Cheap Disposable Games

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Sep 10, 2008

Filed under: Random 69 comments

I’m sorry I can’t find the comment now, but it’s been asked of me more than once. The question is roughly: Is there some price point at which you might buy Mass Effect and BioShock, simply treating them like an extended rental?

A really interesting question. Someone even offered to buy me a copy of BioShock. Hey, if the game is free then running out of installs is no big deal. It’s a disposable game, right? If it’s just $5, then you can play it until you run out of installs and still get your money’s worth. Even an 8 hour game is a bargain (assuming it’s not terrible) at a mere $5. Of course, my objections to DRM have never really been about money, but it’s an interesting proposal: Would you accept a gift game (paid for by someone else) with limited installed / online activation? If not, why not?

I really do find the idea of disposable software to be distasteful. The main reason I avoid this stuff is that the idea of software being aware of how much its been used and refusing to run at some point is just preposterous to me. It’s data. It’s bits. Its information, and imposing an artificial self-destruct into information is just demented.

Part of it is that I don’t want to worry about “using it up”. Back in the 90’s companies like AOL realized that people would rather pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited use than pay a per-hour charge, even if they ended up paying a good bit more in the end. Unlimited was worth it because it’s less stress and hassle. You could surf the net without feeling like a clock is running. On a pay-as-you-go scheme, every problem becomes twofold: Dangit, I can’t find the information I want and this fruitless search is costing me money. It doesn’t matter if the fee is lower for pay-per-use. You’re paying extra for peace of mind.

It’s also a lot like the spectacular failure of DIVX in the 90’s. I think it’s so distasteful because it feels wasteful. With a true rental, you take a disc, use it, and return it. With DIVX and with limited-activation games, you buy it, use it, and throw it away. The box, the manual, the disc, everything. Pitch it, because it’s useless now. I consider myself a game collector to some degree, and this defeats the purpose of that.

I don’t want to have to worry about using up my games. If upgrading my graphics card is going to trigger a re-activation, then I have to factor that cost in when upgrading. Hmmh. This graphics card is on sale, it will cost me $150 and use up 1/3 of all my currently installed videogames. Even if the game was dirt cheap, when its installs are used up, it’s gone. I can’t imagine just taking the disc and the box and… throwing them away? I have to replace it (if it’s still available) or go without. And I don’t want to have to weigh variables like that when shopping for hardware.

But the most practical reason I don’t want to mess with limited-activation games (or games with any activation) is that I don’t want any money to fall into the hands of the people that are doing this. Not even five bucks. Not even if it was someone else’s five bucks. In fact, if I could somehow spend money and hurt them (without breaking the law or doing anything immoral!) I would do that. Sometimes when the rage-o-meter on this site seems a little high (like say, every single time BioShock comes up) it’s partly because I’m trying to verbally avenge this sort of stupid, petty injustice.

I certainly don’t fault people who give in, or who just don’t care. There’s a lot to be said for just shrugging your shoulders and enjoying your hobby. This is supposed to be fun. But if I had one of these self-destruct games, I’d always have the nagging realization that it wasn’t really mine.

I’ve relented a lot over the years when it comes to DRM. (Once in a while I see people looking at DRM and insisting that “both sides need to give in a little, this isn’t getting us anywhere.” This ignores all of the considerable concessions that gamers have already made over the last 20 years.) For me, online activation is where I’ve finally chosen to draw the line. It might not be the best place. You could make the case that it would be better to have done it sooner. Or never. It’s the best I can make of a rotten situation.

Someone else suggested taking the money I would spend on a game and giving it to something like the EFF every time I skip one of these games, which is a really good idea. Although it would be more symbolic than anything else. Since I write and make comics as a second job now, I actually do need games to play. What really happens is that I take the $50 and give it to another game to fuel the commentary / parody mill. I’m not sure I’d be able to afford a gesture like that, since I’d be “spending” the money twice. Still, it would be a great way to demonstrate that at the heart of it, this isn’t about money.

At least, not for gamers it isn’t.


From The Archives:

69 thoughts on “Cheap Disposable Games

  1. Mythin says:

    How do you feel about a service such as Gametap where it’s very clear going in that you don’t own any of the games you play? In that case, you’re paying a monthly fee to access an unlimited number of games, but as soon as you stop paying, you lose access to all of them (other than the ones they’ve now released on their free service).

