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

raezr wrote:

It sure is nice to be able to resell old games, but it isn't written anywhere that we need to be able to do so.

A legal right to resell Steam games? Of course not. You agree to a EULA that forbids itbefore you buy the game (an important distinction, and admittedly only true for online sale). So, yeah, no legal right.

A legal right to resell games in general? Hell yeah. If I pop into Best Buy and buy a book, a CD, a movie, and an Xbox game, I have an absolute right, written down and everything, to resell and or all of them. It's the first-sale doctrine, recognized legally in the US since 1908. (If I buy a PC game, I'm free to resell it up to the point where I install it. At that point the after-the-fact EULAs kicks in and it becomes a legal quagmire.)

Beyond the law, morally, resale is important. Or more importantly, transfer of ownership is important. If you can't transfer something you own to someone else, you don't actually own it. Sometimes that's acceptable; I don't expect to be able to own a DVD I rent. Bioshock at $5 (as it briefly was on Steam) is so cheap, I'll treat it as an exceptionally well priced, long-term rental. But the risk is that you will stop being able to own things, that we'll move to a rental society. Can you picture a world in which you could never own a house, but instead had to rent your entire life? Even if you never wanted to to own a home, society as a whole suffers because individuals could never invest in the long term. You couldn't save up early on so you can own your home outright when you retire. Your investment in your home couldn't become inheritance for your children.

Video games and other creative works obviously aren't as important as housing, but they are important. A world without the ability to own copies of movies? In a rental only society, George Lucas would be able to retroactively take your copy of Star Wars I and replace it with the version where Greedo fires first if he wants. Culture would be lost. But instead people own copies and can compare to the newer releases. The same goes for video games. Would an academic like to compare the original release of Portal to the current patched version as part of a study of video game patching? Sucks to be them; they can't legally do it. When you pass away, and would like to pass on some of your treasured possessions to your grandchildren in your will? They can have the original copy of Star Wars and your favorite novel, but they don't get your copy of Portal. When the next generation of game designers starts studying the classics, some classics will simply be unavailable.

Technology has made us rich in so many ways. One of those ways is that replication of creative works is cheap and easy. This is good for society as a whole. Movies and television shows from the early part of the 20th century are decaying. Many are lost forever. Many are in terrible shape. For for new media, and older media that we convert quickly enough, they are safe and will last effectively forever. This is a boon for culture, for historians, for creators looking to the past to learn for the future. This is awesome. Now, I support legal and technical restrictions to grant creators additional incentive to create and publish works. But that support is not unlimited, because harsh restrictions (70+ year copyright, DRM, rental only) destroy all of the progress we've made, turning archivist and fans into criminals.

AlanDeSmet wrote:

But the risk is that you will stop being able to own things, that we'll move to a rental society. Can you picture a world in which you could never own a house, but instead had to rent your entire life? Even if you never wanted to to own a home, society as a whole suffers because individuals could never invest in the long term. You couldn't save up early on so you can own your home outright when you retire. Your investment in your home couldn't become inheritance for your children.

I can picture a world where the ability to own a home is not impeded by DRM placed in software.

Jayhawker wrote:
AlanDeSmet wrote:

But the risk is that you will stop being able to own things, that we'll move to a rental society. Can you picture a world in which you could never own a house, but instead had to rent your entire life? Even if you never wanted to to own a home, society as a whole suffers because individuals could never invest in the long term. You couldn't save up early on so you can own your home outright when you retire. Your investment in your home couldn't become inheritance for your children.

I can picture a world where the ability to own a home is not impeded by DRM placed in software.

Scarcity is the important distinction that you are missing. Ownership and resale of a physical product is fine, because if you sell that product you no longer have use of it. You also cannot create a perfect copy of a physical object that you own. Ownership of a digital product necessarily means that ability to create an unlimited number of perfect copies of that item. Thus, a company that gives its customers "ownership" of digital content is basically giving away their right to exclusively sell that content the first time.

My thoughts on game owenrship are known by many from another thread, so I won't rehash it here. But, I do not think we have an inherent right to own games. The owner of the game, in my opnion, is the entity that owns the IP and the source code. Thus, I believe the people who own the game (publisher/developer) have a right to restrict distribution by any means they see fit. Sometimes they do that poorly and end up impinging on the consumer rights to be able to play the game in the manner they choose by using draconian DRM. Steam does not do this thankfully. That is part of its success.

I can play my games on any computer with Steam by logging on to my account. Steam is not restricting my access to the game, in fact they are actually making it easier than it used to be. I never played games on different computers until Steam. I have never run into a DRM problem, not once, when playing a game, Steam or otherwise, so, for me, the battle against bad DRM is something I support in spirit. But, honestly, it has never been a problem for me, besides having to put a disc into my PC to play a game installed on my hard drive. I always found this annoying, but now with Steam that is no longer a problem.

