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11:32 AM on 02.25.2010

Getting the message across: An ethical way to protest bad DRM

Digital Rights Management (DRM) seems to be a necessary evil in our digital world. The creators and publishers of digital content need to take measures to protect their product from unauthorized distribution. On the other hand, those who buy the content should be able to use and enjoy the content on our reasonable terms and not have to endure unnecessary conditions to be able to enjoy what they have paid for. So long as we don't break copyright law, we should be able to use what has been paid for. Most forms of DRM are simple restrictions. One typical restriction is the ability to install the content on a certain number of devices, usually 5. Another restriction would be to allow the content to run so long as it runs on the system it was purchased on. Yet another content restriction, often used with online games would be to allow the content to run, as long as the machine is logged into a valid account. Depending on the type of content being used, these are all decent solutions for protecting the content. It's when the protection method makes demands of the user that shouldn't be necessary for the enjoyment of the content where DRM turns bad. Ubisoft's new DRM method has been reviewed, and it has been revealed that a game meant to be enjoyed by a single player must have access to a persistent internet connection for the game to work. Many of Ubisoft's customers and other game enthusiasts have stated their objection to this needlessly restrictive form of DRM, and have proposed various forms of consumer protest.

It seems to me that many gamers who are upset at DRM that makes it harder for players to legitimately play the game that they legally purchased tend to miss many points with their tactics for protesting this bad DRM. Protests like buying the game and returning it (opened or otherwise), or even outright piracy is in fact sending a detrimental message, which is only going to lead to worse DRM solutions. I appreciate the desire for activism, but the methods are remarkably flawed. After a while, I have devised a simple method of activism that might sound too basic and perhaps futile, but if enough people do these things the message will be received and understood by those who make the decision to use bad DRM methods. If one, as a consmer were to follow these steps, hopefully change can be made.

This part is important. If you disagree with the DRM method that a game has, don't buy the game. At all. I don't care how much of a fan of that game you are. I love the Splinter Cell series too, but I would never buy the PC versions of those games at this point. DRM causes lots of problems that make older games with bad DRM hard to play on newer systems. It's important to vote with your dollars and tell publishers that you don't want games that you'll be locked out of through no fault of your own.

People need to understand this: If you don't buy it, you don't play it. You need to not pirate. If you pirate you justify the DRM. If you pirate, you send a message that these companies have a justifiable reason to protect their product, the exact opposite message you want to send.

So at this point, you're still ethically sound: You haven't spent a dime to encourage needlessly restrictive DRM, and you haven't stolen anything. You sacrifice a lot by not playing a game you'll potentially enjoy, but this is the price to pay to be an activist. For the next part, you need to get noisy.

This is already being done at this moment right now. If you have a blog, post about it. If none exists, start a thread about the matter on message boards. Tell people to not spend money on this and not be pirates. If a thread or blog post exists on the matter, comment about it on your stance (which should be in favor of fairer DRM and against piracy). This is easy to do because lots of people are already doing it.

Here's something people aren't doing so much

Sometimes, telling the people you're protesting flat out what your problem is can help the problem get solved. Contact the game makers using these needlessly restrictive DRM methods. Tell them why it asks too much of you, your computer, and your internet connection. Tell them that you'd love to enjoy your product, but you won't support a product with that DRM. Tell them you hope there will come a time where that software maker will make a version of the game that has less restrictive DRM, or completely free of DRM. Tell them what the problems that their method of that DRM create, and what they propose or have done only prevents you from enjoying their product. Be polite, be frank, and if you indeed do, say that you enjoy their products and enjoy supporting their business, but that you can't support their DRM decisions.

Now, knowing what to tell them is part of the battle. Knowing where to send them is harder. Go to the website for these game makers and look up email addresses in their "contact us" portion of the website. Check their privacy statement and look for necessary contact information there. Go to sites like where they have a list of executives of various companies, including game makers.

If many people email the executives of the companies that use restrictive DRM and get the message "We love your products, we love enjoying your products, we can't enjoy your products with that method of DRM, we won't buy those products with that DRM, we won't be able to enjoy the products we love." they'll get a very clear picture of what kind of customers they're losing. And finally there's one thing left to do.

I love Steam so much. I buy lots of games off steam. Steam warns you if you're about to buy a game that has more DRM than just what Steam offers. I don't buy those games. I almost did, at a dirt cheap price, but I just don't. I love too. I have bought a handful of excellent games from them. Everything from is DRM free. More people need to send a message that games don't need DRM and that a lack of DRM is a factor of the purchase. PLEASE, spend money on this. Telling a company that DRM is a factor in your purchase, but ignoring products with good or no forms of DRM is likewise ruining your message. Support those that treat customers like human beings, and not like crooks.

Following these 5 steps set an excellent example, an example that can affect a bottom line. Even if your messages themselves are ignored, the bottom line tells all. Make it known that DRM free or fair DRM affects the bottom line positively.

Likewise, the word "game" in this commentary can also be replaced with "software" or "music". We need to support those who are willing to risk piracy in exchange for not inconveniencing the consumer. Get the RIGHT message across, not the wrong one. We also need to socially address the piracy issue. This is either step six, or it's step one for another commentary. If you know someone who pirates, say that it's despicable. Say that it's wrong. Tell them that they're an asshole and that it tells companies to fuck the consumer to protect their products from assholes like them. If we're going to tell a company that DRM is wrong, we need to tell pirates that piracy is wrong too. It's a much simpler message to the pirate than to the company.

