Last week I took a look at some of the examples of what I thought were good DRM, discussing mostly the Diablo franchise and Steam. This week, to continue (and finish) that discussion I would like to take a look at some of the examples of what I think are bad uses of DRM. Again, I will mainly focus on the “persistent online authentication,” or always-online DRM. When I refer to DRM, I will be referring to always-online DRM.
The first example of bad DRM for me would have to be Ubisoft’s Uplay. Uplay is a forced connection to particular parts of a game, or a connection that is necessary to play the game altogether. For example, you may be able to play some Assassin’s Creed games, but you can only access certain parts of the game with a connection to Uplay. So, if you can’t connect to Uplay, you can’t access that part of the game.
This is especially bad because Ubisoft is not committing to either using DRM fully. Once you allow gamers access to the majority of the game then restrict them from parts of it based on their Internet connection, there is a problem. It’s not even as if the place you are trying to access is only available online and won’t load because it isn’t on your disc or installed game, because you do have the data already. You are not using the connection to Uplay to create the area you are going into, but to unlock access.
Admittedly, some may say that this is a better alternative to not being able to play at all because of always-online DRM. However, I think it is unbelievably more frustrating to be playing a game and then all of a sudden not be able to progress further, or have restricted access based on my ability to connect online or to Uplay’s servers.
On top of all that and looking at the always-online DRM that Uplay does use for some games, the service it provides is a rather poor one. You play games to earn points to then spend on rewards like themes and various DLC. This is not good as it is perpetuating the idea of poor DLC, and the other “rewards” are gimmicky and boring.
Uplay does not provide a good enough service to justify the use of DRM in any major form in my eyes.
Now, I want to talk about more general ideas around DRM and where I don’t think it is justifiable to be used.
For one thing, I think DRM has no place in games that have no kind of competitive aspect to them. If there is no ladder system, leaderboard, stats system, etc., then there is no place for always-online DRM. Achievements don’t count towards this at all, as they are irrelevant and don’t offer any kind of benefit to having them whatsoever other than occasionally unlocking stuff within the game.
If there is no way that multiplayer is in the game or if there is no way that what you do in single-player will affect the multiplayer gameplay, then the always-online DRM has no place being used. Who would care that someone hacked or cheated in their single-player game to get or do some things. It doesn’t matter, that is how they want to play their game. There is nothing linking them to any kind of competitive scene.
Here are some examples of games I don’t think always-online DRM would work in (I am not saying that these games do or do not have always-online DRM, just an example of those I think shouldn’t ever have it): Assassin’s Creed, The Witcher, The Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Grand Theft Auto, and many more.
There is one more thing that needs to be taken into consideration, it is where and how you, as a player, are playing the games. Different things have to be looked at when you are playing on a PC, console, or handheld device. It is much less of a leap to believe that someone with a PC will have easy access to the Internet, more of a leap for console gaming, and even more for handheld gaming.
The difference in making a game that has always-online DRM for the PC and a handheld is massive. Most PCs today are used for their Internet access and I think that asking a PC gamer to always be connected is much less of a burden than asking the same of someone with a handheld. Handhelds are meant to move around and be used on long trips where there are no Internet connections. Thankfully, I don’t think there are any handheld games that require an Internet connection yet (correct me if I’m wrong).
Consoles are somewhere in-between that, but I would say that they lean more towards PC. This is due to the massive amount of online play that now comes from consoles and the relative ease of access to the Internet when using a console. PCs and consoles are usually connected in similar settings, so it’s not a huge thing to imagine.
So to summarize, I would say that DRM is good and can be useful in games that have some kind of competitive play to them and when the services offered outweigh the annoyances of having to deal with DRM. DRM should never be used for singleplayer games with no competitive play, should not restrict access to a game after you started playing offline, and should be handled differently depending on what system the game is being developed for.