Experienced Points: Online Activation Is a Ripoff

By Shamus Posted Friday Aug 28, 2009

Filed under: Column 58 comments

An entire column dedicated to making the case that online activation is a Bad Idea as a form of DRM. I had to give my boilerplate “Steam is not the same as simple activation”, because if I didn’t do that it would instantly hijack the conversation and we’d be arguing over Steam the whole time. I mentioned that their system of auto-patching is pretty nice. Far better than Googling around, looking for a patch, trying to figure out if I have it, or need another one before this one, or if I need a special one for my region, and then shuffling off to FilePlanet and downloading 50MB worth of ads while waiting in line for my 5MB patch.

Of course, as soon as I wrote that the auto-patch system came back to bite me, and an update to Garry’s mod broke the software. Since I had no idea there WAS an update, I wasted a lot of time trying to fix what I thought was a problem on my end. And because of the way the system works, there is no way to return to the previous version. My software is dead, and I just have to wait for someone else to fix it. Grr.

You can turn off auto-patching on a per-game basis, although it’s on for all games by default. Some games need auto-patching. You need to keep Team Fortress 2 up to date, or you can’t play online. But single player games don’t have that problem. I probably need to go through all my games and set policies for each to keep this from happening.

Man, I hope Garry gets it fixed soon.


From The Archives:

58 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Online Activation Is a Ripoff

  1. Deoxy says:

    Pretty good article, but nothing incredible, especially for you. The bit on piracy at the end is particularly weak:

    “Well, they have to do SOMETHING about piracy!”

    I’m open to suggestions, but a system which turns a purchase into a rental while doing nothing to stop pirates doesn’t seem to be a winning strategy. Not for us, anyway.

    The proper response there is a very clear “This does NOTHING about piracy, end of story.” You soften that quite a bit in the way you word it.

    Edit: the bit about Steam was pretty good.

  2. RichVR says:

    Three words: Earth and Beyond

  3. SatansBestBuddy says:

    I wish publishers would realize that the day they create the perfect DRM system would be the day nobody buys their games because pirating them would be the only way to play them reliably.

  4. Allan says:

    Escapist seems to be downish at the moment, but I’m sure it’ll be a good read as always, but this reminds me. Now that you’re a sort of “high up” there, could you ask their web department if there is a reason their website tries to set over fifty bajillion cookies from something called themis-media(well, usually about 40-50, but still, that is kind of a lot)? If I clear my exceptions thing in firefox and then try and see if the latest yatzhee is up or you have an embedded video here I suddenly find firefox sprouting windows like the pirate bay a week before a microsoft launch. :)

  5. Neil Polenske says:

    Well, I gotta go with the other end of the spectrum. First off, this is the same argument you made a hundred a times already, including one of your earlier Experienced Points. Through escapist or here, I doubt there’s anyone who knows you who hasn’t been made clearly aware of your stances on DRM/Online Activation/etc.

    Which is why the bit about Steam did surprise me. No, that’s not right. I never heard it said outright before, but you’ve clearly gotten a soft spot for the system. And that frustrates me. Specifically this statement:

    “Yes, Steam does require you to register your game, but they give you a whole lot of features and freebies in return.”

    I don’t really have an issue with Steam. The system is remarkably easy to use compared to what I needed to do back in the days of ‘the Clinton era’ in order to get my games to run, and all the complaints I’ve heard tend to be in areas of the system I don’t use. But it IS DRM, it IS online activation and just cause they give you lots of sugar to help the medicine go down doesn’t change that fact.

    How is it NOT hypocritical to give concession to Steam? How is it NOT incorrect to say it’s different? ALL the detriments you made about online activation before and after mentioning Steam apply directly to it. All them bells and whistles they offer require an internet connection. You just spent the previous paragraph pointing out that if I don’t have access to the internet, all them freebies don’t mean crap, and THEN you went on to say that if they drop their servers all of what they offer, including BACK UPS I’d be trusting them with, would be GONE.

    But I accept that risk, cause as I said before, they take a lot of the hassle out of installation and updates. I like what they do and clearly you do to. And I’m not criticizing you for that. But that ALSO means you can’t go around saying that ALL online activation is unacceptable cause I guarantee I won’t be the only one calling you out on it.

    Side note: If you like Steam so much, WHY DONT YOU MARRY IT!?

    …ahem…sorry, that just kinda got away from me there. Uh…moving on…

    Joking aside, you really kinda have beat this argument into the ground Shamus. How about taking the road less traveled and offer up an EP post that covers possible solutions or even examples of ways that work like Steam.

    Extra Side note: Preview button maybe! I just made a crapload of text I gotta scour over. Actually forget that, if there’s a mistake, there’s a mistake.

