DRM – Is This the Next Generation?

If you’ve been on Twitter recently or any number of gaming related forums you will most likely of heard of, looked into or at least seen the recently started #PS4noDRM campaign, which uses #Ps4noDRM and #PS4UsedGames to let Sony know, and other gamers know that they don’t want used DRM (Digital Rights Management) to be used on the games they purchase, and that they want the used game market to still allow them to pass on, or sell their games when they are finished with them. This all began after Microsoft announced it will be using features to control the used games market in an attempt to allow themselves, and the Developers of a game to pocket some money from the sale of a used game, and that they have been trying desperately to avoid the topic which has resulted in conflicting reports on how used games will be handled from several people within Microsoft itself. After rumours began circulating that Sony were looking to do something similar, consumers reacted with the above campaign. If you would like to learn more about the campaign please check out this link. There is also a thread on the large gaming site NeoGAF which has information on the campaign, and discussion about it within that thread.

Here at dojit we have been watching this trend carefully, looking at the positives and negatives of used game DRM for us, and what an always online console could mean in terms of combating Piracy, the illegal downloading of games. We have also done a little research into why always online gaming, and used DRM has been thrust into the spotlight recently within the gaming realm.

As a developer, used game DRM would ensure that we still pocket some cash, at least with Microsofts proposed system, and make money from the sale of a game we created. This means we don’t lose out on as much money as we did with the old method of trading in a game, and that we wouldn’t have to use things such as Online Passes (as seen in use by EA in games like FIFA) or charge a fee because the player doesn’t have an activation code. This could possibly mean the original owner makes less money from the games sale itself.

This does also raise a few issues. There have been reports that Microsoft are looking to bump the used game price up drastically, taking them to 90% of the original release price, which would pretty much kill the used game market. Also with Microsofts proposed method, we as consumers, would not be able to lend a game to a friend or family member, and possibly not be able to share games within a household. We have yet to hear about anything that would combat simple, friendly household/friend sharing. Something that has helped guarantee sales for the past 2 decades at least. A little demonstration of what I mean might make things clearer if you don’t understand what I mean.

I purchase a game brand new and think it’s fantastic. I have a friend who is looking for a new game to play, but isn’t sure what he should pick up yet. He sees me, or hears me talking about this great new game I have and asks me to lend it for a few days. He enjoys the game and now knows that the game is a good game which can lead to 2 potential situations.

– He buys the game from a retailer, either new or used depending on how long it has been out, and is able to repeat the above process with any of his friends into gaming.

– He doesn’t have any money yet, but now knows that the game is a quality game and is interested in the series, if it happens to be a part of one. He eventually gets some money to spare and purchases that game, or possibly it’s been a while and the sequel has released. He knows the previous title was good so he buys it new.

With used DRM, we would not be able to do this, and then the potential sales loss would possibly lose developers like ourselves more money than they would have lost if used sales were as they are today. There is also the fact that not all used games sales are lost new sales. Many people who buy used only buy used because of the price. They wouldn’t have bought new unless the price was low enough for them in the first place.

There is also the topic of Piracy. With every disc in Microsofts preposed method having code on it linking it to a single console, it would be near impossible to pirate a game as it would need to be registered by Microsoft as a legitimate copy. This means people who may have been inclined to pirate the game may look into purchasing the game new or used. As a developer this is great news, but we also understand that people who pirate the game are very unlikely to have bought the game new in the first place.

The issue here is that a lot of this information is from a Microsoft that has been very ineffective at communicating and clearing the air about used DRM and the Always Online feature of the Xbox One. All we know is that the Xbox will have to be connected to the internet at least once every 24 hours in order to function. There is a lot of speculation about the reasons for being an always online console, and some believe it’s just a form of DRM. However Microsoft have said this to Polygon about the Always Online Xbox One:

Don Mattrick, president of Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, told me that the decision to require internet for the Xbox One was driven by a desire to create a console unleashed from the technical limitations of today’s not-entirely-connected society. Microsoft had a decision to make, he said; either create a console planted in the present or look to the future and create a device built on the concept that one day the internet will be as available as electricity or telephone service.

Gamers want the best experiences possible — and they want a future-proof system,” he told Polygon.

Now, with Xbox One, we’re stretching the canvas again so creators can design for the cloud with every game they make,” he said. “In the next decade, every great game will tap the power of the cloud to deliver richer, more immersive worlds. We have a great offline game system in Xbox 360 that gets better when it’s connected. We could have made another offline console, but then offline would have been the lowest common denominator design point for developers. We chose to take the progressive path.”

This pretty much states that the Xbox One is looking to be always connected to the cloud so it can offload computing processes to it which should deliver better games, and smoother gameplay because there will be more power available to Developers such as ourselves. This statement seems to have been delivered because of the recent issues with cloud based gaming such as the Sim City Fiasco and Diablo III. Both games that required you always be online, and Sim City supposedly offloaded processes to ease the power you system would need to run it. The issues were that both games would kick you out of them when you lost connection, so a random disconnect for 5 seconds would throw you into a menu and you would no longer be able to play, at least in Diablo III. Sim City gave you a 20 minute window to get reconnected or you would lost all progress since your last save, which is on the cloud as well. There was also the massive server issues with both games on release, where players couldn’t play the games they payed for because servers were down, or full.

People got severely annoyed by the always online requirement and server issues, so they decided to dig into why they were needed. People tore apart Sim City to discover that it never really needed to be online all the time. It offloaded fairly small processes and it could all be done on your own computer. They also found out that there was a code within the game that forced you to quit after 20 minutes, even though you could really keep on playing for as long as you wanted. The only issue with that is that you couldn’t save.

The thing that worries gamers is that if these servers go down for a period longer than 24 hours, they will not be able to play the console and the games they bought for it. They will also have to be connected to the internet to check the licenses for games on the consoles HDD to make sure they aren’t playing illegal copies/copies they have traded in the license for which isn’t always a possibility as not every has the Internet in their homes yet.

We here at dojit feel that these measures are very anti consumer, and do a lot of damage to sales in the long run. We don’t see Microsoft having lots of sales on Xbox Live to counter this huge hike up in price like Steam have done (very well might I add) and the consumer will end up paying the price for Microsofts campaign against retail stores such as GameStop.

Do you feel like Microsoft has taken good steps here, or have they gone a few steps too far?