  2. Shamus says:

    Good question. I hadn’t thought of Gametap when I wrote this. I actually haven’t tried Gametap. (Although I should: It might save me money, given the hit-and-run way I cover games I use for comic fodder.) It sounds reasonable, and it isn’t trying to fool you into thinking you’re getting a product.

    Still, if that’s what PC Gaming became, I’d be sad. I’m old fashioned and like to own things I can put on my shelf. I also like to have access to lots and lots of games at once, which I’m not sure works with Gametap. (Don’t you have to “return” some before you can get others? I don’t know.)

  3. vbigiani says:

    You can access lots of good games even on the free account (I got Deus Ex GOTY, Psychonauts, Thief Deadly Shadows, and others), and the ‘gold’ one is just $10 per month. You can download as many as you want (well, I have 17 free games currently).

    Make sure you don’t get Baldur’s Gate (and/or expansions/sequels) there though, you’d lose up on all modding possibilities.

    Also, has just started the beta phase. I got a free game just by being in the beta (I bought Fallout 1&2 for now).

  4. LazerFX says:

    Gametap works on a full subscription policy, like Metaboli in Europe. You subscribe, you get access to all the games, flat-fee based. You can play anything whenever you want, download as much as you want – so if you wanted to play a new game a day, you’d last 3 years without running out (1,200 games, IIRC – might be only just over 1,000).

  5. JoeTortuga says:

    On Gametap you can play anything they have on their service, many of them for free, but much much more for a low monthly fee. That fee lets me setup multiple users, so we each have our own games. The only real limitations are download speed, hard drive space, and whether a title is on Gametap or not. They can, of course, remove a game whenever they want to.

    I like having a compendium of free games, most a year or two old available pretty much whenever I want. I’ve got some of the classic RPGs (Planescape, Might & Magic Clouds of Xeen) as well as some newer games like Sam and Max, and the Grimm series (which I’m glad to play and not pay for).

    Yes, I don’t own the games, and I’m depending on the service to work, but I know that going in. And it seems more honest, to me.

  6. MintSkittle says:

    I also like to own things. When I bought the expansions for GalCiv II online, I paid the extra few dollars so they would send me the CDs. I don’t think I’d pay anything for a “disposable” game.

  7. vbigiani says:

    Umm, while Planescape costs $50 to buy now, by getting it on Gametap you lose on modding – and just (my) Widescreen Mod can turn the game upside down – nevermind the restored content, fixpack and tweakpack mods.

  8. Alleyoop says:

    You’ve got a lot of company on that line. It seems the sudden shift (EeeeAaaay) from ‘pay 50 bucks and it’s yours’ to ‘pay 50 bucks and be forever dependent on some outside party for the duration of your life, your hardware’s life, your internet connection’s life, our whim, snap decision, flight of fancy, change in management, creative TOS writing classes, server competence, and/or life for your full-priced purchase to function’ is not only abrupt but verging on criminal.

    And even if the prices dropped (he guffawed) to reflect the actual rental these games are becoming, I still wouldn’t go for it because of the extraneous bull now associated with DRM software that can adversely affect a computer, the game it restricts, and the true terms of which are never fully disclosed before I pay them for it.

    Twenty years of computer video games have yielded multi-billion dollar profits for this industry, and that’s partly because they get away with providing less for more people. Nice racket! The least they could do is let us actually own what we buy without further interference.

  9. krellen says:

    Shamus wrote:
    (Don't you have to “return” some before you can get others? I don't know.)

    That’s Gamefly, which is like Netflix for games.
    Gametap is a different service; I’ll admit to not being exactly sure how it works, but I suspect it’s something like Steam or Impulse, except you pay monthly instead of by download.

  10. ThaneofFife says:

    @ vbigiani:
    How did you get a free coupon from GoG? I’m in the Beta and I don’t seem to have one. Signed up for the Beta back in late July too.

  11. Matt K says:

    @ krellen: That’s pretty much how it works. You need an internet connection to launch the games. I only have experience with the free service, but it worked pretty well for my needs. I got to play Psychonauts which was great and Thief 3 which wasn’t my cup of tea but nice to play anyhow. In general, I’d recommend checking it out just to sample the free games.

