Friendly DRM Is An Oxymoron

from the nothing-friendly-about-it dept

While the era of DRM on music may finally be ending, it appears that some other industries still haven’t quite come to terms with the three simple facts that a few industries are finally realizing: (1) DRM does not work (2) DRM diminishes the value of your product (3) DRM pisses off your users. Despite these universal truths, every digital industry seems to go through this phase where they think that they can figure out how to do DRM right. A bunch of consumer electronics makers and movie studios are apparently working together on yet another DRM standard that they swear (this time, for real!!) will actually work and will be “friendly.” We’ve heard it before, and the end result is the same (see numbers 1 through 3 above). As per usual, they’re claiming that this system will be even better than non-DRM’d content, but fail to explain how that’s actually true. At best, they say it’ll be more convenient, but it’s difficult to see how any limitation adds convenience rather than takes it away.

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Comments on “Friendly DRM Is An Oxymoron”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Steam?

look at stardok games. they have Impulse, a program much like steam, except that when you buy the game in a store you can install it off the CD without ever going online, if you DO register you game however you give them an email address (and I didn’t realize this the first time I bought one of their games) and when you register a impulse account with that email address all the games you registered appear there for download.

Impulse also allows for archiving your games onto CD or DVD whenever you want.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Steam?

Steam allows you to archive your games to CD/DVD whenever you want. It also allows you to save custom settings and (coming soon) saved games “in the cloud” so they are there are any PC with steam.

The ONLY DRM steam has is the online check, which you can ignore after you’ve dnoe it once by going to “Offline” mode.

Stardock has no games I want to play. Steam has a TON I want to play, and just got EA.

Cardinal Fang says:

Re: Re: Re: Steam?

“The ONLY DRM steam has is the online check…”

Unless the publisher demands additional DRM. Bioshock on Steam initially also employed Securom v7 (whether it’s been removed by now is something no one can seem to determine), and I believe Crysis Warhead also uses Securom on top of Steam’s DRM.

Activation limitations were recently added to Steam product descriptions.

Logo says:

Re: Steam?

I wanted to second the AC’s post above me. While I generally am against DRM I find the Steam’s DRM to be quite fair.

‘Friendly’ DRM to me is a situation that’s a give and take by both parties. I submit myself to an online game verification check when playing Steam games but in return I get several services:

-Steam Community and support. I love being able to chat with people in game (with a simple shift+tab) and see when friends log on and what games they log on to.
-Automatic updates. No need to go download a patch from a website or patch from within the game. I believe Steam will even patch your game when your computer is idle meaning your game may be up to date when you first get to it.
-Ease of purchase. Purchasing games through steam is a breeze and comes with a fast download to boot.
-Reformat your computer or buy a new one and you can easily get access to all your steam games again.

I wouldn’t fully call this friendly as there’s an issue regarding what happens if steam isn’t around anymore (or not available).

To me there’s definitely friendly DRM though. Any video game that you play online and is restricted by CD key is the perfect DRM.

You’d be crazy to ‘pirate’ a copy of World of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, or Warcraft 3. The games are almost entirely useless to you if you can’t take good advantage of the online multiplayer aspect (playing LAN, Hamachi-LAN, or on a cracked server is a rather substandard solution). It’s something that’s unobtrusive to a legit user (other than entering the key) but restricts would-be-buyers from pirating it. It won’t stop dedicated pirates but we all know that they aren’t going to pay for your software no matter the DRM anyways.

Yakko Warner says:

Re: Re: Steam?

Can you resell a game? Can you borrow it, or loan it to a friend for the weekend? Can another family member take the game to another computer in the same house and play it while you play something else?

Steam does offer some nice advanced features, but it’s those losses of the very basic features about having a physical disc over which they don’t have absolute electronic control that still bothers me.

Phillip Vector (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Steam?


Yes, it answers it (all 3 questions even though you answered 5 for some reason).

Here. I’ll break it down for you..

Can you resell a game?

The legality is in question, but no. Not according to the user agreement (which again, is in question as to how legal it is).

