EA On Steam

By Shamus
on Dec 26, 2008
Filed under:
Video Games

The big DRM news going around – by which I mean was going around, last week, when I was too busy to talk about it – was the news that EA was dropping SecuROM and putting their games on Steam.

People are once again celebrating that “EA is getting rid of icky DRM! Yay!” But watch the language being used here. They simply claim they are no longer using third party DRM. This means they are using some form of DRM. By which they either mean Steam itself (but wouldn’t that also fall under “third party”?) or some system they came up with on their own. This could be weasel language to give them the room to add DRM if they think they need it, or it could mean they’re just replacing SecuROM with something just as bad, but which isn’t called SecuROM and thus won’t have all the bad press attached to it. It’s hard to tell how much of this is a PR move and how much is a technological move. I imagine the pirates will let us know once they crack open those first few games and see how rotten they are inside.

Paranoia aside, it’s entirely possible that this means EA games will be no more encumbered than other Steam games. But even if that’s true, this news is bittersweet to me. On one hand, it’s great that they are at last listening (somewhat) to reason. On the other hand, my objections were always centered around online activation, not SecuROM, and they’re keeping that. (It’s implicit with Steam.)

This is what the majority of the fans wanted, and I’m happy for them. It makes sense as a business move. This will bring back the vast majority of their PC customers, and only die-hards like me will hesitate. If I can refer back to the chart I used before:

Bell curve. Richard Stallman, Shamus Young, Joe Average, Nolan Bushnell, Bill Gates
Do not confuse the left / right, blue / red motif for American politics. We’re talking technology here, and if we bring politics into this it will make a hash out of the discussion before it even gets started. On the left are anti-DRM paranoids. On the right are DRM advocates. In the middle are people who don’t care, they just want it to work right now.

The problem EA faced is that their efforts this year lost them the crucial middle, which is where a vast majority of their customers are. This move will regain those folks, and people in my area of the spectrum will likely split. They could throw away all DRM and gain everyone on the left, including me. (Which would net them those sales at the expense of… nothing. I mean, the games will get pirated either way, but I don’t think their minds are ready to grasp that concept just yet. Baby steps, here.)

I know I’ve been over this before, but it’s going to come up in the comments so we might as well get this out of the way. My objections to online activation (and by extension, Steam itself) are thus:

  1. Online activation precludes resale. You can’t take a used game and sell, give, or even lend it to anyone else.
  2. It’s a stupid hassle. Authenticating and authorizing and de-authorizing at uninstall is such a dumb waste. They always want you to muck about creating an ID and whatnot. This is less of an issue with Steam but only because most people already have an account.
  3. Longevity: Will I be able to play this game in ten years? Only if the server is still up. Other DRM services have vanished, and left their customers with a heap of useless encrypted bits. I have hundreds of games here stretching all the way back to 1994. (I threw away a huge number of floppy-based games back in ’99, or my collection would be even larger and stretch all the way back to ’89 or so.) A vast majority of the companies behind these games are gone. If online activation had been possible in 1994, and if these games had used it, then the games themselves would have vanished with their developers and publishers.
  4. Hassle: Imagine in seven years when you want to re-play Spore (humor me here) and you go to re-install them game some Saturday morning. You pop in the disk, but your allowed installs were used up. Now you’ve got to call tech support. How long is it going to take them to get back to you? On a weekend? About a game most of them don’t even remember and which hasn’t been on shelves in half a decade? What stupid stuff will you have to email them to get the game running again? Do you still have the box? The manual? The sales receipt? You will most likely not get to play Spore for several days. You’ll be bearing the cost of this DRM long, long after it’s been pirated to hell and back and the game has vanished from the shelves. That is to say, even if DRM did deter piracy, it would only do so for the short time while the game was for sale, but the cost of DRM lasts forever.
  5. All of this, for nothing. These games will end up on the torrents anyway, which means they’ll be pirated just the same. You will bear all of this cost and hassle for no benefit, to yourself or to the publisher.

I’m sad EA didn’t go all the way and just sell these games as if they trusted their customers, but I suppose that was never really in the cards.

Will I buy them? I’m not sure. I do buy the Half-Life games, and I did buy Portal. But I try to keep the number of Steam games down for all the reasons I list above. Reason #4 becomes particularly relevant once you have a few dozen games that all require activation. Suddenly you find that installing a new graphics card breaks half your games. How much time are you going to spend on hold reviving the licenses for a half dozen games? You’re going to be there for hours.

I have a XBox 360 as well as a PS3 now. This will let me route around a lot of this nonsense, at the expense of paying more to play games and further cluttering what is already a nest of unruly technology.

Another bit of bad news about EA moving to Steam is that for some unfathomable reason, Stream is now selling games to European customers with an exchange rate of $1 = 1€, which is abominable. It’s supposed to be about 1€ = $1.40. This makes games a lot more expensive for Europeans, and I can’t really see any reason behind it. I think games are too expensive already, although I’ll save that rant for later.

Short version is: The move to Steam is a good move for gaming in general, although it’s not likely to impact my buying decisions a great deal. From this point it’s very likely that things will stop getting worse, which is the first time in years I’ve been able to say that.

EDIT: I originally inverted the exchange rates. Fixed now. (I think.)

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  1. Illiterate says:

    wouldn’t 1$-1.4E make it less expensive?

    Also, happy boxing day, Shamus. Did mass effect fail to keep your attention? Or do you have to get back to work today anyways?

    Me, I have a 50 dollar gift card.. need to figure out how best to use it. Need a sata DVD drive, would like a slot-one adapter for my DS..