As a consumer, my main concern with downloading games that I cannot re-sell or trade is the money from my pocket. As long as the prices remain reasonable, however, and Steam continues to offer great sales, price cuts on older games, and special offers I will be happy. I have gotten a lot of good deals on Steam and if it is a AAA new release that I must play know, I will buy it with full knowledge that I will never re-coup the $10-20 for re-selling the used game. But I have a choice. I can bite the bullet and buy it or wait till it gets a price cut.

For me Steam is the big story of 2008. It is a great service and, if widely adopted, will go a long way to leading a resurgence in PC gaming. Steam and Xbox Live, to me, have made the biggest contributions to my gaming experience in the last 5 years. If I could replace Xbox Live with Steam...I would be in heaven.

Just as a further comment on the reliability of DRM systems:

http://www.fictionwise.com/help/Over...

This is a DRM-encumbered ebook vendor who just went dark. It can happen to any company, and whatever promises they make don't mean squat. According to their website, they've been in business since 1986.

Why are you not able to substitute every single affected file with eReader format?

In some cases we are simply still tracking down the publisher to obtain permission. In some cases the eBook in question was not yet converted to eReader format. We are diligently working through each of these situations. Over the coming weeks, you may see more and more of your expiring Overdrive purchases replaced with Secure eReader substitutes. We have already added replacements for over 80% of the affected purchases. Our goal is to provide eReader replacements for all affected files.
Can I download both the original Overdrive file and the eReader replacement files of my eBooks?
You may continue to download the original Overdrive versions until January 31, 2009. The eReader replacement versions may be downloaded at the same time, and those will continue to be downloadable indefinitely.

I thought Fictionwise guarantees all eBooks will remain on my bookshelf forever?

Fictionwise strives to maintain your purchases indefinitely, but our terms of service do not guarantee they will be available forever. Forever is a long time. We have control of our MultiFormat files and we have control of the Secure eReader format, so that gives us the ability to ensure we will continue to be able to deliver those formats to you. However, as noted above, other formats are delivered through third party aggregators. We do not have legal control of those third party servers. If those third party servers "go dark" for one reason or another, we have no way to continue delivering those files.

It is important to note that other eBook retailers such as Barnes and Noble, Gemstar, and Amazon.com's original eBook store circa 2004 did not make any effort to maintain long term customer access to purchased material when they shut down their eBook operations in the past. They announced a time period for final download then shut down the servers. Fictionwise is expending considerable effort to make eReader replacement files available so you still have a way to access your purchases long term. We're doing that because we value our customers' investment in content.

How is that not a soft landing? I would think this is an example of good handling of the situation, not bad...

Robear wrote:

How is that not a soft landing? I would think this is an example of good handling of the situation, not bad...

For the customer, maybe (unless you own the 20% that they may not be able to license) ... for now. Think about all the time and money Fictionwise is spending, at a time when their sales can't be good. There's a chance that a couple more hits like this could put Fictionwise under, which leaves the users out in the cold ... again. And note that the customers must also waste time on making sure that their purchases are "secure".

I just wanted to chime in that I really do consider Argument #3 to be legitimate; I am equally as moved by your counterpoint. The truth is that I am at a very large risk of losing my physical games (whether when I move, or misplace them under a mountain of crap, or loan them to a friend and forget), and having them ever-present on the Steam "cloud" is actually kind of reassuring. I also live in a tiny apartment and LOVE getting rid of the clutter of game boxes. But obviously, down the road if Steam goes under, it'll suck to have that several thousand dollar game collection disappear.

Duoae wrote:

You can't enter steam into offline mode if you haven't clicked the box to do so when you've been logged in online. Once you choose to be in offline mode you are immediately switched to being offline. Which means that you either have to remember to be offline every time you log out of steam (not sure what happens if the internet connection goes down when you're logged in already) or only play games offline.

I recently moved, and there was recent construction on my street, and even though I did nothing beforehand on both cases, I had no issues at all logging into Steam and accessing the games. What you're describing is only a necessity when you want Steam to automatically be in offline mode despite the fact that you have a perfectly working internet connection.

Jayhawker wrote:

I can picture a world where the ability to own a home is not impeded by DRM placed in software.

Jayhawker: My apologies, I was apparently unclear. My point was not that DRM would stop people from buying homes. That's obviously a silly conclusion and is why I wrote, "Video games and other creative works obviously aren't as important as housing...." My point is to try and convey how serious not being able to own a copy of a game is by analogy. If one couldn't buy a home, society would have lost something, and that no amount of arguments from rental fans (You have no risk for repairs or loss of the building! You are move easily!) negates that.

