Draconian DRM Will Only Hurt Publishers

By Jordan Douglas on June 11, 2010, 1:05PM EDT

Digital Rights Management (DRM) has been getting a lot of attention in the PC gaming community as of late. Efforts from certain publishers to crack down on game piracy through increasingly invasive DRM measures have started to create a backlash. In particular, Ubisoft has been vilified for its "always online" requirement for many single player games. While publishers have every right to protect their property, hurting legitimate consumers in the process is unacceptable - a more reasonable approach is required. Many of these problems arise due to console ports that fail to recognize the PC as a distinct platform. Games built from the ground up on PC are far better equipped to reasonably safeguard against piracy without taxing legitimate buyers.

As mentioned above, Ubisoft has become the antagonistic face of DRM in the eyes of many gamers. However, this wasn't always the case - the company tested the waters of PC piracy when it released Prince of Persia without any DRM requirements in 2008. While Ubisoft has never made the results of that experiment public, it's now safe to assume it didn't go well. Since that time the company has begun to implement especially harsh DRM measures - namely, the "Uplay" banner they describe as "an innovative solution for reducing PC game piracy." Games such as Silent Hunter 5, Assassin's Creed II and Splinter Cell: Conviction have all been saddled with online server authentication measures which require users to constantly maintain an internet connection to play any portion of the game.

These measures have resulted in a public relations disaster, a frustrating experience for legitimate consumers and, above all, have failed to eliminate piracy. Ubisoft's reputation with PC gamers has plummeted thanks to their draconian DRM methods. The publisher's servers also took a hit post-launch due to a server overload attack which rendered many purchased copies of the game useless for a shot time, further fueling the flames of dissent. Unfortunately, the headache for honest gamers didn't stop there. Under the Uplay system, players are easily locked out of the game if their connection goes down for even a few seconds. On the other end of the spectrum, pirates have been unaffected by these interruptions by working around the server authentication, meaning that Ubisoft has somehow managed to create an incentive for piracy because a cracked copy will likely run better. The giant hole Ubisoft has dug for themselves is astonishing.

Other publishers have been experimenting with vastly more reasonable approaches to DRM which could serve as a model going forward. For example, Sega's DRM requirements for Alpha Protocol share fundamental similarities with Uplay, but in a much more user friendly way. A one time online server authentication is required to run the game on a single PC. Multiple PCs can be verified and the user is free to modify which PCs are authorized as they wish. Sega has <a href=" HYPERLINK "http://forums.sega.com/showthread.php?p=5788545post5788545" http://forums.sega.com/showthread.php?p=5788545post5788545 ">very clearly stated that they "will be releasing an unprotected patch of the game to alleviate any fears of not being able to play the game when the servers won't be around anymore." Planning for the future when they won't care about authentication anymore because the game isn't part of their revenue stream. It's also great communication on Sega's part. If DRM is indeed a necessity, this is how it should be approached. However, there is a strong argument to be made that proper game design can eliminate the need for DRM.

It appears that the worst offenders when it comes to aggressive DRM are the games ported over from consoles that don't take advantage of the unique aspects of PC gaming. Games designed conceptually with the PC in mind will far much better in securing their property. Community is an extremely strong part of PC gaming, so the single player should easily integrate with the publishers online offerings. By doing this, players will be compelled to unconsciously authenticate themselves by actively participating in the community experience - an idea <a href=" HYPERLINK "http://www.videogamer.com/news/blizzard_drm_a_losing_battle.html" http://www.videogamer.com/news/blizzard_drm_a_losing_battle.html">Blizzard has been championing through Battle.net integration. As we all know, Blizzard is wildly successful and has been able to do it while avoiding DRM implementation.

DRM has exposed the dangers of going too far in the name of securing intellectual property. While it can be implemented in a user friendly way, once legitimate buyers are penalized for being honest there is clearly a fundamental flaw in the system. Ubisoft's recent DRM methods have been a prime example of what to avoid. The key is to make games that make use of the PC in ways that can't be recreated elsewhere. By doing that, players will be encouraged to turn their back on piracy because of the many benefits it brings to their gaming experience.

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