With the recent debacle involving the game DarkSpore and horrible game launches like SimCity and Diablo III where the game was inaccessible for many players thanks to problems arising from DRM, it is clear that DRM has become a major inconvenience for many gamers.
Recently, Microsoft faced a huge public outcry thanks to the horrors of DRM, having to go as far as reversing many of the policies they intended to force. Because of such, the upcoming Xbox One will require a day one patch in order to remove the components that enforce such policies.
That being said, I do believe that in the right situations, I may just come to accept some forms of DRM. I may not go as far as to embrace it, but I may well accept it as long as some conditions are met.
1. DRM Must Be Kept Minimal
Essentially, I want methods of DRM to require minimal effort with regards to the user. DRM should not be intrusive to the user; it shouldn't get in the way of myself and the game. It should operate quietly in the background and should not make me jump through hoops in order to get the game to even run.
I do not want to be typing various CD keys into a game in order to get it to run. I want to able to just buy the game, install it, run it. That's it. I do not want to have to type in a key for the game, type in a key for an online pass or piece of DLC that comes with the title (or was packaged with it).
One of the worst offenders in this regard is my frustrating time obtaining all the content for the Digital Deluxe copy of Mass Effect 2. I purchased the game off Steam and obtained 3 CD keys for it. I installed the game, logged into my EA account and the game was running. Seems reasonable, right? Well no. I then realised that not all my content had downloaded and installed through Steam. I had to log into my EA account on the Bioware website, enter my keys there and download and install each content pack individually. Only then was I able to get the completed package that I'd paid for.
Another atrocious example was Fable III on PC. I got it on impulse for a very cheap price with all DLC included on Steam during a sale last year, only to realise that in order to get the DLC to even download, I had to redeem each key I purchased off Steam over Games for Windows Live. So of course I had to take every one of my CD keys and paste them into the Games for Windows Live client and download and install every piece of DLC amazingly slowly despite my decent enough broadband speeds and only then could I get all the content for my game.
2. It's One or the Other
Continuing on from the previous point, there should not be too many methods of DRM bundled with games. If I buy a game from Steam, I would like the DRM to just be Steamworks. I do not want to have to run any additional software to get my game to run; just the store/DRM method I buy my game from.
I hate having to run uPlay in order to get a game I purchased off Origin (strictly hypothetically speaking as I really try to avoid Origin at all costs) to run. I hate having to run Games for Windows Live in order to get my copy of Fallout 3 that I purchased on Steam to function.
Simply put: it's one or the other. Adding software like SecuROM or uPlay just leaves me with another hoop to jump through in order to get my legally purchased game to run.
By all means, companies can set up their own digital store fronts. In fact, I support it. Competition is always a good thing. But don't force your store front on me when I clearly want to buy my game from your competitor.
If I wanted to use uPlay, I'd just use uPlay. If I wanted to use Games for Windows Live (and I really don't), I'd buy my games from Microsoft.
Back to bashing Fable III; I found it to be a pretty horrible offender with regards to using way too much DRM software. Games for Windows Live and SecuROM being added on to a game I purchased over Steam, a program that is already utilising a method of DRM. Thank god the game was cheap (I got it on sale at 75% off)...
3. Lowered Rights Should Give Greater Benefits
Give me a reason to even want to use the DRM. This can be done in a few ways. For example: Steam offers regular sales and discounted games. It also offers an online infrastructure that really should be able to cover all bases, including online play, achievements and social functionality.
Many digital store fronts hosting their own methods of DRM should be able to offer an incentive to make people want to move over to it, not just force them over to
it because you can. If I don't want to use Origin or uPlay, I should be able to avoid them. Sadly, this means avoiding the games exclusive to these platforms. I don't like feeling like I have to use something in order to play my game. Instead, I should want to use the software.
In the case of PlayStation Plus; I know my games obtained on PS+ do not belong to me. They require activation and authentication at times (although not very often) and are tied directly to my PSN account. My games will no longer be playable should I choose to end my subscription. Yet at this time, the benefits in terms of the sheer amount of content I get each month for the price of my 3 month/yearly subscription are so great that it ultimately becomes worthwhile.