    That said, I’m firmly in Shamus’s camp on this issue. I’d love to buy Portal or TF2 (or just Orange Box) but I cannot justify having to rely on Steam when I want to play. I didn’t get into PC games until 2000 (didn’t have a PC until then) and I’ve been playing catch up since. As such my collection is firmly dated between 1997 and 2004 and I still play many of them to this day. With Steam I’d always worry that the service would go away (which has happened more often than not) and I’d be out the game. Frankly, on the Bioshock front, there are so many great older games that I haven’t played in a while (if ever) that there is no need to waste my time with only a half decent game with pain in the ass DRM. I love playing PC games, but there has been zero releases in the past few years (and upcoming releases) that seem worth my money (don’t even get me started on pricing for games these days) let alone my time.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    How is a monthly fee different from limited uses anyway?For example,you can play bioshock unlimited times each time you instal it.So instead of watching what day of the month it is you are watching a different counter.Pay per hour,pay per month,pay per instal,all of those are limitations.

    The reason I am in favour of monthly fees instead of limited instals is that with time limits developers need to focus to keep the gamers playing longer,thus have incentive to make better games,while limited instals doesnt benefit the gamers at all.

    Oh,and there are numerous ways to spend money in oredr to hurt them legaly.Commercials,for example.Or something like:I will pay anyone who boycots this game and sends a letter with a reason why to the developer.

  13. Tricktophat says:

    If you want to put your money (and time) against these companies then why not create a website that lists all the DRM’s associated with all these games?

    Make an easy way for consumers to find out, before they buy a game, what kind of restrictions it has. You don’t even have to limit the information to just DRM, but also pay to play features. I could see myself checking for DRM and not-out-of-the-box features right along with checking the reviews before I buy a game.

    It’s legal, though you might get hassled, but as long as you accurately report the truth (or get other people to accurately report the truth) then you are informing the public, and building trust. Hopefully when consumers see all the information before they buy a game they will realize just what DRM means to them personally. You might even make a few converts.

  14. Michael says:

    The nice thing about Gametap (which is an awesome service), is that they go out of their way to find really good games.
    This means I can play them. Do I own them? Well no. Not yet, anyway. If I really like the game, I go and find an actual copy of it elsewhere (usually off Ebay.) Considering how cheap Gametap is, I consider it a Finder’s Fee.

    As for dealing with DRM for newer titles… to be honest, I play so many indie games I don’t even notice anymore. I’ve pretty much stopped paying attention to PC Retail.

    And I run a gaming store. That should tell you something about the quality of retail PC games nowadays.

  15. ATMachine says:

    Shamus, I think the disposable disc system you were referring to was DIVX. DivX (note the capitalization) is a still-current video codec.

  16. Rick C says:

    Hmmm. Assuming Bioshock (for example) ever comes to Gametap, will it still have DRM? In that case, it’s not any improvement overbuying the game.

  17. Kevin says:

    I like the idea of a Gametap. I’m kinda the opposite of Shamus, in that I’d rather not have extra crap cluttering up my space, (sorry, I know that’s not how you look at it) and 10 bones a month seems very reasonable for that much access. Plus, since I’m also a choosy gamer, I love the idea of a buffet style arrangement, where I get to pick and sample, and feel completely free to do so. To me, that sounds like a very stress-free environment.

    BTW, on the subject of flat fees vs. hourly rates, this was exactly the incentive that pushed Lena over the edge into buying a iPhone. They switched the model for online phone access from paying per megabyte to a flat monthly rate. The rate ain’t cheap, but it IS hassle-free.

  18. Shamus says:

    DivX / DIVX: Fixed. Thanks.

  19. K says:

    I do this. I bought a few games which were close calls, but just out of spite for the EA-crap I’m buying the other’s products. I try to vote with my wallet, it’s just not so easy.

  20. vbigiani says:

    Rick C: Bioshock on Steam has the same restrictions (max three installs).

    ThaneofLife: I dunno, I signed up mid-july and got the code two days ago.

  21. Vao Ki says:

    I’ve never used Gaptap but it sounds interesting. It’s a much better solution than that DRM crap. The appealing part of this to me would be a library of games I can browse with my small monthly fee. If I were to find a game that was essential for my collection I would then have to go buy it myself though. Although not having tons of game boxes lining shelves would be nice.

    If I had time for more games like I used to I might try it out. Doing the math, this wouldn’t benefit me. For now I’ll continue browsing the freebies online such as the Tower Defense games (I love Protector).

    Oh, and on subject with the post: Disposable games in general is a great idea on paper for big corporations, but game companies run by gamers understand this will never work. The only way to get players to consistently rent a game from you is to make a killer MMO.

  22. Illiterate says:

    Masters of Orion 2 — 10 bucks right now.

    Cheap? Yes. Disposable? No.

