How DRM Stopped Me from Buying an Interesting Game

Anno 2070

I never trade in my games. Never.

For one, I don’t feel like lugging them somewhere to have someone rate and itemize my gaming past in preparation for their store shelves. Mostly though, I like to own my games, to truly have something that is mine.

It was a hard step when gaming moved into the digital delivery age and I “owned” games that were not in the disc drive. I’ve come to get over this. Now I don’t need to have a case, flimsy manual or semi-scratched disc in order to have proof that I beat Half-Life 2. That’s what achievements are for and that’s an argument for another time.

I’m very OK with having to activate my games in order to prove my ownership for them. Heck, I used to love sending in my registration card after I bought the latest PlayStation RPG.

What I’m not OK with however, is the idea that I don’t own my game (or music, movie, whatever). Instead, I’m merely licensing my use of it.

Now I don’t ever plan to rent these games out to my friends or resell them later (as I said, I’m a gaming pack rat). So it doesn’t bother me in that sense. As long as I can play it indefinitely, I’m fine with your Terms of Use.

What I can’t stand though, is the idea of limited activations on a game. Not account activations, which are infinitely easier to understand and manage. These limited machine activations mean that I need to keep track of how many times my game has been installed on a specific machine. So I might as well have a notepad with me to make sure that I don’t go over my limit and possibly get assassinated by the Ubisoft police.

DRM (short for digital rights management) is ever present in our increasingly digitized society. I’ve tolerated it and begrudgingly worked within the lines, because I want to stay lawful and all that.

Account activated games are annoying only when I can’t keep track of my account or I have to register for a whole new service to access an otherwise awesome game. Yes, I want to play Battlefield 3 on my PC. No, I don’t really want to install Origin. Ergo, I miss out on Battlefield 3 for PC and eventually rent it for PS3.

Half-Life 2: Episode One

By the way, did you know that Half-Life 2 was the first video game to require online activation (Steam)?

Limited machine activated games are even more annoying. I have to use this singular PC box in order to play this game that I paid for two years ago. This form of DRM is banking on the idea that the regular person does not upgrade or buy a new computer for a while. That and they probably wouldn’t play a game that they bought a while ago if they do.

Essentially, my copy of the game can expire if I don’t keep this machine around.

Still, this method of DRM relies on giving the user multiple activations. You know, so that when I do upgrade my system I can still play this game.

What if I run out of legitimate activations? Use the revoke tool in order to revoke your activations on the other machines.

What if there isn’t a revoke tool? You just got owned. Buy it again.

Stop beating around the bush. Are you talking about any games in particular?

Yes, I’m talking about what would have been my latest gaming purchase, ANNO 2070. For hilarity’s sake, I’ll call the event Decision 2012: ANNO 2070. Here’s how I processed the game and why my $49.99 was better spent elsewhere:

Anno 2070

Graphics – The game looks great from all of the screenshots and videos that I’ve seen of it. Water quality is important in the ANNO series because there’s simply a lot of it. Waves look close enough to natural and the water doesn’t look like blue land.

Gameplay – I loved playing the last ANNO game (ANNO 1404). Never before had I been so rigorously involved in production chains and proper trade mechanics. From what I could tell, ANNO 2070 kept all of that intact.

Those are the only two things that matter to me in a strategy game like this anyways, so onwards to the purchase screen!

Anno 2070Wait a second..

Oh hell no. Ugh.

After researching further into the matter, I found that Guru3D was actually in the headlines earlier this year for the same reason.

They realized that the game had three machine activations and subsequently used them on three different machines in order to benchmark the game’s performance.

As they swapped around video cards in order to record any differences in performance, they were informed that they had run out of activations and could not test their setups without buying more copies of the game.

Apparently, Ubisoft’s DRM for ANNO 2070 checked for any hardware changes (in this case video card) and would count those against the three machine activation limit.

Ubisoft has since removed the video card check in a PR move but you will still be counted against your three machine activation limit if you upgrade your CPU, motherboard, etc.

I was upset (still am) but decided to check out the demo to see if the game really was worth it.

Did that. The first two missions were great and I still want this game. However, it’s not worth the hassle, especially since I’m planning on multiple computer upgrades throughout the next two years.

What should have happened:

I bought a full ANNO 2070 without any machine activation limits. I enjoyed the hell out of it for a month. I uninstalled it to make room for other games. I reinstalled it a year later for more fun, ad infinitum.

This situation also reminded me of a similar event last year.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X 2I (actually, Alice) won a contest for a free copy of Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X 2. In order to claim my free game on PC, I had to create a Uplay account. As you know, I don’t like having to sign up for new services. Whatever though, I want my free game. On the game’s download page, I find out that I have 30 days to download this game and I won’t be able to download it again after then.

So not only do I have to activate the game through an account (and login with that account when I play the game), I have to keep this game on my hard drive if I ever want to play it again.

Right now, there’s a 6.23 GB portion of my hard drive forever dedicated to holding H.A.W.X 2. Even though I don’t particularly like the game, I’m keeping it because I simply don’t get rid of my video games.

What would happen if I tried to download H.A.W.X 2 today after uninstalling it?

“Sorry, it is too late to download this file. You were allowed to download within 30 days. If you have any questions, please contact Digital River Customer Service at CustomerServices@digitalriver.com.”

I would have taken a screenshot but the quote isn’t really worth the bandwidth.

Want another example of a DRM-ridden game to stay away from? EA’s Darkspore.