Steam has many advantages, and for many people is a good deal. My concern isn't that Steam exists. My concern is that we are in a world where online-activated DRMed services will be the only option for many games, and that many gamers welcome such a world, so long as it's convienent to them in the short term. And like the hypothetical housing example, society is losing something important even as many gamers embrace the new model.

TheCounselor wrote:

Thus, a company that gives its customers "ownership" of digital content is basically giving away their right to exclusively sell that content the first time.

The ability to make a copy and the right are very different things. If I don't lock my home's door, have I given away my right to not have people trespass? And why does the ability to make perfect copies matter. Copyright is not a new fangled idea. Modern copyright was created because unscrupulous publishers could and did take an author's work and republish it without paying the author. The advances of technology haven't changed anything, they've just made it easier for more and more people to be "publishers." The audio cassette turned millions of Americans into "pirates" as they made copies of songs for friends and family. No, it wasn't a perfect copy, but it was Good Enough. The photocopier turned huge numbers of kids who were fans of D&D, Battletech, and other games published as books into "pirates." Not perfect copies, but Good Enough. MP3s turned an entire generation into "pirates." Wildly not perfect copies, but Good Enough. This is not to say that their actions were moral, and they certainly weren't legal, my point is that the copies being perfect is irrelevant. Infringing copies that were good enough to replace the original have been made for hundreds of years; that we're in the digital age doesn't change the fundamentals.

Even in video games this is true. Video games are inherently digital products, yet you've been able to buy them and own them for decades. Strictly speaking I can't make a "perfect" copy of an old Atari 2600 cartridge. I can't reproduce the shell or label perfectly. But the part that really matters, the program stored inside, is pretty easy to copy and reproduce.

heavyfeul wrote:

The owner of the game, in my opnion, is the entity that owns the IP and the source code.

When you purchase a copyright protected work physically, sans a contract presented you before you purchase it, you own that one specific copy. You do not need any license to make personal use. You can use it as intended (read it, play it, watch it, whatever), or use it in strange new ways (decorate you walls with it, shoot it with a gun, wear it as a hat) You can loan it, give it away, will it away, and sell it. Now, you don't have the right to distribute copies, you don't have any right to perform the work publically, and your right to make personal copies is restricted. This is copyright, and the developer or publisher in this case owns that right. This has been the basic state of affairs since 1790.

Now, your opinion on who the owner is is irrelevant; that's a matter of law and not up for opinion. I assume you're talking about what you feel should be, which is fair enough.

So when you talk about the owner, if you're talking about the person with the copyright, and the exclusive right to distribute copies, perform it, and make unlimited personal copies, yeah, your opinion matches the law and historic behavior. I'm with that 100%! Now if you're talking about is the one specific copy you own, your opinion does not match the law nor historic behavior. If that's the case, you're arguing to hand over to copyright holders brand new monopoly rights that they didn't have before.

Now, if there is a contract in place before you purchase it, the copyright holder can inflict almost any restrictions they want on you. The law supports that. But is it moral? I've argued my case above. We would be moving more and more to a rental society, which is bad for the reasons discussed above.

kuddles wrote:

What you're describing is only a necessity when you want Steam to automatically be in offline mode despite the fact that you have a perfectly working internet connection.

If I understand you correctly: if Steam was in online mode, then my internet goes down, and then I start up Steam to play a game, I can still switch to Offline mode and be good to go? If so, that completely wins me over on that point. (I suppose there is an additional risk if Steam's authentication servers go down, say because of DDOS attack. That's a risk I'm willing to take. My internet service sucks. Hopefully Steam's is better.

AlanDeSmet wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

I can picture a world where the ability to own a home is not impeded by DRM placed in software.

Jayhawker: My apologies, I was apparently unclear. My point was not that DRM would stop people from buying homes. That's obviously a silly conclusion and is why I wrote, "Video games and other creative works obviously aren't as important as housing...." My point is to try and convey how serious not being able to own a copy of a game is by analogy. If one couldn't buy a home, society would have lost something, and that no amount of arguments from rental fans (You have no risk for repairs or loss of the building! You are move easily!) negates that.

No, you were clear.

AlanDeSmet wrote:

But the risk is that you will stop being able to own things, that we'll move to a rental society.

Regardless, trying to equate owning a videogame to owning a house is silly. Not being able to won a videogame is not as serious as not being able to buy a house. It's not the same in a multitude of ways.

I understand that there is a segment of the gamer population that wants games to be sold in a certain way, and for some reason feels it is not enough to just buy games that fit into their accepted way of doing business. But most people really don't view games the same way, and are capable of buying a game, playing it, and never realizing that they were being oppressed.

What an excellent write up. I was one of the few that thought Steam was the next step in PC gaming when it was first released. It had it's issues in the beginning but I always looked by that.

I agree that Steam is the best of DRM's. The only thing that bugs my is when publishers keep their disc based DRM in the software and double it up with Steam.