    1. Shamus says:

      “How is it NOT hypocritical to give concession to Steam?”

      I drew a pretty clear distinction in the article. At some point the freebies they’re offering counter the ripoff they’re proposing.

      People keep asking me where this magic threshold is, but there is no single spot. It’s different for everyone. For people who HATE having to carry their game collection around, Steam offers a ton of hassle-free gaming. For people who have connection problems, it tilts way, way in the other direction.

      I’ve always said that I would MUCH prefer to simply own my games and be done with it. I would take that over Steam any day. But in the case of Steam they add enough sugar to cover the taste of being screwed. BioShock doesn’t even try.

      1. Shamus says:

        Oh and re: the “You’ve covered this to death.”

        Keep in mind my EP audience is much larger than this one, and there is not close to 100% overlap. For most people to read the article, this is only the second time I’ve covered the issue, and this time was rounding up and dealing with the objections raised last time.

        It’s a good message, and bears repeating to as many people as I can get to sit still for it.

  6. Zaghadka says:

    Hah. Hijack that thread in 5 posts. :)

  7. bbot says:

    Completely off topic: I got tired of your hilariously long URL, so I registered dtwenty.org.

    Now you can go to http://dtwenty.org/ and it’ll load http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/ inside an iframe; or if you hate frames, go to http://dtwenty.org/r and it’ll 301 redirect you.

    I’m commenting from inside of it, as a test to see if the commenting system works.

    Edit: It does! And so does editing!

    Also: of course, as a frame, the url in the address bar doesn’t change when you click on links, which might be a problem if you try to copy and paste what you’re looking at without paying attention.

  8. pkt-zer0 says:

    Dunno, saying that Steam’s alright still seems hypocritical. Just one question above, you say that activation is a big deal for multiplayer games, because you might not be one of the people who care about the multiplayer aspect. Similarly, you could say that activation is a big deal for Steam games, because you might not be one of the people who care for Steam’s extra features.

    Anyway, I don’t think online activation would be that big a deal, if they ensured it’d be future-proof by patching the DRM out a couple months/years after release. Most such patches come from The Scene at present, unfortunately.

  9. McNutcase says:

    I’d take some issue with your car analogy (yes, I could comment over at the Escapist, but I refuse to register over there, hasn’t been as good since they stopped pretending to be a paper magazine around the end of their first year online, and suchlike grognard grumbles).

    It’s not so much that you have the key to the car. It’s that you have the key to the Denver boot which fits itself every time the driver leaves the car. Meanwhile, the criminal side have worked out how to remove the boot entirely…

  10. Factoid says:

    @bbot: The problem you’re going to run into, I think, is that if your dtwenty.org gets linked anywhere or crawled by google bots you’re going to steal “link juice” from Shamus and reduce his pagerank. That might not matter that much since his ads come from The Escapist’s parent company, but I’m pretty sure that causes problems with search engine optimization.

    Better to ask permission first I think.

  11. Scott says:

    If I don’t have access to the internet, I still can play all of my games on Steam because they are downloaded and installed on my computer. I can run all of my games in ‘offline mode’ (though most are strictly multiplayer, so there’s no reason to) without needing to access a server at all. In fact, I can go out, buy a copy of the Orange Box and install it and not have to worry about validating with a server. It’s not really online activation, it’s online distribution.

    EDIT: Actually, I take that back… apparently, the DVD install for Orange Box is broken.

  12. JKjoker says:

    i dont like auto update systems, many patches break games by adding bugs (i remember an infuriating one on diablo2 that caused lighting enchanted monsters deadly bolts to become invisible when they reached your “light radius”) or by taking features out of the game (usually because of abuse in the online component) or by completely breaking you character (diablo 2 comes to mind again but almost every popular crpg with an online component had at least one of those, d2 had like 10) or by utterly breaking game balance

    and thats not mentioning what several windows updates did on release

    so i rather know what the patch is going to do (and let some other “brave” souls try it first) before i apply it

  13. radio_babylon says:

    repost of a post in the steam forums, about steam as drm vs securom’s online activation drm it was true then and its true now:

    steam is a PLATFORM, a small part of which is DRM.

    does securerom allow me to re-download the game a few years later when i get nostalgic for it and want to play again? does securerom automatically and transparently keep my game patched and up to date? does securerom track my achievements and let me chat with my friends? does securerom let me quickly and easily uninstall it whenever i want?

    NO, to all of the above. securerom is an invasive, evasive, customer-unfriendly, sometimes destructive piece of software that, AT BEST, gives me the paying customer NOTHING and at worst degrades my gameplay experience with the software i OWN, sometimes to the point of unplayability.

    you really cant even begin to compare steam to securerom. theyre apples and oranges… or, apples and turd-pies, more accurately.

