The discussion of always online DRM and the games that do it right and those who get it wrong.
Piracy has been around since the birth of the internet itself. Now in the digital age there are new more modern ways to combat piracy. Let me introduce you to:
DRM (Digital Restrictions Management)
This has been around for a long time, Methods to prevent people from playing without a purchase. With newer modes of payment and distribution there had been many efforts to cut piracy, but like a hydra it just continued to evolve with 2 new heads to replace the last one. Recently a new form of DRM emerges like Hercules and finds. This hero is an always online method of DRM to authenticate each copy of the game on the games official servers. Following suite to a typical MMORPG’s like the famous World of Warcraft or the original Everquest. A website dedicated to DRM and information about it. It can be found here.
I have discussed in my previous article how making a game online you are also losing ownership like you would in a regular boxed game. Link.
There are some games that are allowed to exist as such, these are either free games or online based multiplayer games, where the business model relies on the players incentivised to purchase addons, boost and skins to help pay for the games services. DOTA2 a great example for the former and War of the Roses for the latter. The debate arises when many major companies start to enforce the same on games that are straight up full priced purchasable titles.
My effort here will be to highlight games that misuse digital restriction and give some details about the other side of the fence. Let us take a look at the facts for an always online DRM before beginning the discussion.
1 Reduces piracy very efficiently.
2 In-cooperated social features.
3 Ease to patch and deliver additional digital content like DLC’s
4 Increases the longevity of the game.
1 Bad business practices emerging like unnecessary micro-transactions. (War-Z)
2 Server instability renders the game unplayable. (Like error: 37)
3 No internet, No game.
There have been many games earlier that have tried to do the same. Ubisoft’s Anno 2070 and settlers series to name a few. These games on lauch forced online connectivity with uplay and recieved a bashing from the media for doing so. Ubisoft did later realize the damage that was done and began damage control(like removing the always online, instead following a one time login at the start of the game.) and much later announced that future games would follow a one time activation policy as the industry standard. There is a post interview they did with Rock paper shotgun highlighting the changes and their possible move away from always online DRM. it can be found here.
Now lets talk about the elephant in the room and the reason this article exists. The biggest offenders for this always online DRM have been diablo 3 and simcity. (Both with horrible launches). Now diablo3 originally stated that the reason they wanted an always online game was due to multiplayer components immersion in the core gameplay, and they could have somewhat be forgiven until they announced offline mode for consoles, where piracy is less of a problem. (A companies 90% revenue is from consoles as per the Ubisoft interview. Linked above.) This was a clear indication why they went for always on DRM. Like Starcraft2:Episold1.
Torchlight 2 another game of the same genre had already shown us how to do it better. It had offline, online, Lan, the kitchen sink and their model was superior to diablo’s in every way, and was done in a budget much less than diablo’s. If only the game had launched before diablo 3, I am sure it would have sold a lot more. From a business point of view, Diablo 3 became the fastest selling game on PC with 2 million preorders. Till date there has been no pirated version available and they as making a lot of money from the Real money auction house. They may have lost some face value with the customers and in returned gained a lot of money.
Same with simcity, they are going through a rough launch, but have setup their game with a lot of potential for future DLC’s cosmetics and addition purchases. It may now agree well with the majority but nevertheless they sell well, and make a lot of money.
DRM Done Right
Now there have been games that have done the whole DRM thing well. Witcher series for example. CD project red has been known to be very consumer oriented. They even started initiatives like GOG which offers DRM free games, Including some AAA titles. When initially launched the games had a light DRM. Needless to say it was cracked in a short while, then they released a patch to remove the DRM from the game. They did not stop there and even released a upgraded version of the game Free of cost to the original customers and re-released the game on discount (Enhanced edition) stating that if for some reason you could not purchase the game you can do so now. (A clear indication on the audience they wanted to target. Arrrr! ). Then they did the same with Witcher 2. A light DRM which was later removed. Often selling their games at exceptional discounts. I remember when withcer 2 launched Wither 1 was available for $2.99 (RS 160 Approx) with additional digital content (Soundtrack, Wallpapers). They have been rewarded for their efforts as well. With game copies selling millions and the originals novel translated into many languages.
There have also been forms of DRM that people actually like, Steam for example. Any game purchased through steam will only work with the steam client installed. Regardless the steam platform has adored much appreciation, be it for their superior customer support or great deals and discounts or providing a great platform with both services from a digital store as well as a game client with built in chat and social functions.
The reason I talk about sales is the 3 most famous examples, Anno 2070, Diablo, Simcity all sold exceptionally well, despite being PC exclusive and having always on DRM . On the flip side there have been games that did not do so well despite their best efforts like Mirrors edge, Bulletstorm and Homefront. The games had tradition boxed version and despite receiving critical acclaim and being great titles, did not manage the make enough money to justify the release and there have been doubts on the future installments of the series.
Game companies fear piracy, here is an example: Capcom confirmed that the PC version of Super Street Fighter IV was cancelled due to concerns about piracy. The game’s producer Yoshinori Ono said that the original Street Fighter IV sold very well on PC, but it was also “number one in piracy”. SSF-IV, featured new characters, stages and modes.Ono said that releasing a PC version of the game would essentially involve giving it away for “free” in some cases, which would damage the Street Fighter brand. It was later released as arcade edition but the point is the caution it genrated amonst the company. We have seen examples where studios have closed down given poor sales of their games. Unfortunately, sales do affect developers. Unit 13 developer, Zipper Interactive, were closed due to poor sale of their great shooter. We have had companies shy away from PC version of the game stating that it is not profitable enough.
Its not that we call call these games evil and be done with. Considering the level of detail and production value that went into both the games it is no wonder that they went to extreme measures to protect their work. I mean diablo3 animation and fluidity is the best i have seen in any action RPG and the level of simulation and detail in simcity is unmatched. It is clear that a very high budget was allocated to make these games, and ensuing the returns is vital for the company, but is also equally important to protect the scarcity of the series, as the more scare the item is the more it is valued. If someone created something beautiful and state of the are it is no wonder that they will be willing to goto extreme measures to protect their work.
There is an interesting article by Blair Inglis discussing sales and what is is influenced by It will help give an idea why the games sell despite so much bad press. Link.
Do you think this DRM it is a bad practice and hurts a lot of customers ?
Why despite the flaws and controversies there games continue to sell great numbers ?
Is it only that a few very small percent of the highest budget games can pull it off ?
Are we looking at a future where microtransactions will force online connectivity ?
Please Note: This is an Editorials piece written to reflect the opinion of the Author.