What I'd like to see is more systems where the method of DRM is highly beneficial to the user so it ultimately becomes enticing.
4. [Single Player Games] The Game Should be Playable Whenever I See Fit
This is a pretty important issue for me; the game must be playable whenever I feel like it. When I want to play the game, it should just run. No effort required.
If I have no Internet connection, I should be able to play a game. Even if it means having slightly reduced functionality like in the case of Dark Souls. I'm willing to accept that the game may be better with an Internet connection, but even some form of offline mode would be greatly appreciated.
If anyone remembers the PC version of Assassin's Creed 2 where it required an always-on connection in order to play the single-player component. Well, that's exactly the kind of thing I don't want in my games. If I can play the game offline on a console, I should be able to play it offline on a PC. Luckily this was later patched out. The fact still remains that it happened, the game required an always online connection to play and it became unplayable when I wasn't connected to the Internet.
I understand that a game may require a one-time activation, but can't it be done through the platform the game runs off of? A one-time activation through uPlay or Origin or Steam is not overly problematic, as long as it's simple to activate my game. Having to authenticate my copy constantly to prove I didn't pirate it since the last time I authenticated it simply comes across as an incredibly annoying thing.
5. [Online Games] Always-Online Functionality Must Be Justified
Does the game need to be connected to the Internet constantly to play it? Does it add any functionality? Was it built from the ground up with the intention of it being an online game?
See, I don't have a problem with online gaming as long as there is a reason for the online component. MMOs are perfectly acceptable, as long as it is clear that the game is intended to be an MMO. It must come across to the user as if the game is intended to be played online.
For instance, World of Warcraft is clearly an online game. Dungeons and bosses are designed specifically with groups of players in mind. Some bosses are downright impossible to defeat solo.
Again, I'll be beating up Assassin's Creed 2 here. The single-player part of the game has no need for online access, yet it once was an always-online game. It didn't need to be always online, but it was.
Always online games can work, but only if the game itself benefits from the online functionality. Developers creating a single-player experience, making sure the single-player game can only be played online and then calling it an MMO is simply unacceptable.
6. [Online Games/Digital Distribution] The Service Must Be Reliable
With the recent DRM-related problems surrounding the game DarkSpore and EA's closure of their fairly modern Facebook games, I am left wondering how long it will be until EA declares their latest SimCity game dead.
How long will it be until EA shuts it down?
If I am to buy into an online game, I expect decent software support. I expect it to be playable for years to come. Why? Because I paid full price for it. I am the customer, they are the supplier. They sell me a service and I expect that service to work.
If they do shut down the servers prematurely, it would be greatly appreciated if they patch the title to remove the online connectivity. Hell, even Ubisoft is letting me play Assassin's Creed 2 offline now (this is the last time I mention it, honest).
The company must prove that they are committed to their always-online game. They must be able to demonstrate somehow that they intend to give the game a reasonable lifespan. If anything is getting in the way of players actually being able to play their game, it is up to the company to fix this problem. We, as paying customers, have done our part. We've paid for the game. That's all we should have to do.
With regards to digital store fronts, the company must be able to show that they intend to ensure any games I purchase through the store and play on the platform are going to continue to be playable into the foreseeable future. After all, if I'm to pay for a game, I want to be able to play it.
Ultimately, the game with the DRM will eventually become unplayable. That's just how things go. But I want to get a damn good amount of time to be able to play the game. And if – for example – Steam is eventually shut down, I'd like to see Valve patch their games to remove its reliance on the service.
At this point, I feel I've probably written too much on the subject of DRM. This blog post is probably going to come across as a giant wall of text and occasional images.
Also, as soon as I finished writing this entire post, I found an article on Destructoid about EA possibly considering removing the always-online component from SimCity or at least adding an offline mode. This may be a step forward.