  23. JT says:

    How is a monthly fee different from limited uses anyway?For example,you can play bioshock unlimited times each time you instal it.So instead of watching what day of the month it is you are watching a different counter.Pay per hour,pay per month,pay per instal,all of those are limitations.

    The difference is that instead of paying $50 and getting one game that you can only install three times but get to keep it, you’re paying $60 for an entire year and getting to play as many games as you can (that the service provides, noted here that it’s over 1000) for that year. Obviously it’s a matter of taste and playstyle as to whether you’d play enough games in a given time span to make it worth it (just like pay-to-play MMORPGs, “do I play enough in a month to make it worth $15/month?”), but Netflix & Gamefly are the same way.

  24. Rob Conley says:

    I think is amazing that companies like Paradox Plaza and other small companies manage to survive without DRM. But there they are producing new editions year after year.

  25. Daemian Lucifer says:


    Thats not what I meant.The price difference is there,but the principle is the same.Paying 100000000000$ every day or 1$ every time you turn it on,you stil have a limit,you dont own the product,just have the right to play it.

  26. Veylon says:

    @Rob: It’s not really amazing. It’s just that they looked at DRM, said “Meh”, and walked away. And, in the magic of a free market, they’re beginning to reap the benefits of treating their customers like people.

    I, myself, am registered with Gamers Gate. I can buy the game and install a client that downloads it for me, repeatedly if I want. And then it’s mine. If they go down, I still have the game.

  27. Patrick says:

    Shamus, I don’t recall you mentioning anything about you did already I apologize), but it almost seems as if you designed their game distribution model. The site is currently only in Beta (I just recently got my key), and there is only a limited inventory, but it really helps to circumvent some, if not all, of the issues that people (including myself) are concerned about regarding DRM and digital distribution models.

    Many of the games available are classics (including Fallout 1, Fallout 2, Freespace, Freespace 2). All are sold completely DRM free and are supported for both XP and Vista. All games are also sold for less than $10. I really hope this takes off because these games are classics and need to be available to people. Also it is great to see a refreshing take on DRM. However, I am afraid that many people will take advantage of this system and buy one copy and then immediately set up a torrent to give it to all their “friends”. I guess this could function as a test of several pirate excuses including “I would buy it if I could (or could afford it)” also “If the game were any good I would pay for it”.

  28. Patrick says:

    @ ThaneofFife

    I just got my Beta key. When I did I saw a notice that after you buy your first game they will send you a coupon for 1 free game. I haven’t tried it yet (I will tonight) so I don’t know if it works but if you bought a game already you should recieve an email soon. As far as I know that is all there is to it.

  29. Gnagn says:

    @ Patrick, ThaneofFife

    If you register your account on gog with the same email you signed up for the beta with, they’ll email you a coupon code good for any Interplay game they sell as soon as you purchase any game. My coupon arrived in my inbox moments after purchasing a game.

  30. The Lone Duck says:

    The problem with the concept of disposable gaming is that it sets mediocrity as a standard. If a game is just going to be discarded in a week, there’s no reason to make it excellent. The goal should be to create games that people come back to for many years, not to make games that are discarded after a few days.
    Artistic idealism aside, games are too costly for that model. You can’t make a Bioshock or Mass Effect with the budget for a disposable game.
    To answer your question, if someone set me in front of the game, I’d play it. At the moment, that would require a new PC or an Xbox 360. I am more than willing to recieve gifts, but I wouldn’t ask for them. They are not games that justify a change in values and beliefs. But if someone else is willing to pay for it, and deal with the DRM hassles, why not?

  31. Patrick says:

    While many disposable games can be mediocre they don’t have to be. I can think of several games off the top of my head (Crayon Physics, FlOw, and Narbacular Drop) that were created to be throw away games. None of those games has any significant amount of depth and we won't be playing they for decades but they each should be applauded for the little revolutions contained within each. Petri Purho, the creator of Crayon Physics, works to create a new game every month. None of these games is going to be the next Half Life 2, Bioshock, or AAA blockbuster and he is quick to admit that some of them suck. But, by committing limited time and money to game development and by focusing on specific play and game elements it is possible to achieve something simple and revolutionary. That is something they could never try if they were spending millions of dollars on the finished product it would simply be too risky.

    It seems to me that some people think a game is a AAA blockbuster or it sucks. I think we all need to see that there are great small games (yes they are surrounded by thousands or terrible flash games) which can be just as fun as the big games and are just as worth playing.