I agree that being worried about loosing the games in the future is legitimate but it really is trivial at this point in time

AlanDeSmet wrote:

If I understand you correctly: if Steam was in online mode, then my internet goes down, and then I start up Steam to play a game, I can still switch to Offline mode and be good to go? If so, that completely wins me over on that point. (I suppose there is an additional risk if Steam's authentication servers go down, say because of DDOS attack. That's a risk I'm willing to take. My internet service sucks. Hopefully Steam's is better.

Yes. It'll tell you it fails to make a connection then ask if you want to start in offline mode. I believe the restriction is that you have to check the box when you login allowing Steam to "remember" your account info (because if it can't authenticate the password on it's online servers, it needs to locally authenticate it), something I do with all my apps like Messenger anyways because I'm too lazy to enter my password. And, as already stated, if Steam knows that there's an update to a game available and hasn't downloaded it yet, and you haven't turned off updating, you're screwed. (Although, again, that situation usually doesn't happen when you inexplicably lose a connection).

So I'll readily admit that it's not the most elegant solution, but it's still much less of a hassle then it was when it originally launched. I had no internet connection for five days, and I don't recall coming across a game on my Steam list that didn't work.

Jayhawker wrote:

Regardless, trying to equate owning a videogame to owning a house is silly. Not being able to won a videogame is not as serious as not being able to buy a house. It's not the same in a multitude of ways.

I was being sloppy when I said I was trying to convey how "serious" it is. I know it's not as serious as home ownership; I said as much twice (to the extent that "important" and "serious" are crude synonyms). No, they're not the same. If they were, it wouldn't be an analogy, they would be identical. The point is that there are many people whose defense of DRM amounts to "I don't see a problem with not owning games, so it must be okay." I'm trying to convey by analogy that there is a loss for society as a whole as we move toward renting our culture. And it's not as important as home ownership, but it is important. As an analogy it's obviously inappropriate as an argument; it's just a tool to try and help other people see my perspective.

Jayhawker wrote:

I understand that there is a segment of the gamer population that wants games to be sold in a certain way, and for some reason feels it is not enough to just buy games that fit into their accepted way of doing business.

Just in case you weren't sure about the "some reason", or for other people who are befuddled as to why I and others spend so much time arguing about this:

We're gamers. We love our culture! We're seeing it change for the worse (by our standards, obviously). We can't imagine checking out of the culture we love so much. If you don't try to change people's minds, the situation will get worse, not better. Simple boycotting is worthless if the objectors are in a small minority. This is why PETA engages in their tactics; simply refusing to buy animal products won't really significantly improve the world by their standards. (I'm not saying I agree with PETA's positions or their tactics, just noting that why they do it is perfectly logical.) Valve and other publishers are constantly working to convince people that online activation is good. They've got ad budgets, PR people, lobbyists and more. If we don't speak up, they will win and harm our culture.

Jayhawker wrote:

But most people really don't view games the same way, and are capable of buying a game, playing it, and never realizing that they were being oppressed.

I don't think any online-activation opponents are under the illusion that your average gamer felt oppressed. If they did, we wouldn't be having to fight to change minds; we'd already have the average gamer's support. That you lose a freedom you never used doesn't mean you didn't lose the freedom. Many important freedoms are available to everyone, only used by a minority, but society as a whole would suffer if they were eliminated.

I'm a gamer. I love the culture.

I had to call a phone number and activate my first copy of Quake. I had all of the same thoughts that I see in this and the other DRM threads more than a decade ago. The industry is stronger and more popular than ever. There are more ways to buy and play, not only current games, but classic games than ever before. The idea that this culture is being destroyed is just a fallacy.

Jayhawker wrote:

I had to call a phone number and activate my first copy of Quake. I had all of the same thoughts that I see in this and the other DRM threads more than a decade ago. The industry is stronger and more popular than ever. There are more ways to buy and play, not only current games, but classic games than ever before. The idea that this culture is being destroyed is just a fallacy.

This isn't about today or tomorrow. This is about looking to the future five years from now, a decade from now, even further.

This isn't about popularity or the strength of the industry. This is about access to what has come before.

This isn't about access to old and new classics, or those titles deemed to be profitable. This is about access to everything.

This is about a reflective industry, one that can learn from itself, and hold itself accountable. This is about future game designers having access to the entire history of gaming so that they can invent new ideas, not reinvent old ones. We can't predict what games they'll need to see in a decade. We can't predict what specific versions they may need to see. A study of Nazi imagery in video games will be hard pressed to find examples in City of Heroes, despite it being present in the Fifth Column. (Admittedly a MMOG has very, very different issues, since it inherently is a service, but it was an example I knew off the top of my head.)

