ECA President: DRM Has Gotten Worse, Not Better

ECA President: DRM Has Gotten Worse, Not Better


ECA boss Hal Halpin thinks that while content creators absolutely have the right to protect their creations, "draconian" DRM only alienates consumers.

Hal Halpin and the ECA have their hands busy with the videogame case headed to the US Supreme Court, but that doesn't mean they don't have other issues on their plate. While speaking with us about "Schwarzenegger vs. EMA," Halpin discussed another pressing issue his organization faced: The DRM argument.

While Halpin believed that the argument was commonly portrayed in terms of absolutes - a saintly world where nobody pirates, and a world where everybody pirates to avoid cruel DRM - whereas it was important to just see it in terms of shades of gray. "We get that publishers and developers need to protect their intellectual property, but we also believe that part of that gray area might be just to disclose the fact that there is DRM in the software before you buy it. Put it on the box," said Halpin.

That was just one suggestion the ECA had made to publishers in order to make DRM less painful and easier to understand for the average consumer - but yet, things have only gotten worse, said Halpin. "[Things] seem to have gotten worse rather than better. [In September 2008], we got into it with Electronic Arts over Spore and its DRM and in this Spring we saw all kinds of new ways of tying games and gameplay and gamers."

"We're coming to a crossroads where all of the console products are going to be distributed in the same way that PC games are. If that is the case, we're going to start seeing the rights shift as well ... [then] you've lost significantly. You've lost not only rights in the process, but in the value proposition itself. You've also lost the rights to resell, to give it to other friends the way you would with another consumer electronic thing."

Though there will always be inherent opposition between buyer and seller in any transaction, says Halpin, it "behooves the industry to embrace their consumers" as well as any business can. Even if it's foolish to think that there can be one perfect solution that will either eliminate DRM or eliminate piracy, the goal should be simply to find a middle ground that makes it easier for everyone. "I think that [the ECA] is here at an opportune time because we can prove that we can be supportive of the industry, and at the same time show them that the middle ground to rights issues - that doesn't solve the entire problem, but makes things better, makes things easier ... I can't imagine they would see it as anything but good."

At the bottom line, said Halpin, DRM "is not a solution ... the alternative would be for them to go the more draconian route, and not consider any of the things we're suggesting and do the opposite, and find out for themselves how consumers would react to having all their rights stripped away."

"Yes, these are corporations and the people who work for them, the majority of them are gamers. They are there to make sure that the company is making as much money as it can. But you don't want to do that to the degree that it alienates your consumer base. So, common sense should prevail. Hopefully."

We can certainly hope so.

Read more of our interview with Hal Halpin here.


Well, there is someone with common sense...

I think that is a good philosophy

I agree with him. Current DRM does very little to prevent piracy, and the small gains that are made with it pale in comparison to the massive amount of legitimate consumers who want nothing more than to buy games legally being disenfranchised and mistreated for the sins of others. No good.

They are there to make sure that the company is making as much money as it can. But you don't want to do that to the degree that it alienates your consumer base. So, common sense should prevail. Hopefully.

Sigh, if only.

I agree he's making sense.

A company has every right to protect their product, and I support that, but companies like UbiSoft are in serious danger of losing money. I would wager that many PC gamers (if not all) would have no problem with a disc check or an activation code. It's a method that's been around for years and one we're pretty much nonplussed about, I'd guess.

Steam and similar seem to be the way forward, but part of me disagrees with that. Impulse or D2D should be the way forward for digital distribution. I don't have a problem with Steam, I quite like it, but I feel that forcing you to have it running to play those games is a bit cheeky.

Grass grows, birds fly, fire's warm, water's wet, and Mirror's Edge makes me dizzy.

Yes! Someone with a bit of sense, finally!

Birds fly, grass grows and brother, DRM alienates people.

"Who this hell is the EC--Oh jesus fuck not that guy again."

Thank you for adding another vestigial underline to established fact.

Labelling on boxes? For some reason the phrase, "warning: lark's vomit," comes to mind.

Birds fly, grass grows and brother, DRM alienates people.

If you was from where I was from, you'd have used up all five of your installations!


Anyway, hard to disagree with the man, he obviously thinks about what he's going to say.

Well now, someone who doesn't have his head completely up his ass. maybe this guy can talk some sense into some people. (the completely part was the fact that he sounded a bit douchey like he's just better than everyone)

Birds fly, grass grows and brother, DRM alienates people.

That is so fantastic I think I just fell in love with you.

The trouble is, even though you'll see plenty of complaining about a publisher's plans for DRM, once the game releases there are far to many people who will buy the infested mess anyway, and once that happens the publisher no longer cares that it's customers can't play the games they paid for because they already have your money.

More Fun To Compute:
Labelling on boxes? For some reason the phrase, "warning: lark's vomit," comes to mind.

Well arguably, while it's never been directly contested in these terms, they should be putting the entire EULA on the box before money changes hands for it.

In the overall scheme of things though I find the entire situation to be a bad joke. As I have said dozens of times, the entire industry is so corrupt in the way they operate that it's impossible to have sympathy for them. If they were a bit bigger they would have federal investigators crawling all over them like with the gas industry, since they do a lot of the same things including price setting, and avoiding direct competition between products.