There are very few things that piss me off more so than the ever-so-widely used "think of the children" argument whenever there is a debate about the possible censorship or banning of video games.
For starters, I don't believe that all games are created with children in mind. I highly doubt that a child would be able to truly comprehend or even be able to enjoy some games. I know I was a fairly impatient child, and at a younger age I'd never have been able to enjoy Dark Souls; a game I now regard as one of my top 5 favourite video games. Both the difficulty and high amount of patience required in order to achieve anything in the game, as well as the requirement of slightly out of the box thinking in some moments, would have ensured that I'd have never touched the game again after playing for an hour or two.
I also believe that since the average gamer is supposedly in their 30's, companies would very much try attract people of that particular age group. To put it simply, many games are designed for older people because that's what a large portion of the market consists of.
All that being said, there does seem to be a sort of social stigma attached to older gamers, as the media is still widely seen as something that is aimed at children. Because no adult would ever be able to find time to kick back and play a video game to unwind, right?
So of course there will be games made for adults. Some of the content in these games may be unacceptable for children.
Wait, what!? A game made for adults with rating that states it is for adults is unacceptable for children! How absurd!
So why does this argument still have some sort of merit? Because there are groups who are simply opposed to video games and the use of "children" in their arguments help appeal to the general populace as children are seen as vulnerable and impressionable. Children are seen as weak, defenceless and in need of help.
And to some extent, I see where they're coming from. I don't believe that children should be playing some of the games that exist on the market. I know for sure that some children should definitely stay away from online games, if only because it means I don't have to hear abuse from said children to be flung left, right and center.
But it's clearly a matter of top priority to protect these children from such horrendous evils as Mortal Kombat or Left 4 Dead 2; two games that were banned and censored, respectively, where I come from. Right? That's why the government absolutely must step in and protect these poor innocent children!
Of course not! The government shouldn't be allowed to dictate what games an entire country can play because of the cries of religious organisations and parental groups. These people need to take responsibility, themselves.
After all, I don't think it's fair for an entire country to have to make sacrifices and be restricted because of the children of a few people. If I do have to help look after a child, I should at least be paid for helping babysit the damn kid.
In this day and age, it's ridiculously easy to find out whether or not a game is appropriate. It really wouldn't take long for a parent to be able to determine whether or not a game is appropriate for their child. It's actually not that hard. You could Google a parental guide for the game or watch some footage on YouTube. This can be done from almost any device in a household. A phone, tablet, computer, even a TV.
Considering how simple it is to find out what kind of content is in a game, I don't think that banning games is even a remotely acceptable way to protect children from violent medias. These parental and religious lobbys need to realise that while they are definitely entitled to their own beliefs, we are also entitled to our ideas, too. We should have the right to be able to play our games, while they have the right to ensure their children don't play said games.
After all, I don't feel it is appropriate to dictate what everyone should and shouldn't play. I don't have the right to do so, just as they shouldn't have the right to do so. These people can do what they want, as long as it doesn't infringe on my ability to play the games I enjoy playing.
To put it very bluntly, I find it very hard to justify any extreme measures being taken in order to supposedly protect children. I just don't think this argument really holds up. The people so heavily opposed to video games really just need to understand that not everyone shares their ideology. They allowed to simply not play video games, they are allowed to restrict their child's access to video games if they so choose (I'm not a fan of it, but again, I don't have any rights to do something about it), just as I am allowed to play the games I enjoy.
Or at least should be allowed to. Australia still has a few banned and censored titles. Even with the R18+ rating now in effect, Australia is still continuing on its campaign to ban and censor various video games for various reasons. Just this week, we've had Saints Row IV and State of Decay refused classification.
We have a new rating for games for adults. We have adult gamers. We have games made for adults. Why can't adults play said games? Are games for adults being censored when a perfectly acceptable rating intended for games for adults is in place because of children?
After all, my playing a video game isn't going to cause any harm whatsoever to anyone.
The upcoming title Saints Row IV has been refused classification in Australia, thus banning it.