  32. James says:

    It just pisses me off that because I just upgraded from WinXP to Vista I have to *spend* another installation to play my $55 game. If they want to limit us to 3 installs before we have to buy the game again shouldn’t get get a price break? They say the prices are so high to begin with so they can break even against the pirates. Well – if this DRM works then the game should cost less. If it doesn’t work then why bother to put it in at all? The ONLY people this kind of limitation works against are the people who bought the game legally. Can you tell I am mad?

  33. Namfoodle says:

    I already pay $10/month for Real Arcade, but I’ve pretty much tapped out all the casual games I can stand at this point. Peggle and Platypus can only hold my attention for so long. The only advantage is that you never have to worry about the system requirements.

    I’m thinking I should maybe switch to Gametap so I can play some real games again, for the same price. As long as my system can handle the games I want to try.

    It seems to me that the most invasive forms of DRM are little better than hacking in reverse. The big companies aren’t exactly occupying the moral high ground.

  34. Jeysie says:

    Yes and no.

    I’m OK with paying $4 to rent a PC game… that’s how much you pay to rent a game at a video store, after all. But if I decide I like the game enough to own it, I want to actually own it. I will not play a game if renting it is the only option.

    As for Gametap, in addition to some of the benefits listed above, I also like the fact that it lets you legally play some games that are now abandonware. We need something that preserves out-of-print games so that the current crop of gamers can experience them, and this is at least a step up from the current state of abandonware (i.e. you have to either pirate the games or pay ridiculous amounts of money on eBay for them).

  35. R4byde says:

    However, I am afraid that many people will take advantage of this system and buy one copy and then immediately set up a torrent to give it to all their “friends”.

    Patrick, these games are already all over the torrent sites. The only people I see bothering with at all are people genuinely interested in legally acquiring games they missed the first time around.

  36. Rick C says:

    vbigiani, I knew it had DRM on Steam. I bet you it’ll still have it on Gametap, if it ever gets there, which it probably won’t, because Gametap would have to buy lots of copies of it. Therefore getting DRMed games like that would not be any advantage over buying it, to the anti-DRM gamer.

  37. DosFreak says:

    Some other issues with gametap:

    Companies can and do remove games from GameTap.

    Some games don’t work that well (X-COM UFO and TFTD) (2K Games recently released the entire X-COM series on STEAM and UFO and TFTD use DOSBox)

    AFAIK, GameTap doesn’t work with Windows 64bit and they don’t appear to care. STEAM/GOG and other systems work fine with 64bit Windows.

    As for the comment where you can already get the games from Torrents and Abandonware sites:

    The point of GOG is to provide a LEGAL site where you can download games LEGALY. That you KNOW will work and if they don’t then you get SUPPORT for your games. There is also a very good forum for the games which torrent sites don’t have. Alot of “Abandonware” games are ripps anywhere or are .ISO’s without the music tracks, etc etc…

  38. Fosse says:

    If someone asked me the same question about a price point for Spore — which I still really want to play despite only mediocre reviews — I would answer that there is not. I do not wish to pay any amount of money because some percentage of that money will go to EA. For that reason, I don’t want to receive it as a gift.

    The only circumstances in which I will ever play Spore are that EA removes both the limits and the internet activation to install the game, or if I happen to find a boxed copy on the street someplace, in which case I’ll assume ownership much the same way I did of my very nice bookshelf that I rescued from the alley behind my apartment. I’d be happier with the first option.

    (I am very annoyed at people who find the install limits to be the deal breaker, but are okay with online activation itself. That misses the point. In either case, EA could take down the servers and I’m out my game.)

    My thoughts on DRM are almost exactly as Shamus’ are, and I won’t settle for any sort of activation to play the originally purchased content.

  39. ngthagg says:

    I became aware of this as part of the election campaign up in Canada: you can hurt companies by clicking on their click-through advertising, and then not buying anything. You could even use that to support a site you like at the same time.

    I don’t know the exact details on how this works, or under what conditions it works, but it’s worth a shot.

  40. MadTinkerer says:

    The reasons you listed in this post are certainly legitimate reasons to not like Bioshock. The reasons I debunked in the other post are not. ;)

    “Would you accept a gift game (paid for by someone else) with limited installed / online activation? If not, why not?”

