The Needles

The Needles
EA: Making DRM Disappear in One Easy Step

Andy Chalk | 23 Mar 2010 17:00
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Good news, everyone: In a single bold stroke, Electronic Arts has finally rid itself of the hated DRM bugbear once and for all! Never again will legitimate PC customers be forced to struggle with cumbersome, waste-of-time copy protection measures like online checks, installation limits or other assorted idiocy while those who make unauthorized copies point and laugh. After years of futility, the light has been seen!

And exactly how did EA manage to accomplish this feat? By simply declaring it done! I quote Community Manager EA_Apoc, who wrote last week in the Command & Conquer 4 forums, "First thing to be clear about, Command & Conquer 4 has NO DRM. Zip, zero, zilch, none." It's about as unambiguous as statement as you can get. There is no DRM!

Oh, there's something, of course. C&C4 requires an internet connection in order to run, and if that connection happens to drop in the middle of a game, players will be kicked out, with all progress lost. "The online requirement," EA_Apoc wrote in his message, which has since been edited, but fortunately not before pretty much every C&C site on the planet had posted a copy of the original, "is tied directly to your player profile login, stats/achievements, and experience progression." But it's not DRM!

Does that have a bit of a familiar ring to it? The truth is, if we wanted to pick nits we'd have to credit EA's groundbreaking stick-and-move to another publisher entirely. Ubisoft was actually first out of the gate with an astonishingly similar-sounding system that debuted in recent PC releases like Settlers 7 and Assassin's Creed 2. But EA is taking a different and much smarter tack by selling this not as a new and better kind of DRM, but as something that's not even DRM at all.

See, digital rights management is an intrusive form of intellectual property rights protection that maximizes the inconvenience of legitimate game buyers while having absolutely no measurable impact whatsoever on videogame piracy. It's no wonder nobody likes it. But what EA is doing instead is providing a service and making the experience better. You can create multiple "Commander Personas" under the single EA Master Account required by the game, and you can install it from the game disc on as many computers as you like. You can log in and play from any computer that has C&C4 installed. Stats, achievements and experience points will be updated instantly, on the fly. You don't even need the disc in the drive! Let's see you do that with an offline game.

It's an interesting approach: Instead of addressing the problems that plague DRM, simply redefine them out of existence. I have to admit, I'm impressed. It takes serious balls to try something like this and my hat is off to EA for giving the industry the brassiest teabagging it's had in years.

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