We've lost access to culture in the past. To take serious recent one: many old films were tossed into vaults and forgotten because they weren't profitable. They proceeded to degrade and are now lost to us. A historian or writer wanting to dig into the past to study our film history is denied access to a huge swath of film because it rotted away. One example, Metropolis has never been seen in its entirely. (Happily, it looks like the lost footage was found and may yet be restored.)

Similarly, many television shows were recorded by the producers at the time, but later taped over to save money. I can't begrudge them the need to save money, but lots of historically important works are gone. To take one example, many episodes of The Tonight Show are gone forever.

But now we're in the digital age. We don't need to lose access to things for this reason. But to ensure that the works survive, we need people to be able to own copies. We can't trust the big corporations. They sometimes have incentive to keep works unavailable. If a work is deemed unprofitable, they may toss is onto backups and forget about it; and digital backups go bad if uncared for as well. An unprofitable work may be forgotten, and after a series of buyouts no one may know who owns the rights and it may disappear.

This is about the big picture, not your ability to play the game you want tomorrow.

AlanDeSmet wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

I had to call a phone number and activate my first copy of Quake. I had all of the same thoughts that I see in this and the other DRM threads more than a decade ago. The industry is stronger and more popular than ever. There are more ways to buy and play, not only current games, but classic games than ever before. The idea that this culture is being destroyed is just a fallacy.

This isn't about today or tomorrow. This is about looking to the future five years from now, a decade from now, even further.

This isn't about popularity or the strength of the industry. This is about access to what has come before.

This isn't about access to old and new classics, or those titles deemed to be profitable. This is about access to everything.

This is about a reflective industry, one that can learn from itself, and hold itself accountable. This is about future game designers having access to the entire history of gaming so that they can invent new ideas, not reinvent old ones. We can't predict what games they'll need to see in a decade. We can't predict what specific versions they may need to see. A study of Nazi imagery in video games will be hard pressed to find examples in City of Heroes, despite it being present in the Fifth Column. (Admittedly a MMOG has very, very different issues, since it inherently is a service, but it was an example I knew off the top of my head.)

We've lost access to culture in the past. To take serious recent one: many old films were tossed into vaults and forgotten because they weren't profitable. They proceeded to degrade and are now lost to us. A historian or writer wanting to dig into the past to study our film history is denied access to a huge swath of film because it rotted away. One example, Metropolis has never been seen in its entirely. (Happily, it looks like the lost footage was found and may yet be restored.)

Similarly, many television shows were recorded by the producers at the time, but later taped over to save money. I can't begrudge them the need to save money, but lots of historically important works are gone. To take one example, many episodes of The Tonight Show are gone forever.

But now we're in the digital age. We don't need to lose access to things for this reason. But to ensure that the works survive, we need people to be able to own copies. We can't trust the big corporations. They sometimes have incentive to keep works unavailable. If a work is deemed unprofitable, they may toss is onto backups and forget about it; and digital backups go bad if uncared for as well. An unprofitable work may be forgotten, and after a series of buyouts no one may know who owns the rights and it may disappear.

This is about the big picture, not your ability to play the game you want tomorrow.

That was really nice, but what the heck does this have to do with DRM?

DRM (specifically DRM built around online-activation) means that games can and will be lost. Future designers, critics, and historians will lose access to them. This hurts gaming culture and is bad for society as a whole.

Some will be lost because the copyright holder decides a game is too embarrassing and must be pulled. Some will be lost because the copyright holder decides it's no longer financially wise to keep the authentication servers up, and the game is unlikely to be profitable, so they never release it again, potentially losing at some point. Some will disappear when their copyright holders collapse in bankruptcy. Older versions (which can be of historic and critical importance) will disappear because the patched version replaces the original and the copyright holder has no incentive to release the older versions, or even to maintain backup copies.

AlanDeSmet wrote:

DRM (specifically DRM built around online-activation) means that games can and will be lost.

Except that games with DRM can have the DRM circumvented, so I don't see how your argument applies. If pirates today can crack games, I'm fairly certain any future historian could find someone able to crack them as well. Eventually, the copyright will expire and the game will become part of the Public Domain, which would make stripping out any DRM legal, since there are no more rights to digitally manage. Copyrights expire for a reason, so all you've got to do is hold onto your copies until they do, then you can make as many more copies as you want. You can save your hard drive with working versions of all your favorite games, and if you live long enough to see the copyright expire, you can put that hard drive back in, and trick whatever DRM they've got into thinking they've got the all clear their online activation requires so you can analyze or play them as much as you want.
I don't like DRM, but I don't like forcing a creator to archive every draft of every project they even start even less. If no one keeps a working copy of Diakatana around, I fail to see how that would hurt our future society.

(I'm still talking about DRM with online activation. Other types are problematic, but less so.)

Stengah wrote:

Eventually, the copyright will expire and the game will become part of the Public Domain, which would make stripping out any DRM legal, since there are no more rights to digitally manage.

