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Digital rights has been featured in the press worldwide over the past few years with the music industry taking a bit hit in sales as music is illegally downloaded. Napster first got shut down after a campaign from the metal band Metallica among many other peer to peer sites such as The Pirate Bay. This led to the DRM or “digital rights movement” which is described as “a class of controversial access control technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders, and individuals with the intent to limit the use of digital content and devices after sale. To put it simply, you buy it, you own it, you can not give it away. Since the publication of Mass Effect in 2008 this marked the start of a wave of titles primarily making use of SecuROM for DRM and requiring authentication via an online server. Today we will be discussing if gamers are ready to adopt this process and whether this process actually works in the gaming world.
I’ll rewind back to the May 5, 2012, I was eagerly anticipating the game nearly all gamers over the world were anticipating Diablo III which we had been waiting nearly twelve years for. I remember booking time off work so that I could stay up all night with my friends and get through the game together. Then we meet the well publicized “Error 37” which not only ruined my night, but millions of other nights around the globe. Diablo III was one of the early adopters of the “online only” models where the user/gamer must be consistently connected to a server via the internet to play with others or to even do single player. The game (after a few days) got back on its feet and players got to play but that initial pain haunted many players and indeed some YouTube videos see people venting their frustration at Blizzard. I totally get that to do multiplayer from home you need to be connected online but does it really need to be pushed onto single player games? There would have been no error 37 if the game had been offline which would have led to a far more successful release day for Blizzard. The reason that this game requires online authentication is the whole “DRM’ and online only model which has come to even more games since then. It means that you, the owner cannot share your game with others and its in a way “locked” to the person meaning it cannot be sold on or given away. This is great for games companies and the games industry as it basically rules out piracy which is rife in the music industry. However, as in the case of Diablo III and other games, the user experience is normally impaired by the hardware and software errors that come with the online validation methods.
Popular internet meme involving The Lord Of The Rings replace "Mordor" with Diablo III.
Next we step into 2013 where we have another example of DRM content and how it affects users in gaming. The initial release of SimCity earlier this month in North America suffered with multiple issues, particularly regarding the game's requirement for a constant internet connection. After the game was made available for purchase through Origin delivery service, the high volume of users attempting to download and connect to EA's servers caused network outages. Players experienced frequent problems during gameplay due to the outages such as long loading times, disconnections, crashing, and a loss in saved game data. The server problems and negative feedback led some publications to refer to the launch as "disastrous" and others have compared the launch unfavorably to that of Diablo III, which experienced similar problems when it was first released.The issues caused online retailer Amazon to temporarily withdraw the digital version of SimCity from its marketplace citing customer complaints.
EA responded to server issues by adding additional servers and developing a server that disables "non-critical gameplay features including leader boards, achievements and region filters." On the evening of March 7th, Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw issued a statement in response to the launch problems, stating that more servers would be added over the weekend and that thousands of players were playing and that "more than 700,000 cities have been built by our players in just 24 hours". She went on to acknowledge that "many are experiencing server instability" and that "players across Europe and Asia are experiencing the same frustration." To compensate for the issues during the release, EA offered to early purchasers a free game on March 2013. All Origin users which purchased and registered the game before March 23rd were allowed to choose a game for free among a small list of recent titles including Battlefield 3, Dead Space 3, Mass Effect 3, and Need For Speed Most Wanted.
EA could have avoided this unnecessary expense by beta testing this more efficiently and learning from Diablo’s mistake of releasing a product that was not 100% ready for millions of people to connect at once and indeed leading to widespread disappointment from fans that had waited years for a game in which they loved the previous versions. This has ruined the experience yet again for a whole community of people and they will never be able to get the magic of that release day experience back.
I believe that if the DRM is implemented correctly and does not impair on release events or cause any widespread issues then it’s definitely a good thing. It will stop companies going into administration as they retain their profits just like music retailers that have gone bankrupt after the piracy that appears in the music industry. Diablo III has turned it all around and is the biggest selling PC game of all time regardless of the turbulent launch it had which is testament to having a good game underneath the problems. Only time will tell whether DRM will be coming to most games but as long as the servers can cope with mass logins and the game is decent then DRM should not really affect any gamers whilst they enjoy their favorite games.