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Published on June 2nd, 2013 | by Paul Arroyo

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[Friday Five] Detriments of DRM in Games

The problems that arose with DRM in games such as Diablo III and SimCity, and the news that Microsoft’s new home entertainment system, the Xbox One, will support “always online”, has led to debates of whether or not DRM is a useful feature. Apparently with Xbox One’s cloud services, games will be better able to allocate processes to allow for overall improved gameplay. Until this is proven, I have yet to see a legitimate use of DRM in which it is beneficial for consumers. What follows are what we believe are five major detriments to having a game incorporate DRM.

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“Always Online”

If there’s anything important to take away from the disastrous launches of Diablo III and SimCity it’s that DRM can cause a multitude of problems for consumers. Not only does it create the potential for horrid connectivity issues such as preventing valuable customers from connecting to a mandatory server to be able to play the game but it limits the player from playing outside of an internet connection. Anyone who is traveling and wants to use the convenience of a laptop to enjoy some quality games are restricted to do so unless there is an accessible source of Wi-Fi. You’re essentially left with a product that decides where you can and can’t use it. What would happen if in the future the servers are taken down? Your software is rendered null unless you can find a private server to play on. Not all gamers have reliable internet connections and as a result, not all gamers will have reliable gameplay experiences.

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No Multiple Installations

Want to install your game on another device to facilitate mobility of entertainment? Unless you have some sort of registration code or account you can easily apply and access to allow the use of a game on a different device it’s not possible. Some gamers have multiple computers that they like to install a game on but DRM simply does not award the freedom to do so. The one machine that a game with DRM is installed to becomes the singular location for that game. Any changes to a PC such as an upgrade and failure of a HDD may even lead to needing more activations and spending more money.

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Piracy Increases when DRM is Intrusive

When gamers feel like they have to overcome a bunch of obstacles just to play a game they usually deem it’s not worth the effort and resort to pirating. So while for some companies it may seem that DRM prevents piracy, in many cases, it actually promotes it. Ubisoft’s DRM was the subject of much scrutiny by gamers, as a spotty internet connection could lead to lost save progress. Aside from voicing their complaints, many took to piracy to get their fix of Ubisoft titles. Eventually Ubisoft made the decision to take heed of their fans and resolved to omit DRM from future games.

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Promotes Developers to Make Unfavorable Decisions

When Diablo III was announced for the PS3 and PS4 on February 20th, many gamers were left wondering about what would be the major changes from the console version and the PC version. One of the questions that arose was whether or not it was going to be DRM-free. It is now known that two of the major changes are that it’s going to be DRM-free allowing gamers to play offline by themselves or with their friends, and there will also be free of a Real Money Auction house. Now wait a minute, if the PS3 and PS4 versions of Diablo III are going to be free of any DRM, why can’t the PC version be as well (likewise with the Real Money Auction House)? Fortunately, it’s speculated that there may be changes like this made to a future expansion. What helped lead to the decision of making Diablo III with DRM? Last July, the request from gamers to have an offline solo mode eventually applied by patch updates was put down by Mike Morhaime’s, president and co-founder of Blizzard entertainment, who stated, “I fully understand the desire to play Diablo III offline; however, Diablo III was designed from the beginning to be an online game that can be enjoyed with friends, and the always-online requirement is the best way for us to support that design.” It’s fine when developers want to support gamers to play their games in a certain way but there are different methods besides basically forcing it upon them by allowing the gamer to only play the game with a constant internet connection. If I want to play a game with friends I’ll play it with friends. In the future, developers may become more inclined to use such weak excuses so that they may make video games with DRM if statements like these become more popular.

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Less Exposure for Game Developers

Having DRM enact limitations on sharing capabilities for gamers can have a negative effect on the attention a developer can receive. Letting a friend borrow a game can potentially lead to that friend really enjoying it and buying future projects said developer creates. DRM in a game eliminates the possibility of a friend playing one of the games I own unless they pay for it themselves which does make money for the company but if that friend doesn’t have enough money at the time they wouldn’t be buying the game anyways. Letting a friend borrow a game at least provides that chance for them to become familiar with it and could arouse interest in buying future titles from the company.

DRM can certainly be problematic. While some developers try to pass it off as being for the better, it’s usually for their own benefit and not for the consumer’s. Maybe one day we’ll have a great reason to be in favor of DRM other than “It helps prevent piracy.” Personally, I think “always online” only belongs in a game like World of Warcraft and Dota 2. If Microsoft can make a convincing argument for cloud gaming on the Xbox One, I may change my perspective.

Are you for or against DRM in games? Why? Let us know with a comment below!

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