Problem 1: If the DRM system in question is still used to protect any works still under copyright, you're forbidden from creating or sharing tools to remove the DRM.

Problem 2: No copyright has expired in the last ten years or so, and none will for about another ten. So long as Disney keeping paying off congress to keep Mickey out of the public domain, any given copyright deadline isn't terribly useful.

Problem 3: Corporate copyright (which is what most video games are covered by) is 95 years. I hope to live a very long life, but I'm not real optimistic that I'll live long enough to legally pass my games on to my children. "Hey kids! Save these files. They're worthless now, but you can pass them on to your kids, and they to their kids, and eventually you'll be able to legally crack them!"

Problem 4: 95 years means that I'm effectively barred from loaning, gifting, selling, or willing away games I've purchased during my lifetime. The games I have that are not encumbered with online activation can be loaned, gifted, sold, and willed away without problems. (In some cases the EULA claims you can't do some or all of these things. That's a different problem. One argument at a time.)

Stengah wrote:

I don't like DRM, but I don't like forcing a creator to archive every draft of every project they even start even less.

I'm against forcing creators to do anything with the law. The situation is getting worse, but we're nowhere near needing to force people. But educating gamers, getting them to demand better, that's a good thing. Getting real compromises, like commitments to remove the DRM from standalone games after a fixed amount of time, would be absolute improvements.

Stengah wrote:

If no one keeps a working copy of Diakatana around, I fail to see how that would hurt our future society.

We can't judge what will be important in the future.

Historians appreciate anything they can dig up to provide clues about the past. Things that seem disposable today may be a key to understanding something tomorrow. As we go further and further back in time, what we have access to becomes limited to the aging of paper and other records, as well as what was archived in the first place for matters of space. Historians are thankful for people who kept letters, journals, sketches, personal photographs, advertisements, and more that give insight into an era. Even junk pop culture provides clues. Take the short educational films of earlier eras. Fortunately most is recent enough to have been preserved, and watching them can tell you a lot about the era and opinions. "Boys Beware" tells you a lot about perceptions of homosexuality. Another film (sadly I can't find it at the moment) tells us a lot about perceptions of women as employees.

Digital technology means that we don't need to lose anything that was formally published, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Sure, most of it will remain insignificant. But gems will be discovered that we can't expect.

Future creators also appreciate having access to the past to, frankly, pillage for ideas or mock. "Lunchroom Manners" may not be great film, but it's funny. And RiffTrax (one of the MST3K spinoffs) was happy to take advantage of it to make it funnier.

I played Diakatana for the first time a year or two ago. I was seriously interested in seeing the reality of this famously delayed, low quality game. Surely a future video game historian might also be interested in studying this famous wreck?

AlanDeSmet wrote:

Problem 1: If the DRM system in question is still used to protect any works still under copyright, you're forbidden from creating or sharing tools to remove the DRM.

Problem 2: No copyright has expired in the last ten years or so, and none will for about another ten. So long as Disney keeping paying off congress to keep Mickey out of the public domain, any given copyright deadline isn't terribly useful.

Problem 3: Corporate copyright (which is what most video games are covered by) is 95 years. I hope to live a very long life, but I'm not real optimistic that I'll live long enough to legally pass my games on to my children. "Hey kids! Save these files. They're worthless now, but you can pass them on to your kids, and they to their kids, and eventually you'll be able to legally crack them!"

Problem 4: 95 years means that I'm effectively barred from loaning, gifting, selling, or willing away games I've purchased during my lifetime. The games I have that are not encumbered with online activation can be loaned, gifted, sold, and willed away without problems. (In some cases the EULA claims you can't do some or all of these things. That's a different problem. One argument at a time.)

I agree with all your problems, but also think we'd actually stand a chance trying to fix copywrite law to something reasonable, as opposed to trying to do away with DRM entirely.

AlanDeSmet wrote:
Stengah wrote:

If no one keeps a working copy of Diakatana around, I fail to see how that would hurt our future society.

We can't judge what will be important in the future.

Historians appreciate anything they can dig up to provide clues about the past. Things that seem disposable today may be a key to understanding something tomorrow. As we go further and further back in time, what we have access to becomes limited to the aging of paper and other records, as well as what was archived in the first place for matters of space. Historians are thankful for people who kept letters, journals, sketches, personal photographs, advertisements, and more that give insight into an era. Even junk pop culture provides clues. Take the short educational films of earlier eras. Fortunately most is recent enough to have been preserved, and watching them can tell you a lot about the era and opinions. "Boys Beware" tells you a lot about perceptions of homosexuality. Another film (sadly I can't find it at the moment) tells us a lot about perceptions of women as employees.

