Game Developers Speaking Out Against DRM

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.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • jkflipflop98
    Thank god. I'm so sick of being locked out of my games after a reformat.
  • brother shrike
    Thank freaking god. Very interesting to hear that developer's opinion.
  • kingnoobe
    I think their starting to get the hint, and I completely agree with him. It's not to stop piracy their simply trying to stop the games from being resold. Not to mention he used the same arguement I used.

    If I couldn't download games I know I wouldn't buy them. I've been suckered to much by all the hype on some games. Were know I will download play the single player if I like it I'll buy the game just for the multiplayer (90% of the games I play are multiplayer games, and they have made it very hard, and some simply impossible to play multiplayer online except for pirated servers. That crap is just to much of a hassle).
  • deltatux
    I guess their brains work afterall. Online activation DRM was always a stupid idea. DRM is fine as long as it's not invasive to the end user. With these invasive DRMs, it's a lose-lose situation for publishers ... pirates will defeat it and legitimate users will protest against it as shown in Spore's case.
  • Really guys, I mean what is going on here? PC games have been outcasted. I remember when the local game store even used to sell used PC games; even they won't touch them now, mostly because of DRM's like SECUROM and Starforce. I can't even play my copy of Splinter Cell Chaos Theory on Windows 7 RC1 because of the Starforce drivers (and their website says Windows 7 drivers will NOT be made available). And SECUROM, limiting my ability to install my own programs on my own PCs?! I can't understand why publishers would want the condemn their own business like this...
  • smithereen
    You can't argue that piracy doesn't hurt the industry, though. If we had not-to-invasive DRM that actually worked, that would be a good thing.
  • apache_lives
    heh i buy games like Unreal Tournament 3 because the game is well written and fun and because the protection is next to none (i can install it across my lan without a crack and with the same cd key and it works) - i support and buy games like that.
  • doomtomb
    Thank you!! Let us hope that EA gets the message about this DRM nonsense.
  • sdgamer
    DRM doesn't work and never will. Why? Because hackers will always find a way around it. Publishers stop punishing your customers and wake up. Your DRM only makes things difficult for the average consumer. Those PC savvy folks aren't stopped by DRM. Follow in the footsteps of Apple and take the chains OFF of PC games and let the industry flourish (we already know the hardware is far superior to consoles!!!)