Burnt Ships

The one thing I can say with some confidence about the videogame industry as a whole is that it rarely, if ever, runs in reverse. While trends and fads may resurface from time to time, usually in the context of nostalgia, the industry at large never says things like, “You know what? 3.5-inch floppy discs really were the best medium. We should go back to using them.” Retailers never say, “Blech, consumers really hate us asking for pre-orders. Let’s go back to just stocking a bunch of extra copies of every game.” Publishers never say, “Let’s refocus our marketing strategies back to big, single-player PC games as our flagship titles.”

It’s a burn-the-ships kind of industry, which I think is both one of its great strengths and one of the reasons I find it so often frustrating. The big names in the business strike off for new lands, and when they go crashing haplessly into some pristine beach frontier, first thing they do is break out the torches and sink the boats so they can never go back.

It makes sense in some ways, because technology by its nature is as inexorable as water flowing downhill in its own forward progress. There’s a pretty good and obvious reason no one is ever going back to floppies. Constant movement and change, regardless of who the actual change benefits or hurts, is a cornerstone of the 'gamez biz'. For gamers, that change can be the hardest part of the whole thing to deal with.

There is a part of most gamers, I think, that probably remembers some moment in time, some year or console generation that was formative in the ideas we hold as iconic to games and the gaming business. And, the further away that moment in time is, the more likely that most of what defined that era is long gone, and never to come again.

This is why when gamers talk about companies rolling back initiatives like always-on DRM, microtransactions, DLC and many of the other modern nuisances in gaming, I have polite but firm doubts. I understand and support the decision to vote with your dollar, but realistically, the end result of that is not pressure on the industry to change, but a personal decision to limit your current-generational exposure.

I had a few moments over the past year or so when considering whether to buy games like Diablo 3 and Sim City, games where I came face-to-face with a choice as to how I would engage with the industry. Ultimately, I decided that those things I disliked about the business model were ultimately now just the realities of this and probably a good chunk of the next generation. It’s at the point where I shrug forlorn and click the buy button anyway that I always feel a little bit like a sell-out.

I appreciate people who choose to hold firm to ideals, but my perspective is more that, when it comes to buying games, I don’t really have a lot of those ideals. I have preferences, certainly, and I can be upset and disturbed by corporate greed like anyone else, but I have plenty of areas in my life where I need to have firm lines and a sternly held belief system. Does this entertainment medium really have to be yet another place in my days where I need to be ever vigilant to the abuses of a corrupt system? As long as the major publishers stay firmly out of the domains of human trafficking, genocide, arms dealing and the like, I think I've become comfortable conceding the ground lost and not spend an extraordinary amount of time drawing deep lines in the sand.

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not because I don’t care at all when confronted with a stupid decision like requiring Diablo III to sign in online before it will let me play single-player or preemptively deciding that every game needs to have microtransactions. I mean, stupid or at least callously inconvenient decisions are still just that. I'm no apologist for this kind of action, but like I think the vast majority of the games buying public, I'm not interested in making a big deal out of it. I have better, bigger things I am firmly busy making a big deal out of these days.

I am also fairly confident that in a few months or years time, the issue, whatever the issue of the day may be today, will be left obsolete or irrelevant soon enough by some change in technology or the business. By the time anyone can work up good momentum for change, no one is usually talking about the issue anymore.

I spend a lot of my days banging my head against walls I’m unlikely to move. I reached a point some number of years ago where I just had to admit I didn’t have enough hours in the day to bang my head on every wall. Even if they were righteous causes and truly unnecessary walls that by all rights should be well and truly head-banged, I was just going to have to let myself off the hook on some of those responsibilities. At some point, the callousness of the videogame industry became one of those walls, and to my delight, I realized that the vast majority of gaming’s walls just ended up knocking themselves down all on their own.

All I had to do was come to terms with the fact that gaming, at least the largest portions of it, was never going to find its way back to 1997. And that’s ok, because its also never going to find its way back to being 2012. Newness will be the constant companion of this business, and that newness will be in many cases something great — and in many others something annoying, selfish and greedy. If all the ills of the business were cured tomorrow and consumer respect became the centerpiece of the industry, it would be nice — but it would also inevitably change again in what would seem a handful of moments.

Here in Minnesota they have a saying about the weather: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it’ll change. They probably have this saying in a lot of places, but the point is that the same applies to the games industry. For me that just means that there’s no need spend a lot of time commanding the tides to stop in the meantime.