Now go and let your point be made.   read

10:06 PM on 01.28.2010

The Future: The Past

The gaming industry is often criticized for releasing sequels in seemingly unnecessary numbers. We often protest against this practice because it shows a stagnation in game creativity. We want to see new things and new ways of playing them. We want this to be the future. And I think the future is going to be great, because tomorrow, we're getting all the great games... of yesterday!

This is the future. We bought it in 1980 we're buying it now, we'll buy it tomorrow.

Because let's face it, nostalgia has a lot going for it. All these old games are dirt cheap, and in most cases they still tend to be fun. Look at the example in my image above. We like Pac-Man a lot. For most of us, it was the first game we played. It's an iconic representative of video games. Pac-Man is not merely a mascot of Namco, but the mascot of an industry. We can buy Pac-Man today for XBox 360, for PS3, for the iPhone/iPod Touch, or as a goofy joystick we can plug into our televison. We all still want to play Pac-Man, and there's nothing at all wrong with that. We love our memories, and for those of us not fortunate to have enjoyed a particular game during it's release or heyday, it has the potential to be enjoyed by that new audience today for a small purchase as a digital marketplace download, or as part of a collection of classic games. I myself am a proud owner of the Taito, Midway, Capcom and Sega collections that have been released within the past 2 conslole generations, and many of the games on those discs are games I had never played until I bought those collections. As time goes on, more games will become emulated or ported, and they too will be enjoyed again, long after their original conception. Games once thought unportable to the home market for technological reasons will soon be feasible in homes, thanks to the technology finally being available at a consumer level. Konami's Police 911 series of games had a wonderful system where your physical body movements translated to taking cover behind objects within the game and dodging attacks. This so far is unable to be replicated in a home environment, but with Project Natal's release, such a game is a possibility. To my knowledge, Konami is not producing a Police 911 game for Natal, but Police 911 is exactly the sort of game that should be done with Natal. Microsoft's recent announcement to bring us Game Room provides more evidence that we want these games again. Game Room focuses further on the nostalgia factor by bringing us something we haven't seen since the last time we touched a coin-operated video game: Cabinet and screen border art. Game Room aspires to bring back everything that was wonderful about arcade games beyond just the game. They want to give you cabinets that can be appreciated. They even want you to be able to just play a single game for 50 cents. Sure, games like that USED to cost a quarter, but inflation has not been kind to our money.

They used to say that arcades died because modern consoles made them obsolete. Now they truly are.

That's not to say that we'll always return to our low-resolution graphics with their bleeps and bloops. Sometimes we delight in playing our old thing in a way that takes advantage of our new technology. We as gamers love re-makes. Sure, some can argue that sequels achieve the same thing, but with a remake there's a strange duality that fascinates us as game players. There's a purity to it but also a lot is re-interpreted in a way that can be potential blasphemy. Bionic Commando Rearmed is the best example of this duality, and is also the most successful game I'm using as an example. The game has tweaked the story, the graphics, and redone the sound completely to make it feel like a modern release. The gameplay also has been modernized in a way, but the core of the game is left pure. The simple focus on a guy with an extensible arm and an inability to jump brings back the nostalgic fun we saw in the original game. This is a trend that will surely continue. Many arcade games on Xbox Live Arcade feature such classics with renewed graphics and sound. Serious Sam HD is another game that's a bit more recent, but still shows us using new technology to have fun the way we used to have. The game industry isn't the only one guilty of this: Hollywood remakes old movies all the time. Sometimes it's nice to see how a different time, a different place and a different person can handle an idea, and the future will bring us this in spades!

Let's face it: We'll buy the older version too, given a sliver of the chance

And as we come to the conclusion of this exploration of the past, present, and imminent future of retrogaming, we must finally turn toward the titles we're enjoying now. Our Mass Effects and Left 4 Deads, our Borderlands and our Uncharteds will all be re-sold to us on new platforms in the future. We will surely see many more sequels to these games between now and 20 years later, but we will surely be presented with the original article, redone to run on our new technology.Today's triple-A titles will be the future's cheap download. I'm looking forward to buying them all over again at their attractive budget prices that retrogames tend to be priced at. Onward: To the future!   read

12:50 PM on 10.05.2009

Thexder Neo is out, but...

Last night I bought Thexder Neo for the PSP. It's 10 dollars on the Playstation Network. Thexder Neo is a very faithful re-imagining of the original Thexder, a japanese side scrolling action-arcade game. All you really need to know is that it's old-school, and it involves a transforming robot. Many people who enjoy classic games will enjoy Thexder Neo, and it is very much worth the 10 dollars. It is very faithful to the original Thexder. It has a multiplayer mode.

Or it would if there were people that would A: buy the game and B: check multiplayer mode out.

Please consider buying Thexder Neo. This game is where Game Arts (Silpheed, Lunar, Grandia, Super Smash Bros Brawl, Etc.) got their start, and with a game like this, no wonder they're one of japan's oldest game studios.   read

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