  14. Neil Polenske says:

    “I drew a pretty clear distinction in the article. At some point the freebies they're offering counter the ripoff they're proposing.”

    The paragraph after this statement goes on to explain how there isn’t a clear distinction cause it’s dependent on the point of view of the user. Which is fine, except YOU NEVER ACKNOWLEDGE THIS IN THE ARTICLE!* Look, if your going to take the stance of complete intolerance to DRM – which is what this artcle is – then you have to acknowledge that Steam IS a part of it. Not doing so comes off as disingenuous, and criticizing people for pointing that out…that’s weak sauce man.

    What I mean is that – according to your article – the ‘gaping chest wound in this fallacy’ amounted to short paragraph of you saying, “Steam gives you things, so it doesn’t count.” THAT is what frustrated me.

    * I’m using caps in place of italicized since I don’t know how to use XHTML tags and I can’t confirm if I’ve used ’em right until after I post since THERE’S NO PREVIEW OPTION!**

    ** that part I did want in caps. :P

    1. Shamus says:

      Neil Polenske: I didn’t talk about that because the article was 1,500 words, I didn’t want another damn argument about Steam, and sometimes I trust people not to derail the central conversation with pedantic side-arguments.


  15. Sander says:

    Interestingly, it is piracy that actually offers the solution to all of these problems. As long as you have the disc to install it with (which means: as long as you didn’t get the game through a digital download service), there will undoubtedly be cracks, patches, hacks, workarounds or other procedures you can use to circumvent the problem.
    All provided by the very people these software producers are trying to stop (in vain).

    Also, I have to agree with Neil here. As much as I love steam, your article seems to revolve around fundamental problems that exist with DRM, and still exist with Steam. Steam being a platform and having all these nifty features doesn’t change the fact that at its core, it is still a simple online activation service, perhaps worse than normal online activations as once they go down, you won’t even have the game data anymore and so can’t use any workarounds.

    Why are you deciding whether or not Steam’s upsides counter this, instead of simply providing the reader with the information and letting them decide, perhaps noting that it is more than good enough for you?

  16. Kdansky says:

    I’m also not too much fond of steam, but I really have to accept that it’s not all bad. I like the easy way of buying games (and the weekend deals), redownloading them hassle-free after I buy a new PC or install a new OS (Windows 7. Shiny.), the friends list, the “Join the game Rutskarn is in” function, the automated updating and some other features. I also trust the hackers and crackers that there will be a solid hack for Steam at the time when Valve stops supporting it. ;)
    Not having to go to the store and purchasing a physical disk which then to painfully install from my ages old drive is worth a lot to me. So in this case, I get extra features at the cost of DRM. That’s very far from most other DRM, which removes comfort (Spore install limit), results in crashes (Mass Effect) or is just plain a pain in the ass (Bioshock).

    @Sander: There will always be cracks, no matter how the game is sold. You can crack a downloaded version too, no need to own a DVD. And it’s not even that difficult, which can be seen by the speed new releases are cracked (usually a matter of hours, sometimes days).

  17. Sander says:


    While I don’t doubt the availability of cracks, the problem is going to be the availability of game data. As digital download services are shut down, their data (*your* data) is lost, which means that you will have to go through a lot more trouble than just cracking to get a working copy. Moreover, in some cases it may be near impossible, as it can be damned hard already to get a hold of some older games.

  18. UtopiaV1 says:

    Didn’t we already have a mini-discussion about Steam etc in the Velvet Assassin: Bargain Bin post a few days ago? I should know, because I started it…

    Still, it’s good to recycle :P

  19. Sheer_falacy says:

    The silly part of dissing SC2 and being okay with Steam is that now with the blizzard account you get the biggest benefit – you can download the games from their site. They’ve had convenient updates covered since forever, so perhaps another online activation game would have been a better example.

    And to the guy asking about preview: you can edit your post for 15 minutes so just use that.

  20. bbot says:


    Googlebot looks through iframes, but it may still cause some problems.

    But in that event where I make a advertiser’s life more difficult: Oh no. What a terrible thing this is that I have done. I weep, I weep, tears of sorrow, now that I have made a walking piece of shit unhappy. If only I had a tiny violin on which to play a sad song.

  21. Jazmeister says:

    I actually hate switching discs. My disc drive is atrophying fast, and won’t come out when you hit the eject button. I play Fallout 3 using the FOScript Extender (FOSE), which doesn’t check for a disc when you start it up. So now I have a shortcut to that from Steam.

    I was with Steam from the beginning, so I have a weird view of Steam. I know Valve is a corporation same as any other, but I’ll always feel that Steam is my buddy, you know? We grew up together. Maybe that’s it. It certainly beats GFWL.