Comments

Even if they don't roll back always on DRM, the only ultimate effect for me is that I won't buy their games on PC. I'm sure I would love SimCity, but because of its DRM I'm completely ignoring it. Diablo 3 is another game I just completely skipped. I hear the PS4 version of Diablo 3 will not have the always on DRM though. If that's true, then I might end up playing it after all.

Even if all of the AAA games went always-online DRM, I would still have all of my older games and tons of indie games to play, so it's not really all that much of a hassle to me. (I have an old game backlog of nearly 200 titles. At the rate I play them, this will last me around 5 years.)

I understand and support the decision to vote with your dollar, but realistically, the end result of that is not pressure on the industry to change, but a personal decision to limit your current-generational exposure.

I have to take issue with this. The end result of voting with your dollar is -always- putting pressure on the industry. It may end up being a tiny insignificant amount of pressure, but that is the nature of any political statement or movement, if not enough people sign up to it it doesn't do much.

The reality has simply been that the majority of mass consumers either do not care about DRM or as in your case, do not care enough to cause it to stop them from buying the games.

I think it's fine for people, you included, to take this position. As you say, always online DRM isn't about to kill anyone. But I think you're wrong when suggesting people are wasting their time even bothering.

Yes, the specifics of DRM, DLC, and similar 3-letter acronyms might change over time. However the core issue always remains the same: that of companies doing right by their customers. Without consumer protection, without consumer rights, and without people to stand up for those issues, our world would be a very different and much worse place.

I won't claim I'm perfect. If I really really want a game I'll buy it even when it is from *shudder* EA. But I don't throw money at them the way I do at developers like Stardock and Paradox, or support their kickstarters like I did with Double Fine or Red Thread Games. Developers whom I trust to, even if they might screw up (royally in Paradox's publishing arm's case), always try their best to do right by me, their customer. And I really disagree that this is futile or pointless of me to do so.

True social progress can only come from people deciding by themselves of their own volition to do the right thing regardless of the consequences for themselves or their society.

What a great article. Sums up my thoughts exactly.

IMAGE(http://media.giantbomb.com/uploads/0/9783/375768-bt3_0087_super.jpg)

True social progress can only come from people deciding by themselves of their own volition to do the right thing regardless of the consequences for themselves or their society.

I think this is where I struggle. The logical leap for me between Day-one DLC and social progress or even meaningful consumer rights isn't one I can make. Consumer rights, after all, really aren't about businesses making decisions that aren't consumer friendly. They are about protection from harmful products without knowledge, protection from true monopolies, the right to have access to basic needs and the like.

Always on DRM may be a dick move, but it's nowhere near a consumer rights or social progress issue to me.

If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it’ll change.

This is actually a Chicago saying. I demand proper foot noting!!

Other than this terrible transgression, excellent article. As long as microtransactions and DLC don't affect gameplay decisions I don't mind them at all. Lets not even discuss the amount of money I have spent on cosmetic skins in LoL.

Elysium wrote:
True social progress can only come from people deciding by themselves of their own volition to do the right thing regardless of the consequences for themselves or their society.

I think this is where I struggle. The logical leap for me between Day-one DLC and social progress or even meaningful consumer rights isn't one I can make. Consumer rights, after all, really aren't about businesses making decisions that aren't consumer friendly. They are about protection from harmful products without knowledge, protection from true monopolies, the right to have access to basic needs and the like.

Always on DRM may be a dick move, but it's nowhere near a consumer rights or social progress issue to me.

The gamer communities' standard reaction when actual social progress is in danger of being discussed, like the way women are portrayed in games or online bigotry speaks volumes of the hypocrisy of this argument.

Amen!

Elysium wrote:

Always on DRM may be a dick move, but it's nowhere near a consumer rights or social progress issue to me.

Double amen!

kazriko wrote:

Even if all of the AAA games went always-online DRM, I would still have all of my older games and tons of indie games to play, so it's not really all that much of a hassle to me. (I have an old game backlog of nearly 200 titles. At the rate I play them, this will last me around 5 years.)

Multi amen!

dejanzie wrote:

The gamer communities' standard reaction when actual social progress is in danger of being discussed, like the way women are portrayed in games or online bigotry speaks volumes of the hypocrisy of this argument.

M-M-M-M-M-MEGA AMEN.

Elysium wrote:

by all rights should be well and truly head-banged

IMAGE(http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lkhuu8p2FW1qfbi6po1_500.gif)

Also, Reinhold Niebuhr.

