary reprieve). Major League Baseball did. Yahoo did. Apple is at the mercy of shareholders, a traditionally short sighted bunch, and could very well end up cutting you off if it will make an expected quarterly profit margin. Valve is in the extremely turbulent video game market; seemingly successful publishers and developers are bought, sold, and go out of business with depressing frequency.

Apple and Valve have no contractual obligation to keep these authentication servers running. Trusting a company to keep doing something they aren't legally required to do so is foolish in this day an age.

Zelos wrote:
Aetius wrote:

It just happened, as we've been talking in this thread. Apple announced DRM-free versions of all of the music on iTunes. Your argument is provably false.

I came here to post that as well. Presumably Apple wouldn't go DRM free if they didn't think it was in their interests, so perhaps the gaming industry really is worrying about nothing.

I'd think that piracy rates in music would be much higher than games, particularly casual piracy (giving a copy to a friend). It was music piracy that brought it mainstream with things like Napster, wasn't it?

Isn't Apple DRM free music at a lower bit rate or something like that?

Baron Of Hell wrote:

Isn't Apple DRM free music at a lower bit rate or something like that?

It's actually at a higher bit-rate, if I remember correctly. That was one of its selling points as "iTunes Plus."

The trade-off for DRM-free music in the iTunes store is variable pricing. Music will now come at one of three price points: $0.69, $0.99, or $1.29.

Baron Of Hell wrote:
Zelos wrote:
Aetius wrote:

It just happened, as we've been talking in this thread. Apple announced DRM-free versions of all of the music on iTunes. Your argument is provably false.

I came here to post that as well. Presumably Apple wouldn't go DRM free if they didn't think it was in their interests, so perhaps the gaming industry really is worrying about nothing.

I'd think that piracy rates in music would be much higher than games, particularly casual piracy (giving a copy to a friend). It was music piracy that brought it mainstream with things like Napster, wasn't it?

Isn't Apple DRM free music at a lower bit rate or something like that?

256kbps versus 128kbps for the DRM versions.

http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2007/05/30itunesplus.html

AlanDeSmet wrote:

You're also trusting them to either not be bought out (perhaps in a hostile takeover during a weak market, or during bankruptcy caused by external problems) by jerks. You're trusting them to continue to supporting something that may be making them absolutely no money while shareholders are screaming for more profits (and may sue).
{...}
Apple and Valve have no contractual obligation to keep these authentication servers running. Trusting a company to keep doing something they aren't legally required to do so is foolish in this day an age.

You're correct. I'm trusting them a lot—but it's because they've done work to establish that trust. Could they turn around and make a poor decision later? Yes, they could. But I don't expect them to, because the entire business model of at least the Steam and iTunes Music Store parts of these companies is built around that trust. And, they've both provided various outs. In the case of Steam, I *could* choose to go offline with all of my steam purchases (none of which include additional non-Steam DRM, as far as I know.) If some event occurred that made me believe that Valve was going to turn coat, I might consider that. But... I don't expect it to happen.

Likewise, with the iTunes Music Store, I prefer to buy the iTunes Plus versions of things, which lacks DRM but costs a bit more. And iTunes also provides the ability to upgrade (for the difference in price) to the iTunes Plus versions of things when they're available. (Which, soon, will be all music on the store.)

Anyway, you're correct that even though I trust them, things could turn incredibly sour. But it's a question of expectations: I believe that the people responsible for each service will do everything they can to go the *other* way before they start turning evil. By contrast, I almost expect EA and Securom to do everything they can to be evil before they're willing to give an inch for their customers. (Although they've got a little more good will from me with the EA+Steam non-Securom thing, I still won't buy the Securom versions.)

I don't particularly like any form of DRM, but as long as I have a reasonable expectation that it will not get in my way, I'm willing to accept it as the price of convenience. Tit for tat. If I don't get anything for what I'm giving up, they're not going to get any of my money. If I expect that the irritation caused by the system will outweigh what I'm getting in exchange, they won't get my money. *shrug* It's a bit of a middle ground between pragmatism and idealism—I'd rather play the games than not, but there *are* limits. Which is why I'll buy de-securomed Steamified EA games but was totally unwilling to buy the securom versions.