  2. Torsten says:

    I believe the currency rate is actually the opposite. Last time I checked exchange rates from my bank they were roughly 1€=1.25$ In other words, if game costs 100€/$ – for example 12 month of playtime in MMORPG – americans pay 100$, and europeans pay 125$. And that price is still without taxes.

  3. Rattus says:

    I suppose the reason to use DRM even when everything is pirated is they hope it will last for first few days. Some analytics claim first few days after release of the game are crucial, as if pirated version is not available already, some people will not wait for pirated one and will eventually buy it.

    Luckily for them no one can ever get clear figures “what if” so they will stick with “proven” solution – broken DRM games.

  4. Tom says:

    Nit-picking, because getting numbers and conversion factors right is what I do…

    According to a quick check of Google, 1 U.S. dollar = 0.7116 Euros, or 1 euro = $1.4US.

    So a game pricing scheme of $1US = 1 Euro means, as Shamus said, that Europeans’ purchasing power takes about a 40% hit compared to those of us in the U.S. Based on the exchange rate and published purchasing power parity (say that three times fast), Europeans should be paying about 70 Euros for every $100 spent in purchases in the U.S.

  5. Mart says:

    EA’s games on Steam are only for the US region. Not sure about EU though.

    I guess EA and/or Valve are convinced that gamers anywhere else in the world are stinking pirates.

  6. Primogenitor says:

    I know, online activation sucks, but steam doesn’t suck as bad as some of them.

    I rebought the ID back catalog ($99 for the lot) and that included a bunch of old stuff such as all the Keens & Wolfenstein. They work fine on steam, no problems. I know that’s not future proofing it, but if they take the time to get those working, I’d say its a good sign for the future.

    Also, you only need a username and password, the same as email & many other things. So hunting for manuals/CDs/etc isn’t required. Moving to a new machine is also a snap, as is using multiple machines (e.g. laptop & desktop), at least in my experience.

    EDIT: They are available in Europe, but here in the UK I cant see them yet…
    Plus, even if the exchange rate sucks, its better than my bank charging per transaction AND having a poor exchange rate.

    EDIT2: I also noted that the steam website was down a few days ago (I guess this is why), but game still played and worked fine.

  7. matt says:

    @Rattus: But, if spore proved anything, it’s that pirated copies will always be available within a week of release, and there’s not much, apart from tightening security, that they can do about it. I saw Spore on torrent sites a full week before it became available to purchase, and most popular games, they’re cracked hours, days tops after being put on sale. The best solution is twofold, tighten industry security, and make better (whatever that entails, even if it only means making more optimized, less power hungry) games. I don’t understand exactly how they plan on keeping up the business, and they can’t possibly either, there has to be a change on the dev/pub side before they’ll see any real increased revenue.

    At the same time, I cannot fathom who buys the new Madden every year, that’s like buying a new front door every year, because the new models have slightly less wood, and more glass. So, I guess I’ll never understand what goes on in the mind of the average person.

  8. folo4 says:

    But Steam keeps on growing, Shamus! They’re invulnerable against fold-ups!

    I really want to see this argument challenged; it’s the only one that’s been bugging me for quite a while now.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Dont bother with spore Shamus,its too shallow.Only if someone gives it to you as a gift.Wrapped in $50.And a cake.With a stripper inside.

  10. Delta Force Leader says:

    “It’s supposed by be about 1€ = $1.40.”

    Shamus, is that supposed to say “It’s supposed TO be about 1€ = $1.40.”?

  11. Veloxyll says:

    I think Shamus was just using Spore as an example.

    As for things exploding horrendously after continual expansion, um. The American Automotive industry?

    It’d be nice if games actually fell in price if they’re exclusively sold on Steam or something since part of the nice things about buying games is that if it sucks or has no replay value, theoretically I can just sell it to someone else, essentially turning a $90 (I live in Aus) purchase into a $40 purchase or so. Which is why resale of games is GOOD.

    People value games differently. If I can resell a crummy game, the $100 price tag is not so much of a problem, as I can mitigate it, effectively making it cheaper if it’s crummy. And the person who buys the resale copy didn’t really feel it was worth $100. A resold game isn’t a lost sale, it’s (possibly) a gained one.

  12. UtopiaV1 says:

    Me and a group of friends -specifically- went out and bought Left 4 Dead on CD/DVD just so that we owned a physical copy of the game, that the man can’t take away if the Steam servers go down or something. It still means having to crack it to use it on a LAN without steam, but hell, if it’s breaking the law to play a game i paid £30 for without telling the authorities, then I guess me and my friends are fugitives.

    We’ve been prepared for this for a while. When they come a-knockin’, we’ll throw some broken hard-drives at them and make off with our PC’s into the wilderness to live at one with nature and Counter-Strike.

  13. Joe says:

    Here’s something even more insidious: Posit, if you can suspend disbelief for a bit, that EA were to come up with a form of online activation DRM that actually prevented piracy completely. They start selling their games with it. Without the help of piracy, the only way users can play their old games is to call EA tech support to walk them through re-activation. As their back-catalog grows, this tech support burden increases. So they have a system in place where there are increasing ongoing costs, but with no ongoing revenue to support it. So they either decide to drop support entirely and give a big finger to their old customers, or they go out of business which, from an old-gamer perspective, are functionally equivalent. As bad as DRM is, it would actually be much worse if it worked.

    What we have here is a system whose only redeeming feature is that it is completely dysfunctional for its primary purpose. Unless, of course, if its primary purpose is actually to annoy Shamus Young, in which case it seems to be brilliantly successful.

  14. Shamus says:

    I am going to have Joe’s comment bronzed.

  15. Krellen says:

    I still don’t use Steam. I try to keep the number of things I register for down to a minimum, and since there are non-Steam ways to get most of the games I actually want, I can safely ignore it.

