May 14, 2008

Failure To Understand DRM

Digital rights management (DRM) is an umbrella term that refers to access control technologies used by publishers and copyright holders to limit usage of digital media or devices.

A World of Warcraft account is NOT DRM. Tobold argues otherwise, but fails to use harsh language. An account to an online game is simply a means of accessing a service. When a player decides to play an MMO they do so fully understanding they are purchasing access to a service. If they don't, they should quickly learn.

An MMO, without DRM, can be pirated. Illegal servers can be brought up to provide the service portion "for free". Someone, who has stolen the game, could then easily log onto the illegal server and play. Requiring an account for the official service does not in any way stop piracy of an MMO and therefore the account CAN NOT be considered a form of DRM.

DRM, if it exists for an MMO, would be placed on top of the requirement to have an account to access the official service. For example: the game requires having the physical media in a drive while playing, or non-account-related authentication of the files installed on the computer. This is why I've commented before that online, subscription-based games somewhat defeat piracy in the first place by selling a SERVICE, not a "pile of code".

It is not a lack of understanding about DRM. It is an unwillingness to spend money, in essence voting, for a "pile of code" that is reliant upon a remote source for local authentication before it will run. It is complete bullshit and I will continue the harsh language and posture towards it until I see fit that it is not a detriment to LEGITIMATE purchasers.

In the case of Spore, where access to online content is a feature, the tried and true system of having an account to access the online service is the perfect solution. One purchase = one access key = money earned by EA/Maxis. I don't see how they would even think of using another system, especially with their plans to rank content and allow players to vote for their favorites. Mark my words: there will be some sort of control, outside of the DRM, to access online content. Therefore, the DRM is serving a POINTLESS role while accessing online content.

The accounts system is not perfect. Accounts can be shared, stolen, etc. etc. However, it ensures at some point that a copy was purchased and that players looking to play legitimately. Plus, with current technology, it is not difficult to sniff out and stomp out shared accounts. Sure, it takes effort, but so does maintaining an authentication server for years. Not to mention the ass whooping customer service will receive if that authentication server goes tits up on launch day.

This leaves only the initial installation DRM, which will be cracked within days of release. Personally, I have no problem with installation DRM that authenticates remotely or does some magic to ensure I have purchased a legitimate copy. Steam is a great example of properly implemented and friendly DRM, coupled with an account system to manage access to the digital distribution service.

DRM can exist peacefully, but it is obvious that is not the goal for EA. EA is trying very hard to present a show of force against the evil pirates. Unfortunately, it is resulting in further alienation of an already alienated PC gaming playerbase.

NOTES for Tobold: I do not play MMOs all the time. I play games all the time, MMOs some of that time. I just talk about MMOs more.

Spore can be installed three times total. Good luck having it installed on multiple machines for any length of time.