Experienced Points

Experienced Points
DRM Systems and the Publishers Who Love Them

Shamus Young | 19 Feb 2010 17:00
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At the start of the year, I thought that stupid, self-defeating DRM was in decline. EA had changed their tune and dumped the online activation in favor of more conventional forms of copy prevention. Since they were one of the big leaders into this madness, I thought they were leading us back out of it. Sadly, It looks like everyone else has decided that the problem with DRM systems of the last couple of years is that they weren't restrictive enough.

Let's look at what everyone is up to these days:


When Spore came out it was more famous for its obnoxious DRM than for its gameplay. This led their most "protected" game to end up being one of the most pirated, ever. Fan reaction to the DRM in the PC version of Mass Effect wasn't nearly as bad, but it was still negative. Maybe it was this backlash that changed their policy. Maybe they ran the numbers and realized what a waste of money it was. Maybe they finally grasped the super-simple concept that what they were trying to do is impossible. But whatever the reason, I was delighted to hear that they were declaring a cease-fire in their war on their own customers. (Okay, it was a war on pirates, but the only people who were hurt were customers.)

While they've backed off of full online registration, EA is sort of working on a sneaky half-measure of the same idea. They give away free DLC on day one, but of course you have to register the game to get it. What happens next is a bit uncertain. I've gotten multiple reports from people saying that if you don't sign in to EA when you launch the game, your DLC content is missing. Others have reported that you can't load a save that contains DLC items if you don't log in to EA. I just tried it with my copy of Mass Effect 2 (a digital purchase through Impulse) and didn't have any problems using my DLC content. This system is obviously still in flux, and it probably depends on what game, and where you got it.

It's certainly making the whole thing a lot more complicated than it needs to be.


It has been said before: Steam is online activation. Although in return for activating your game, Valve offers unlimited installs, download anywhere, auto backup, auto patching, cloud savegames, and community-rich service. Valve is making us register games, but they try to sweeten the deal with a lot of perks.

I don't blame people who refuse to deal with Steam. I also don't have a problem with people who love the platform. It's compromise, but at least they're trying to make the deal enticing.

2K Games

2K Games ran the same playbook for BioShock and BioShock 2, which goes something like this:

2K: SecuROM will give every gamer a kick in the balls before the game will launch.

Gamers: This is an outrage! BOYCOTT!

2K: Oh. We're very sorry we upset people. We had no idea customers felt so strongly about being kicked in the balls. Moreover, we didn't mean to make female gamers feel excluded. So SecuROM will give you a punch in the gut instead.

Gamers: Wow! They listened to us! This must be what respect feels like! Let's pre-order the game right now!

In both cases they offered a horrible, incomprehensible mess, and then let the community simmer for a while. Then they rolled out something that was just as big a hassle but was slightly less restrictive, and gamers came back and stood in line for their gut-punch.

You can compare their system to Steam to see just how reprehensible and insulting the 2K Games policy is. (Assuming you can make sense of it.) 2K Games is saddling us with the same restrictions as Steam (online activation) and then they put a cap on the number of activations, and in return for our cooperation they offer nothing.

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