  22. Nathaniel says:

    It seems weird to me that the game companies have this pool of people for whom it is still very difficult to pirate a game, and their response is, “Let’s make it so they can’t play a legitimate copy!” I bet people without broadband do very little pirating. Sell these people games!

  23. I’d just like to take a moment to say, Shamus, that I agree with you utterly.

    I’d also like to say that I find the “purchasing a licence” argument utter bulldrek, particularly considering that I’ve started hearing it applied to console games as well – not at present, but in the future (which is why I’m a little wary of the growing trend in the game industry to digital distribution on home consoles – possibly even going digital distribution-only in the future) – which leads me to my next point:

    If you haven’t done it already, and you think you have enough thoughts on the topic to merit it, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the whole “used game” controversy – with game developers and publishers (and some journalists) decrying used game sales as being potentially fatally damaging to the industry. I know everyone and their pet dogs are talking about this now, but I think the topic bears discussing. I’ve been thinking particularly hard on this after a couple posts I’ve written on my blog, one in the past and one more recently, about a couple of racing games, both of which I’ve since traded in since I wrote those reviews. My observations might be fallacious, but the reasons why I made those observations are also why I traded those games in to buy something else and, if Digital Distribution is the main (if not only) way we buy console games in the future, if I run into those problems again, the option to trade the game in and use the in-store credit from that trade to get something else won’t be available to me. I consider that a big deal… and I also think I’m rambling, so I’m going to stop now.

    I’m also going to take a moment to apologize for my parenthesis abuse, and I will endeavor to abuse them less in the future.

  24. Neil Polenske says:

    Pedantic? Every single point you made against DRM can be applied to Steam and you consider it pedantic? Okay, I’ll admit, I’m in no position to tell a person how to perceive a viewpoint, but I will mention this:

    You clearly anticipated dissent regarding this issue and took measures to try an prevent it. It happened anyway. More than just me chimed in pointing out the…inconsistency of defending Steam and riling against…everything else I guess and I would imagine if this weren’t your personal blog, the number of people making similar comments would be substantial. Maybe, and forgive me if I’m being presumptuous, but maybe it’s not the impudent side-issue you’re taking it for.

  25. Steve C says:

    Shamus said: It's a good message, and bears repeating to as many people as I can get to sit still for it.


    I love those well written rants of yours. Keep them coming.

  26. WysiWyg says:

    Something I think you’re missing is the fact that online activation kills the secondhand market. I could actually live with all this crap if they only realized that they had lowered the value of the game.

    If there will be a point where I won’t be able to play the game, or rather where they take back my right to do so, and there is no way for me of selling it to someone else, that should show on the pricetag. If they made something like 10$ for a new game, I could actually be onboard.

    It’s the same with all digital downloads, it has no resalevalue, but still they asking for the full price.

  27. Rilias says:

    DRM teaches many people how to crack their games and where to get these cracks (specifically NO-CD Patches). Which, sort of, shows them how easily accomplished and hassle free pirating actually is. I always wondered if publishers are aware of this learning process, I for one would never learn anything about my computer if everything would always run the way I want it to run.

    @bbot: The point was that shamus might get less money I guess.

  28. Nyaz says:

    Huh, I feel like I should argue somehow that Steam is awesome and all that stuff, but damn it Shamus, you’re right.

  29. Strangeite says:

    Shamus, I have been reading your blog and commenting here for years. I greatly appreciate your ever increasing voice against DRM; but, Neil Polenske is right.

    Claiming that his calling you out on the hypocrisy of using Steam is somehow pedestrian is in very bad taste. I understand why you want to use Steam, but at least fully admit that you are compromising your principals like a man. That was exactly what I did when Spore came out. I knew I was selling out and admitted.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but your justification for using Steam is that (paraphrasing Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket) at least Steam is giving you a reach around?

    1. Shamus says:

      Holy shit. What is with you people?

      I said Steam sweetens the deal. I said there was a break-even point for everyone. I didn’t say it was pedestrian, I said it was pedantic.

      “but at least fully admit that you are compromising your principals like a man. ”

      What do you want from me here? I said the break-even point of value is different for everyone. I don’t know how much clearer I can make it.

      Let’s say I offer you a watch for full price, but it’s broken. That’s a ripoff. But if I start throwing in other stuff into the deal, at some point it will be worth it. Now we’re no longer haggling over buying a broken watch, we’re haggling over the other stuff.

      Person on one side of me:


      Person on the other side of me:


      This is why I hate, hate, hate having to drag Steam into this every single time I want to talk about BioShock. I start out talking about Simple online activation, and every. single. time. it turns into a debate on whether I’m a Steam whore / hater. I’ve been called both in the history of this site, and I have always, always said I would prefer simple I-give-you-money-you-give-me-game-now-bye.

