There’s Good DRM!?!?!?!
Over the weekend the digital video game distribution platform, Steam, began its famous Summer of Steam Sale which will run until July 22, 2012. In this sale PC games of all kinds find a nice discount with an average of 50% off (almost the entire catalog of games in the Steam store), daily deals with 75% discounts (some even higher), community choice sales where you vote for an 8 hour deeply discounted game, and flash sales that run for about 8 hours before the next round comes in, and insane bundle deals (entire publisher catalogs for the average of $50). All in all, it’s absolute video game purchasing madness. For example, since Saturday I’ve dropped about €35 and got 22 games ranging from AAA to excellent indie games. And there’s still a whole week to go, luckily I’ve gotten everything I really wanted to play at %75 off and the rest will be games that seem interesting to me but wouldn’t buy without a discount.
This event would be the first time I really got into using Steam past when I had to install it on my computer years ago when I purchased a retail copy of Half Life 2. Then the program was a bit clunky and just seemed like unnecessary DRM, and it was, then. Over the years, whenever I bought a game online through digital distribution I either went directly to the developers site to buy or through GOG.com, who prides itself on offering an amazing collection of classic PC games and many indie games completely DRM free and at universal prices (they also have a lot of classic games not available on Steam). Pretty much, I was doing everything in my power to avoid getting wrapped up in the pain in the ass of DRM again.
But why do I have such distaste towards DRM, when in essence even the game that you buy at a store is a form of DRM. They put copy protection on the disc and if you scratch or lose your game disk you’re screwed. Your license doesn’t get you another one. Same could be said about music, and there lies my problem of DRM. When I buy a CD it isn’t like buying a game. I don’t have to worry about wear and tear in the modern age as I can upload and back up my CD to as many places as I see fit. I can have one copy on my main computer, one on my back up hard drive, another on my back up to my back up hard drive, and I can create a copy of the CD to use in the hi-fi or in the car. Games on the other hand take a lot of wear and tear as you need to keep removing them from the case to play the game you want and sometimes the consoles themselves can damage your game as it is spinning at thousands of RPMs. I have CDs that are over 10 years old that are still pristine, games on the other hand……
So a good handful of years ago I discovered the Ipod and Itunes. The Ipod is an awesome device that I have no qualms with whatsoever and use mine daily. Itunes on the other hand, I have more than enough to bitch about(note: my beef is with the Itunes store, the player itself is actually pretty good for just playing and organizing music if you have enough RAM to deal with its resource hogging). I started using it thinking it was great, and like the rest of the world, I didn’t read the ‘terms and conditions’ so I guess you could say all my problems with them are my own damn fault, but Ima gonna rant anyways. Like many people, the price point was a driving factor in getting me to use Itunes. $9.99 for an album is a great buy and they had sales once in a while where I could get full albums for $7.99. Then the fact that I can save space in my home which has a nice little corner taken up by my CDs was also an alluring idea too. I then proceeded to spend a butt-load of money on the Itunes store.
Fast-forward some time to when I made an upgrade in my home music system and headphones. Right off the bat I noticed that my CDs sounded so much richer and altogether better than the music that came out of my Ipod when I hooked it up with the overpriced official cable to hook an Ipod up to a hi-fi. Same for the headphones. So my quick solution was to copy my purchased music to a CD and see if it was a problem with the connection. First try Itunes told me that I can’t create any more CD of an album. WTF is that shit? I make CD backups because I can be neglectful of my CDs sometimes or lend them to friends and never see them again. I never had this problem with copying CDs. After the rage of that pissing me off subsided I found an album I haven’t made many backups of and made a CD of that and popped it into the stereo. And enter the next big WTF. It actually sounded worse. It sounded like 2 fat guys were hugging my speakers. After some research I learned that this was due to the low bitrate of the music I bought as well the burning program built into Itunes.
So, how about using another program to burn my AAC files. Nope, can only be done in Itunes. Ok, convert to MP3 and maybe I can get a better CD and maybe burn more copies of an album that is now blocked from burning. Nope, copy protection. Well that was money wasted. I had thought that the good prices on Itunes were because there was no manufacturing costs, nope, they are selling an inferior product I would have spent the extra time and money to get the better quality product. Oh well, my damn fault for not doing my research, but still some shitty business practices IMO. Back to buying CDs and use the music I bought on Itunes as is. Onward with life.