  16. Spider Dave says:

    I’ve always felt that pirating is appropriate as soon as you can’t get the game anymore. But then it’s not so much pirating, and more like diving for treasure in a sunken ship.

  17. Alleyoop says:

    I’d like to know what they’re going to do for those who’ve already bought these games and are stuck with limits and Securom issues and having to use the EA Download Manager to get patches and figuring out revoke processes (if that’s even available to them) and EA support and being denied the right to sell on a purchase… Guess those folks don’t matter anymore.

  18. TehShrike says:

    Avoiding your fourth point is actually my main motivation for using Steam.

    Whenever I reformat my computer, or move to a new one, the games I have purchased via Steam are always the easiest to access. It takes less hassle to play them than any other game I purchased a physical copy of.

    There are still other issues (point 3 particularly bothers me), but avoiding the hassle of installs and registration is actually why I use Steam.

  19. evilmrhenry says:

    Interestingly, after I bought Commander Keen on Steam, I found out that it’s completely unprotected. You can copy-paste the game directory anywhere you like, to any computer you like, and it will still work. (Which makes sense; I mean, it’s not like they’re going to reprogram a game that old just to add DRM.) Unfortunately, there’s no list of games that can do this.

  20. Jock says:

    While reason #4 is a valid reason to avoid online activation in general(and why I still haven’t gotten bioshock on the PC), it’s not valid at all for Steam. You literally just sign in with a user name and password (something that you can include with your other startup scripts, so that you don’t even have to manually do _that_) and then you can download and install all games that you have purchased, no other hassle needed.

    No need to ‘de-authorize’ at uninstall, because the number of installs is unlimited. Heck, you don’t even need to keep the disc, once it’s tied to your account all you need is your name and password. Let me tell you, it’s made migrating to new computers almost completely pain free to me, because now that Steam carries many of the non-valve games that I actually enjoy I don’t have to worry about digging through my CD binder or miscellaneous drawers trying to find that damn install disc.

    Now, I will grant that it does require internet access, but frankly in this day of increasing broadband adoption that’s becoming less and less of an issue, as an internet connection is becoming necessary for all sorts of other reasons. At this point if I don’t have access to the internet then I personally have got bigger problems than not being able to install something on a new computer(must…have…e-mail..and..YouTube!). In that situation I basically have just read books until the guy came around to install it. Or (horror!) I played games that I already had installed on my computer, since they don’t stop working.

    I will also grant that all of this is contingent on the continued existence of steam as an actively supported platform (for the sake of argument, I’m going to ignore the possibility that Steam would outlive Valve by being bought up at the bankruptcy sale, a distinct probability given its established install base). You brought up the fact that your game collection stretches back to ’94. What you forgot to mention was that means they were for an OS that stopped being supported around 2000 (maybe earlier, I forget when they took out the DOS prompt). Like it or not, the steady advance of technology means that games have an expiration date, and it’s sooner than you seem to think.

    So yes, if Steam goes down forever (assuming worst case scenario where they don’t get bought out and don’t release an activation disabling patch) then you can’t install a game that you bought 14 years ago on a new computer that (in all likelihood) wouldn’t even be able to run it if you could because it relied on some XP feature that won’t be there in Windows Alpine or whatever the fourth post-Vista iteration will be. Boo fricking Hoo, here’s the world’s tiniest violin playing, just for you. Note that if you still have it installed on your old xp computer, it will still continue to work, now that they’ve added offline mode (The steam server goes down means you’re basically in permanent offline mode).

  21. Rob says:

    It’s rather humorous when you think about it. After Shamus bronzes Joe’s comment, it will outlast all DRM-infected games created before it. And most created after I’d think.

    I told EA what it would require for me to support them. Several times. This Steam thing is a step in the right direction, but to me, it smacks of “Upping the Install Limit”.

    No, no half measures from EA from me. Had they done this months ago instead of what they did, perhaps I’d have folded. Not this time though. I want the entire Haunch, not a frigging soup bone!

    Oh, and Jock, Google Dosbox. It is the tool I use to play old games.
    You can take your violin and shove it. Those DRM-Free old games saved my sanity while sitting in the no-internet areas that military personnel find themselves commonly in. It also helped in those times when I couldn’t afford any luxuries like “Internet”. What is on my computer is what gets me through the rough times, when I can’t afford to get things I would otherwise have.

  22. neminem says:

    Now, I hate DRM as much as anyone. But, I actually have to argue against you this time: if you took away all DRM on a game, I imagine more people would pirate it. Why? Because even just the tiniest bit of DRM means you actually have to think about pirating before you can pirate. If you could just grab a friend’s disc and install without needing a crack or a key or anything, I imagine more people would pirate that game than ones that did require even a trivial amount of effort.

    I agree with you about online activation (especially the sort where you have to activate it each time you play), but at least steam provides you with a (slightly strange) means of activating once and then being able to play the activated games later without having to activate them again. Plus, steam actually has benefits, unlike SecuROM, in that you can redownload the games you own from any computer, legally. Which has actually come in useful, a time or two. And, of course, if the server goes down, I can always just download the crack then.

    It’s not perfect, but steam is about a bajillion steps up from SecuROM (assuming they don’t just replace SecuROM with some other, equally ugly DRM).

  23. Joe Cool says:

    I’ve always wondered why you have Bill Gates on the far right of that graph. It’s always seemed to me that Steve Jobs is ten times the control freak that Gates is. I mean, I can at least install Windows on one computer of my choice without violating the license agreement. Then there’s the DRM-infested iTunes store. And let’s not forget the draconian control over the iPhone Apps that Apple maintains, that prevents even Flash from coming to the phone.

    (Of course, Apple fanboys insist that the control is the reason that the platform is so good.)