Does everyone forget that you can buy always-online games, then wait just a few days and be able to find and download hacked copies that don't require the always-on connection? Granted, it won't work for Diablo 3, but it worked for Spore and it will almost certainly work for SimCity.

Sell out!

As long as the major publishers stay firmly out of the domains of human trafficking, genocide, arms dealing and the like,

Eh, actually I'm fine with arms dealing.

RolandofGilead wrote:

Sell out!

As long as the major publishers stay firmly out of the domains of human trafficking, genocide, arms dealing and the like,

Eh, actually I'm fine with arms dealing.

Whereas I am with human trafficking.

Wow, I appreciate that you're being witty, but that's joking about rape, so not many folks will laugh.

Human trafficking

Keithustus wrote:

Wow, I appreciate that you're being witty, but that's joking about rape, so not many folks will laugh.

Human trafficking

Confession: I was secretly hoping you had linked to Taken.

Gravey wrote:
dejanzie wrote:

The gamer communities' standard reaction when actual social progress is in danger of being discussed, like the way women are portrayed in games or online bigotry speaks volumes of the hypocrisy of this argument.

M-M-M-M-M-MEGA AMEN.

Preach it.

Keithustus wrote:

Wow, I appreciate that you're being witty, but that's joking about rape, so not many folks will laugh.

Human trafficking

Yeah, this is me losing the positivity I'd had when responding to Gravey.

Elysium wrote:
True social progress can only come from people deciding by themselves of their own volition to do the right thing regardless of the consequences for themselves or their society.

Always on DRM may be a dick move, but it's nowhere near a consumer rights or social progress issue to me.

I am not generally the "DRM guy", but I do see a worrying trend with SimCity and particularly with Diablo III. The issue is not so much about fairness or good practice as it is about the kinds of games that this model is going to force the industry to create. Right now, the market is largely attempting to produce high quality games that will appeal to a large enough number of people to turn a profit. This model is largely unprofitable, and only continues because this industry is something of a glamor industry, and because a few lucky companies have been able to create enormous franchises that eat programmers and sh*t money.

My concern is that the cow clicker model is actually a lot more sustainable in the long run. We've relaxed a little bit about this with Zynga's recent downturns in fortune, but Zynga was terrible in all ways and shapes. They didn't produce very good games, and I'm not entirely convinced that, even with all their psychiatry and data sifting, that they were particularly creative about getting money from people. But what happens when more skilled companies start making these kinds of games? Well, it's already happened, and I think you can look at Blizzard and Diablo III and pretty conclusively say that it became a lesser game with the inclusion of in-game payments and the Auction House.

If this were just an issue of paying a little extra money, I wouldn't be particularly bothered. But more and more it feels to me like we're seeing the nature of the hobby fundamentally altered in a way that DRM or piracy or other gaming hot topics never had the potential to do. I don't know if I can change that with my dollar, or if even a lot of us could. But this column, even with its disclaimers, seems to be suggesting that we shouldn't worry so much when it comes to this sort of thing. And that strikes me as somewhat careless.

edit: reworked the last sentence.

Elysium wrote:

I think this is where I struggle. The logical leap for me between Day-one DLC and social progress or even meaningful consumer rights isn't one I can make. Consumer rights, after all, really aren't about businesses making decisions that aren't consumer friendly. They are about protection from harmful products without knowledge, protection from true monopolies, the right to have access to basic needs and the like.

Always on DRM may be a dick move, but it's nowhere near a consumer rights or social progress issue to me.

I guess I disagree with the way you look at consumer rights. In my opinion consumer rights aren't just about protecting the consumer, they're about the relationship between company and customer. It's about companies treating their customers with respect, treating them as human beings and not as meat-sacks to be harvested for cash.

That is not to say I expect companies to have anything other than profit as their primary motive. But I expect companies to understand that both they and their customers are human beings, and as such the relationship between a company and its customers should be managed like a relationship between human beings. Similarly, my teachers have as their ultimate goal simply to educate me in their field of expertise. But I still expect those teachers to treat me as a human being, not as a mindless knowledge-absorption machine.

Of course when it comes to legislation, consumer rights is and should be confined to just those cases where a consumer suffers serious harm or exploitation at the hands of a company. But that is why legislation can and should never replace social pressure as a means to build and preserve a proper society. For example, there shouldn't be laws against being an asshole. But if I can help it I'm not going to reward a person for being one, or encourage others to become like that.