Baron Of Hell wrote:

Isn't Apple DRM free music at a lower bit rate or something like that?

Actually, it's at a higher bit rate. You get both higher quality and lose the DRM for paying the premium.

I'm decidedly unconvinced by your defense, Michael.

(Quotes are really the section heads in Michael's article, not Michael's actual defense. I'll assume the interested have already read what he wrote.)

Anti-Steam Argument #1: Purchasing a game through the service precludes reselling it or lending it to a friend.

So the answer to reselling it: Suck it up, games are cheap? Thanks. And the answer to lending it to a friend is: violate the contract you agreed to? While we're busy flaunting the law, why not just download the cracked version?

Anti-Steam Argument #2: Online activation is a hassle, and playing games in the future requires you to be online.

Activation doesn't bother me. It is a serious problem for some people (Military servicemen overseas is a common argument), but as you note it's less and less of a problem as internet access becomes more and more pervasive.

Being online is a problem. Offline mode is a good idea. However, I understand that it requires you to plan ahead and activate offline mode while you have online access. But what if you want to spend the weekend playing, but your internet broke Friday and the cable guy won't be by to fix it until Monday? Sucks to be you. If offline mode was the default, I would agree that this is annoying but acceptable.

Anti-Steam Argument #3: “Will I be able to play this game in ten years?”

My house could burn down, so it's okay that Valve can cut me off from my games? If I'm worried about my house burning down, I can make off-site backups (admittedly tricky and often illegal with DRM, but that's a different argument). I can also insure my property. Making a backup of a Steam game is useless if I can't reauthorize the game. If I call up my insurance company and make a claim for $500 because a bunch of my games stopped working when Valve went under, they'll laugh at me.

The problem isn't that there is risk. Life is full of risk. The problem is that I cannot legally take preventive measures. With non-online authenticated games, I can at least insure my collection. With a DRM free game (Yay, World of Goo!) I can make backups.

Ultimately your response is that you trust Steam. That's fine. I'm glad it works for you. But I shouldn't be forced to trust Steam. In ten years or forty I should be able to break out my old collection of games and show it to a young whippersnapper to show that TurboBloodForce's "revolutionary new gravity gun" was well established in Half-Life 2, just everyone got bored of it a decade later and forget it had been done. I need to be able to do this no matter what has happened to Valve, be they bankrupt, publicly traded and turned stupid, bought out, or whatever.

Anti-Steam Argument #4: The games all just end up on torrents eventually anyway.

Publishers see a market that is "impossible to make profitable," presumably because of piracy. So they want online activation. Which doesn't actually stop piracy. So your argument is that publishers are so wildly irrational that we need to coddle them with ineffective defenses, least they stop publishing games? We need to hamper the entire system to appease crybabies? If the video game market is that dysfunctional, it's time for a stream of bankruptcies so people who actually know how to run a company can take over.

Compromises are possible. Here's my proposal: game make the overwhelming amount of sales within the first year (and in fact within the first few months). So after one year release a patch for any given game that removes the online authentication. It's not like there will suddenly be a rash of piracy; even heavily DRMed games are available illegally within days or weeks. When you release the game, commit to this one year timeline in your EULA, so that early adopters have reason to trust you.

Another option, possibly to mix in with the above, is either watermarking the game, or the equivalent, requiring a registration code that is digitally signed by the publisher and can be matched to a specific purchaser.

My point about EA was that they tried some different DRM schemes this year and every time they came out with a game the internet anti-DRM fanatics jumped all over it. So they made changes every single time.

It was obvious they were trying to find the proper balance between protection for themselves without causing to much grief for their customers and hurting the bottom line.

They're on Steam now so obviously they've come to a conclusion that Steam is a good balance. They also get the benefit of having their games promoted and sold right to millions of desktops.

Also why does music DRM always get brought up when talking about video game DRM. I see them as two very different beasts. In general it costs way more money to create, promote, and sell video games than it does music, and the people who actually make the music see very little money from CD sales. However, they can do live shows too.

