Digital rights management (DRM) is a controversial topic among consumers – especially gamers. While some game makers view it as a reasonable way to protect their products from piracy, many players see it as a Draconian control method that punishes legitimate users. Games outfitted with some form of DRM are routinely cracked and distributed by savvy pirates.
There are many types of DRM; some are more restrictive than others. Last year, France-based publisher and developer Ubisoft revealed a controversial method of software control: players had to maintain a constant Internet connection to play many of the company’s PC games – even ones designed for one player. Hiccups in connectivity would disrupt gameplay and possibly erase unsaved progress.
The move drew a firestorm of ire from indignant gamers. Angry players lashed out against the company, with some attacking and partially disabling Ubisoft’s servers at least twice. The company later offered free DLC for certain PC games to affected customers, according to a Gamesindustry.biz story cited by GamePolitics.
Ubisoft has apparently eased its connectivity policy for PC games to allow users to play without an constant Internet connection, according to pictures posted on Reddit and since reported by GamePolitics and Gamasutra. Though, as with the PlayStation Network version of Capcom’s Final Fight: Double Impact, players must be online to authenticate their games before they disconnect from game servers.
Update: Ubisoft has told aggregator gaming blog Joystiq that the removal of restrictions is on a “case-by-case” basis.
Over the years, some game makers have removed or loosened stringent and restrictive software management technologies in response to customer outcry. Electronic Arts gained much press attention when it eased Spore’s much-maligned SecuROM DRM amid rampant piracy and class action litigation.
Numerous developers have spoken out against DRM technologies, including 2D Boy co-founder Ron Carmel and Valve co-founder Gabe Newell. According to Newell, game makers should create loyal customers through appealing products and features.
Games have always had some sort use restrictions. Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges, for instance, can only be played on an NES; Dreamcast discs can only be played on a Dreamcast. In recent years, though, companies have gone to great measures to stem rampant piracy facilitated by the explosive expansion of the Internet. Much to the chagrin of gamers, some companies sell software licenses that don’t constitute ownership.
There is little doubt that software piracy is a huge problem; however, restrictive software protection systems often anger consumers who legitimately support the video game business. Oftentimes, pirates play a better, less restrictive version of a game than those who actually paid for it. Luckily, for consumers, game companies appear open to concerns – at least when players act en masse.