Can you borrow it, or loan it to a friend for the weekend?

Yes. As long as you do not play it. Just like a CD.

Can another family member take the game to another computer in the same house and play it while you play something else?

Yes. See my above post about Offline Mode.

So my answers are Maybe, Yes and Yes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Steam?

Yes. As long as you do not play it. Just like a CD.

The full product? On-line play an all? I don’t think so. Oh sure, you can transfer most any DRM’d product to another person, as long as they never try to play it. But do you really think that’s what the question meant? Good luck with your vanishing credibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Steam?

Yes, it answers it (all 3 questions even though you answered 5 for some reason).

Let’s see, the first sentence contained one question, the second contained two, and the third contained one again. One plus two plus one seems to add up to four to me. As to the answers, “no, no, no and no” look like to four to me also. I don’t know where you come up with three and five. Why does it matter? Because your counting demonstrates the same twisted logic you applied in your answers, that’s all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Steam?

‘Friendly’ DRM to me is a situation that’s a give and take by both parties. I submit myself to an online game verification check when playing Steam games but in return I get several services:

So just exactly how is it better to have these “services” with DRM than it would be to have them without DRM?

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Steam?

I would call the automatic forced updates a very bad thing. Take for instance Half Life 2.
My friend not so recently bought the Orange Box.
Steam, a couple months ago, patched Half Life 2. One problem, the patch 100% broke the 64-bit version of Half Life 2 on Windows. He hasn’t been able to play for quite some time now. You would think, maybe, just maybe they would’ve tested it out on a 64 bit computer before releasing the patch? Apparently that is too tough for the Steam gang. It shouldn’t be that tough to fix, but they still have not fixed it. And, thanks to being on Steam, there is no access to use an old patch. Yay Steam! They can go eff themselves. They have created many more problems than they have fixed. Anything Steam offers can be gained from other programs. And those other programs usually use up way less resources too. Only good feature about it is to just “join game” of a friend without having to find them. Even then, xfire offers that without being as intrusive.
That still doesn’t ignore the fact that the DRM they use is pointless. They could keep the rest of their “features” without the DRM. But in the case of my friend and the forced updates, auto updates are bad.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Steam?

the value Steam adds seems to far outweigh the minor DRM they have (a check in for the first time you play a game/install)

ever tried to play a steam game right after you install it?

ever had steam crash and decide it needs to download all of it’s updates at 21kb/sec?

ever had to re-install steam and had it need to re-validate all 12 of your games?

in every case you will be locked out of your games until steam deems you worthy.

steam is also perpetually out of date. i got left4dead 5 days after release and ended up locked out of it for most of a day while it and steam updated. how can a game be out of date 5 days after release?

steam is the best implementation of game DRM in history of DRM and it still sucks ass. as long as there is chance that a user can get locked out of or otherwise denied access to media/applications that were legitimately purchased, then you are pissing off your users (3) adding value to pirated versions (2), end of story.

also, left4dead had already been cracked and is on the public trackers, so clearly even steams DRM doesn’t work (1).

if valve can’t get it right, i am fairly confident that no one can.

Nick says:

Re: Re: Steam?

Not all promises are empty, and some companies can act civil without court of law. Valve fought microsoft over TF2’s DLC on the 360. Valve wanted add-ons to be free. M$ said “our servers, we want money. As such, Left 4 dead is hosted on Valve’s servers, so all update will be free. there are many companies that burn their fans, and other than making them wait forever for games, valve isn’t one of them.

Bazil says:

Re: Steam?

Steam has the following Problems:

1. Speed, downloading an entire game usually takes hours (depending on your internet connection) no matter how you slice it, the data transfer rate of your DVD/CD-ROM to your motherboard will ALWAYS be faster than your internet speed.

2. Crashed Hard-Drive, will force you to re-download everything. (kudos that unlike itunes at leas steam remembers your account and what you’ve already paid for)

3. Ad pop ups, steam is not just a DRM, it’s also a STORE with an incentive to show you as many new games and games on sale as possible. So you will be annoyed with annoying special deals on a regular basis.

