One of the many discussions hitting the gaming community today is the one about DRM, or “digital rights management.” Basically, DRM controls how you can use a product that you have purchased so that, in the provider’s eyes, you do not abuse it. Nearly every form of media and entertainment has their own version of DRM, but the one I am obviously going to talk about is DRM in gaming.
There is one main way that DRM has come to be used, and that is something called “persistent online authentication,” which basically means that the game will constantly be checking if you are online, and if you are not, then you will not be able to play. There are other forms of DRM, but nothing truly inhibits a player’s ability to play a game like having to be connected to the Internet at all times.
In the first half (part 1) of this discussion I would like to take a look at what I would say is a good use of the “persistent online authentication,” or always online DRM. Yes, I do think there are types of games that warrant the use of this kind of DRM.
I would like to clarify that I am strictly speaking of DRM for PC gaming, because I think when you look at consoles DRM is a totally different thing. To me, DRM, always online DRM, should almost never be used on consoles, but that is a different discussion for a different day.
The first thing I would like to talk about is Steam. Steam is most definitely itself a form of DRM. Most people have trouble playing their games that do not require an Internet connection offline because of the way Steam is set up, but there are instances where you still can. For the sake of this discussion though, I think we will just view Steam as something that always requires you to be online.
Steam is an example of good DRM because the services offered far outweigh the somewhat annoying fact that you have to always be online. Steam keeps your games up to date, so you don’t have to worry about it. Also, Steam puts all of your games in one place, with access to news specific to that game, press releases about games, and a wealth of other information.
Steam is a rare example still I’ll admit, because it is a service offered, not a game. However, I think it is a good thing to note that DRM can be used in other ways as well, and Steam is doing it the right way.
There is one specific game I want to look at, and that is Diablo III. I know I am taking an unpopular opinion as many would say that one of Diablo III’s biggest downfalls is the fact that it has always online DRM.
A lot of people say that they strayed too far away from Diablo II and this is something that makes Diablo III a bad game, one of the biggest examples being the DRM. Gaming has changed a lot since Diablo II and the Diablo franchise itself has evolved out from that. Many gaming companies like Blizzard are looking to offer a better service through DRM, which I think they succeeded in doing.
All of your Diablo III characters are saved on a Blizzard database so you can access them from any computer. So if you go to the house of a friend who has Diablo III, you could show him your character there and do whatever. You can play it anywhere and Blizzard is holding onto the data for your character so you do not have to worry about it if you have to wipe your hard drive or anything.
Diablo III’s DRM offered a lot of security too. Diablo II was plagued with all kinds of exploits, hacks and dupes. There were too many to count, it was ridiculous. Blizzard has much more control of that and reduces the likelihood that the same problems from Diablo II will carry over. Sure, some people will find out how to do some exploits, but this new game is more desirable than the last.
Diablo III’s DRM has some major benefits to it and the only real drawback is not being able to play offline. While this can be a problem sometimes, I do not think that it is too ridiculous for Blizzard to expect us to have Internet access on our PCs, laptops, what have you.
I think this can be translated to almost any game that has some kind of emphasis on something online, whether it be a leaderboard, scoreboard, auction house, whatever. There is some kind of security that needs to be there that protects the integrity of whatever system is in place. I think DRM provides that and is really not a whole hell of a lot to expect of PC gamers at all. Again, let me just say that there is a whole different set of rules I would argue for console gaming.
It may sound as though I am praising DRM in this, but I just think these are a couple of cases that have benefitted the gamer. I do think that there are many more examples of DRM being very damaging to a gamer and player, which I will look at next week.