The Impact of DRM Protection On PC Gaming

The Impact of DRM Protection On PC Gaming
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DRM Protection In PC Gaming

Digital Rights Management (DRM for short) is a means for developers of many commercial media products to enforce licensing and verification limiters on their property. The sphere of PC gaming has been critically affected by this faux-security system, with many games companies trying to alleviate pirating or simply making the game more secure, inherently damaging the PC game sales market as a byproduct of their actions.

Although both stances for and against DRM protection can be morally justified, this article will try to shed light on the issue of DRM protection in PC gaming and the widespread use of DRM software to stop pirates etcetera, also trying to analysis its overall impact on the market and more importantly its players.

The Beginnings of DRM Protection

DRM protection is a fairly recent phenomenon in PC gaming, however the roots of its nefarious nature could be pointed towards almost 7 years ago, when the Steam application was launched to coincide with the release of Half Life 2. Requiring an internet connection to use the system, for initial installation purposes, the platform was condemned by a very vocal set of players. However the widespread proliferation of internet access with broadband alleviated the problems faced with this system and many PC players soon shrugged at the malaise of aggrieving opinion shown towards Steam.

This almost insular platform led to many companies trying to seek new forms of DRM protection, creating specific DRM software, to both limit the number of installs and verify the retail disc is being used. By 2008, DRM protection was being widely used as a deterrent to both regular customers and pirates of the games, with many notable games having huge numbers of torrented or downloaded versions available online.

Spore: An Example of DRM Going Too Far?

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One such example comes from the EA released Spore, which needs an activation and verification via the internet every 10 days, with the addition of DRM protection to limit the installations to three. Although Spore became one of the most highly pirated games of all time, companies such as EA, Ubisoft and Atari began to implement stricter controls on their products, with SecuROM and DRM software coming to the fore in many posthumous releases.

This DRM software began to limit paying customers, impeding their experiences with a given game, causing a wave of unrest and angst towards this DRM protection progression. With a selection of games including Bioshock, Mass Effect and Spore now carrying this authentication and rigorous process of DRM protection; PC gaming enthusiasts began to splinter as to which side to ally themselves to.

Ubisoft & DRM Software

While the situation was tempered throughout most of 2009, due to a relinquished state of DRM-free games from companies like Ubisoft and EA, the release of Assassin’s Creed 2 provided a hotly debated and almost hilariously suppressive DRM system. In it, the game would need a running internet connection at all times, relaying data from the players computer to Ubisoft servers.

Also, the game would not include a fully packaged install with the disc, meaning players would be given packets of game data via there online connection to the Ubisoft servers. In effect, players were streaming portions of their game, thus initially eliminating full pirated copies of Ezio’s adventures. However the pirating community, especially when it sees a moral violation to play off, went on a crusade against Ubisoft and Assassin’s Creed 2 in particular. Cracking the game to no longer require the Ubisoft server connection.

Bypassing DRM Protection

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This showcases a key problem with DRM; it isn’t truly effective and will inevitably be bypassed. Persistent hackers and pirates will end up cracking the game and either removing or finding work-around’s for the DRM protection software in place. Even if SecuROM attempts to verify the disc, the player can just copy an image of the game CD onto a blank disc and run the software to no ill effect, curtailing the apparent impediment.

Eventually this problem extends to real paying customers, who are forced to go through these DRM tactics without ever doing anything illegal, effectively being victimised by the developers who aren’t targeting them in the first place. A key example once again comes from Spore and its limited number of installs.

Are Paying Customers Being Abused Due To DRM Software?

When the game, bought at a retail price of between $30-50 new, has only a maximum number of times the game can be installed on a different system (let alone the same one) it seems salient to point out the rather unnecessary need for this particular DRM protection.

Basically turning the purchase of the game, of which regular customers should be entitled, into nothing more than a lease or rent for a limited install time period. Not too mention this idea having no relevance to stopping illegal downloads or other forms of piracy while hampering valid users who happen to format their hard drives on a semi-regular basis.

The Future of DRM Protection Software

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While companies are still trying to find ways to hinder both pirates and actual paying customers, the PC gaming market grows ever weaker and only games like Starcraft II or Valve developed shooters can circumvent the frustration and overall descension into mediocrity. It is an unfortunate state of affairs and one that cannot be solved easily, however to truly work towards winning the battle, publishers should learn to be savvy with their DRM protection.

Instead of forcing legitimate players into needless tasks of authentication and proverbially making them jump through hoops, publishers could at least try and invest in their games quality as opposed to the quality of its DRM software. This is a problem that will likely envelop plenty more PC based titles in the future, with no apparent end or justifiably tangible solution in sight.

Further Reading

Still looking for further topics and articles relating to the issues of video games a medium? Click the links for some further subjects and analysis across a range of topics;