      It’s a stupid side-argument that drags us away from the crucial point, which is that there is NO value in simple, straightforward online activation.

      Is this really that hard?

  30. Strangeite says:

    I'm just setting the terms under which I'm prepared to do business. I won't stand for buying something if I need the permission of the producer to use it ten years down the road.

    I just thought this quote from you was the principal in which you were drawing the line in the sand. You have mentioned many times that online activation is a deal breaker.

    I don’t use Steam, so maybe I don’t understand how it works, will you be able to use games you “purchased” from Steam 10 years from now if they don’t exist?

    That was the principal I was talking about.

    I apologize if I have misunderstood and you are not compromising your principals.

    1. Shamus says:

      Strangeite: Ah. Now I see where you’re coming from. I was under the impression that you were referring to “hypocrisy” in the article itself.

      I did have a post some months ago where I explained that I was doing exactly that. Wait, I’ll find it…

      Ah. There it is:


      Sorry to send you off to the archives, but that post directly deals with what you asked about, and makes clear that yes – it’s a compromise.

      Yes, I have softened my stance on activation. Or, perhaps a better way of looking at it is that I’ve had to compromise in order to get enough games to feed the site and the comic. I would have held fast if I was still buying games every two months. I could afford to be very, very careful with my gaming dollars. Now with the need to play, basically, 8 times that, I simply can’t stick to that and have enough fuel for my writing. I still think it’s a plague, and I avoid it whenever possible, and I did make it clear in the past that I knew I was doing this.

      Again, there simply wasn’t room in the article for the massive detour required to discuss Steam in general.

      1. Shamus says:

        Addendum: I apologize for the earlier rudeness. It’s amazing I talk about this subject so often, given how just about every facet of it drives me bonkers.

        I am going to go get some sunshine and try to lighten my mood. Kites may be flown.

  31. UtopiaV1 says:

    You know what goes really well with kites? Lightning…

    No, wait… hang on, I’ll ask B.F…

  32. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Actually,there is a point in online activation:Slashing prices.Of course,we dont see this now,but if instead of just selling the game once for 50$,someone tried to rent it for,lets say 10$ a month,that would be great.Sure,it does seem stupid for a single player game to be charged like a multiplayer one,but when you think about it,youll see that it means the developers need to make a game worth of replaying for a few months,and thus you not only get lower prices,but higher quality as well.

  33. Strangeite says:

    Funny, as soon as I finished typing my last response I went out to fly kites with the son.

    I had a feeling that simply refusing to play games with online activation was impossible with your new endeavors.

    I don’t blame you in the slightest for compromising your principals. I work for the Man now, so I can’t say anything. But what I was originally trying to get across is that Neil Polenske was just trying to remind you that online activation and Steam have the same disadvantages, it just that Steam puts a lot of sprinkles on top. The conversation reminds me a little of smoking. I have found that the individuals that pester smokers the most to quit and complain the loudest about second-hand smoke, are the people that are former smokers. When I quit smoking, I promised myself that I would never turn into them.

    I think the online activation conversation is similar. It is not just you because I have seen it from others as well, when they simply refused to buy games with online activation, they were laid back about it. But if and when they softened the stance, it became important to them to justify it strongly.

    I really do mean no offense, but that is how you were coming across. The Shamus doth protest too much.

    Off topic, but I want to thank you for providing us with such great writing.


  34. JKjoker says:

    Why would online activation result in slashed prices ?

    the steam like delivery system sure keeps cost down but it also removes the reason why prices get slashed, when you print an edition of a game you are investing money in physical stuff that also need to be stored (costs money too), this “capital” starts loosing value from the second the boxes leave the factory so they want to get rid of them as fast as possible which encourages them (and specially the store that pays the storing/shelving costs) to reduce prices

    if Steam like services become common ground i would expect prices to rise/stay the same but go down much slower if ever, also bargain bins will cease to exist

  35. Daemian Lucifer says:


    If games become pure rentals,theyll cost less per month(or week,or day),but this would accumulate for those that replay the game over and over.

    The way it is now,you are paying 50$ wheter you finish the game in one sitting,or play it for 80+ hours.Thats why I am for online activation,since it is moving the games towards pure rentals.

  36. Silfir says:

    Because you want to pay several hundred dollars for a truly compelling 80+ hours game?

  37. JKjoker says:

    @Daemian Lucifer: im not entirely sure what image you have in your head, but if they ever set a pay-per-hour system it will be so that the average gamer pays MORE than they pay now, otherwise they will keep the current model, whos going to back themselves into a corner where they would have to invest more money into games to get less ?

  38. Neil Polenske says:

    Alright it’s pretty clear from your response that a sensible discussion about this isn’t going to happen. I gotta admit, I let that get to me and almost wrote a post that would have accomplished nothing. You’ve said what you wanted to say and so have I so I guess that’s that.

