Thursday, December 04, 2008

I Have a DRM

Isn't it fun to be part of a boycott? You get to feel like a rebel, and you achieve this feeling by doing nothing! Like, by definition. It's perfect!

You know what else is fun? Video games. Playing them. On my PC.

Today, EA released a DRM De-Authorization tool for Red Alert 3. It guarantees that you'll be able to reinstall the game on as many computers as you want, as long as you only do 5 at a time. And the game still doesn't require a disc in the drive to play (as has been the case since it was first released).

As you've probably already guessed, this hasn't placated fussy PC gamers. (Which is to say, approximately all PC gamers.) They're still crying for EA's blood. They want DRM-free PC games and they want 'em now. Until then, they threaten, they will pirate PC games instead of buying them.

Okay, I totally get where they're coming from. DRM is a terrible solution to game piracy, just like it was a terrible solution to music piracy. I want to see it gone just as much as anyone else does; it simply doesn't work, and it makes the legitimate consumer feel like a criminal.

But I also feel obligated to support the developers of PC games. I mean, this seems like common sense to me, unless being a fan of something really does consist solely of complaining about it. Sure, I want EA to get the message that DRM is terrible, but isn't there a more productive way? As in, "not destructive"? Because guess what: if nobody buys PC games, it will in fact destroy the PC gaming industry. That's how it works.

Is that a risk you're willing to take? It shouldn't be. Because EA won't care. They'll just continue developing console games and make trillions off of it. They can afford to lose the PC market, even if that's a completely bone-headed and avoidable move on their part. And if that happens, you can play the blame game all you want; it doesn't matter. Is it going to happen? Probably not. But I don't feel comfortable pushing things in that direction, especially at a time when console gaming is bigger than ever. This isn't as simple as the music DRM issue was; companies had nowhere else to turn in that case, and you could still support the artists through concerts and merchandise.

So how do we send EA the message? I don't know. All I know is how I don't want to do it. I take no issue with people who download games illegally to bypass idiotic copy protection schemes, but only if they also buy the games to properly reward the devlopers for making them. That's the proper solution, although frankly, I don't even see the need for the download. Most current DRMs don't actually install harmful rootkits onto your computer (though there are exceptions) and are basically just CD Key checkers, and they really don't affect my life in any way. At worst, they require me to have the disc in, which I admit is a nag that castrates one of the potential benefits of PC gaming, but I can live with it. But that's just me. If you really must bypass DRM to ease your mind, please only do so after paying for the game. It may not send EA the clearest message, but it's still the right thing to do. We need to wage this war without civilian casualties.

PS: Valve seems to have figured out a method of verification that doesn't use irritating DRM, and most PC gamers seem to accept it. Yeah, everyone whined about Steam when it first came out, but it's been improved since then. The games that use Steam are completely up-front about the fact that it's being installed, they only verify your CD key upon installation, and there's no real install limit. It's actually not all that different from the DRM used in Red Alert 3, so there's definitely a good way to go about this. It would be great if EA could follow the example.

No comments: