DRM or not DRM, that is the question

The other week, I was having a chat with a friend and the question of DRM on games came up.  My friend decided that she wanted to ask more people about DRM and their thoughts on the subject [ Editors Note: A copy of her DRM post can be found here ].  She sent a list of the 5 questions she wanted to ask, and I filled it in.  Here are my thoughts:

What do you think DRM (Digital Rights Management) is? Why was it introduced?

DRM is a method to restrict honest customers from using the product.  The same companies that impose DRM offer no way for a customer to replace a damaged item without purchasing the item again.  DRM is a method used by companies to protect their investment in their product.

How has DRM affected you in the past? Do you have any personal experiences with it?

DRM can cause conflict with some DVD burning programs used to make backup copies.
Some DRM’s have been speculated to cause hardware faults, for example “Starforce”.  The current “popular DRM” is called “SecuROM” made by Sony, which has a long and negative history with regards to DRM.

I have read a few articles about soldiers fighting in places like Iraq who have purchased single player games (not multiplayer games, that we all know require internet access) that require either activation via the internet or a constant internet connection, both of these methods are only hurting the hardworking men & women out there fighting for our countries, as they have very limited access to the internet, and I’m sure most would rather use that time to “phone home” to loved ones instead of activating a game.  They have limited downtime to relax, and they don’t need these sorts of hassles.

Why do you think companies use DRM?

They say it’s to combat piracy, and to protect their investment. But I don’t actually think they know why they do it anymore; it’s gotten out of hand.

What can you think of as alternatives to DRM, so companies can still protect their investments?

Trust the customer and create better products. It appears as though to stop the “nasty pirates” the honest purchasing customers have to suffer. If the companies stopped putting all this effort into DRM and put that extra effort into making games that customers want to pay for, this problem wouldn’t exist. The companies that impose the harshest DRM (EA I’m looking at you) churn out games like they are on a conveyor belt. They should spend some more time focusing on the quality of the games.

Piracy has been on the increase for a while now; movies like Avatar were available on the internet a short time after the release of the movie in the cinema.  According to the logic that companies are using, this should have meant that Avatar flopped at the Cinema, because everyone could “just download it”, this didn’t happen.  Avatar went on to become the highest grossing movie of all time.

The same thing happened to “Call of Duty: Black Ops”. It was considered the most pirated game of 2010 (as of December 26th 2010) with over 4.2 million copies pirated, but it was also the biggest selling game of the year with over 20 million copies sold.  I bet you will find that most of the pirated copies are people who later bought the game, but wanted to play it “before its shelf release date” or “who wanted a backup copy”.

Talk a bit about the link between DRM and piracy… Do you think increased DRM would increase piracy or decrease it? What about if DRM was removed? Would piracy increase or decrease?

Piracy has been around for a long time, (in the early days it was analog with cassette, BETAMAX, VHS), and the recent “bump” of piracy awareness has more to do with the ease of accessibility of these items than anything else: The Internet.

Making a product harder to use for the customer is obviously going to have its side effects, one effect would be that people don’t buy that product; another would be that people find other ways of getting the products.  Once people start to discover that a “pirated” version of the product is not only easier to get through the internet but also less intrusive, they will have become a “law breaking” pirate.  Ever sat through 15 minutes of “unskipable” Piracy messages and trailers on the DVD you just purchased? The pirates don’t, because the movie starts virtually instantly.

Most games/DVDs are “cracked” before they reach the high street, so the method used to protect the company’s investment has already been broken, and the only people who suffer are the paying customers, not the pirates.  With internet speeds getting faster and faster, companies need to be focusing on the use of the internet to improve customer experiences and not continue to fight against it.

I think piracy will increase if DRM continues and becomes more intrusive & restrictive.

To sum things up: DRM is intrusive, restrictive and only affects the customers who PAY for the products.

In this interview I have not addressed anything to do with the cost of the products, this is also a consideration with regards to piracy, but we’ll leave that for another time.


My name is David Hatch, I am a husband, parent and a gamer, I have played games for as long as I can remember, all the way back from a ZX81 to the XBOX360 and into the future with the PS4. I will always be a gamer.

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