    (Also, do I get a cookie for starting a good ol’ fashioned Apple/PC/Linux flamewar?)

  24. scarbunny says:

    I think Steve Jobs breaks the bell chart with his control freakary.

    I still refuse to play EA games, mainly as I refuse to use Steam, mainly as it took me nearly 2 days to sort out the hard copy of Sin I had bought.

  25. Derek K. says:

    Just chiming in to support Steam – I don’t believe there are *any* deauthorizations required, and I’ve installed my entire catalog on two different computers off Steam.

    I have offline backups for everything but TF2 and L4D, so I’m very happy with it.

    Plus, I have bought nothing on Steam full price. Even L4D was discounted, because I bought the four pack (which was actually a five pack) for $150, and got 4 (actually 5) copies of a game that cost $50 in stores.

    Granted, it’s not ownership, but it’s the next best thing (and sometimes better). And I know that’s the idea – make the okay thing the good thing, and move on.

    But consider this: I had to torrent a copy of KOTOR last week, because I wanted to install the game, but could only find 3 of the 4 CDs. So I had to pirate it in order to install (I had disk 1). Steam would have alleviated those issues.

    The only real issue I have is the “what if you go away” problem, because I too have ancient games (Right now, I have Fallout, Fallout 2, MOO 2, Diablo, D2, Warcraft 1-3, Planescape, and Arcanum installed) that I love love love to play.

  26. vdgmprgrmr says:

    Steam’s activation really isn’t as bad as you say (I mean, it’s still OA in whatever form, but…). If you have a hardware configuration change, your game would still run fine (assuming you didn’t have to reinstall XP and everything). You can play offline and such. But if that’s still too much, then, that’s all I got. Just saying, I don’t take offense to it.

    Valve seems like a nice corporation to me.

    Something I think Valve should do… I think it would be really nice if people were able to, with games they have in their account, burn the game to a disk and remove the game from their account. The disk would be a non-online activated totally-DRM-free (except, say, a disk check if the publisher asks for it, or maybe a serial number, the publisher would have to have some control over this) disk. They could even supply the customer with an image for LightScribe (or other software) enabled users to put on the disks, as well as an image (or images, or even allow selection by the customer between various image options) people can print to paper for a custom CD case. This way, people can use Steam as either an online personal game library, or a simple direct2drive sort of utility.

    I’m pretty non-versed in the ways of cost-analysis, but this doesn’t seem like it would cost all that much. It would probably depend on how the games work. And I think that the game itself doesn’t connect to the internet, but Steam keeps track of what you play, and Steam connects to the internet for the games.

    I could be totally wrong, though, so… someone care to lend some knowledge?

    Other than that, though, I think that could be a really good thing for Valve to do.

  27. JAT says:

    As far as the exchange rate argument goes, there really isn’t any difference to normally buying the game.

    Take Spore for example. It has a price tag of $50,- on Amazon.com and €50,- on Amazon.de.

    The same is true for each and every game around here and even consoles…

  28. Bryan says:

    Jock: One word: DosBox.

    There’s a perfectly good way to get all those old games working (and it even works on non-Windows OSes as well, so you’re not even stuck with crappy design decisions made way back in 198x). It simply involves *avoiding* the use of the standard OS “support” (such as what doesn’t exist) for ancient games. Not terrifically hard.

    (Or at least, I’ve never had issues with dosbox supporting old games.)

  29. Danath says:

    Actually I always wondered, cant you lend a friend a Steam game by giving them access to your steam account, then they can download/install the game and play it? As far as I know the games are account locked, not computer.

  30. Sam says:

    When I first heard about this news a few days ago, my thoughts were very similar to yours: well, they’re just replacing SecuROM with Steam. How does that help? But with that weaselease placed in their statement that they’re no longer using third party DRM, I find myself just as untrusting of EA as I was upon finding out about their evil ways (through your ranting, actually). So I’ll still not be purchasing any EA products anytime soon.

  31. Lanthanide says:

    Just looking on halflife2.net, and I saw this:

    “If you haven’t noticed yet, Valve has dropped prices on all games that are available on Steam. Discounts are from -10% to -75%. Sale ends January 2nd, see a few examples below:

    * Left 4 Dead – £20.24
    * Team Fortress 2 – £6.99
    * Portal – £3.49
    * Bioshock – £3.49
    * Valve Completepack – £39.74
    * Opposing Force – 99p”

    Now I know your whole objection to online activation for games and that you’re just ‘renting’ them, but is Bioshock for £3.49 not so rediculously cheap that you can still justify not ‘renting’ it?

  32. Dys says:

    I feel the need to make a point concerning two of the arguments against DRM. While it’s a horrible thing, and almost entirely useless it is the only tool against piracy. When you’ve got a bear mauling you and you only have an umbrella, you hit the damn bear with the umbrella.

    The point is, on the one hand it is argued that DRM is useless, and on the other that it prevents you playing games once they are no longer supported.

    In the corollary to Joe’s post… Since DRM is NOT effective, it cannot prevent you playing old games…

    One or the other please. Arguing both is self defeating.

    Of course this does mean that to play an unsupported game you have to engage in criminal activity, but I believe there was a comic to that effect linked not long ago. You will inevitably come up against DRM if you want to play a game which is no longer supported by its activation server, but really at that point, nobody cares.

    http://www.tweakguides.com/Piracy_1.html is worth reading for anyone interested in the subject.

  33. Shamus says:

    Dys: It is not one or the other. I refuse to go on the torrents and pirate stuff. If I must do so in order to protect my investment, then I will refuse to make that investment.

  34. Kalil says:

    Another big issue with online activation, beyond all the freedom issues mentioned above, is simply this: not everyone has reliable access to the internet.