Improving the gaming industry isn't going to cure aids or eradicate malaria. But something doesn't need to cause radical change to be worth doing. Helping old ladies cross the road can be a worthwhile thing to do for you and your local community, even if it isn't going to matter much in the grand scheme of things.

That is why I say it is worthwhile to support those gaming companies which do right by their customers, and avoid products from those who don't. It's not going to change the world, but our little corner of it definitely becomes better the more Tim Schafers and Brad Wardells there are making games and running companies.

NFB42 wrote:

Brad Wardell

cough

I still love the guy even with his flaws.

When I read this article, I got the sense that Sean assumes the main objection to always-on DRM is an ideological one, which is a fallacy. It's a practical one. Despite (because of) the fact that I live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, I have very spotty internet service. Today, if I get home one night to find my internet is down right now, I'll be bummed because I can't play Battlefield 3 online, or any of my other multiplayer titles. But tomorrow, if games broadly move to always-on DRM, I'll basically be locked out of everything for the period of time I'm without service.

I don't have a strong incentive to buy Sim City because I know that there will be several times I won't actually be able to play it, either because of my connection or due to unreliability of the game servers. That's unsatisfactory to me and frankly there are a lot of other games I still haven't played yet that I don't need to be bothered with this.

Microtransactions are much less egregious to me simply because it's a model that I believe the market will sort out more easily. But consumers won't really have a choice if next-gen consoles and games move to an always-on DRM if they don't have reliable internet access, other than to simply give up on their hobby.

Your article misses the point, perhaps purposefully, on the pitfalls of Sim City's DRM scheme to more broadly frame yourself as the pragmatic and people who rightfully oppose it as ideologues who wish to uselessly bang their head against a wall for a lost cause. While this issue is probably miniscule in the grand scale of things, even in the context of consumer rights issues, it's still important to those of us who care about having access to the games they own. Even if you don't wish to acknowledge it, voting with your wallet is still the best recourse under our capitalist system.

I appreciate your opinion, but it comes off to me a bit as if you're looking down your nose at the folks who think it's still worthwhile to vote with their feet on these sorts of things. Would appreciate your feedback.

Evo wrote:

several well-stated points

Amen!

I also live in a metropolitan area, and lately I've noticed my $60-per-month internet connection has gotten rather unreliable at times.

While the idea of microtransactions in a full-priced game is indeed annoying, it's something that currently seems to be easily ignored and not intrusive in most of the few cases where it exists. And if it ever becomes an issue where it's negatively affecting the experience and/or design of games, those developers and publishers will (hopefully) suffer in the long run. But regarding always-on DRM for games that are full-priced (or near full-priced) and/or not MMOs or MOBAs, I will continue to vote with my wallet by not buying those games, and possibly even deciding to not buy any game released by devs/pubs that make a habit of it. At least not until broadband internet is as widespread and common and reliable as the electricity utility.

And I will still have more good games to play than I have time to play them.

NFB42 wrote:

a rousing speech

That was a rousing speech good sir or madam!

I was about as addicted to a game as I can get with Planetside 2 and then my internet got sh*tty all of a sudden (it's better now). I pay $121/mo for tv/phone/internet. You know how people make fun of how people panic when their internet is out? It's funny cause it's true. As soon as they install a server next to my apartment and make it follow me to all my future residences and places I sleep or fix the internet forever, I'll buy all the always online games they want me to.

Keithustus wrote:
NFB42 wrote:

Brad Wardell

cough
I still love the guy even with his flaws.

Same here =D. But I actually pre-ordered elemental before it was even in beta. When it bombed I was offered a refund, and I didn't take it (even though I never bothered playing the full game).
Since then I've already gotten one free game:
http://elementalgame.com/fallen-ench... (which was pretty good)
And I'm going to get another:
http://elementalgame.com/legendary-h... (looking to be even better)
I actually feel like I got a pretty good deal in the end.

RolandofGilead wrote:
NFB42 wrote:

a rousing speech

That was a rousing speech good sir or madam!
I was about as addicted to a game as I can get with Planetside 2 and then my internet got sh*tty all of a sudden (it's better now). I pay $121/mo for tv/phone/internet. You know how people make fun of how people panic when their internet is out? It's funny cause it's true. As soon as they install a server next to my apartment and make it follow me to all my future residences and places I sleep or fix the internet forever, I'll buy all the always online games they want me to.

Thanks, and you're exactly right! I've had problems where for over a year my internet would consistently spontaneously stop working for minutes on end several times a day. If I'd had certain games with some of the worst DRM, I might as well have flushed the money I'd spend on it down the loo.