Video games don't have this luxury. There's no post theatrical release on DVD, no live performance. If a developer/publisher doesn't try to get as much money from their product as quickly as possible they won't be able to make games for very long.

It's up for debate if piracy actually costs anyone money, but they can't just not try to protect themselves and their shareholders. It's just bad business to throw it out there on the web.

rabbit wrote:

I think the "company goes out of business" thing is FAR less a problem than the "won't run on my new PC" thing. Re-buying from GOG is much more about convenience and utility than getting around some old DRM scheme.

So long as you're not hampered by the technology or the law, you at least have the option to try. You know how awesome GOG is? You know how they're solving the "won't run on my new PC" problem? They're using the free, open source, DOSBox. If you've still got the original games and a bit of time to fiddle with it, you can be playing them again for free right now.

This is not to disparage GOG. I love GOG! Part of what they're selling is legal copies of out of print games, which is awesome right there. And part of what they're selling is convenience of it Just Working, which is also valuable. My point is that it's not as big of a problem as you might think. It's just a technology problem, as so long as geeks like playing games, you're pretty safe.

AlanDeSmet wrote:

Here's my proposal:

doesn't that require you to TRUST that aforementioned company will release a patch 12 months from release?

Again, it's how much you'll allow yourself to be inconvenienced.

For the record, I think that the 6 month or 12 month DRM makes sense.

Anti-Steam Argument #3: “Will I be able to play this game in ten years?”

A lot of 10+ year old games don't even play well on the modern operating systems. Not a great counter argument, but it is a risk even without DRM.

Hobbes2099 wrote:

doesn't that require you to TRUST that aforementioned company will release a patch 12 months from release?

As I noted, "When you release the game, commit to this one year timeline in your EULA, so that early adopters have reason to trust you." Yes, there is still risk, but I have the force of the government to help if they screw me. If they simply refuse to release the patch, they're in breach of contract, and you can sue them. If they go bankrupt, you're a creditor and can make a claim at compensation. Admittedly you're not likely to get much, creditors rarely do in a bankruptcy, so if that's not good enough, just wait 12 months until the patch is released to buy a copy.

kazar wrote:

A lot of 10+ year old games don't even play well on the modern operating systems.

That's just a technical problem. So long as there are geeks who like old games, it will be solved. Thus, the free, open-source DOSBox (which is used by GOG.com for many games, as well as Sierra for the King's Quest collection they released a few years ago). WINE, (largely thanks to Cedega allow you to play modern Windows games on Linux; this technology (again open-source), will prove very useful if Windows every stops playing these games. You can get free copies of VMWare, Xen, and xVM and can simply install and run an old copy of Windows if that helps. Will we all move to Cell processors in the future? Well, eventually they'll be fast enough to emulate a full x86 PC with software like bochs!

Mean Red Worms wrote:

Also why does music DRM always get brought up when talking about video game DRM. I see them as two very different beasts. In general it costs way more money to create, promote, and sell video games than it does music, and the people who actually make the music see very little money from CD sales. However, they can do live shows too.

It comes up because all of the arguments put forward to justify DRM on games were put forward to justify DRM on music:

- there's no market without DRM
- piracy is rampant and everyone will do it, making it impossible to sell the music
- if we just make it convenient, people will buy it
- put your trust in the providers

All of those arguments have been proven invalid in the music market, with Apple's move today being the final death knell to DRM on digital music.

Video games don't have this luxury. There's no post theatrical release on DVD, no live performance. If a developer/publisher doesn't try to get as much money from their product as quickly as possible they won't be able to make games for very long.

Digital music sales are profitable in and of themselves - they don't rely on other markets. And musicians, like NIN, are finding out that they can cut the middle man out and make money by going direct to the web. Markets change - that's no excuse for trying to prop up a failing business model.

It's up for debate if piracy actually costs anyone money, but they can't just not try to protect themselves and their shareholders. It's just bad business to throw it out there on the web.

Successful models say otherwise. It's increasingly bad business to use DRM.

This is a really, really great article. Me agrees with it.

Also, I love Steam.