  39. Daemian Lucifer says:


    Of course youll be paying more.But look,if they charge 1$/hour,that means that youll need to play for at least 50 hours in order to reach the current price.And currently there are very few games that are that long.

  40. WysiWyg says:

    @Daemian Lucifer; which of course means that they will charge you 5$/hour, or maybe 10$/hour instead.

    And of course, THAT means that noone would want to rent their game, because all of a sudden it’s easy to do the math. And that’s why they will never invest the money necessary to make the system work like that.

    And even if they did, it would only mean a bigger rift between the “casual” gamer (like me) that actually take 50 hours to play through a 10 hour game, because I’m just that bad, and the “hardcore” gamers that run through that 10 hour game in 2 hours. And since they (the “hardcore” ones) are their primary audience, the price will be set for them, meaning that I won’t be able to play the game (legally at least) because that would cost me to much.

    In the end, such a system is doomed to fail.

    On the other hand we have the system where you actually rent an actual game. For example you can loan console-games for free in the library here in Sweden. Of course, they can’t loan you any PC-games since most of them require online-activation.

    So, actually, online-activation is a direct threat to the current model.

    Wow, I had a LOT to say.

  41. Daimbert says:

    When I was in high school, my Geography teacher loaned me a few disk boxes full of cracked Commodore 64 games. He also taught a computer class a one point, I believe. When asked why he was okay with piracy, he said that he believed that if someone found that it was worth buying a game — even with a cracked version — they’d buy it. And I and all of my friends agreed at the time … and I still think it’s true today.

    When I was in high school or in university, I did indeed get together at times with people and copy games. This was because I couldn’t afford to buy all those games; if I didn’t copy them, I couldn’t play them. But I bought all the ones I really cared about.

    Now that I’m working and have a steady source of income, I don’t use pirated or copied games anymore, except for those games that I simply can’t get anymore (and even that’s rare). That’s because I can afford to buy the games and it’s generally moderately more convenient for me to buy them. Yes, this is, oddly enough, a case of “Yay the rules, I have money [grin]!”

    The problem with the various DRM schemes — and Steam counts — is that they make the actual, store-bought version have LESS value than the pirated version. So instead of making customers want to buy the real version with extra add-ons, they make it so that customers don’t WANT to buy the real version because the pirated version has more value to the customer. That’s an incredibly stupid way to go about it.

    In some sense, though, Steam is moderating that with its extras. Yes, it has the same problems that all other on-line activations have, but it sweetens the value of the game by saying “Yes, we know that there’s a risk that you won’t be able to reinstall that game later, and you won’t be able to sell it used, but we’ll give you automatic patching, the ability to direct-buy certain games, automatic back-ups, etc, etc to make up for it.” While the on-line activation is irritating — and is why I refuse to buy a game that uses Steam — they’ve added value to it to (hopefully) make buying the game have more value than pirating it.

    For me, the ideal would be that on-line activation is only there to get you the benefits, and that you can play the game without activating. Then you’d get people buying the game and activating it, and you’d get people who don’t care about the benefits potentially buying it as well. Especially if you do put the little add-ons like well-written manuals and other bonuses (the Persona games come with an artbook and a music CD, which is nice) come from the real version.

    So, ultimately, you can say that Steam isn’t as bad because it’s at least recognizing that giving the customer something can help overcome the value loss from the on-line activation system. Where that line gets drawn will be different for different people, but at least there’s an attempt to HAVE such a line. All pure DRM systems and pure on-line activations that do nothing else don’t even have that line; it’s all bad.

    Now, onto the “rental” idea. Daemian Lucifer, if they ever do that, I will stop buying those games. If every game does that, I will stop playing games. I’ve played KOTOR about 5 times, at about 40 hours a pop. That’s $200 just at this point — at $1 an hour — and I’ll play it again at some point. It’s not worth that much money, especially since I didn’t know I’d like it that much when I bought it. I’ve played the combined Persona 3 and Persona 4 games for approximately 400 hours. Even at $1 an hour, it probably wouldn’t have been worth that, and I get NOTHING for paying them that; once the game is written, it’s written. It comes back to value again; renting doesn’t add value for a single-player game for me. If I like the game, I’ll spend tons of money on it, just to play the same thing over and over again. If I don’t like it, it will be cheap … but then who cares about that game? I can accept it for MMORPGs because I pay for the server access and I pay for them to keep updating the game, but none of that is added by renting single player games, and so there’s no value added by that system. And that’s why I would refuse to support it, and refuse to buy the games. I’d pirate them instead, if I even continued to play.