    Nice to know someone’s thinking of me. ;)

  41. DaveMc says:

    Has anyone had the experience of calling up EA to ask for an additional installation? I ask because most people seem to be saying that you get three installs before you have to *buy* the game again, but I thought the deal was that you get three installs before you have to ask them for another one. The latter is still awful, but it’s not the same thing as the former. I agree that it’s maddening to have to beg permission to install a game that you’ve bought, but it grates on my sense of fairness to hear claims that you have to buy a new copy every three installations.

    For all I know, they rubber-stamp all requests for new installations unless you call up claiming to be three million Malaysian teenagers. Or maybe they’re complete jerks about it and getting an additional install is painfully difficult. I just don’t know — does someone here have first-hand knowledge of the process?

  42. DosFreak says:

    I believe the “three installs and you have to buy” comes from the Mass Effect dialog box when you run out of installs. (I’ve never seen it personally since I use the cracked executable but I’ve seen the screenshot on the Bethesda forum).

    Also getting any kind of support out of EA is like straining water out of a rock.

    Another point is that some people have to pay for the phone call to get their game to work…….

  43. DosFreak says:

    Here’s one example:

    Cue the “People only post bad things about companies on forums”, and/or “It only appears that people are having lots of problems because of a small amount of whiny gamers on the Internet” remarks in


  44. Doug Brown says:

    I suspect that Shamus knows all about, since he wrote their DRM policy:

    “Don’t let your DRMs turn into nightmares (clever, eh?). You won’t find any intrusive copy protection in our games; we hate draconian DRM schemes just as much as you do, so at you don’t just buy the game, you actually own it. Once you download a game, you can install it on any PC and even re-download it whenever you want, as many times as you need, and you can play it without an internet connection.”

  45. Mark says:

    Shamus, the obvious solution is to become a console gamer.

  46. I’ve had this idea in the back of my mind for a while: A web site called “Guilty Conscience” that allows you to assuage any guilt you feel for downloading pirated movies, or software, by anonymously donating what they’re worth to you. The site would be non-profit, and would collate all donations and send out “royalty cheques” to the content creators. Thoughts?

  47. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus,it seems that your rants have payed off.Ive heard EA will drop the 3 instal limitation from red alert and use the uber friendly 5 instal limits.

  48. R4byde says:

    Five whole installs! Yippee! I can’t believe EA could be so generous! They let me give them sixty bucks and then I can install the game two times more than usual! Frikin’ Tossers!

  49. Joe_W says:

    Your rant (great to read, as always) reminds me of something Sam Vimes (Discworld, Terry Pratchett) told his younger self when talking about taking bribes. I cannot remember the exact words, but it was along the lines, there is no difference between letting somebody who has done (almost) nothing run for one AM$ and letting free a murderer for 1000 AM$. Everything else is just haggling for the price. (“Night Watch”, I think).

    So, I really understand your point. I stopped PC-gaming ’cause of too many hobbies about five years ago (except occasionally Civilisation III, Star Craft and Dungeon Keeper, oh and “Battle for Wesnoth”), I am thus not dirctly affected by stupid games having DRM (the last one is quite new but open source and free as in “beer” and “speech”). What bothers me is users getting used to the hassles, not owning your data, not owning the software, not being allowed to modify the hardware etc. DVD-Country-codes are a good example, my colleague moved from Germany to Australia, of course he took his DVD collection with him… Well, you can swith the area-code of the player a limited number of times. Some of them even do it automagically, without you realising it. Solution: two players…

  50. The Lone Duck says:

    @Patrick: Hmmm… I think I had a different conception of dispoasable game than you. Obviously, casual games have a different focus, a different play time, and a different developement cycle. What I oppose is the idea of having AAA styled games, such as Bioshock, Spore, Mass Effect, as dispoasable games. I really hate the idea of a game like Shadow of the Colossus, or Monkey Island to be disposable. Paper plates are disposable; no one ever remembers a truly great paper plate. A game worth keeping is not disposable, any more than a piece of china-ware is disposable. Most of my time spent gaming is on these short flash games, I’ll admit. But the goal is to create something precious, something that stands out, not to create something to create something to cast aside. I still have Cave Story on my computer. It’s a casual game, but it’s old-school style resonates with me, and I am hesitant to delete it.
    However, this is my own view. I don’t like using libraries or renting movies for the same reason. If I think it’s worthwhile, I want to attach myself to it. If I think it’s worthless, or I can’t develope an attachment, I don’t want it. To me, renting a Kurosawa movie is a waste; I’d rather own it and cherish it. This is partly my own quirk, but to me, it is justified. On the other hand, I can think of very few games that I cherish; none of them are “next-gen” games.