[Elysium edit: I'm fine if you don't agree with me, but keep yourself under control.]

This stuff DOES NOT MAKE GAMES BETTER. It is purely for publisher benefit, not yours. They now have the technology to demand more money out of you, and to impose more limits on how you can use the product.

CDs were a huge advance over floppies. DRM is not an advance in any sense of the word.

Does everyone forget that you can buy always-online games, then wait just a few days and be able to find and download hacked copies that don't require the always-on connection?

So if I can get a better product for free, why would I pay for the inferior version?

I am not willing to give money to companies that abuse me. Will not do it. And if I can get the same product, minus abuse, for free, well, that's just gravy.

Malor wrote:
Does everyone forget that you can buy always-online games, then wait just a few days and be able to find and download hacked copies that don't require the always-on connection?

So if I can get a better product for free, why would I pay for the inferior version?

I am not willing to give money to companies that abuse me. Will not do it. And if I can get the same product, minus abuse, for free, well, that's just gravy.

My abuse is always free!

Gravey wrote:

My abuse is always free!

That's only because you're using a pay2win system.

When I read this article, I got the sense that Sean assumes the main objection to always-on DRM is an ideological one, which is a fallacy.

I think it is the main objection. You bring up another objection, however, and a valid one. In your shoes I wouldn't buy those games either, but that's not really my point.

What I am pointing out is simply that, despite the fact that you and others legitimately deal with this issue, I don't think there's any evidence that the industry will go backwards to solve the problem. The problem will likely resolve in the long run, but it will do it on the industry's terms. Voting with your dollar is beneficial to you (in that you don't waste your money). It is not going to result in companies doing away with DRM.

Elysium wrote:

It is not going to result in companies doing away with DRM.

Uh-huh?

edit:

Malor wrote:

So if I can get a better product for free, why would I pay for the inferior version?

I am not willing to give money to companies that abuse me. Will not do it. And if I can get the same product, minus abuse, for free, well, that's just gravy.

I do sometimes wonder if the best thing that ever happened to paying customers is piracy. The common wisdom is that DRM was a response to piracy, but more and more I don't buy it, especially as time went on. Businesses aren't *that* stupid, are they, that the 'Window Blinds' logic fell on deaf ears for so long?

I really think DRM eventually became about controlling the paying customer, and piracy was just another 'phantom menace'. I wonder how much worse companies would be treating their paying customers if the alternative of piracy did not exist.

Scratched wrote:
Elysium wrote:

The problem will likely resolve in the long run, but it will do it on the industry's terms. Voting with your dollar is beneficial to you (in that you don't waste your money). It is not going to result in companies doing away with DRM. It is not going to result in companies doing away with DRM.

Uh-huh?

RPS: So you say you’re not talking about data. I find that quite interesting bearing in mind data is the one thing that’s lacking in this entire discussion, across all publishers, the whole spectrum. The one thing no one’s ever shown is any data whatsoever to show DRM’s efficacy. Why do you think that is?

Perotti: I think they are complex topics, and as a company we do not disclose this kind of data for confidentiality reasons. As I said earlier, the situation can be very different, from different games, from different territories.

...

RPS: But do you understand how damaging it’s been to your argument to never actually say these numbers?

Perotti: Yes.

: D

So far, when I've paid money, I've played fun games. When I pay money and don't get to play games, I'll stop spending said money.

If I had spotty interent, I wouldn't buy a game dependent upon it. It's kind of like i don't buy PC games that won't run on my Mac. If there were enough Mac owners buying games, then publishers would make sure they had some Mac games to sell. If there are enough spotty internt guys that publishers wan as customers, they will make games that don't require interent access.

So far, since the late 90's, I've found that gaming has been worth the money I spend. that menat not gaming on computers for awhile, followed by a period of exclusive PC gaming, followed by a period of mostly console gaming. The industry has changed over time, and I just changed in the way that made the most sense for me.

I'm 100% willing to not play games if I no longer see the cost/benefit ratio as worth my time and money. There are seriously a lot of great entertainment options out there in the world. I don't think I will be hurt by reading more books, playing more board games, or even just getting out of the house and doing more stuff around town.

But right now, I'm going to try my darndest to make time to play Tomb Raider, while fitting in time for our NCAA Dynasty and playing the new MLB 2K13 game, while still going to school and being a dad and husband.

Life is not bad. I'm not going to waste time being miserable when the going is so good. Will not do it.