    I am a merchant marine cadet. I spend 2 months of the year at sea, and out in the industry, can expect to spend 6 months at sea. I don’t have internet during that time. Online activation is simply not possible.

    Piracy is. Pun intended.

  35. LintMan says:

    I’ve generally been OK with Steam’s DRM (my line is drawn at the activation limit stuff), particularly when I catch one of their pretty frequent half-off deals. I also had no problem dropping $5-10 on an Steam indie game I thought worth checking out and that my kids my like even if I didn’t, so built up a good-sized collection (40+) of games on Steam. In some ways, I preferred buying the Steam version of a downloadable over one direct from the publisher, because then I’d have all my games organized and re-downloadable from the same place, rather than trying to track where I got Sam & Max or RSPoD from, or make my own backups of those downloads.

    Then I was horrified to discover that if you log in to your Steam account on one computer while you’re already logged in on another, it logs you out of the first and sometimes boots you from the game you’re in there.

    So my kids could be playing, say, Bookworm Adventures on their computer, and then I get on my PC to play, say, Portal, and they get booted off! Doing some digging, I found that the Steam license says it is exclusively for THE PURCHASER ONLY and no one else. So I can’t let my kids play the games I bought for them?

    So I emailed them and asked why they sell childrens games since few childrens will be buying their own games on Steam. They replied that the immediate family of the purchaser is allowed to play. This alleviated my primary issue, but I pointed out to them that their policy prevents me from playing one game while my kids are playing *an entirely different* Steam game and that they certainly should be able to find a way to make that possible. Their reply to that was basically “tough toogies” – only one computer at a time on Steam, and that’s that.

    I haven’t bought anything on Steam since then, but I haven’t completely rejected it. No more kids games from Steam, and I’ll get the indie stuff direct or on Impulse when I can, but I’ll probably eventually end up getting some of the EA games via Steam to avoid the activation limits, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pass up some of those good deals they occasional have. I feel like a battered wife saying “it’s gonna be different from now on”.

  36. Mark says:

    Steam is pretty much ideal for what I use it for. Nobody else uses my account. I lose discs far more often than I lose passwords. I have immediate access to the Internet 97% of the time, and offline mode works fine. Okay, the Steam servers and all backups thereof might vanish in a cloud of unicorn farts tomorrow, and the profit margin on Steam store games might suddenly transform into anti-profit that means nobody will try to reconstitute it, leaving me unable to play any multiplayer games or install single-player games on computers that aren’t mine. That’s a risk I’m willing to take in exchange for what I’m getting.

    As for EA, this just means I’ll be able to play The Sims 3 after all. That’s a lot better than not being able to play The Sims 3.

  37. Klay says:

    The thing people forget is that DRM of any type will never EVER stop the pirates. Pirating tools continue to increase in complexity in direct proportion to complexity of the DRM. The fact still stands that people who pirate games are people who would never have bought the game anyway, so it isnt a lost sale. Publishers think they are losing money to piracy but they’re wrong. I know that I will go buy a game if I want it badly enough (unless it has DRM that is). I know its available on the torrents but I want to give them my money. Thats how consumerism works.

    @neminem pirating in this day in age is easier today than it ever has been. It only takes one person to crack a DRM system. After that it will be on the torrents for everyone to crack. It takes virtually no effort after the initial crack. Pirates won’t just stop cracking games just because it might get harder. I don’t personally know any game crackers, but if I did I would wager a guess that they partly consider it their “job” to crack games with DRM.

    To see proof the no DRM increases sales all you need to do is look at the Amazon page for Spore.

    The thing I’m trying to get across in my rambling is that piracy does not equal lost sales and publishers should get this through their thick skulls.

    Incidentally, I wonder if this DRM thing with EA is a direct result of Chinese pirates. Since they have no piracy laws over there, its basically over a billion people with free access to their games. I would wager a guess that China does more piracy than the U.S. and Europe combined.

  38. Adamantyr says:

    I agree on the Steve Jobs/Bill Gates thing… at least with Microsoft, if Windows starts giving you install issues, you can reach someone who can activate it for you. Heck, I swapped out a drive on my Vista system recently, which causes it to break, but I was able to restore it just using my install disks, contrary to what some internet sites claimed.

    Apple, on the other hand, has horrific customer service. My brother had a hard drive fail in his iPod, a situation their technical website (A real person? No, that would spoil the fun…) did NOT offer as an option for what was wrong with it. Then after he did all that, he got a response that his unit was past warranty and they didn’t have to do a thing for him. Which was untrue, it was at 10 months.

    What kills me is he bought another iPod… AND another a year and a half later when that one broke.

  39. Dys says:

    The point I was making earlier is that at some point the OS the game runs on will be unsupported. At some point the hardware it runs on will be unsupported. Sooner or later you will not have DirectX, or Windows as it is now.

    When that happens you will need third party software to make your game run. Unless, presumably, you have a room full of archaic hardware on which to run each generation of games.

    As far as I know, using an emulator to play an old dos game, or amiga rom, or anything similar is still illegal. You may not accept the equivalence of hardware compatibility with… let’s call it publisher compatibility. In truth the two are distinctly different in their causes and effects. But I think the impact on the user is likely to be similar.

    Don’t misunderstand, I really loathe DRM and the entire rationale behind it, but a great many of the arguments against it are extremely shallow.

    GTAIV is really annoying me right now, to the point where I wish I’d never bought it. Spore and Bioshock were unplayable until I pirated them, Fallout 3 almost went the same way.

    To say DRM doesn’t stop piracy is not entirely correct either, the best evidence for that comes from the PC / Console divide. Vastly more PC games seem to be pirated than console games, the only explanation for which is that it is marginally, very slightly, harder. Put the smallest hurdle in the path of most of the people pirating games and they just don’t.

