Today I wanted to talk about one of two topics, the topics being Determinism or Digital Rights Management. The latter is related to my previous game review suggestion, seeing as all available means to getting the game require dealing with DRM (as far as I know). The former has to do with the Metaphysics course that has inspired a swath of posts here.
I flipped a coin, heads I would deal with Determinism today and Tails I would deal with Digital Rights Management. Well that wonderful little gold plated coin left me with Tails. So without further adieu lets discuss Digital Rights Management. Keep in mind I had to carve up this article multiple times…hopefully there are no sudden ends to things.
So what is Digital Rights Management? This is a question that is most likely unnecessary seeing that most people have seen the huge protests involved with the ever increasing lockdown. However for those visiting that aren’t quite certain that’s what this particular paragraph is for.
When we look at the wonderful world of Wikipedia the following result is returned:
Digital rights management (DRM) is a generic term that refers to access control technologies used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, and copyright holders to limit usage of digital media or devices. The term is used to describe any technology which makes the unauthorized use of media or devices technically formidable and generally doesn’t include other forms of copy protection which can be circumvented without modifying the media or device, such as serial numbers or keyfiles. It can also refer to restrictions associated with specific instances of digital works or devices.
Now this is the theoretical use of DRM, historically it was something simple such as a CD-Key or arguably the more annoying CD-In-Tray requirement. As years have past there has been a very visible connection between the rising levels of veracity of DRM and the ever rising presence of Piracy. What has been the center of debate is what connections can truly be made. However with the massive levels of propaganda involved on either side I can only work with historical examples.
It has been interesting to see the publics view of DRM and to contrast it with the companies enacting it. In general the large proportion of people dealing with DRM are very opposed to it, it’s generally cracked the day of or at times before the product is even released. Likewise there are stability issues that in multiple modern cases have been only seen or far more prominently seen in the DRM copies compared to the non-DRM pirated copies. A very personal event was SPORE, which ran roughly 5 frames per second slower in tests with the legitimate copy. It may not be a huge change, but considering that its a loss that benefits the consumer in absolutely no way its unreasonable.
So, if I download a purchase what makes it mine and mine alone?
Our products are protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM). These are systems in place to license your purchase to you only. It keeps it safe and gives you the exclusive ownership of that purchase.
We think our Digital Rights Management (DRM) system is a good balance between protecting the content owners and not making you the consumer give up your first-born. The system associates your computer with the specific product you purchased and this information is stored on our servers identifiable by your sign-in profile, email address or your transaction record.
– Green House Games
I personally hate DRM…. But I don’t like locks on my door, and I don’t like to use keys in my car… I’d like to live in a world where there are no passports. Unfortunately, we don’t – and I think the vast majority of people voted with their wallets and went out and bought Spore.
– EA CEO John Riccitiello
I have a problem with each of these three for some pretty specific reasons. The first being that nobody would ask the first question. It reminds me of a bash quote from a few years back.
<NES> I download something from Napster
<NES> And the same guy I downloaded it from starts downloading it from me when I’m done
<NES> I message him and say "What are you doing? I just got that from you"
<NES> "getting my song back fucker"
This is the problem. Digital media has an interesting ability that no other real world product can easily replicate, which is just that, the ability to replicate. You can create a million copies of “Hit me baby one more time” and it will do nothing to harm your neighbors copy of the same song. What I think the D2D folks are trying to fabricate is the monetary sense, the idea that something is only worth as much as it is rare. So thusly the fantasy consumer is suggesting that if their copy of the game were to break loose into the wild it would make babies and be worthless.
Now if someone broke into my house and stole my laptop, I’d be furious. However if they broke into my house and copied all my music onto an IPod I’d (assuming they broke in without damaging anything) probably not care other than being a bit skeptical that they skipped everything but the music.
