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.