Then the biggest slap from Itunes came and made me totally write off digital music forever and cast DRM as the shittiest thing ever. First Itunes introduced Itunes Plus, where they bumped the sound quality from a crappy 128kbs to a much better 256kbs. For most sound systems and headphones one can’t tell the difference between CD and 256kbs AAC. They also went a step further and removed DRM from a huge portion of music in their catalog. Cool. Well, after spending that butt load of money, maybe it will be worth it that I got all that music, now I can finally use it like I want. Nope, Itunes still wants some money for the upgrade and transferring it to different computers or converting the file type is still near impossible. Aaaaaa! fuck you. Then there’s the story about how I changed computers, country, and had my account hacked and Itunes wouldn’t give me a refund and blocked me from all the music I had bought, but before this gets too long I’ll stop and leave it at Itunes and Apple can go hump a piece of splintery balsa wood.
Soooo, in turn this bad experience with Itunes and their DRM made DRM the most filthy word I knew. Then back in the gaming world companies like Ubisoft and EA were waving the DRM stick by doing some messed up things like requiring the purchasers of their games to have an always on internet connection for PC games or have to enter a long and cumbersome code to unlock on disk content or multiplayer parts of the game. Ya, DRM in all aspects is just f’d and anyone who doesn’t trust or believe in it I am %100 behind you. But my mind may have been swayed a bit after this weekend.
So, given the sick sales and doing a shit ton of research, I hunkered down and spent some good money on Steam. I also started playing around with the Steam Client (where you do your purchasing and game launching from). I found it pretty neat and it used next to no resources so it didn’t interfere with my gaming or any other of the million things I always have running in the background of my computer. It was cool to have all my games (purchased both on Steam and added from the outside, but without the fancy images on them), all in one place and Steam does a great job of keeping all the installs nice and organized. It also does something great with the DRM.
What DRM stand for is Digital Rights Management. That acronym has more or less become synonymous with copy protection because many record labels, distribution companies, and game publishers have managed your digital rights as copy protection. They manage the license to a game or record you bought as you are going to do something detrimental to them with it and don’t give the paying customer the benefit of the doubt. I can write a another whole post on that, but I’ll save you the time. In the end, that encourages people to download and pirate stuff illegally. Steam unlike many of their counter parts, while having DRM and being necessary to be signed into the client the first time you run a game eschews these bad business practices by letting you do what you want with your games. Want to make a back up, sure burn away. Have 30 computers you want to play your game on, sure, here’s a free cloud service so you can use your save games on any of them (note: some games have a 5 computers authorized at one time limit, but that is due to the publishers, not Steam). Your computer crashed and you lost all your data, here, download everything again. Want to delete local files to save up hard drive space, sure, we’ll cleanly uninstall it for you, keep the game in your collection page, and you can download it again when you want to play it again. Finished with a game and want to gift your copy to a friend, sure go ahead, it’s just like passing a game disk. Want a gaming community that rivals (and IMO is better than) Xbox Live, there’s that too, at absolutely no cost. Ohhh, and the mods and tons of great free-to-play games (if you haven’t played Team Fortress 2, get on that). Gabe Newell, founder of Valve Software and Steam, has also stated that they have a ‘switch’, that in case they ever go out of business will give you a good time period to download all your purchases without any attachment to an account after the download, making them DRM free. Not bad IMO. I can go on all day with this. Everything on how they manage your digital rights is amazing and on a whole makes the whole purchasing and playing experience better. I can go on all day with this. Everything on how they manage your digital rights is amazing and on a whole makes the whole purchasing and playing experience better.
Now, that Steam has set a perfect example on how to properly use DRM, discourage pirating, and get more people to spend money they would have never expected to in their store. I hope companies like Apple and other digital distributors take note. This is how you use DRM properly. Instead of being used to punish and mistrust people more money comes in when you do the opposite. Steam is proof. Just imagine how cool it would be if Itunes allowed you to easily swap or lend your music with friends, just like we do/did with CDs. I’m a convert and all of my PC gaming purchases will come from Steam when possible. The company and store that just keeps on giving and giving while still making a ton of money in the process.
So, what’s your take on DRM? Do you think it can be used for good. Did it piss you off as much as it did me? Would you consider using Steam to buy games if you haven’t already? Talk about it in the comments below! Peace Love and Metal!!!!