The response to my previous post has been remarkable; clearly, many gamers are passionate about DRM and its place (or lack thereof) in PC gaming. I've read through all the comments, and would like to take a moment to respond to them.

As a few responders noted, EA has now relaxed the every-10-day "phoning home" rule; now, Mass Effect will authenticate only when new patches or content is being downloaded.  

Gamers have pointed to Stardock as an example of how to run a successful PC studio without DRM; however, I feel the comparison is moot, because Stardock is a very small company and games like Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire are not expected to sell, or be pirated, on a scale comparable to games like Crysis, Call of Duty 4 and Unreal Tournament 3, all of which were very heavily pirated on the PC. Because a small company like Stardock doesn't have the tens-of-millions budget that a company like EA or Epic has, selling a hundred thousand units would be considered a big success for them, even if another three hundred thousand pirated the game. With big budget games, the risks are greater and the effects of piracy are more serious. It's also worth noting that piracy has indeed crippled small developers, as was famously borne out recently when Iron Lore shut down, which was followed by a passionate criticism of PC gaming (and PC gamers) by THQ Director of Creative Management Michael Fitch. 

Gamers also need to understand that DRM is not intended to stop piracy. No developer in their right mind would be arrogant and ignorant enough to assume that even the most sophisticated DRM would be bullet-proof. Rather, DRM is intended to reduce piracy, to make it harder. If simply increasing the time it takes for a game to be cracked may improve sales significantly, the developer would view the DRM as worth the trouble. 

People complain about the games being "too advanced", like you need some sort of supercomputer to run Crysis, or it's required by law to be able to play games at maximum settings despite the fact that nearly all games are designed to be scalable across a broad array of platforms. I do not buy this as a reason or an excuse for piracy. Clearly if someone has a system that can play these games, they can afford to pay for their games too. In fact as this recent article shows, piracy is as much a concern for the "casual" PC game developers as it is for the big boys like EA.

There's also a lot of confusion about "rights". Players want to believe that when they purchase a game, they have the right to use it however they want. That's simply a fallacy—the owner of the IP gets to decide. This is plainly evident in the fact that every game installer has an "End User License Agreement"; it's safe to say that most users simple click "agree" rather than actually read through all the legal mumbo-jumbo. Suffice to say though that it is the developer and publisher who have the right to decide how their software will be used. Love it or hate it, DRM is well within the creators' rights.

Do I like DRM? Of course not. I don't like inputing a CD key. I don't like CD checks (I avoid them, though, by purchasing all my games digitally). I don't like the rare occasion when I have to contact a publisher because my SecuROM activation limit was used up (happened once). But they are incredibly small niggles, a meager price to pay for the greatness of PC gaming. Perhaps the best DRM models are those such as Steam, which imbeds its DRM within a digital distribution and community-based service. (I rather like that Steam requires no keys or CD checks, and updates games automatically.)

And while piracy numbers are certainly high for PC gaming, much of the fuss has come from the supposedly poor sales of high-profile games like Crysis and Unreal Tournament 3. These stories were based on brick-and-mortar retail sales tracked by the NPD. However, PC gaming is fast moving away from this; as many have pointed out,  when one factors in sales from digital distribution (such as Steam, Direct2Drive and the EA Store), e-tail, and subscriptions, PC gaming is in all likelihood doing much better than many would believe. I would add the acquisition of Alienware and Voodoo by Dell and HP, respectively, along with the blooming boutique gaming PC market, as further evidence of a growing market for PC games. Neither piracy nor DRM is damaging the market as much as many would believe.

Furthermore, it's quite difficult to quantify how many pirates equal lost sales. Certainly it's not 1-to-1 (likely far less). Yet when you have developers like Crytek, id and Epic counting piracy as a primary reason for a move away from PCs as a central platform, it's tough to discount the notion that piracy does indeed translate to significant lost sales in many cases. After all, who would be so naive as to assume that the millions of people downloading music illegally from Napster in the late 90s would never have bought any of that music anyway?