    Personally I only consider pirate copies of games that either don’t run with their DRM or which I wouldn’t pay for anyway. I doubt any sales have been lost from me. But the whole World of Goo thing shows starkly that the vast majority of people will pirate something without a second thought, so long as it takes no effort on their part.

    Apologies for the long comment, but bear in mind that any money lost by the developers, and even the publishers, directly impacts the quality of every subsequent game they sink capital into. There is no solution to the problem, except to convince the majority to act like decent people. And that, I think, will be a long time coming.

  40. R4byde says:

    Dys, there isn’t anything illegal about using DosBox to play old dos games, and Emulation, in any form, is not illegal if you own the system you’re emulating.

  41. Jock says:

    Re: Kids’ games (non-controversial, I hope)
    A quick solution that I can think of would be to give them their own Steam Account, and then gift the games that you buy to that account instead of downloading them to your own. This should work fine as long as you don’t expect to play Dora the Explorer (or whatever) at the same time as them (which I’m fairly confident is the case).

    Re: Military
    While I admit that this does present a case where there is irregular web access that is not easily remedied by Comcast, it doesn’t really challenge the central point. How is pirating a viable option if you don’t have an internet to download it from? If you have access to torrents, then surely you have access to Steam.

    Re: Complete lack of DRM of any stripe
    I think that this is the reason why the totally-drm-free approach hasn’t caught on.

    Re: Playing Really Old Games
    Without even mentioning abandoned software sites, fair enough, there may be ways to play old unsupported games even as platforms advance. But we are ignoring a more fundamental argument, namely “What is the likelihood of this worst case scenario even happening?” IMHO it’s remote enough to be a secondary consideration at best. Sure, if there are other major concerns to deal with this issue could be that straw that turned me off of the idea, but as it is I don’t think it’s worthy of being a central point of contention, due to the vast number of unknowns that could break either way. It’s like saying “I’m never going to travel on an airplane because it could get hijacked and crashed into a major landmark.”

  42. Danath says:

    @Lintman

    Having only one account and having someone else log into that one account booting anyone ELSE off the account has been pretty standard for a long, long time, you could have given your kids their own account for those kid games, considering its likely you would not be playing them, and in no way do you have to buy games using their own accounts… Steam has a “gift” option to give the games to other accounts.

    And nobody has yet responded on the whole giving a friend access to your account in order to download/try a game if you were ok with it.

  43. Joe says:

    Thanks for the compliment. (and thanks for the blog! Between you and Yatzee, I’ve managed to avoid wasting money on untold tons of effluvium, while still playing things that are actually fun, like Portal… and as a side benefit, I’ve managed to derive great enjoyment relating to the aforementioned effluvium without actually having to pay for or spend time playing it… Does that make me a pirate?)

    Anyhow, there are a few other things that a company could do instead of closing down support or going out of business. They could crack it themselves, since they have both the copyright and the source code, and release an unencumbered version. Since that makes so much sense, it would never happen. They could also just start charging for support, which would be annoying, evil, and profitable, so that’s where my bet would go. Of course, I keep feeling like there’s got to be some way that they could manage to deter piracy while simultaneously not being overly intrusive and generating enough revenue to continue in business… I’ll have to sit and ponder that tonight while I wander around Azeroth (that gold won’t farm itself, ya know!)

    @Dys: DRM isn’t the only tool against piracy.. Also, the PC/Console divide may also be at least partially explained by the fact that game resale and/or rental are normal for consoles, but almost universally require piracy in the PC world.

  44. Rustybadger says:

    Wow, I see nobody’s stepped up to the Mac/PC Flamewar 2008 Invitational yet…too bad.

    Anyhow, as a Mac user, I’d say yes, Steve-O *is* an utter (control) freak. And yes, Apple’s support *sucks* (for the most part). But I love the OS and the way it fits into my lifestyle- which is why I’m perfectly comfortable running it on non-Apple hardware (in direct violation of the EULA). Whooptee frickin’ do.

    I like not having to run antivirus software and anti-malware programs in the background while I’m online. I like being able to uninstall an app by dragging it from my Applications folder to the Trash bin. I like not having to reboot my computer at least once a day. I like how OSX can use 4GB of RAM, rather than the 2 that XP is limited to- this means I can run Firefox with 50 tabs (ok, ok- 30 tabs) open and not crash the browser- AND still run Photoshop too.

    But yeah- Steve should have been on that graph- but with his own Bell curve, cuz he’s whack.

  45. Krellen says:

    When games used to have no DRM (or only disk-check based DRM), I did often borrow and lend my disks from/to friends so we could all try out the games. In the long run, this boosted game sales; if I borrowed a game I enjoyed, I went out and bought it. The thought of keeping the install and just installing a NOCD hack never really occurred to me.

    The number of people for whom the difference between breaking the law and not breaking the law is simply a matter of ease – this being the population DRM actually works on – is so minuscule as to be useless to count.

  46. Kalil says:

    @Jock
    Irregular internet access means you can download games while you’re home, and still use them while you’re abroad. However, Steam requires a connection once every 10 days, iirc. When I’m at sea, I won’t have internet connection for months at a time.
    Initial online activation isn’t a problem for me. It’s repeated connection that is an insurmountable obstacle.

  47. Mark says:

    @Kalil
    I thought it was a certain game with SecuROM that required activation every ten days. I haven’t tried keeping Steam offline for ten days but I haven’t heard of it objecting to such behavior.

  48. Malkara says:

    When’d you get a PS3? O_O

  49. Shamus says:

    A friend lent me his PS3 a few months ago. (He has 2, don’t ask.) I played a little MSG4 on it, and didn’t have anything useful to say about it. (It’s just very, very strange from my point of view.) I picked up Prince of Persia for it and loved it. I tried a little Playstation Home, and I might write about that at some point.

