Saturday, December 6, 2008

On DRM and piracy

I'd like to point out that this article is pretty fricken funny: Spore was the top pirated game for 2008. If you're not laughing at the delicious poetic irony already, read on for the brief explanation...

See, Draconic Restriction Malware (DRM, also called Digital Rights Management by some marketing departments trying to distort the name to hide what it does) is software or other restriction devices which prevent purchasers from fully and arbitrarily using something they have purchased. Usually DRM is found in software, but the music industry is also well-known for abusing their customers with DRM, as are other well-known anti-consumer organizations.

Now, Spore was published by EA, and become fairly well-known not for the game itself, but for the particularly onerous DRM added by the publisher. In particular, one aspect of their Malware additions was the requirement that EA's servers be available online, your system communicate with them, and they allow you to play the game, every time you start the game (and possibly periodically while it was running). That means if EA ever had a system failure, or decided to shut off support, or wanted you to pay them more money later, or decided for any other reason to disable their server, you would no longer be able to play the game you purchased (due to the embedded Malware). Needless to say, potential purchasers were not amused, and EA lost an indeterminate amount of sales.

I should point out as an aside that the nominal reason people include DRM in their products is to prevent piracy. It's only a nominal reason, though, since studies have demonstrated conclusively that the piracy rate for games with DRM is identical to that of games without DRM, so in reality that rationale is non-existent. What DRM actually does is frustrate legitimate users, hamper sales, and build bad-will. I'm not sure why companies choose to add Malware to their products to accomplish this, but I'm also not running EA, so there could certainly be ulterior motives I'm not aware of.

Anyway, it comes as somewhat humorous irony, then, that Spore, possibly the most maligned DRM-infested game of the year, was also the most pirated game of the year, emphasizing all the previous points like a MAC-truck to the face of whoever made the DRM-inclusion decision at EA. Hope those ulterior motives were good, and enough to make up for the lost sales and good-will, otherwise that decision was probably one of the most colossal blunders of recent memory.

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