Brad Wardel, president of Stardock, was nice enough to stop by and leave a comment explaining a bit more about how Impulse is going to work. (Impulse is their upcoming content delivery system, which I mentioned here.) His comment in full:
A couple things about Impulse that aren’t readily known yet.
1) Impulse does NOT require any DRM or activation. Individual programs may use it but it isn’t required. You don’t have to keep Impulse running or what have you. Even on things that do have activation, it’s only on installation (and you have to be connected obvoiusly to download it in the first place).
2) Impulse will be adding a lot of community features. For instance, Stardock, Gas Powered Games, and Ironclad are teaming up to build a unified multiplayer network for strategy games that will be made freely available to other developers who want robust match making in their games.
3) Impulse will have a lot of major third party content on it shortly. By end of the year, most major game publishers and many major PC software companies will have their content on Impulse.
I love Steam. I use it more often than I should for TF2 and such. But it strikes me as something largely designed for first person shooters when it comes to getting games going (I mean you can launch Company of Heroes but it’s not like their server list includes company of heroes games in it). Impulse will let you browse through multiple strategy games for open games or press a button and find someone for you to play which I think is a pretty big deal — since I like strategy games.
From a “DRM” standpoint, this is exactly what I would expect from Stardock: Treating people like customers and not like an army of amoral data pirates. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t even be praiseworthy behavior. This would be about as remarkable and heroic as not giving your date a suplex at the end of the evening. This advice should be so obvious as to make you feel like an idiot for bothering to utter it. But I have not found a way to inhabit that perfect world, which means I have to give credit to Stardock and their dedication to their suplex-free customer service.
The stuff about combining, Voltron-like, with Gas Powered Games and Ironclad is interesting stuff. Brad has more on this over at his site. Being a hopeless introvert, I rarely have need for matchmaking services myself, but I can see what a tremendous boon something like that would be to developers. Far too many games have shown up with their very own neglected and horrible matchmaking service, and paid the price in terms of review scores. If you’re going to invite players to scour the internet searching for faceless adversaries and trash-talking brats to be their digital playmates, then at least make sure the software is easy to use. Matchmaking should run like a Vegas wedding chapel, arranging those brief, unpleasant unions with maximum efficiency. (That is, it needs to be as much unlike Gamespy arcade as possible.) But good matchmaking takes time to develop and fine-tune, and I’d just as soon those development hours went into the game itself, perhaps cutting down on the number of plot-driven doors or DIAS gameplay. If Impulse can offer this service for games to hook into, then we are all richer for it.
Third-party content is also good news. I no longer hate Steam with the burning, teeth-clenching enmity I once did, but I’m still not crazy about it. I’ve often wished I could partake of the digital buffet without encouraging that sort of behavior. I’m very interested to see what will end up on Impulse and how that will work. (I thought it was a terrible betrayal when Steam allowed the SecuROM laden, activation-driven install of BioShock onto their service. It sort of required double-activation, although the Steam side of the activation was probably pretty smooth. Not that I would know. They never promised as such, but I thought there was some sort of unspoken agreement going on that Steam was supposed to free us from the need for all of those other, worse, DRM systems. When they were willing to put BioShock on their service with all of its restrictions intact, the whole thing felt like a sham, and gamers ended up with the worst of both worlds. Wasn’t this the problem we were trying to fix?) So now I’m looking at Impulse and wondering how they will approach this problem. The laissez-faire Stardock is about to partner with some companies that most likely have a very different view of DRM. The pro-DRM camp is going to want access to the impulse audience, but they probably are going to want to enter the digital delivery frontier while dragging all of their old attitudes and bad habits with them. It will be interesting to see what sort of compromise we’ll get between the two approaches.
Finally, I want to note that Brad himself stopped by and left a comment here, which is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about in Publishers vs. Pirates. Most people hear “publisher” and imagine a monocle-wearing baron, heavy with wine, siting atop a golden throne and thundering at the servants to throw another bushel basket of twenties onto the fire before he freezes absolutely to death, curse the lot of you indolent wastrels! This is an image instantly obliterated the moment the baron in question stops by and leaves a comment on a blog or forum you frequent. All of a sudden he looks more and more like, you know, one of us. A fellow gamer.
For contrast, I couldn’t tell you the name of a single person at 2kGames aside from “2kElizabeth”, who I view as the clueless mouthpiece for someone who ought to be hit by a bus. It bears repeating that piracy is a social problem, not a technological one. The difference from these two approaches to community is that I get mad when I hear about someone pirating from Stardock and yet experience a profound sense of schadenfreude when I learn of the same crime perpetrated against 2kGames.
Looking at these two personal reactions, it becomes obvious that speaking to your fans outside of the context of advertising and press releases isn’t just a friendly thing to do, but a legitimate vector against piracy.