  51. Lamoot says:

    Hello, my first comment at this blog. It’s a really nice read and offers some great opinions on various matters :)

    Anyway, regarding the DRM controversy going on in the recent months/year, I’ve been reading some comments at various forums around the net, that the DRM method may not be only targeted at pirates. Some people suggest that this is how the big publishers want to shorten the game’s life. This way, the customers can’t re-sell their games (through channels that bring no cha-ching to the publishers), or re-install some title they bought years ago (when the activation servers go down). This effectively makes a vacuum in the market that is then filled by the newer games so desperate to be sold.

    Any thoughts on that?

  52. Zaxares says:

    If it was a game that I hate playing? I wouldn’t play it. Take sports simulation games, for example. I HATE those games. Even if somebody gave a copy of the latest Madden to me for free, I would just re-gift it, or whack it up onto eBay. I might not have spent anything for the game, but it costs me my TIME to play it, time which is increasingly scarce and precious these days.

    Unless I know that I’m going to enjoy the game, and that it’s worth sinking my hours of free time into it, I’ll just pass it over and grab something that DOES catch my interest.

  53. Elise says:

    My brother claims that he only needs to ‘activate’ Spore if he wants user generated content to appear in his game. His CD key was rejected by the activation server and he’s yet to receive his replacement copy, so he just skipped past the activation screen – by closing the window – and lo! the game installed and he has been quite happily playing with the Maxis-generated creatures.

    My brother is going to lend me his disk and I will attempt to install it while my internet is disconnected. If this works then I will buy the game as, surely, this means that in 10 years when the activation servers no longer exist I won’t have a problem.

    I will let you know if my brother is insane or full of BS.

  54. James Pony says:

    I would refuse to play a game unless I get the game AND an entire new computer rig (monitors and everything) for free, if the game was such that I’d had heard relatively credible rumors of said game installing, without my consent or even knowledge, things like rootkits and shit.
    This is because:
    a)I do not want to pay for a game that treats me like a criminal from the get-go,
    b)I do not want hateful software on my computer,
    c)and because in my experience only an extreme few games live up to the great hype and actually end up being worth the 1)money and even 2)the time. Too many times has my reaction been “so this is hyped game X. Meh. I think I’ll go watch movie X which I have already seen NN times,” or the equivalent thereof.
    And that is just like Lex Luthor: Very, very bad.

    If I received such a game as a gift, it would be very awkward and not much else.

    tl;dr, I wouldn’t buy and treat Bioshock or Mass Effect as an extended rental even for -$5. Or even -$50.

    Now, if I were to be paid the full prices of the games AND given the games for free for playing said games with the express purpose of reviewing the same, I just might agree to do it. If it was some “real” entity such as a magazine or a professional website that requested the reviews, I would additionally demand a proper, full pay for the reviews themselves.

    But there’s a reason I don’t review games.

  55. J SMith says: – I accidently deleted my beta email when it finally arrived. :(

  56. Avilan the Grey says:

    Elise: You don’t have to play Spore online, and you don’t have to register it online. Your brother is correct.

  57. Portnoy says:

    “Would you accept a gift game (paid for by someone else) with limited installed / online activation?”

    Would you have unprotected sex with a poxy hooker if one of your buddies paid for it?

  58. DaveMc says:

    Alleyoop wrote: “DaveMc: first post has the screenshot.”

    Huh. Yep, they’ve brought this on themselves with that phrasing (“Please *purchase* another activation code”), and it’s perfectly fair to refer to it that way. I stand corrected. (It’s OK, I stand here so often that they’ve reserved me a table.)

  59. Brandon says:

    I don’t think “renting” PC games will really ever work out well, not the way it does for movies or console games. Different PCs have such widely varies hardware specifications, the play experience will always be different. Now, if games were made on bootable CDs and included their own little boot OS environ, and as long as you had the MINIMUM requirements the game played largely the same as any other on better hardware, then it would be different. It would effectively be consolizing the PC.

    I think the future of PC gaming needs to see consolizing. Nvidia and ATI release so many damned card variants with different numbers of stream processors and different processing speeds and memory… What would happen to the market if they created fewer products and worked toward a treating their video cards as consoles, in a sense? Assume a minimum RAM and CPU standard and have game manufactures assure their games run against those minimums and a particular model card.

    Now I’m just staring off into no-man’s-land.