DRM is a necessary evil. Gamers must realize that reducing piracy is good for developers, and the problems some people face with DRM (including Steam) must be viewed as collateral damage—assuming, of course, that the DRM is actually the issue, which may often not be the case. The challenge for developers is to find a DRM scheme that is as unintrusive as possible. EA's move to change Mass Effect's DRM shows that they are indeed cognizant of the notion that certain types of DRM may repel some gamers. Yet for current piracy rates to be reduced significantly, DRM must continue to be a reality. Here's hoping more developers can follow Valve's example, and that developers and gamers can reach a mutually beneficial solution.

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Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

Developers don’t think like gamers, as sad and harsh as that might be to understand its simply economics. Most of you people arguing such points over DRM are either pirates or kids or both, in either case DRM has absolutely no real world application except to restrict copy, manipulation and distribution of digital works. The companies that push these titles out don’t give a rats ass what the consumer thinks about their marketing strategies. What they look at is selling and they do a good job of that regardless what your bragging rights entail. They also do not look at… Read more »

K.Ganapathy
K.Ganapathy
11 years ago

Hello, I have developed a mechanism by which a Software ( programs,games etc. and not audio/video) can be loaded only on one PC. It will never load on a second PC. While loading on a second PC it flashes a message that this CD/program has been loaded on one PC on this earth and hence will not load on this PC. This mechanism is not a seperate program by itself but has to be incorporated on the software itself. I am of the opinion that piracy takes place when a CD can be loaded on more than one PC. Stop… Read more »

Talkjack
Talkjack
11 years ago

Ref your comment about Sins of a Solar Empire not being expected to sell on a scale on a par with major games e.g. Call of Duty 4 etc. According to the current issue of PC Zone magazine, in the UK Sins of a Solar Empire is currently the number three game in the charts, above Call of Duty 4, Mass Effect, and various editions of The Sims 2. Sins of a Solar Empire has been sold with customer friendly intentions, and has taken a stance against aggressive DRM. Honest sales figures show that paying customers are buying this game… Read more »

Mike Doolittle
Mike Doolittle
12 years ago

[quote=SolidSnark]
This is why the publishers lack credibility. They float irrational “facts” like “40 million attempts to play illegal versions”.[/quote]

There’s no reason to believe that’s a bogus number. That doesn’t mean 40 million people tried to crack it. I could mean 1 million people attempted an average of 40 times, or some other such variation. These numbers are corroborated with the numbers for Crysis and CoD4, which were also heavily pirated.

malkav11
malkav11
12 years ago

Fundamentally there is no way of telling if DRM has any impact at all on piracy. Similarly, there’s no evidence to support the idea that piracy impacts sales one way or another. These are not quantifiable things because there is no way to test them in a controlled environment. As such, there is no basis for the statement that “DRM is a necessary evil”. We have no idea if it’s necessary. I have no problem with developers and publishers wanting to sell as many copies of their game as possible. This is why I suggest that they ignore the pirate,… Read more »

Khanzza
Khanzza
12 years ago

Mike Doolittle on May 12, 2008: “Crysis almost certainly did fall short of its sales potential, even if it sold over 1 million, and piracy may indeed have taken a significant toll. But it’s not because the game is too system-intensive, or because the game wasn’t any good; rather, it’s because Crytek overlooked one of the key channels for modern PC gaming: digital distribution.” Mike Doolittle on January 7, 2008: “I don’t care what Cevat Yerli says about their “upscaling” game engine, Crytek’s partnerships with Intel and nVidia, or the many gamers (including me) who insist that Crysis scales well… Read more »

Brandon Peters
Brandon Peters
12 years ago

Mike Doolittle, the author, wrote: “There’s also a lot of confusion about “rights”. Players want to believe that when they purchase a game, they have the right to use it however they want. That’s simply a fallacy—the owner of the IP gets to decide. This is plainly evident in the fact that every game installer has an “End User License Agreement”; it’s safe to say that most users simple click “agree” rather than actually read through all the legal mumbo-jumbo. Suffice to say though that it is the developer and publisher who have the right to decide how their software… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
12 years ago