Digital technology means that we don't need to lose anything that was formally published, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Sure, most of it will remain insignificant. But gems will be discovered that we can't expect.

Future creators also appreciate having access to the past to, frankly, pillage for ideas or mock. "Lunchroom Manners" may not be great film, but it's funny. And RiffTrax (one of the MST3K spinoffs) was happy to take advantage of it to make it funnier.

I played Diakatana for the first time a year or two ago. I was seriously interested in seeing the reality of this famously delayed, low quality game. Surely a future video game historian might also be interested in studying this famous wreck?

I still don't see how the potential significance of a piece of work calls for the abolition of all forms of DRM.

Will people please stop saying that because DRM can be circumvented that it's not a problem? It's the most annoying argument that people bring to the table and it makes no sense. You're saying 'support piracy' and we'll be okay with DRM.....
Now, i don't support piracy or authentication DRM and i won't and logically can't use one to argue for the continuation of the other - even if the two are inextricably linked in some people's minds these days. Maybe some people think this makes logical sense, well i'd like to see that logical explanation.... but until i do please stop using an illogical argument.

[edit]
Oh and just in case - i'd love to see someone crack the DRM of a 2001 game in 2096.... that'd be fun when there's no 'old' tech available and the physical copies of most of the product are all gone (no way a CD or DVD will last 90 years, surely?).... The argument always falls back to things being cracked now rather than later because later on we most likely won't be able to do it. It'd lie along the lines of having to decode a dead language without the proverbial 'rosetta stone'.

Duoae wrote:

Will people please stop saying that because DRM can be circumvented that it's not a problem? It's the most annoying argument that people bring to the table and it makes no sense. You're saying 'support piracy' and we'll be okay with DRM.....

That's not what people are saying at all. They're saying that if DRM can be perfectly circumvented by pirates today, complaining that it will be impossible to circumvent ten years down the road when the authentication servers no longer work doesn't sound likely.

Regarding #2, a very real problem you didn't mention that I have encountered myself is buying a game such as half life2 from a brick and mortar, installing it, and then being unable to play it because you don't have an internet connection (a horrible, horrible time in my life). I'd already been informed by the very responsible staff at the store that an internet connection would be required for activation, I just had some bad luck with my connection at the worst time possible. Anyway, my point is that those of us connected to the net suffer from a bit of echo chamber effect, forgetting that quite a large portion of the world is not connected to the net.

One of the biggest problems digital distribution in general is facing right now is distribution agreements, namely restricting the availability of products based upon your location. The idea that you can use the internet as a distribution medium and then try to restrict distribution is crazy. This kind of thing was possible when the only way to get games was to visit a brick and mortar but not now. After all, they call it the INTER-net for a reason. Can't buy a game on Steam because it won't let you due to your location? Pirate Bay lets you. I know it's beyond the scope of this article, but I'd love to see discussion about this on gamerswithjobs (and I needed to rant)

kuddles wrote:
Duoae wrote:

Will people please stop saying that because DRM can be circumvented that it's not a problem? It's the most annoying argument that people bring to the table and it makes no sense. You're saying 'support piracy' and we'll be okay with DRM.....

That's not what people are saying at all. They're saying that if DRM can be perfectly circumvented by pirates today, complaining that it will be impossible to circumvent ten years down the road when the authentication servers no longer work doesn't sound likely.

Okay, let me get this straight.... in the US circumventing copy protection is illegal - possibly even after a work has passed into public domain(?). The people who will crack a work, thereby circumventing copy protection, do so and spread it around the internet - which is piracy. This process is piracy now and piracy in 10 years time regardless of whether the authentication servers are online or not because the work is still copyrighted: the process is illegal. How is that not condoning piracy?

If you stopped everyone being pirates today then it would be exponentially harder to suddenly start pirating again in ten years time.... these kids/grown-ups who crack games don't do it in a vacuum - there's a community around these endeavours and prior knowledge helps people advance. It's like saying we'd be able to invent the lightbulb directly after us coming out of our cavemen phase.

Plus there's the issue of whether publishers would have any less of a dim view of piracy in ten years time as they do today.... they're still legally bound to protect their properties even ones that have 'expired'. Hence why fan projects get killed (Cease and dissist orders) when they don't have permission from the copyright holder.

This is where my rosetta stone comment came into it:
Software is only crackable if people can get at it. In ten years yes this probably will be possible (there probably isn't much of a change in OS or hardware that would massively affect being able to do this) but not after copyright has expired and it would be possibly legal to actually do the cracking.... by that point, technology would have changed so much that being able to crack something would be increasingly harder as time went by. You'd have to crack the protection as well as emulating the platform the game was released on. Two things are harder than one - especially if you can't get to the game to know how you're going to emulate it without getting past the protection.

It's a naieve view to say it's okay to pirate things 10 years down the line and not today - you can't separate the two actions. One doesn't exist without the other and both are equal in the eyes of the law....