As I pointed out in my last round with John Funk on the subject of the industry, while there are doubtlessly companies claiming to be losing millions, the gaming industry has made anywhere from 19 to 50 billion dollars in 2009 alone. What's more it's a massive growth industry that is expected to double in anywhere from 1 to 5 years. The lack of hard information on this is largely because the gaming industry keeps a lot of it's finances and such secret compared to other industries, so analysts wind up with wildly divergent predictions.

You'll notice that when I argue with John, one of the things that comes up is how much these guys get paid. When dealing with budgets in the tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars the cost in materials/office space is minimal. That means the rest of that is going towards human resources. He doesn't seem to be able to answer where that money is going anymore than anyone else, but in the end it means that where producers are making 19 to 50 billion, developers are still taking in tens and hundreds of millions of dollars and it's going into someone's pocket. What's more there is no shortage of people willing to finance games right now, each month has a bunch of titles all accross the spectrum.

The point being that it's not an industry that is exactly hurting as a whole. Oh sure, like any industry there are some people that are losing money or in jeopardy, but that's just how business is.

The thing with DRM is that while piracy *IS* wrong (do not misunderstand this) is that it's based on the fundementally flawed assumption that all of those pirated games would have amounted to sales at whatever price the company was deciding to charge. That is not true in the least, though apparently a lot of bean counters think so. Annoying existing customers is seen as being a small price to pay if they can bring in sales from all the pirates out there, since according to a lot of the stats they produce it seems like it's being claimed that pirates vastly outnumber legitimate consumers.... stats I doubt when you consider that my local mall has *3* gamestops in it alone, plus another one only a couple miles away in a shopping center. This is to say nothing of Best Buy, Wal Mart, Target, and other places all of whom carry video games and apparently make enough of a profit off of them despite all the competition to have entire aisles full of them.... obviously those of us who purchuse games legitimatly are rare <rolls eyes>.

My overall point here is that yes, piracy is wrong, but this isn't so much them performing some kind of paladin-like holy crusade, as much as it is a self-centered grab for more money. They are interested because of the dough pure and simple... and we're talking about an industry that is making billions.

So yes, the game-bangers [snickers] are wrong, just as the industry is wrong in a lot of it's own practices. As a consumer I don't much care either way, I want to be able to use the products I buy in peace, and have as much control over them as I can, especially given the costs involved (games are not cheap). When the industry descends from on high and tells me that this is nessicary, I can't help but do a double take looking at the massive amount of money they are taking in, and what an explosive growth industry it is.

I mean I'm all for capitolism, but there is a point where I as a consumer am going to go "hey, wait a second here" when I see certain claims. Right now I have yet to be convinced why I, as the consumer, need to be punished due to pirates. When the reason "because we could make more money" is given, I really have to ask "aren't you making enough bloody money without messing with me?... and remember, I'm one of the guys who is giving you that money by buying your products".

Sticking warning on boxes doesn't really do much unless people take the time to read the box past seeing the title of the game. Simply putting "This game features DRM theft deterrent" isn't quite specific enough, considering the different methods of DRM that are being used. I don't disagree with this theory, but perhaps they could be more specific about the kind of DRM featured in any given product without having to resort to some sort of coding like they use for ESRB ratings.
Actually, it bugs me that they have to say that a gave features "tobacco use", as if there is something even remotely wrong with that. Are kids going to smoke because they see a character in a video game doing it? I highly doubt it. But I digress...
I have no qualms about a company wanting to protect their investment. But with as much as console gamers return used games in order to buy something else, PC gamers are prevented from this same freedom because of registration and the like. I can't foresee a possible ending wherein the PC gamer could have the same freedom as a console with a resale unless they simply used a disc check system as the overall standard for games. However, that old trick has been exploited for many years, and at this rate it isn't the most effective method for preventing piracy. Forcing you to be online to play a game isn't great either, because if your internet connection craps out, there you are stuck without being able to access the games you paid for. I'm sure there is a better answer out there, but damned if I know what it is.

I really hope people in a position to change things and stop this horrible DRM listen to this guy. But that's probably hopeless and we're probably all screwed. Oh well.

I was happy to see Ubisoft Games have a warning sign for their DRM. Of course they failed to mention they might just as well lose connection on their end and then too bad so sad. But umm... whats the ECA? (Electronic Blank Association?). I feel that's something that should have been noted.

Finally, someone in the industry who actually has some power to affect this sort of thing, who is talking sensibly. Thing is, everyone we've seen so far who opposes "draconian DRM" in the industry has been in th lower ranks, or else has no real power to determine what DRM developers and publishers use. So this is a real breath of fresh air, and he does make some good points.

As it happens, I'm personally fine with DRM provided I'm able to play the game fully with no hassle, without having to be online at all times (especially as I always use a wireless connection anyway), and have the right to sell my games to places like Game or CEX when I'm done (aside from Steam stuff of course, but the stuff I buy there is usually stuff that I have no intention of getting rid of anyway...).

You would like to think common sense would prevail, but...those profit margins arent gonna shine themselves up!