It seems as if even with new R18+ game legislation, this title has still been deemed too offensive for Australian gamers.
According to a statement made by the Australian Classification Board, "Saints Row IV, includes interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context. In addition, the game includes elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards. Such depictions are prohibited by the computer games guidelines."
This makes it the very first game to be banned with the R18+ video game rating in place.
By the looks of things, this R18+ rating may just cover titles that would otherwise have just been rated MA15+, with game banning still very much intact. Or at least this is what I'm now wondering. I really and truly wouldn't put it past Australia to do such things.
In a statement made to Joystiq, the publisher Deep Silver made the following comment:
"Deep Silver can confirm that Saints Row IV was denied an age classification in Australia. Volition, the developer, are reworking some of the code to create a version of the game for this territory by removing the content which could cause offence without reducing the outlandish gameplay that Saints Row fans know and love." - Essentially, they're censoring it.
Nintendo: they're a company that can create some amazing games. Their IPs have gone from being humble video games to full blown cultural phenomenons. Most people are more than aware of franchises like Mario, Zelda or Pokemon.
So despite my love of Nintendo games, I feel that they've also done a lot to really piss me off. This is something that doesn't come lightly to me, as Nintendo was the very first company I played a game by. I really do love Nintendo, I love their games, their consoles are usually pretty decent, despite not being the greatest in terms of graphical prowess.
And while this issue isn't limited to just Nintendo, they aren't doing anything to really help. Not to mention the 3DS and the Wii U are the only region-locked consoles now in this generation, now that Microsoft has backed down on a lot of their bullshit. This means that as a gamer in Australia, I'm kind of at a loss here. There isn't much I can do to work around this problem.
I'm curious; why do games have to cost so absurdly much here? Why do my 3DS games cost $70 (almost) whereas a person in the United States only has to pay $40? If this is an issue with shipping to this nation (which I severely doubt), why is it that fucking digital copies of the games cost exactly the same as the overpriced retail copies?
I'm not even joking about the price of 3DS games. They do, indeed, cost that price in Australia:
Now as I've stated, these prices also translate to the Nintendo eShop. This means that even through the wonders of digital distribution, these games cost the exact same price as it would for me to buy a physical copy.
And with the wonders of region locks, there isn't much I can do. This isn't like the original DS where I could just order a game in online and it'd arrive in a week's time. I could skimp on costs on postage and get the game at an affordable price.
And why are these games at a markup of almost $30 when the difference between the US and Australian dollars are almost negligible? Currency conversion courtesy of Google.
It's very difficult to be a Nintendo fan when on a budget when the price of a damned handheld game is almost as much as that of a fully-fledged AAA PC game. Hell, considering how often I use Steam, I actually find it cheaper to buy games for my PC than it is my 3DS. I got Tomb Raider at launch for a grand total of $62.
As I've said before, Nintendo isn't the only company to pull this bullshit, but they are one of the worst (from what I've seen). Games on the PS Vita are actually not too bad, all things considering. I picked up Soul Sacrifice for $47 in Australia when it's only $40 in the US. A markup of $7 for a physical title isn't too much.
Steam gives me a good price for my games, for the most part. I've definitely found some great deals using that service. And the Xbox One and PS4 are both going without region locking, meaning that if I object too heavily to a price of a game in Australia, I may be able to just import it from overseas. Not to mention PS+, while more expensive in Australia ($70 in Australia), still gives me pretty decent value for my money.
I also get that Australia has a 10% tax on all non-essential goods. For a $40 game, that should still only equate to $4. Yeah. That's really not much. This still leaves for a bit that can only be interpreted as pure markup.
So my question is this: why? Is it just because of greed? Why do you make it hard for me to really enjoy my video game console? I'm still to get quite a lot of good titles for the 3DS just because it's so fucking expensive. It really is just cheaper to buy a game on my other systems; PC and Vita. Even with the shitty Vita memory card dilemma.
To charge full AAA game costs for a title on a handheld console, it's pretty frustrating.
