Where DRM Is And Isn’t annoying (IMO)

There wasn’t much to bring up this subject recently other than the redesign over at GoodOldGames, but I just realized I never talked extensively about DRM here. Thinking about how I consume media ,and moves companies have recently made, is making me realize when and where I’ll tolerate it.

The weird thing is, I’m definitely not a blanket anti-DRM guy. I’m against a lot of DRM software for a lot of different media, but not all DRM. It’s a hodgepodge really. I’m totally anti-DRM when it comes to music, comic books, and movies (more on that further down), but have tolerated it for eBooks and computers games in the past.

In a previous post I compared Steam to Origin and UPlay, explaining how it really comes down to service and ease-of-use. I’ve stayed loyal to Steam not only because of sales but also because it’s a client that genuinely tries to make acquiring and playing computer games easier for people. Technically it’s even easier than getting and installing DRM-free games. You don’t have to download the install files, click “install,” then possibly patch (if the game doesn’t come with an auto-patcher). With Steam it’s just click once to download, then click again to play. UPlay doesn’t do that at all, and while Origin roughly get’s to that point, it does nothing to really set itself apart. Recent gimmicks like Game Time and EA’s own games have gotten me to install Origin, but they haven’t convinced me to buy games on Origin I could otherwise buy on Steam. I know UPlay and Origin would be hard-pressed to get feature-parity with Steam simply as an issue of time and inertia, but Ubisoft and EA respectively should be leveraging their differences and advantages compared to Valve better than they currently are.

I’ve seen a lot of people speak out against Steam on the grounds that they don’t like any DRM whatsoever. That’s fine — though I don’t know how they intend to acquire most big-budget PC games and avoid DRM without resorting to piracy. What’s surprised me after comparing Steam to DRM-free gaming is I actually like being logged in to a connected experience when playing my games.

Right now I’m playing through Shovel Knight on a DRM-free copy, and it actually feels weird not being logged into Steam while playing the game. Logging into Steam has started to feel like booting up a console (though I guess that’s what booting up the PC should feel like) when it brings up the store, your friends list, and your activity feed. I hate it when people predict offline singleplayer-only games will go extinct, but I’ll accept that we’re reaching a point where every game you play is by default “connected” because you’re playing them on connected platforms. I like trading cards, a lot of people like achievements, and I like seeing my hours on each game tracked. In that capacity I guess Valve managed to sell a piece of DRM by attaching a social network to it. Those features don’t really require DRM to lock down your games though. GOG is about to prove that with its Galaxy platform, which will do a lot of what Steam does — keeping players connected, while keeping their games DRM-free. Even so, I think anti-Steam people are a bit too quick to blame Valve for the DRM. Choosing to put DRM on a game when releasing it on Steam is still ultimately the developer’s and the publisher’s choice. There’s a whole list of Steam games that don’t actually require Steam to be running once you’ve installed them. Predictably, almost all the games on it are indie, for the same reason GOG can only get indie and old school games on its store — big publishers want DRM. GOG is even having to remove some games from its store because of recent pricing changes a publisher disagrees with. It had to remove the Fallout games because of a similar issue.

Concerning music, I held off on buying music on iTunes for a long time because of the DRM. I’m still a bit timid buying music there despite being told Apple got rid of all the DRM years ago. That said, since I own multiple Apple devices, I do like the ability to automatically stream and download what I buy on iTunes from any of those devices. It’s definitely easier than having to connect them to my host computer and sync. That’s also a major thing separating Steam from consoles, especially when upgrading to a new generation of hardware.

One seemingly impassable DRM barrier for me is film and TV. I know Hollywood isn’t gonna sell its movies without DRM any time soon, but I still won’t tolerate it. I even like iTunes as a media player and organizer, but I’m still used to having my movies on discs on a shelf, or being able to do whatever I want with video files. Other digital video services like PlayStation or Xbox make me feel even more chained-up, things like UltraViolet most of all. This is why GOG’s decision to start selling DRM-free movies is especially shocking to me. I doubt they’ll get anything outside maybe classic and indie movies, but it’s a step I’ve wanted to see someone take.

Books are where things get weird for me. DRM has kept me firmly away from most digital comics. The main reason is actually because I don’t like the software most comic publishers tie their content to. I already have my own favorite applications for reading books, no matter where I buy them. This is why I love Image Comics right now, which has taken a Bandcamp approach — letting you download the comics you buy in any format you want to read anywhere you want. I haven’t started following any of Image’s series yet, but when I do I’ll be sure to go digital with them. Ironically, one of my favorite apps for reading books is iBooks — itself a DRM platform. Like with Steam, not everything on iBooks is DRM-locked, but everything I’ve bought there so far has been. Like with iTunes music, I like Apple’s syncing books across devices. People tell me it makes more sense to just use Kindle, as it isn’t locked to one brand of hardware, but as a piece of reading software I prefer iBooks.

That brings me to the ethics of cracking DRM-locked content you bought legally. DRM is meant to deter piracy right? Is the point not moot if you already paid for the content and don’t intend to upload it to a torrent or something? In that case is it wrong to forcibly remove the DRM from something you legally paid for so you can consume it the way you want? Kindle books are relatively easy to crack right now so I’ve actually thought about doing so just so I can read them on iBooks or another app. I haven’t seriously checked yet, but I wonder if people have started to crack UPlay and Origin off of Ubisoft and EA games respectively. I know cracked versions of Steam games exist.

One trend I hope more companies tie to their platforms is digital family sharing. One thing my parents can’t get around with iTunes is how they can’t share movies and apps between their accounts and mine. If iOS8 family sharing is what I think it is, it’ll be a revolution for my family, especially with my brother’s massive iTunes movie library. One of the good things about Microsoft’s original DRM for the Xbox One was how it would let customers define trusted friends who could download games tied to their accounts. I don’t now why Microsoft hasn’t just done that with its digital games yet. Steam has basically already done just that, while Sony is doing it in a weird way with streaming. Basically, this is a digital reproduction of a practice that’s been common with everyone’s physical media since forever. It’s also more convenient than finding ways to transport

Ultimately, what I’ve seen suggests companies are gradually heading in the direction of less DRM, not more, or at least we’re seeing less stupid DRM. Companies are starting to realize DRM and piracy are a service problem first and foremost — to fight piracy it’s necessary to offer customers ease and convenience with your products.


  • If a person is being driven out of their home because they tried to critique video games, don’t you think this whole prejudice in video games backlash is getting a bit out of hand?
  • Back to less serious stuff, Marvel plans to reprint Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics. http://t.co/LIBS1NePVc
  • Nice, informative article on first person shooters. http://t.co/XCzO7VyTEc
  • Didn’t know this was a thing: hot pepper game reviews. https://t.co/uhSc5LKeVI
  • That “rent is too damn high” guy is back. http://t.co/RRxw3n3A1S
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