  50. Folo4 says:

    @Mark

    Worse, I thought that Securom requiring a 10-day reactivation malarkey was taken out after many angry gamers canceled their preorders after they announced the system on Mass Effect (PC) and Spore.

    From my experience, I never switched my Steam to online mode for more than 2 weeks and I can still run Audiosurf. Sans highscores, of course. But thrice curse the lack of unicode support.

  51. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @LintMan

    Though I am anti DRM,I have to disagree with you here.Were you pissed of when you couldnt use your phone together with your wife/kids at the same time?Or watch two different programs on your TV?Did you expect the salesman to give you 2 TVs when you bought just 1,or have two phone lines installed for the price of 1?

    @Jock

    I dont know…Compare that with some DRMd cassual game.Like,the one that claimed 92% of it being pirated.So,where is the effectivness of DRM?

    DRM actually does the opposite.Look how long it took twilight of the arnor to get on to the torrent sites and how long it took spore to get there.

  52. LintMan says:

    @Jock & Danath: Yeah, I guess I can get the kids their own Steam account and gift them the games, but part of why I liked Steam is that I was able to organize all the games we own in one place. I have 3 kids and will probably eventually add a second computer for them when they are a bit older. Then I’d have to add a third Steam account so two kids could play different games at the same time – but what if they both wanted games from the same account?

    And beyond that, some of the games I bought were ones I wanted to play too: I expected that the kids could play with it once I was done. For the cheaper games, I was pretty experimental and willing to buy something to try it, figuring that even if I didn’t like it, maybe one of my kids might. If I have to use their account to play it, that defeats the whole purpose of giving them their own account.

    Honestly, there’s got to be a better way to handle this than “just one computer at a time”. Testing to make sure that both computers aren’t playing the same game? Allowing a limited number of sub-accounts, maybe? There’s absolutely no reason I shouldn’t be able to play one game I purchased on one computer at the same my kids play a different game on a different computer.

  53. Jock says:

    Re: Steam offline
    I think that at one point right when they released the Steam Platform they didn’t really have a good offline option, and if your computer didn’t check in then you couldn’t play. That was years ago, though. I’m looking through their documentation, and there is no mention of needing to get back online ever once you’ve gone into offline mode. The one possible catch is that you need to actually be connected when you say “Go to offline mode,” so you need to remember to do it before you go aboard.

    Re: DRM more likely to cause piracy
    Never heard of it, and “Some DRMed Casual game” doesn’t give me a whole lot to work on in terms of research. Care to be more specific?

    INTRUSIVE DRM may do the opposite. As long as the legal way is more hassle free than the pirate way I think that the DRM will be quite effective. Spore was a backlash of gamers pushed just over the edge of reasonableness. Not being a frequent user of torrent sights (are you?), I’m guessing that your point is that Twilight of the Arnor (being DRM-less StarDock) isn’t on there? So? It’s a niche TBS with next to no advertising presence. It’s like saying there’s no bugs on a Mac and therefore it’s the superior platform (conveniently ignoring that Macs make up, oh 5 percent of the market, thus making the ROI for bugmakers extremely low).

  54. Shamus says:

    Daemian Lucifer: LintMan was talking about two different games. If I bought two BOOKS, I would expect to be able to read one while my wife read the other.

    I’m sure it’s a violation of the Steam TOS to give an account to a ten year old kid. But they SELL games for ten year olds. Which suggests that they expect them to use their parent’s account. Which means while Jimmy is playing quantum physics blaster I can’t play HL2. Or whatever.

    It’s just another stupid cost of this whole goofy system.

  55. LintMan says:

    (I tried to edit my comment to add this, but it timed out before I could finish.)

    @Daemian Lucifer: Your analogy is absolutely wrong – I bought all these games. Steam is not some sort of “all you can eat” monthly service where I’m trying to get two people to eat for the price of one. I don’t need to have the same game installed on both computers – I’m talking about playing different games on different computers. In your TV analogy, the real equivalent would be that I bought two TV’s and then the salesman tells me we can’t watch both at the same time.

    Or better yet, a non-analogy: If I buy Portal and Bookworm Adventures off the shelf in a store, I am absolutely positively allowed to play Portal on my computer while my kids play Bookworm Adventures on the other. Why should it be different if I buy them from Steam? What am I “gettig away with” that makes what I’m expecting be so unreasonable as to be similar to asking for two TV’s when I only bought one?

  56. Jock says:

    s/bug/virus/, dang comment timeout.

    Re: TOS and underaged-ness
    If it is against the terms (not immediately clear this is the case, digging through the legalese now), then it’s a law thing. Something about not collecting personally identifying information about people under 13, which seems to be standard on the internet. There’s a simple way around this: Say that the kid is over 13.

    BTW Not finding any such clause.

  57. illiterate says:

    Isn’t there something inherently wrong with a system where, in order to use things for their intended purpose, you have to violate an agreement made with the seller? Is it necessary now for every consumer to be a criminal?

  58. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @Jock

    Im to lazy to check,but Shamus wrote about it.Search the archives and youll find it.

    @Shamus&LintMan

    My analogies still stand.If you had just one computer and two games,would you be able to play both at the same time?(well,it can be done with some alt-tabbing,but….).The difference here is that your game needs:Itself(obviusly),computer and steam,instead of just itself and a computer.

    And Shamus,your argument about two books isnt valid.Would you use it against a record player that can play just one record at a time?Hey,you bought both records,so why not play them simultaneously?

    You did purchase an account,but with it,youve purchased just a single connection with the server.Same like a phone.You may buy as many phones as you like,but if you have just a single line,you cannot use all of them at the same time for different calls.

