Let's talk DRM (Part ½)



Dear readers. In this blog I will try to shed some light on what many of us (if not most) have an opinion on, be it love or hate. Digital Rights Management in all it’s glory. I’m making this a multi-part blog, but I have to be honest up front that I do not have any kind of scheduele for these blogs. The point of this is to educate first and foremost myself, and you the reader, in what DRM really is and how it is implemented for better or worse. So with that said, thank you for reading and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

First of all, what is the technical clarification for DRM? The wiki states the following in its first paragraph:

Digital rights management (DRM) is a term for access control technologies that can be used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals to limit the usage of digital content and devices. The term is used to describe any technology that inhibits uses of digital content not desired or intended by the content provider. The term does not generally refer to other forms of copy protection which can be circumvented without modifying the file or device, such as serial numbers or keyfiles. It can also refer to restrictions associated with specific instances of digital works or devices. Digital rights management is used by companies such as Sony, Amazon, Apple Inc., Microsoft, AOL and the BBC.


But what is DRM really for us consumers of virtual entertainment? I’ve compiled a list at what I see as a form of DRM, and examples of what DRM touches, perhaps even incorporates:

  • Online Activation
  • Always-Online (Uplay, Battle.net 2.0)
  • CD-Keys
  • Project ’10 dollar’ (EA, THQ)
  • Subscription-based gaming (Pay2Play, MMO)
  • Co-op Only (Left 4 Dead)
  • Microtransactions
  • Cloud Servers- Gaming (Steam, Impulse, EA Download Manager, Uplay)
  • Local Area Networking
  • Dedicated Servers
  • Co-op PVP (Defence of the Ancients, League of Legends, Monday Night Combat)
  • Mobile Gaming (Android/iPhone)
  • Concoles (Wii, Xbox, Playstation)

It’s quite possible that I’ve missed some things, since the properties of DRM and its various incarnations are wide and many. These are the most specific examples that I find relevent.

In this first go-around, I’d like to bring up some keypoints from the lists, and evaluate their effectiveness as tools of restricting and distributing media. Mind you, some of keypoints are more or less outdated, such as CD-keys and LAN.

Part ½: The DRM we didn’t know about

It is more or less impossible not to add to the problem and escalation of the implementation of DRM’s these days. Most of us do it willingly without even noticing it, or pondering over the consequences of what selecting an individual project might mean for the future of other distributors. A prime example is Apple’s iTunes along with its line of iPods & Phones. These devices are not means of you to enjoy media, but a means to limit the media of which you want to enjoy, so that you as a consumer, do not distribute the media to any other who has not paid for the rights to see/listen/use that media. On paper it does not seem so bad. You as a consumer however are forfitting the rights to use this media outside of the device or service that you have chosen to use. You are locked in, for good, and getting out is a hard and aggrevating process of decoding, recoding, ripping and formatting something for which you have paid good money for.

This also goes for modern consoles with some form of subscription or internet service (Virtual Console, XBL, PSN) While consoles still have a hard-medium in the form of discs, generational shifts and a focus on digital distribution for developers, means that we are becoming more and more secluded to a chosen camp of “brand”. There appears to be a general consensus, that discs for the 360 will in large be replaced by downloads for non-AAA titles within the next decade or two. You might think that this would be a natural progression for any console, and indeed any market for digital information, but you’d be forgetting the BLU-Ray technology. As of now, the idea of downloading a file the size of over 20 gigabytes is a headache inducing nightmare for anyone familiar with the current standard download/upload rate, dynamic IPs and wireless connections. Add to that a shift in the ISP market as well, towards a focus on $/MB. There is certainly also a point to be made about the current pricing of console games vs. that of the PC, as PC is generally one-third cheaper at launch.

To those who like to trade in games, or perhaps rent them, it means a complete exclusion. While Valve has been talking briefly about allowing trade-ins through Steam, it is unrealistic that Microsoft or Sony would ever allow this on their consoles, since they charge a licencing fee per game and on top of that a fee for developing on the console itself. This means a lower profit for them as less games will be put out in retail, if we start to see non-AAA games come out in episodic or full digital download, and they will be forced to discard the possibility of digital trade-ins as a means of generating profit.

Retail stores survive on one holliday seasson alone, as we have just witnessed with the release of the November line-up, and any other game coming out in this timeslot will be overshadowed by the annual giants. As a response to this, GameStop among others are shifting focus to stocking up on DLC, abandonning the stock of lesser known titles, who are then forced to either downsize the game, release at a cheaper price or go digital. 

The point of the past five paragrahs is to illustrate what DRM might be, and how we as consumers are contributing to its increase through our being consumers. This is not a slanter, and it is certainly not an attempt to persuade the reader, since as I see it, we as consumers are heading down this route and have been for quite a while. Hopefully it will have both of us looking at eye-level, and avoid any future confusing when addressing specific topics. Remember that this is first and foremost a discussion and second an analysis.

Thank you for sitting through this first part of what I hope will be an educational and entertaining blog. Comments, suggestions or corrections are more than appriciated but as always don't feed the troll. 
 - Icadae.