4. Adds a layer of complexity, many of the games I’ve gotten through steam have not worked properly or crashed my system. With steam technical support being pretty absent, it forced me in every case to try to find out if it was my hardware, drivers, OS, or STEAM that was causing the crash, when you’re frustrated and trying to eliminate problems, the less factors the better.

5. Steam is a background application, and despite their official statements it DOES occasionally minimize your game, and it does use resources sporadically.

Joel Coehoorn says:

it is possible

Valve Software’s Steam product effectively amounts to DRM, and it manages to be more convenient than not having it, mainly because it provides a simpler way to get keep up with your content than is otherwise available. It’s also a sort of digital locker, where you can re-download the content as many times as needed.

Chris Weiss says:

Re: simon

I can’t imagine DRM is particularly friendly for those people who produce content for it either. They’ve got to deal with development, customer support, vendor support, production, and a whole host of other things. It comes down to whether they feel the cost of implementing DRM is less than the profit generated by said DRM driving people to pay for your content who wouldn’t if it weren’t in place.

What companies are realizing that the cost of DRM is outweighing the returns: DRM is not driving enough customers who are not paying for their product to turn around and pay for it.

Anonymous Coward says:


The problem is they’re thinking to far in absolutes, DRM shutting down something isn’t that effective as then people will just bypass it and your genuine users get pissed off.

Value added thing, like what Impulse does is good, even Steam, as much as some people don’t like it, are quite successful by giving management software for your games, allowing you to install them at will without disks. I have many friends who use steam because of the convience.

They need to encourage people to buy their product, not dis wade people by locking up their purchase

Anonymous Coward says:


Valve has went on record that they will unlock all the games you own if something happens to the servers.
I.e. That is a non-issue.

As I understand, the servers have already had problems and have gone down more than once. Yet, the games remain locked. So much for “on record”. Seems like an issue to me.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re:2 STEAM

Mischa wrote:

I’m fairly certain Valve means perman[en]tly shut down, not temporarily shut down due to glitches.

So who decides what is “temporary” and what is “permanent”?

Suppose the company gets into financial trouble, and the servers are down for 3 months. The users clamour for the protection to be turned off. But the company says “hang on, we’re in buyout talks, give us time to sort this out”. And so you wait and wait. Then the new owners say they’re still trying to decide whether to revive the company as a going concern, or shut it down. So the servers are down for 6 months, 9 months, a year, two years. Who gets to decide, and when?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 STEAM

New games are created all the time, after even a few weeks, steam would have to realize that they need to retain customers to exist, and would therefore unlock the current games. If they didn’t, everyone would use sites like the pirate bay to get “unlocked versions”, and steam would cease to exist anyway. The sale of games like halflife and tf2 are low now, after most games who want them already have them. It would not significantly affect steam to unlock games say, more than 6 months old.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 STEAM

Priorities have already been established.

I don’t know how you’re privy to Steam’s internal business priorities, but in any case: Priorities change.

The patch is all set to go, it just needs to be run. I’m sure someone would, if faced with being bankrupt, would take 30 seconds to activate the patch.

In the event of bankruptcy and in the absence of any legal obligations to the contrary a bankruptcy court would likely not allow them to give away assets like that. It fact, it might even considered criminal. You’re saying that Steam’s management would be willing to face criminal charges in order to ensure that their ex-customers wouldn’t be inconvenienced? Excuse me while I laugh out loud at that one.

You don’t happen to work in the game industry do you, Phillip? You sure sound like it.

Rich Kulawiec says:

DRM is also a massive security hole

DRM is designed to vest part of the control of YOUR system in THEIR hands, for various pairs of “your, their”. This has several unpleasant consequences. First, this surrender of control violates basic security principles. Second, you have no guarantee that it won’t be abused — surely nobody reading this site is so naive as to think that any/all data that can be WILL be harvested, stored, analyzed, and, if feasible, packaged for sale? And third, granting such control effectively also transitively grants control to any third parties authorized by the DRM controller…or to any third parties clever enough to subvert the DRM controller’s security. This is why I refer to any system utilizing DRM as “pre-compromised at the factory”. It is, of course, quite impossible to plug this hole except by replacing the system.

