News That Bytes #1
News That Bytes is a new segment we’re starting on Techin5 that will discuss current happening in the Tech World and is the brain child of our newest Writer – Max Ree-Goodings. Expect more opinions in the coming weeks.
In this, the inaugural News That Bytes segment, I will be discussing DRM or Digital Rights Management. DRM took off in the 1990’s and refers to any type of technology that limits the ability of users (us) to copy anything from music & movies to video games. There are two main schools of thought in regard to DRM. One, that DRM is necessary to protect the artistic rights of the owner (protect revenue), and two, it punches legitimate users in the ovaries (prevents us from backing up our own property). This is an oversimplified look at the issue, but it does convey the mood rather well.
I am going to focus on video game DRM because, to be honest, it is more interesting than music and movies. I am not being biased, by their inherent interactivity; video games provide a different DRM challenge. In conventional non-interactive property (music & movies for example) DRM has a simple bypass known as the “analog hole”. Any form of digital property has to be broadcast, music through soundwaves, and movies through the visual spectrum as well. At the point that the information is being broadcast in analog it cannot be protected, and can be simply recorded again (for example bringing a video camera to the cinema). In this case the quality of the recording tends to be poor, but it illustrates the point. It is easy to find software on the wide web to perform the same function. This problem disappears with interactive media as it can be implemented at any point during the interaction.
Video games have seen a plethora of DRM from simple disc copy protection to some extremely creative methods
Onwards to the reason DRM has got me riled this week. Unless you have been hiding in a cave you would have heard that Blizzard’s long awaited Diablo 3 came out this week. It has been in development for over ten years (development began in 2001) and is not only one of the most anticipated games of the year, but broke Amazon’s record for most pre-ordered PC game of all time. Reviews have been generally positive but there is one elephant in the room, the always on internet requirement, even for the single player elements of the game. There are multiple reasons Blizzard has chosen this route but one of the major ones is for DRM purposes. You may have heard that when the game first went live many people were unable to log in and there have been a huge number of stories circulating the internet about the various error messages restricting people’s ability to play.
Generally speaking I am a fence sitter when it comes to DRM; I don’t have an issue with publishers trying to curb illegal distribution of their product. The issue comes when this distracts, or worse completely inhibits people who have legitimately purchased a video game, from playing it. Blizzard are not the only culprit, in fact they are far from the worst, but they have affected a great deal of legitimate consumers and that makes me angry. The initial server problems have been dealt with and Diablo 3 seems to be running fairly smoothly now, unfortunately that is not the whole story. The always on component is a bigger issue in my mind, many people will want to play this game while travelling or commuting, and most will be unable to do so. Ubisoft have copped some flak for their DRM but after playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood recently it is fairly non-invasive, I was able to continue to play when my internet connection was down. The only real difference was the lack of multiplayer (inevitably). If I wanted to, I could play this game on an aeroplane, and this is where the distinction lies. Blizzard have taken complete control of the consumers traditional right to enjoy a legitimate purchase however and whenever they choose, essentially saying “pay us for the privilege of playing our game… if we deem it so”.
I like Blizzard, I played Warcraft 3 for more time than I would care to mention, I enjoyed Starcraft and its expansions, I even played World of Warcraft for some time, but in my mind a “single-player” game should be able to be enjoyed by any single player, with or without an internet connection. DRM is not evil incarnate, but it does need to be used thoughtfully so as to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain on legitimate consumers.
And that folks, is this weeks…