To this, I say that I really hope Nintendo cleans up their act. I've rarely been disappointed with their games, but I have to say I'm disappointed with them as a company.
It seems we can't really go anywhere on a gaming site without seeing news about the Xbox One. I know for sure that I'm not helping. And, while I'm not bringing more bad news (really, Microsoft does a good enough job at that), I do want to be able to write down why I'm not excited in the least bit for it.
I look back on the PlayStation 2 as one of my favourite video gaming consoles. It was simple, it took what made the previous generations of gaming good then expanded on it. The games I remembered were bright and colourful, and we saw a nice array of new IPs to keep us entertained. God of War, Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank, just to name a few. Yes, we saw what would be the start of the horrific downfall of Spyro the Dragon with a horrendously lackluster title and one that was somewhat decent, but overall there were a lot of positives.
To this day, I have a PS2 (not my original one, sadly, but one none the less) sitting in my living room. A nice stack of games by its side. My 10 year old copy of Ratchet and Clank still in the disk tray. When I boot up the console, it goes straight to my game, provided there is one inserted in the console. If I boot it up without the game in the tray, it'll give me an easy way to manage my console settings and memory card.
It's simplistic. For sure it's incredibly simplistic. But it works. And after 10 years, my copy of Ratchet and Clank still works as well as it did when I picked it up. There's no effort, no keys, no installing of games to my paltry 500GB hard drive that'll very likely require expansion. It just works.
If I so wanted, I could take my 10 year old game disk to some random stranger and tell them "hey, this is yours." No fuss, I've just given my game away. It doesn't feel like the transference of a license. I gave them a physical media containing a game. It used to be mine, now it's theirs. They can give that game away or they can play it. Again, no fuss.
And this goes to the previous generations, too. Owners of older games consoles and older games? They can still just place in a disk or cartridge and their game will run. Provided the hardware is still operational.
Their consoles won't phone home. There's no worrying about whether or not some malicious bastard in the future will shut down the authentication servers.
It's how we can still have people like the Angry Video Game Nerd review games from the old NES or Atari 2600. His games have no expiry date. Only the life of the hardware. And it'll be possible to pick up another (obviously second-hand) console, in the event of his failing.
Alongside this, I've lived with some poor net connection at times. There have been entire seasons where, in my old house, my ADSL connection dropped out at least 3 times an hour. That's the average. I literally had to pick up the phone, hit 'call' then hang up to get it to reconnect. It was a pain in the ass. What happens when my game can't authenticate due to having poor connection? I don't know, I've never dealt with this issue in a video game console before. Maybe on some PC games, where I wanted to angrily punch my monitor, but not on a console.
I don't know what Microsoft is intending to do with it. There are still many variables.
And if I'm playing the single-player campaign of a game, let's say an Elder Scrolls game - for one is bound to pop up on the Xbox One - immersed in the captivating landscapes the game will offer me. Then my net drops out around time for the game to authenticate? That'll just break my immersion. It'll effectively tarnish my gaming experience, all because Microsoft wants to stop the pirates or whatever bullshit they're using to explain it away this time.
And on the subject of piracy, I doubt it'll do anything at all to stop it. Pirates are known to be able to bypass DRM measures. It's within their ability to do so. Someone somewhere will make a program to automate the process for the more end-level pirates. Essentially, the pirates get a better product than actual paying consumers. And if I'm to pay the price of the game as well as the ever-so-hated "fuck you Australia" addition to game prices, I'd like to be able to get the best damn experience possible.
I want a better product than what the pirates get. I want better service. Making me jump through hoops because the pirates do is just stupid. I may as well pirate it and get the superior experience.
Instead of focusing on what consoles do right - simplicity and a pretty decent lifespan (judging by some older consoles), Microsoft is taking the worst aspects of PC gaming (overzealous DRM policies and general commercial bullshit) and incorporating it into their consoles. And it's safe to assume they won't take the best parts of PC gaming and focus on that, too. I doubt we'll see games on the cheap with 75% off sales, an open market where people can set up their own online game stores and game mods.