    Let me give another example: I buy TV shows on DVD. A lot. It’s a major outlay of money in one shot, and so I use it to calculate if it is worth it or not before buying, and so I look at the price I’m paying, how many hours are on the DVDs, and see how much that is per hour for entertainment. I recently picked up the complete Battlestar Galactica series from Amazon for about $200. Rough estimate: 20 episodes per season is about 15 hours per disk. That’s about 75 hours, and so between $2 – $3 per hour … if I watch it once. I do re-watch these things, so if I watch it twice it goes down to about $1. And so on and so forth. Now, imagine that it was that initial even $2 an hour, and it stays there. I might not buy it, because it isn’t worth the $2 (and the final total of $400 if I only watch it twice), whereas I WILL buy it for the $200 that get to be a better value if I watch it multiple times.

    I WANT it to be the case that the more I enjoy something the better value it has; it makes me more likely to invest in it. This especially holds for mediocre things (which is what I do consider the new BSG series [grin]); if I can get two watches out of it IN MY LIFE it’s $1 an hour instead of $2. And $1 an hour isn’t all that much.

    Rental games likely wouldn’t be a $1 an hour.

    Again, some people will find it more useful, and some will find it less useful. I just think that too many people wouldn’t like that method for it to work, since a lot of the people that don’t find it useful simply won’t go into that sort of thing.

  42. JKjoker says:

    im a bit surprised you guys keep talking about playing 40, 50, 400 hours (i put a lot of time into persona 3 and 4 but 400 hours ? holy cow!)

    i might be living in the twilight zone but i barely get between 3 and 10 hours out of today games and, since their content now depends on the “cinematic” approach (with a lot of BORING padding) instead of the fun gameplay approach, i wouldn’t replay them even if they paid me to do it

    i just cant imagine playing 50 hours out of a game released today, specialy knowing the clock is ticking and im paying by the hour, any minute wasted on loading screens, spash screens, unskippable cutscenes, replayed sections due to unfair deaths and lack of checkpoints, forced grinding of “collectables” (im looking at you Wolfenstein) would feel like trying to swallow lava, i dont think i could do it, i’d hate every second

  43. Tesh says:

    A tangential thought: There are a lot of MMOs being made that don’t really offer much to justify their online existence. (Even WoW could be played on a local server without losing much but the laughable “economy”.) The actual *game design* of these things doesn’t really leverage their “onlineness” very well.

    Except that they *don’t need DRM* because you have to login to play. The cynic in me starts to think that “MMO=DRMLite”, and grudgingly applauds the marketing wonks and smoke and mirrors that make it all work.

  44. RichVR says:


    My opinion: I’ve been playing games since DOS 3.1. I like to own my games. I like to have boxes and disks. Even if I have to switch them. I used to play a game called Elite on th C=64 that included a little magnifying glass thingy that you folded into a kind of jewelers loup kind of thing to see the code that was displayed on the actual screen.

    It was made for higher resolution screens than my cheap color TV. Half of the time all I saw were random pixels. Eventually I got to play my game. I didn’t care. Elite was a great game.

    I got into Steam in the same way that I went from DOS 6.21 to Windows 95. Dragged screaming and spitting.

    But ultimately I got it. And I like it.

    Having to register games got my goat when I started playing Silent Hunter 3.

    I own my fucking games. At least the single player ones. I understand MMOs. I’m not a moron. But if I have the disk, I own the game and fuck the EULA.

    This is actually an agreement with Shamus even though it sounds like a beer fueled screed.

    To wrap it up. Fuck your EULA, fuck your lawyers and fuck renting games that I should own. Fuck you telling me if and when I can play my game. Fuck DRM.

    Sorry. There was a warning, right? Didn’t you read it and take it to heart?

  45. Mengtzu says:

    Blizzard haven’t really changed personality overnight; they’ve spent five years learning that it’s really good for them to embed the value proposition into an account rather than bits on a CD.

    Expect much more of it. The onus is obviously on them to make battle.net sufficiently compelling that it gets a Steam-like reaction.

  46. Deoxy says:

    Steam: ok, while steam does, indeed, include DRM, it also includes other valuable stuff, just like an MMO. That people have no complaint about MMO but do about Steam makes no sense to me, since it is the same thing – something valuable to you traded for something valuable to them. Standard DRM is something valuable for them for… oh, nothing for you. If you can’t see the difference, well, I can’t help you. Personally, I don’t find the “something valuable for me” part of very much value from Steam, so I don’t use it, but that’s not the point, is it?

    EULA: last I checked, no EULA has stood up in court, as it is an after-the-fact modification to the purchase agreement. Software companies have gone to great lengths to keep court rulings on the topic to an absolute minimum because they know this.

  47. Western Infidels says:

    I certainly agree with your point that online activation is a bad thing for customers. I was horrified when I tried to play Bioshock one day when my internet was out — I hadn’t understood what its online activation was all about at all.

