A funny story about my column this week: I finished writing it on Thursday. While polishing / proofing, I wanted to hunt down some citation links. And by accident I stumbled on an old column of mine that had exactly the same thesis. I had no memory of writing the original column.
As a result, I needed to re-write my column at the last minute. I changed the focus of the article but kept a few of my supporting arguments.
For years I was laser-focused on this argument. Let’s call it my Opening Salvo:
Games always end up on torrents on Day 1. Therefore, DRM does not impede piracy. DRM costs money. Moreover, many paying customers are very public about their refusal to buy games with certain types of DRM.
Therefore, DRM wastes money and hurts sales.
Now, this isn’t necessarily true these days. Like I said in my column, Denuvo does manage to protect games for a few weeks or months. But my Opening Salvo was the standard argument up until Denuvo appeared four years ago, and I felt like the debate never progressed beyond that point.
It’s not like I was the only person making this argument. Gaming forums were full of people making this same point again and again. Consumers would throw a fit, and then the publisher would roll out a new system that was more obnoxious / restrictive / intrusive than before, with the excuse that “We need to do this to stop pirates!” Not only was the DRM itself annoying, but we were also left with the impression that we were arguing with a wall.
After spending more than a decade ranting about DRM, I’d love to know what the publishers are thinking. Are they as dense as they seem to be, or is there some other explanation for their apparent bloody-mindedness? Which of these is it:
- The publishers 100% understand that DRM doesn’t stop piracy, but it DOES kill second-hand sales and the stuff about the pirates is just an infuriating misdirection.
- The publishers have literally never been exposed to the anti-DRM argument, or they’ve dismissed it due to systemic ignorance regarding consumers and technology.
- The publishers have data that indicates that DRM is actually beneficial to them, but they’ve never shared that information with their customers. For some reason.
I don’t know.
If their real goal is to kill secondhand sales, then why not push digital sales? Why pay for increasingly-annoying DRM when the old stuff effectively kills the secondhand market?
It’s hard to believe they’ve never been exposed to the Opening Salvo. On the other hand, they’ve never attempted to rebut it.
To me, Ubisoft has always come across as the most arrogant and tone deaf of the big publishers when it comes to DRM. Their reasoning for not porting I Am Alive to PC was the worst sort of lazy guilt-by-association. Their argument boiled down to “They’re all pirates so why port anything for them?” This argument didn’t generate a lot of outrage because I Am Alive was a trash gameI played the first hour on the Xbox 360 and quit due to toxic levels of boredom. and nobody cared, but their comments were still pretty shocking. It sounded like they were more interested in expressing their spite for pirates than they were in making sound financial decisions. If you move 100k units on the PC, that’s still $(
100k × Sales Price) of revenue.
 I played the first hour on the Xbox 360 and quit due to toxic levels of boredom.
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