I disagree that it will be more difficult to crack things 10 years down the line for 'historical' purposes. As long as people can access the data, there will be hardcore hobbyists who will collaborate and take the time to make it happen.

We have widely known examples today to disprove the 10 years down the road concerns. Just look at what arcade collectors have done in tracking down aged arcade boards and prototypes, decrypting their on-board security and capturing the images for both preservation and emulation. Similarly, on the pc and console front there is MESS which emulates a whole spectrum of technologies whose data was originally stored in proprietary formats on casettes, cartridges and 5 1/4 floppies.

If anything should be preserved more officially by an organization to capture and track the evolution of gaming and the art of game programming, it wouldve been source code. This is the heart of any IP, one that companies will not share for obvious reasons. What fan community wouldnt have wet their pants to have access to the now forever lost Moo3 source to fix the game or to see what the first incarnation of Dungeon Keeper looked like before it was scrapped and redone?

Steam hasnt had to deal with a significant hardware change yet. It will be very curious to see how they handle a time when a new OS makes their portions of their catalogue incompatible natively. Will they simply remove the items from their catalogue, keep them available with hardware/OS compatibility information, or make an effort to serve as a middleware. How exciting that last option might be if their consumer friendly DRM also becomes an enabler.

There's a difference between reading data from a proprietary format such as a data cassette and being able to get past a DRM scheme - especially when all the data isn't present on the disc due to the fact that you download a portion of code/whatever during the activation.

Stengah wrote:

I agree with all your problems, but also think we'd actually stand a chance trying to fix copywrite law to something reasonable, as opposed to trying to do away with DRM entirely.

...

I still don't see how the potential significance of a piece of work calls for the abolition of all forms of DRM.

Neither do I, which is why I wasn't calling for it. Just in case you missed it the first time:

AlanDeSmet wrote:

(I'm still talking about DRM with online activation. Other types are problematic, but less so.)

...

Getting real compromises, like commitments to remove the DRM from standalone games after a fixed amount of time, would be absolute improvements.

kuddles wrote:
Duoae wrote:

Will people please stop saying that because DRM can be circumvented that it's not a problem? It's the most annoying argument that people bring to the table and it makes no sense. You're saying 'support piracy' and we'll be okay with DRM.....

That's not what people are saying at all. They're saying that if DRM can be perfectly circumvented by pirates today, complaining that it will be impossible to circumvent ten years down the road when the authentication servers no longer work doesn't sound likely.

Again, not impossible ... just illegal. The battle against DRM is being fought on multiple fronts, and trying to get the DMCA struck down is one of them. However, the EFF doesn't have unlimited funds and the large software publishers essentially do, so it's unlikely that the DMCA will be undone anytime soon. What the DMCA does is make the very act of breaking the DRM illegal, with very narrow exceptions - one of which is archiving. However the exception is so narrow, and the penalties so draconian, that I doubt anyone would risk it.

Stengah wrote:

I agree with all your problems, but also think we'd actually stand a chance trying to fix copywrite law to something reasonable, as opposed to trying to do away with DRM entirely.

The two are separate things, and both are being pursued. DRM universally imposes restrictions far beyond copyright law, such as preventing useful backup copies of software. Blocking people from using the software because they can't get to your authentication servers could be considered fraud, particularly if it is not mentioned on the box; that's why most publishers put prominent "On-Line Activation Required" warnings on their boxes now.

Also note that while copyright law can be changed, DRM cannot. There is no current legal recourse if the DRM holder decides to cut you off. (It's possible that there might be, and there are a few cases in court right now, but not on that exact issue.) If Valve decides that you are a hacker and bans you, you could be out hundreds of dollars - with nothing to fall back to recover the money you spent. It's totally up to them. There's no way for you to contest the ban.

Since there is no legal protection, the best option is simply not to agree to sales terms like that. And even if there was, why go through the hassle? Imagine if you bought a car, and the terms of the agreement were that, even if you never missed a payment, the dealership could take the car back if they didn't like the way you drove it - AND they had cameras installed so that they could watch you. Who would agree to that? No one. DRM is that kind of control. It's already illegal to copy and distribute proprietary software; it's also illegal to speed, but they both happen every day. The illegal action does not justify a further supra-legal response.

If DRM is such a great feature, why don't publishers advertise it? OH YEAH - THIS BABY HAS STARFORCE XL! The answer is obvious - because they know that it's not a feature that any of their customers want. The quickest and best way to get rid of "features" that you don't want is not to pay for them. The market will eventually get rid of it, because markets get rid of things that people don't want. In the meantime, a lot of people are going to be irritated and conned out of their money by DRM that is misrepresented, buggy, or simply waiting in the background to cause problems years later. I don't see any reason to support that.