    But I’m not surprised that 2K hasn’t released a DRM-removal patch for Bioshock yet. Even though it’s not on store shelves any more, it surely sells a steady trickle through Steam, and 2K will likely have a big Bioshock special and/or combo deal when Bioshock 2 comes out. Valve has claimed that such offers on Steam often result in enormous bursts of sales, even long after a title’s release. I expect there’s still quite a pile of money to be made on the first Bioshock.

    The long-tail sales pattern is a new thing in this business, something made possible by the digital distribution systems (like Steam, Impulse, GoG et al.). Sadly, I think that very pattern is likely to make customer-hostile DRM schemes like online activation look more attractive to (some) publishers; from their perspective, they now have incentive to “protect” much more than just a single sales peak at release time.

  48. Flakey says:

    It is sad when people do not learn from history.

    “I will only say this, that if the measure before us should pass, and should produce one-tenth part of the evil which it is calculated to produce, and which I fully expect it to produce, there will soon be a remedy, though of a very objectionable kind. Just as the absurd acts which prohibited the sale of game were virtually repealed by the poacher, just as many absurd revenue acts have been virtually repealed by the smuggler, so will this law be virtually repealed by piratical booksellers. At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot . . .

    Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create. And you will find that, in attempting to impose unreasonable restraints on the reprinting of the works of the dead, you have, to a great extent, annulled those restraints which now prevent men from pillaging and defrauding the living. ”

    Macaulay 1841.

    If you wondered where the term pirate came from for software piracy this is where, but admitedly back then a pirate printing press was as well armed as any shipborn pirate.

    160 years ago Macaulay not only predicted software/music pirates, but even what happens to “honest” endevors like the Word of Goo as a result of the public perceived injustice of the situation.

  49. Daimbert says:


    The Persona games and KOTOR are the only games I have in my collection where I really feel like I can ROLEPLAY the game, because of the choices you can make and the fact that it in general doesn’t tell you what the characters’ motivations are. I bought Persona 3 at some point after it came out, didn’t play it, took a good chunk of December off, played it … and finished it. And then started playing it again, to get new S-links. And then, I think, started playing it again. And then FES came out, so I played it. And then played “The Answer”. And then played FES again. I had to have over 100 hours in each of them (I think at least one was 150). And then Persona 4 came out. And I played it something like three times, all the way through.

    So, over 300 for sure. And I’m not done yet; I have games in progress, but Persona 3’s combat is too easy on restarts (maybe I should just start over completely?) even though I like the game better, and Persona 4 is the game I don’t like as much, so I tired of it faster than Persona 3.

    Right now, I’m almost to the end of a season of baseball in MLB 2007 The Show. I’m playing a FULL season. I’ve played 126 games or so already in the season. At 45 minutes or so a game, that’s 63 hours (each half hour) + about 31 hours (for the 15 minutes left over) for a grand total of 94 hours. I’ve been playing that season for about a year now (since last Christmas); I’m hoping to finish the season when the baseball playoffs finish.

    If I like a game, I play it a lot [grin]. You just need some motivation and the ability to enjoy doing the same thing over and over with a slightly different mindset.

    I WOULDN’T do it, however, if I had to pay by the hour for those plays [grin].

  50. Steve C says:

    Deoxy (52) said: EULA: last I checked, no EULA has stood up in court
    Sadly Eulas have stood up when challenged in certain US court districts. It really depends on the court that hears it though because many courts have deemed it an after-the-fact modification to the purchase agreement, and therefore invalid.

    Thankfully I don’t live in the USA and Eulas are simply invalid here. However I don’t like the trend especially since we tend to import stupid laws from the US.

  51. Miral says:

    Bear in mind that EULAs from downloaded games (including Steam) are much more likely to hold up, since they’re usually shown pre-purchase.

    @#24: I agree, Steam is infinitely better than GFWL. I bought Fallout 3 via Steam, and for some masochistic reason set up a GFWL-enabled profile. The in-game auto-update has never worked even once (it just issues obscure error codes). It refuses to let me log in to GFWL unless I have the absolutely latest and shiniest versions of everything. And, to top it off, Bethesda had released patches up to v1.7 which GFWL demanded to be fed, but had only pushed v1.5 onto Steam (and trying to install the standalone patches onto the Steam version breaks things). [They have updated it now, incidentally; I contacted BethSoft and they sorted it out fairly quickly, credit to them.]

    But the fact remains: auto-patching is only of use if the publishers actually release the patches via Steam. (FO3 was not the first game I’ve bought which wasn’t kept up-to-date because the updates hadn’t been pushed to Steam. This is not Steam’s fault, of course, but it does detract value.)

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