The problem with the GHG statement is the concept that DRM protects the content of the owners. While I do appreciate that their DRM takes all of a 10th of a second to deal with, it still raises the question. What happens when they disappear? The last thing on the mind of a company that is imploding financially is how to take care of their customers. Look at CITI bank and all those bail outs recently, they tried to blow all the money on 35k dollar toilets that don’t flush, luxury jets, and 1.5 million dollar office remodels.
This ties into my complaint about the third quote. Electronic Arts is famous now for their disregard for their customers, bastardization of once cherished properties, and an overall militant approach to dealing with competition. Westwood for instance was such a hardcore swallow that they immediately cut off support for the newest Westwood game out (Renegade) and banned the use of the word on all their forums.
Now the problem with the key analogy is that it is a decade or so off. CD-Keys were the key of the software world, much like the real world, if someone had your key they could get into your software. Likewise in theory if you could build twenty million copies of the exact same house using the exact same key you would have an exact replication of the software equivalent (some discrepancies aside).
Likewise the ‘vast majority’ of people don’t realize they are being swindled, they feel as any normal person would, that when they spend 50 dollars or more on something that they are indeed purchasing that item. However the sad truth is that most people don’t realize they are merely paying full price to rent software. Likewise with the state of EA’s stocks and the ever increasing layoffs to stay afloat, it doesn’t appear that their ‘activation servers’ will exist once they are gone. That’s millions of dollars in software that will cease functioning only for the people who legitimately purchased it.
The locks on your house and car, two purchases you made, are entirely optional. The entrance requirements on the software is not optional, unless you are going to become a criminal. This is why I dislike the analogy, it’s so poor that it almost creates an illusion of solidity. Likewise SPORE was a huge exception, it was a game that people had been waiting years and years for. Likewise most people didn’t even know about the DRM until after they had purchased it. Which meant they couldn’t return it. I’m an owner of SPORE and I haven’t played the game since roughly 30 days after it was released (once I realized the harsh reality of any EA owned sub-company).
Now my brain has somewhat evaded my fingers but I’ll continue with the next available point (leaving one to wonder what I had planned before). Stardock is one of the last very companies that I can truly suggest to people outside of Indie developers. This is a company that has done incredibly well, so well in fact that their last expansion for Galactic Civilization II was and is easily the largest update to any game I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
They chose to trust their customers and what happened? Starforce, a DRM company, released live torrent links on their own website for people to pirate Stardock’s games from. What ended up happening? Starforce was almost unanimously hated by the internet world, forums flared up with posts bashing them for poor business practices. Sales of Galactic Civilzation II (The game they were linking to) rose in protest and in the end it proved that their company was not built to protect properties, but instead like most businesses, to protect their own profits.
The only DRM any game company should have is the very same one that Stardock has. The game itself works out of the box without a CD-Key, crack unneeded. They have an outlook on their customers that I share. People will rise to the bar that you set them to. They feel (as they should) that if you provide a quality product for a fair price you will be rewarded with profit. It also appears that as the CEO said “People are voting with their wallets”.
Set that to the last year and you’ll see the dramatic drop of their stocks nicely with their introduction of SPORE and the newest SecuROM (which is a sony product if you were curious). Likewise the only ‘up shot’ on that dive has been as a result of laying off people. It’s always good to know that the only shining light in your companies worth is when you throw people to the wolves.
The only DRM that should ever be used is the one provided by Stardock. If you have a copy of the product you can play it, if you are willing to take the time to verify that its legitimately owned Stardock will reward you with very impressive patches (they certainly corner the market for quality updates). This way if they ever go under the only loss you’ll be suffering is their patch data which you’d be unable to get even if they didn’t require a key. This to me is a better use of the EA analogy. Because now your home or car continue to work even if the people who built them do not, you just cannot get further repairs through that company. Instead needing to turn to third party companies (like sites that would likely host the patches after).
I could go on and on. But I feel this is the problem with the discussions is that people become overwhelmed. Historically all forms of censorship and banning have only resulted in the problem becoming even greater. It does not hinder crime it merely creates craftier criminals. The crime you can no longer see is far more dangerous than the crime you can.