...DRM is needed, I agree, to protect property...but, they need to think, and come up with better methods, and quickly

Well... no shit

I've been saying the exact same thing for years, with exactly the same arguments but nobody listens xD

Well anyway... there's one point where I disagree though, I think while some consumers might react bad, there's still more than enough that will turn the other cheek and will basically "ask for more".

They will tighten their grip until they start to lose substantial numbers in sales.
Then they will attempt to win their customers back by using clever marketing saying "LOOK! WE REMOVED SOME OF THE EVIL DOUCHEBAGGERY WE PUT INTO OUR PRODUCT! WE SCREW YOU LESS THAN OUT COMPETITORS! LOOK AT ME! BUY MY PRODUCT!"

A good marketer can put a happy spin on a funeral.

Couldn't speak more better and honest words myself. This man's philosophy on things is exactly like mines, I am glad peopple still have common sense somewhere in their brains. Wherever, DRM is actually hurting their sales regardless.

Spore remains a prime example of that. Most torrented game.

DRM alienates people

so true, so true.

And if anything, it probably romanticizes a pirate's cracking process, because now they're up against 'the evil corp'

"..common sense should prevail.." but it won't: many of the people responsible for some seriously reprehensible things in the game industry are still turning wheels, making decisions. Why shoudl they change now all of the sudden?

Hi Guys,

I have a simple question.

Does the software industry as a whole, aside from the gaming industry. Also have issues with DRM, or is it just a particular sticking point to the games industry?

Thanks for a response.

While it's nice to hear this from him, honestly, he's got bigger fish to fry right now.

Also, sidebar note; he mentioned the idea of ownership vanishing for gamers in the future. I contend this possibility exists, but only for new games. I have a thick stack of PS2 and PS1 games that are rather well and far removed from any developer's capability to muck with, not to mention the cartridge games and their ilk. If down the road companies decide to just go full-on draconian and declare games to be their property alone... well, while those companies burn as more and more gamers walk away, I can work through my backlog and joyfully loan out my multitude of games to anyone I know with a compatable platform to play them on. I might miss buying new games, but at least I can finally beat Phantom Brave and Metal Saga.

Hi Guys,

I have a simple question.

Does the software industry as a whole, aside from the gaming industry. Also have issues with DRM, or is it just a particular sticking point to the games industry?

Thanks for a response.

I run a small software development company that writes specialist commercial software. I don't need DRM at all for the simple reason there isn't anyone one who wants to pirate risk management tools for gas pipelines or a program to convert CAD designs into code that can be understood by a 20 year old computer controlled lathe. The big applications developers ,e.g Corel, Adobe and SAP, do get pirated but at very low percentage of their overall sales. The hefty price tags and large margins also give them room to ignore piracy. Microsoft have heavy DRM on their products for the simple reason they are the most pirated software in the world. In other words the need for DRM is directly proportional to amount of piracy.

The games industry is entitled to protect its intellectual property from the ever advancing horde of pirates that want something for nothing. I see all the nonsense about EULAs not being valid and if you buy a book your entitled to do what you want with it. To all of them I suggest they photocopy the latest Harry Potter or Twilight book and stand on a street corner and hand them out for free and see what happens. Piracy is stealing directly form the shareholders of the companies, well you might say "who cares they are all fat cats anyway" but this is untrue. The vast majority of those shares are owned indirectly by the public, they represent peoples pension funds, collage funds, health insurance and life savings. If you use pirated software you are stealing money from yourself or your family, it might not but much each time over 10 years it add up to a significant amount.

The games industry needs adjust its attitude to the way it implements DRM. There has to be some give and take, perhaps the best platform is steam. The IP (Intellectual Porperty) holders get DRM and prevent resale and the consumer gets the right to re-download any software, install it on multiple computers and particularly for multilayer games somewhere to promote your dedicated servers. However I don't see all the games companies are going end up using steam, it risks creating a monopoly on distribution that cost them money. Mass effect2 and Dragon age have seen Bioware take the first tentative steps down the road to their own steam like system.

Developers are so focused on "ending piracy" that they make DRM that is so annoying that consumers have no choice but to get a copy that has the DRM cracked off of it. Not only is current DRM not solving the problem, it's actually making it worse. It's unbelievable. Even if a person is supportive of company's trying to protect their property, you have to agree that at this point they are simply shooting themselves in the foot, no matter what their intentions are, the DRM is hurting EVERYONE, customers, and developers, the only people it's not hurting are pirates!

If company's could focus on reducing piracy through continuing support and extra features rather than ending piracy by trying to make "unbreakable" (lol) DRM, both the developers and consumers would be better off.

It's like trying to make something to end air pollution, it's not going to happen, but if you try to reduce air pollution, you may actually achieve something beneficial for everyone.

As it happens, I'm personally fine with DRM provided I'm able to play the game fully with no hassle, without having to be online at all times (especially as I always use a wireless connection anyway), and have the right to sell my games to places like Game or CEX when I'm done (aside from Steam stuff of course, but the stuff I buy there is usually stuff that I have no intention of getting rid of anyway...).

So in other words, you have a problem with DRM.


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