Thursday, March 21, 2013

On DRM and Internet-required games

With the recent controversy over Sim City (5), I thought I'd discuss DRM and other means that developers have been using to limit the availability of games.  First, I want to point out that I'm a fan of offline versions of games that have online components, and ideally even MMOs and the like would have *something* you could do in offline mode.   Nothing is more frustrating than having time to play a game and having your internet or the server down.

Now, in an age when pirating is very easy, I can understand companies wanting to protect their intellectual property.  Nobody wants to spend millions of dollars developing a game, only to have almost no sales and everyone playing a bootleg copy of it.  This is why DRM and the like make sense from a corporate standpoint.  Sure, its an annoyance to the customer, but it ensures that anyone wanting to play your game has bought it (in the beginning at least).  Add in a server-side requirement like Sim City, and its all but guaranteed.  The added benefit is that you can kill the servers whenever you'd like.  This removes the abandonware problem, and gives ultimate control over the lifetime of the product.  It also lets you pull the plug to push sales to the next generation of the same game.

Where this idea falls apart, and where companies like EA and Activision seem to miss the bus, is in the PR department.  The internet has spoken, and very loudly at that, that what EA has done with Sim City is a horrible thing.  There are many frustrated customers, and scathing reviews online.  It is clear that there is a disconnect between EA and its fanbase, which is a sad fact, but not really a development.  Both Activision and EA have had problems with PR and giving customers what they actually want.  After all, knowing that the game you thought you just bought is really an intellectual property you are renting until an unspecified time when the servers shut down is a disconcerting thing.  I felt a strange sense of loss when Star Wars Galaxies shut down finally, and that was a game that had mutated and changed beyond the original fun memories I had, and one I did not intend to play seriously again.  Still, when I think of all the money I had put into that game for game time and expansions, its sad to think its all gone.

I can say one thing for sure, if gaming companies go the way of DRM and requiring a connection to their servers to play a game, it will just drive me to console gaming, where I don't have to worry about such things.  They get their money from me either way, but at least I don't have to deal with that frustration.



  1. Of course, there is the potential of always online console games now, or even an entire console that requires an Internet connection.

    I don't think this kind of thing is going away anytime soon. More likely, it's just going to get worse as time goes on, unless it starts to seriously effect bottom lines.

    Piracy...I don't get how it's on the radar. Putting in DRM is just giving pirates a challenge, which they love. Getting around restrictions developers make is a game in itself. Still, why punish customers who PAY for your game? You definitely aren't punishing the pirates.

    There's a fine line between preventing theft and inconveniencing customers. Don't give pirates the better experience.

  2. Its pretty much an excuse for game developers to further tighten their control on their intellectual property.