With any digital intellectual property, those who hold the rights will always want to protect their investment. Given the digital nature of the works, however, it’s often easy for pirates to copy and illegally redistribute.
Last year saw a broad spectrum of DRM usage from games publishers. Spore released with some of the most infamously infuriating DRM for gamers, leading some to speculate that gamers purposely pirated the game to send a message Electronic Arts.
"Spore was the final straw that broke the camel's back," recalls Brad Wardell, president and CEO of Stardock, in a Gamasutra report. "Someone who buys software does not want to be made to feel like a chump for buying it. Much of the outcry came from legitimate customers who said that they shouldn't be restricted by DRM, especially since people with pirated versions weren't."
On the other hand, Ubisoft decided to release Prince of Persia on PC last year without any DRM whatsoever. Independent game developer 2D Boy also released its critically acclaimed World of Goo game without any protection. 2D Boy figures that only 10 percent of the copies of World of Goo are legitimate.
Ron Carmel, co-founder of 2D Boy, said, "…we found 10 times more player IDs and 10 times more IPs out there than there were legitimate licenses sold," later adding that he still made money off of World of Goo.
"I'm convinced that we lost very few customers because of piracy," he says. "People who pirate the game are people who wouldn't have bought it anyway. I don't know anyone who would try to find a cracked version and, if they can't locate one, they say, ‘OK, since I can't find it for free, I'm going to go out and buy it.' I just don't think that happens."
Carmel actually argues that DRM isn’t just for stopping piracy, but another facet of game sales that publishers are trying to stomp out – the used games market. "Publishers aren't stupid. They know that DRM doesn't work against piracy," he explains. "What they're trying to do is stop people from going to GameStop to buy $50 games for $35, none of which goes into the publishers' pockets. If DRM permits only a few installs, that minimizes the number of times a game can be resold."
Of course, most games stores only sell used console games, not PC games.
Might we be seeing a shift in attitude for game DRM this year? EA has said that it will be releasing Sims 3 with just serial key protection. BioWare has also said that its Dragon Age will be free of online authentication DRM.