You claimed you read all the comments but you didn’t bother to bring up the other bigger examples that I mentioned that also didn’t have copy protection. Oblivion for example. That was a HUGE seller and didn’t have any protection against copying the cd. Same thing with morrowind. Also, claiming that since stardock is small they must have been happy with 100,000 sales shows how little you know I think you should try giving this post a read by one of the stardock devs: http://forums.sinsofasolarempire.com/post.aspx?postid=303512 A couple quotes from it: “Galactic Civilizations II sold 300,000 copies making 8 digits in… Read more »

SolidSnark
SolidSnark
12 years ago

[quote=Mike Doolittle]It’s been well-established that bigger games (like CoD4) are pirated in far greater numbers than lower-budget indie games like SoaSE. It’s also impossible to quantify how much piracy did or did not hurt SoaSE’s sales. Have there been 40 million attempts to play illegal versions, like with UT3? Probably not. [/quote] “40 million attempts to play illegal versions” of UT3? I understand that research, logic, rationality, objectivity and basic reasoning skills don’t actually apply when you hit the keyboard, but let’s try and get real here. (I know, I know… let’s pretend for a minute) GTA IV sold 3.6… Read more »

SolidSnark
SolidSnark
12 years ago

Wow… I thought I’d try reading through MD’s past articles to see if there was any cause to cut him some slack on his DRM lovefest and on the first click came across this bit o’ love RE: Bioshock for the PC. “PC Gamers might want to pass and get the 360 version if possible, or purchase the game online from either Steam or Direct2Drive. There have been many problems with activation issues with the retail version of the game, relating to the SecuROM copy protection.” And let’s reconcile that with: “DRM is a necessary evil. Gamers must realize that… Read more »

Mike Doolittle
Mike Doolittle
12 years ago

[quote=Lorne Laliberte]Is that why Sins of a Solar Empire outsold Call of Duty 4 in the month of February, according to NPD data?[/quote] It’s probably more due to the fact that SoaSE was released in February, while CoD4 was released three months earlier. [quote]The lack of DRM obviously did not hurt its sales. [/quote] It’s been well-established that bigger games (like CoD4) are pirated in far greater numbers than lower-budget indie games like SoaSE. It’s also impossible to quantify how much piracy did or did not hurt SoaSE’s sales. Have there been 40 million attempts to play illegal versions, like… Read more »

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

It’s frustrating reading this article. It really is very simple. 2 products. First product: costs money, laden with DRM and inconveniences the buyer. Second product: does not cost money, no DRM Is it really difficult to understand the genuine buyer’s concern? Sure it is great to throw out statistics that high budget games like Call of Duty 4, Crysis and the endless string of EA Sports games are not selling. Well, no matter how much money you throw on crap, it’s still crap. Budget does not matter in the making of a game that sells, it’s making a game that… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
12 years ago

I usually like to replay games a year or event two or three years later if the game is good. I’ve even replayed Return to Castle Wolfenstein last authumn and that game is 5-6 years old. Are there any activation servers available then for a game that requires activation in a few years? The publishers should commit themselves to a date when they release a patch that removes the activation, maybe 12 or 18 month after the release. That would at least make me feel better. How many PS2 gamers aren’t there still playing old games? Do the publishers (it… Read more »

SolidSnark
SolidSnark
12 years ago

I read through your first piece and simply rolled my eyes. Someone without a clue spouting their ignorance on the internet isn’t exactly unique. But to dive back in yet again…? Not unique perhaps, but worthy of comment. I’ve been a purchaser/collector of computer games for over 20 years now, back into the Apple days. Copy protection of one form or another has been around since the begining and it’s never done diddly squat to reduce piracy. All it has ever done is inconvienience legitimate purchasers. Disk based protection: Didn’t stop pirates. But it did prevent legitimate users from backing… Read more »

voort
voort
12 years ago

sounds like about 5 seconds of research to this article. (and sounds like he was given incentive to write something positive about drm..) just a extra on the above comments, The article mentions crysis Crysis is a niche game, for the small percentage of gamers who have an elite system! and yet the game has sold way over a million copies. It was very well publicised that crysis wont play on anything but the best, and even the most expensive pc cant play the game at its max levels. The gameplay was noted by critics and highly commented on forums… Read more »

Thefremen
Thefremen
12 years ago

I love how you still think that anyone who’s had any problems with games due to poorly written DRM like starforce is either a pirate or a moron who wouldn’t know a boot sector from an actual boot.