PaulT (profile) says:

Once again, I’ll just repeat what I’ve said before:

I’m a rabid movie, music and games fan. I spend at least $50 on each type of entertainment per month. However, I’ve gotten to be much smarter over the last decade as to where my money goes to. Let me be clear: I *want* digital formats. I live a relatively nomadic lifestyle, rarely staying in the same apartment for more than 6 months – partly due the general lifestyle where I currently live in the south of Spain, partly due to my personal needs. Taking my collection of CDs, DVDs, etc., wherever I go is a pain and I’d rather buy a digital file instead of a physical object.

However, the content industry constant conspires against me. From the fact that I still need CDs to play the PC and 360 games I have installed on my hard drives to the fact that I’m simply not permitted to buy MP3s through Amazon (though I can buy CDs through the same site), I’m being stopped from buying the products I want.

This new DRM is more of the same. A long time ago, I rejected DRM and buy most of my music through DRM-free outlets. Since Amazon can’t sell to me and iTunes has been a no-go until recently, that meant buying through eMusic, AmieStreet, Warp and other independent sites. So, by “protecting” their content with DRM, the RIAA have actually been refusing to take my money.

This appears to be more of the same for movies. Apart from the physical bulk, DVDs are great. they’re cheap, they contain far more content than a VHS ever could and they’re easily accessible – even the idiotic regional restrictions are relatively easily overcome. With movies…. well, I don’t have a choice. My 360 can’t use Netflix because I’m not in the US. My UK 360 refuses to sell me rentals because I’m living in Spain at the moment. Hulu refuses me for the same reasons. I can buy from iTunes, but it costs more than double the cost of DVDs in many cases, and I’m yet to get a straight answer as to whether the English soundtrack is included where I am. Even if I did take the plunge, DRM would prevent me from playing on most of the devices I own.

I would happily buy digital files if they were as versatile as the MP3s I buy – if I could play the same file through my Linux desktop, XBox 360, iPod and MP3 player, I’d be happy to pay 2/3 of the price of a DVD. I say 2/3 because most digital movies at the moment do not include the extra features present on a DVD. Yet, I’m apparently expected to buy a far less complete and versatile product for significantly more than the price of a DVD? Screw that. The problem is, I rarely buy DVDs at the retail price, usually waiting for sales that often take the price of the DVD well below the 2/3 mark to begin with.

The movie business needs to come to the same realisation as the music industry has – DRM does not work. Remove DRM and I will be happy to pay. Until then, they’re actively refusing my money. What’s sad is that these movie companies are parts of the same corporations that the RIAA labels belong to. Why they feel the need to spend the next decade learning the same lessons the record labels did during the previous decade is beyond me.

There is *no such thing* as a friendly DRM. DRM exisits to stop me from doing what i want with the product I have bought. this makes it less valuable, and this lowers the price I am willing to pay. these people only have themselves to blame if the end result is that I don’t pay them. I’m not talking about piracy, btw, just that I would rather wait for cable/TV/borrowing a DVD than pay for a movie with DRM.

Fuzz says:

i find that in most cases, steam is as flexible as physical media, if not more.

In my case, me and my extended family have 5 desktops and 3 laptops that are capable of playing left 4 dead. I recently bought a “4-pack” of the game. Steam and left 4 dead is installed on all 8 systems and whoever sits in front of a PC logs in with their ID’s and goes about their merry way.

Recently we got a new system and right after installing windows i downloaded Left 4 Dead, which took about 1 hour. then we continued on our fragging ways.

And on the question of whether Valve would “unlock” their games if they ever went bankrupt. Historically Valve has been one of the most consumer friendly companies out there, and while it is not their obligation, if anyone out there would unlock their games in such a situation, I believe it would be valve.

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