  60. Adam says:

    I’m starting to realize that there are certain things that console gamers and PC gamers just won’t stand for. PC gamers have been playing online for free since the beginning of the internet. So when Microsoft tried to make them pay for the privelidge, they balked and Gates & Co. had to get rid of the fee. Console gamers aren’t quite so picky. They proved that (For the most part.) they’re willing to pay up to play online. DRM? Not so much. (Not to mention, it’d be hard to make that work, since console games aren’t really installed, and only work on one console to begin with. Upgrades aren’t necessary on a Wii, for example.) If more people would just do what you do, there’d be no such thing as DRM anymore. Here’s to you man. May all PC gamers have your strength of conviction, and may someone send you a cracked version of Mass Effect, because it’s awesome. (I’d do it myself, but a hacker I ain’t.)

  61. The Lone Duck says:

    @Adam: The closest thing I can think of to DRM on consoles, would regard to A: online activation of 1-player console games, B: limited downloads of games (i.e. PSN, XBLA), and C: locking game data to a single machine. (Supposing you owned two Wiis, the inability to share save files/game data between systems.) Only B and C are potential problems, regarding consoles.

  62. Gary says:

    When I read the title of this post for some reason all I could think of was the song “poor unfortunate souls” from the Little Mermaid. It has the same number of syllables in the same order (1syl 4syl 1syl) but still. I don’t know why my mind works like this.

  63. Tolmar says:

    Although I’m against all these recent DRM developments, I’d like to release some of my games for profit and want some form of protection. I know lots of independent developers get away without any, but I’ve also seen an entire college dorm playing pirated copies of Armadillo Run. Is there a form of content protection that you feel is “fair”?

    My current best scheme is to use a product key that’s checked when playing online, as in Starcraft’s I could potentially make it easier for the user by putting the CD key on the individual CDs, so the installer wouldn’t need to ask the user to enter a key.

    For games that don’t have an online component, I’d have an option (not a nag screen) to register the game online in exchange for unlocking some bonus trinket (maybe a few extra levels). If that detects that you’re a pirate, it wouldn’t give you the bonus, but instead direct you somewhere that lets you purchase the game properly – purchasing in this manner might even give you a pirate-themed bonus instead of the regular one.

  64. Alan De Smet says:

    What bothers me is the death of cultural memory. Really. So maybe BioShock is $5 and in three years I expire them all and it’s gone. What if five years later I want to replay it or share it with a friend who might enjoy it? What about the video game historian, or the future game designer trying to build on the past? Maybe I’ll be lucky and someone will have bought the rights and will re-release it, and I can pay for it again. And again and again. Or maybe the publisher will have had a messy bankruptcy and the game is in legal limbo. Maybe the source will be lost, making it hard to republish on modern systems and to remove the DRM.

    This is why seemingly reasonable solutions like online activation aren’t. In the long run they burn our bridge to the past.

  65. Alleyoop says:

    @Tolmar: I’d buy yer stuff. :)

    I don’t think online activation (server dependence) for games is acceptable unless they are specifically designed to play online in the majority (not sure if you suggested that or not, Alan DeSmet explains it well), but overall your method sounds a lot like what I’ve been happily at ease with for the past 10 years.

    – in-house (like, my house, or computer rather) cd check
    – unobtrusive, non-installing, disk-based copy prevention
    – online registration to join the community and all benefits that can be found there (and I don’t mean gifts or anything, I’m just talking fellow gamers, updates, code patches, like that)

    I’m not looking for freebies from publishers, though that will give me an additional reason to register and maintain attention to the community. And probably keep buying, since I feel considered as a paying customer – that’s valuable to me, to feel valued.

    I don’t want invasive DRM. I just want to buy the thing and play without worrying about extraneous effects on my personal property and keeping track of what needs what to activate or install or whatever, because that nonsense is going to become a large PITA in a very short time. It’s a PITA for one game, I can’t imagine having to do it for multiple games from multiple publishers.

    Pirate themed bonus, haha! Now that’s customer service!

    ETA: I’m not really familiar with buying digital downloads, more of a disk in hand kind of person. For what it’s worth.

  66. Jonathan says:

    Call me crazy, but I still think DRM is a good thing.

  67. Shamus says:


    You are crazy.

  68. MaxEd says:

    In fact, if I could somehow spend money and hurt them (without breaking the law or doing anything immoral!) I would do that.

    Man, I thought I was the only one… 10$ for speeding up death of Atari?

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