Also, what about Virgin et al who shut down authentication servers without addressing paying customers? What will EA do when they get bought out by News Corp in 2012?

Lorne Laliberte
Lorne Laliberte
12 years ago

[quote]Gamers have pointed to Stardock as an example of how to run a successful PC studio without DRM; however, I feel the comparison is moot, because Stardock is a very small company and games like Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire are not expected to sell, or be pirated, on a scale comparable to games like Crysis, Call of Duty 4[/quote]Is that why Sins of a Solar Empire outsold Call of Duty 4 in the month of February, according to NPD data? Your feelings aside, the facts are that Sins of a Solar Empire sold over 100,000 copies… Read more »

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

It doesn’t matter what DRM you put on there, games are pirated before they are even released. The more popular the game, the faster a crack appears. It has nothing to do with the DRM. Grand Theft Auto 4 had a crack available before the game was even offered for purchase! DRM isn’t there to stop or even slow pirates. It is there to prevent resale. It is there to stop people from selling games they are done with on Ebay or back to places like GameStop. It is designed to hurt honest people who want to purchase the game… Read more »

Gladi
Gladi
12 years ago

Bright day
Sir, you have waved off the example of Stardock mentioning their small budget and low target number. But, could that not be the exact thing to bring relevancy to the discussion. One of the Stardock’s employees himself a post in this regard. The fact that they their budget is balanced to what they can msot reasonably expect to sell. If i pruduce a hundred-million computer game and it fails to sell the twenty million copies necessary for me to break even- maybe it is not just piracy, maybe it is also my failure to read the market.

Al
Al
12 years ago

As a first time reader of this site (and last time, if this is the quality of articles here) through HardOCP – I have to say that this “game critic” doesn’t really understand what’s going on. Unreal Tournament and Crysis didn’t sell in huge blockbuster numbers because, quite frankly, they were inferior to their prequels. UT3 dumbed down many of the mechanics of the previous games, and had a very lackluster map design to boot. Crysis, while being fairly absurd and boring in the end, was crippled by astronomical system requirements. Past the pretty exterior, which most people couldn’t run… Read more »

invalidstring
invalidstring
12 years ago

OMG Mike Doolittle, you totally drank the koolaid.
hope you got PAID!

Anonymous
Anonymous
12 years ago
pkt-zer0
pkt-zer0
12 years ago

[quote]It’s also worth noting that piracy has indeed crippled small developers, as was famously borne out recently when Iron Lore shut down[/quote] Well, looking at Iron Lore’s game lineup and attitude, I say “good riddance”. [quote]In fact as this recent article shows, piracy is as much a concern for the “casual” PC game developers as it is for the big boys like EA.[/quote] [quote=The referenced article](…) for every 1,000 pirated copies we eliminated, we created 1 additional sale.[/quote] If it’s a similar ratio for big devs as well, to reach the target sales of Crysis, you’d only need to eliminate… Read more »

sowrong
sowrong
12 years ago

Once again your argument is flawed. In many way, having DRM not only irritate consumer like me, but it also encourage piracy. No matter how well written any DRM could be, all I take is one person to crack the damn thing and released a clean copy of it to the net. Now you have two competing product. One that not only cost you money but have the potential of annoying the hell out of you vs one that not only free but also free of any DRM. While I’m a loyal paying customer, all it take is for some… Read more »

jj
jj
12 years ago

I agree with your points that piracy has a negative impact on PC gaming. I do not think that the casual game DRM related article can be transferred to full-priced retail games. I also do not have a problem with DRM as part of games as such, for example in Valve’s Steam or with the voluntary product registration Stardock uses. Incidentally both Valve and Stardock couple their rights management with offering (in my opinion) significant added value to their registered customers. I perceived the registration as directly beneficial for me, not as a forced measure – I wanted to register.… Read more »