    @illiterate

    Yes.The wrongnes comes from the term seller being used for someone who is renting you their property.Or,more accuratelly,from laws trying to force you to agree that you are actually renting something that youve bought in every way imaginable.

  59. Shamus says:

    Daemian Lucifer: You’re basically defending the system by saying “that’s how Steam works”.

    Well, YEAH. That’s the reason for the complaint. I should be able to read both books. Or play one record upstairs and another downstairs, but I can’t. Steam prevents this. (Although, offline mode is MUCH better than it used to be, as long as the user knows how to set everything up and remembers to switch ‘lil Jimmy to offline mode before they launch Left 4 Dead, or whatever.)

    You still end up with the situation where the simple, honest, not-so-tech-savy user is confounded by the system, and the pirate – tech savvy or not – gets to do as he pleases.

    And this situation was REALLY bad when offline mode was unpredictable. (Nine months ago I tried OM a few times but it would ask for a re-connect or refuse to run the game offline for no discernible reason. It seems like that might finally be sorted out by now.)

  60. LintMan says:

    @Daemian Lucifer: Steam allows me to download a product that I purchased from them. That is the service they provide. This is equivalent to buying the game from a store and the store allowing me to take the game home.

    Once I have downloaded the product, I no longer require the service, just as I no longer need the store after I bring the game home from there. Any further connectivity that Steam requires is for THEIR benefit, not mine, just like if the store wanted me to call them every time I played the game. Once I have purchased and received the product, I no longer need or desire them to be involved.

    You do not “buy” a Steam account, nor are you buying a “single connection with the server”. You are buying a game, and the server is merely the mechanism to deliver the game and to provide their DRM mechanism. Aside from the DRM, the game doesn’t inherently require access to their server – this isn’t an MMO where the content is continually flowing to me through their server, so your phone line analogy is invalid.

    And Shamus’ book comparison is a completely correct comparison. If Steam started selling downloadable books, why shouldn’t you be able to read one from one computer while your wife reads another from a different computer? Your only answer seems to be “because they say so”. Adding some DRM server or user account into the equation doesn’t change the basic fact that you’re just buying a book in a slightly different way.

    Why do you think the rules for buying games through Steam should be any different than buying games from a regular store? Why should I have to give up any rights at all because I bought a game through Steam instead of at the store? All Steam does for us is provide some convenience while taking away the benefit of having the physical media and printed manual. That’s an OK tradeoff for the most part, but certainly not if the cost is losing all sorts of other rights such as submitting to the “phone line” model of software sales you espouse.

  61. folo4 says:

    if Steam brings such problems to the table, why won’t Impulse (which doesn’t have such problems) become popular faster?

    Is it because of the publishers?

  62. Danath says:

    When you buy two books your buying 2 seperate packages, when your buying on steam your binding things to one account, its like buying one of those big collectors edition books, its 3 books in one! But your wife cant read another book at the same time as you, because its all bound in ONE large book.

    It makes perfect sense for them to limit an account to just one person at a time, I cant think of anything that involves an account and lets multiple people use it at the *same time*. This isnt even just steam, this is everything that involves user accounts. If you wanted your kids to play on a different computer at the same time, they should have a different account, this isnt exactly any kind of hassle for anyone involved, as your unlikely to play those little kid games most likely anyways. Or you just accept the fact for someone else to use something, you cannot use it, this is economics 1101, free rider dilemma!

  63. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @Shamus & LintMan:

    Im not defending it just because thats how it works.The thing here is that you are not buying a game,you are buying a liscence to play the game.I dont like it,but thats what the games have turned into.Sure,they are still calling it “selling a game”,even though they arent acting like it.

    Steam does not act like an online store,but like a renting place.They still keep the game,and rent you just one copy to play until you deinstal it,or they go down.

    Impulse,on the other hand,is a true online store.Too bad other publishers prefer renting their games.

  64. MuonDecay says:

    I’ve always felt that pirating is appropriate as soon as you can’t get the game anymore. But then it’s not so much pirating, and more like diving for treasure in a sunken ship.

    If there are no longer any retail sources for the game, and you can’t buy it directly from the publisher, then yes you’re not exactly stealing it (we could split hairs about how the word “stealing” implies scarcity, which is nonexistant with data, but I won’t).

    However, this takes quite a few years. About the only games I have which I’ve pirated and which the makers wouldn’t care about me pirating anymore are ROMs of games made back when games came in cartridges. You can’t buy those new anymore, and if you do buy them in a store it’s resale. I would agree, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    The thing the publishers have going against them is twofold. Firstly, most of them aren’t gamers. That’s a big hurdle. Try running an auto company and not knowing how to drive or how a car works… yeah, not easy. Secondly, they’re trying to fight piracy without knowing the first thing about how pirates think. If they knew people’s motives and tried to offer their goods in a way that played to their interests, they’d find themselves earning more money… not just from pirates but from everyone.

    Pirates want an easy way to get a game in its entirety in a painless and uncomplicated manner. The tragic thing is that for all the little hurdles that confuse someone’s first attempts at pirating games… they’re less of a hassle than the DRM is. Scene groups compete to have the best game releases… the easiest and fastest cracks for DRM, and sometimes they even fix bugs that were in the original game code. If publishers would participate in that kind of competition to release the -best- product instead of focusing all of their efforts on things from their own perspective, they’d see a lot of change.

    That’s really the bottom line with these blunders. Instead of sitting down and thinking about how to attract customers’ interest, they’re sitting down and thinking about how to serve themselves. Who the hell pays somebody to take their money and use it on their own interests? The sad, tragic “simple answer” of the matter is that these mistakes are simply because these twits weren’t even very good businessmen.

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