Quite frankly, at this point, if Microsoft announced they'd bought off the Pokemon franchise, made a huge open-world 3D Pokemon RPG with every single region, every single Pokemon and maybe a whole new generation of really goddamn kickass creatures then said it was Xbox One exclusive, I'd probably still avoid it. Then cry.
I fucking hope Sony isn't planning on following their lead.
EDIT: Just to add something, as soon as I initially posted this blog, my father called me. He told me that he's been having trouble with his Internet connection and that his ISP will send a repairman in 11 days time. If he was an Xbox One user, that'd be 11 days of his console being almost completely useless. I just thought it reinforces my argument and felt the need to add this.
As I've probably stated a few times over, the Ratchet and Clank franchise by Insomniac Games is one I hold very dear. The original Ratchet and Clank is one of the few games to really "wow" me with regards to visuals thanks to its gorgeous Metropolis stage. It is also the first 3D platforming game I ever played.
After re-playing through it again, I've found that although the visual quality is not as good as a modern game, it still looks good and it still plays well. The level design is still great, and Metropolis is still pretty damn gorgeous.
This is not the original Ratchet and Clank.
Now, the first question on the minds of some readers (although I still need to get some readers god dammit) is probably this: "Why the hell are you doing a First Impressions on the Vita game and not the PS3 version that was released many months ago?"
My answer is simple: I lack a PS3. I have never owned a PS3 console, I have only played one in passing. I simply don't own the appropriate console. So I'm playing through the PlayStation Vita edition instead. After all, it's still technically the same game. The levels, the story, the weapons. They're all the same.
What isn't the same as the PS3 version, however, is the visuals. Again, I've only seen videos and screenshots of the PS3 version, but it's very evident that many corners were cut in order to get the game to run on the handheld console.
Textures appear dated (and can pop in and out of nowhere), visual effects are cut down. To an extent, some cutting of corners and reduced quality are acceptable. I mean, I'm not running a PS3, it's absurd to expect PS3 style visuals.
Although the visual quality? Probably more on par with the PSP game Size Matters. Except that at least in Size Matters, our beloved furry Lombax has a shadow. Granted, there are times when the game looks gorgeous - much more so than the PSP game. There is a slight lack of consistency in that department, I guess.
That's right. Ratchet is devoid of a shadow. This makes the platforming sections pretty damn cumbersome and awkward, as it means I don't have much in the way of precision. There isn't anything to go by. I may end up falling off a platform to my horrible demise.
I wouldn't mind if Ratchet at least had a black circle underneath him. Just as a very makeshift PS1-era shadow. Just some indication as to where the hell I was.
Along with that, it's very evident that the visuals are dated. Very much so. They don't take advantage of what the Vita can really do. Compared to the likes of Soul Sacrifice or Assassin's Creed: Liberation, there really is no competition.
Again, some of the dated visuals would be more excusable if the framerate was stable. The game's never been unplayable, but there is a very noticeable drop in framerate more often than I'd like.
On a more positive note: the level design still retains that classic Ratchet and Clank charm, despite being repackaged as a tower defense-styled game.
The voice acting is what I expected from a Ratchet and Clank title, too.
Not to mention the characters. They're still entertaining and likable. Captain Quark in particular.
So do I like this game? So far, I'm actually having fun with it. It's incredibly flawed, and by the looks of things it's significantly better on the PS3, but it's still got some of that Ratchet and Clank charm. The weapons are still pretty damn fun, the combat still amuses me and the enemies have a charming appearance to them. It's by no means the best Ratchet and Clank title, but it's not bad in the gameplay department.
Some of those flaws though? I'd rather do without. The game simply doesn't run as well as I'd like. I can look past some of the flawed visuals of the game, but the lack of a shadow underneath the characters becomes a real pain in the ass in platforming sections. And even with all those cuts, the game still runs fairly sluggishly at times.
I'll likely continue playing through this game, and I am genuinely enjoying the title, but there are problems that I'd really love to see patched.