Sunday Soapbox: DRM and Public Relations

drmAs you may have gathered “This Week is Copy Protected” was more of a gimmick than an actual “theme week” – regardless, I hope it made some sort of statement to… someone. And if it didn’t, maybe a little soapboxing will.

Ubisoft’s anti-piracy measures for the PC version of Assassins’ Creed II have been widely publicized, widely discussed, and widely lambasted. For good reason, too – People don’t like that they have to be connected to the internet to play. People don’t like the idea of losing progress due to an internet crash. And, more than anything, people don’t like the idea of a multi-million dollar corporation penalizing their consumers needlessly, in a desperate scramble to protect their aforementioned millions of dollars.

We’ve seen stupid gimmicks like this before. Remember back in the day when record labels like Sony BMG would release CDs replete with software that was required to play the disc on a PC?

Remember how well that worked?

If you had to choose between paying your hard-earned dollars for a CD that you couldn’t even use properly on your own PC, or downloading that same CD for free, sans limitations, what would you choose?

Using that rhetorical question as a springboard, I’ll go out on a limb here and claim that, if anything, Ubisoft’s new DRM method has made people want to pirate Assassin’s Creed II even more. Hence why it has – supposedly – already been cracked. Ubisoft is denying it, but there are plenty of people on the internet claiming that they’re playing Assassin’s Creed II, in its entirety, on the PC, without being connected to the internet. And the game just came out three days ago.

drm2People like to rebel against authority, particularly when they feel the “authority” in question is being tyrannical. To date, Ubisoft has sold over six million copies of the original Assassin’s Creed. When the console versions of Assassin’s Creed II were released back in November, it sold almost two million copies in a single week. So, when they roll out an intrusive new DRM measure, do they expect to look like anything less than a bunch of rich, paranoid asshats desperate to protect their millions?

You have to understand, this is how pirates justify their piracy. Pirates are convinced that the big rich game companies are only getting richer, and because of that, they’re perfectly justified in downloading games for free. Subconsciously, they view game companies as “enemies” – enemies that have more money than them, and charge too much for their games.

And, frankly, a lot of companies do a good job of fitting that bill. Take a look at, say, Activision. Easy to pick on, yes – but legitimately so.  When their CEO, the infamous Bobby Kotick, admits outright that he’s only interested in games that can be “exploited every year on every platform” and have the potential to become “$100 million dollar franchises” that makes him look like a cash hungry douche. That makes him and his entire company appear to be out-of-touch with everything other than the bottom line. That makes Activision look like the stereotypical big, rich corporation that’s after a gamers’ wallet, and nothing else. Subsequently, that makes people not give a shit when they illegally download Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

And they give even less of a shit when they find out that the game generated over a billion dollars in sales anyway.

DRM3Activision’s one of the more obnoxious examples, but they aren’t the only one. One of my personal pet peeves happens to be everyone’s favorite Nintendo, and I’ll tell you why: they’ve abandoned every customer who made them what they are today. They promise “hardcore,” and they give us Wii Music. They built a gimmick that resonated with non-gamers, (or “suckers” as I like to call them) found out that there’s a virtually limitless supply of these suckers, and left the rest of us to rot. And they don’t give a shit, because god knows they don’t need to. I don’t like giving Nintendo my hard-earned dollars anymore, because a) they don’t care about me, and b) they don’t need it anyway.

At this point, you might be asking: “What, then, Riddles? Should rich companies become less rich?” No, of course not. The issue I’m alluding to here is simply that of public relations. If game companies want people to stop downloading their games, a good first step is to make gamers like them. Instead, like the music industry before them, the game industry seems convinced that the best way to combat piracy is to do the exact opposite: antagonize, inconvenience, and in some cases, criminalize the consumer.

James Burt is an Australian man who uploaded a copy of New Super Mario Bros. Wii to the internet. It was downloaded over 50,000 times. So, Nintendo sued him for $1.5 million dollars. Reportedly, an agreement was reached in which Burt will pay a lesser amount, but the actual amount was not disclosed. And one has to wonder how much “lesser” than $1.5 million they would agree on.

Back in 2008, five different U.K.-based videogame companies announced their intentions to slap lawsuits on 25,000 people. One of these people was a woman named Isabela Barwinska. A company named Topware dragged her to court and forced her to pay them $30,000 for illegally downloading a game called Dream Pinball 3D.

Remember back when Napster was a big deal? Like, such a big deal that everyone’s favorite group of thrashers, Metallica, filed a big stupid lawsuit against them? Remember how bad that entire ordeal made them look? Remember how much respect they lost amongst their fanbase?

Remember when Blender magazine ranked them #17 on their “biggest wussies in rock” list? I actually don’t remember that part; I just read it while doing research for this article and thought it was funny.

drm-is-badThese are mistakes that the game industry must learn from. What do you think Topware gained from their lawsuit? In all likelihood, they did nothing more than bankrupt a hapless pinball fanatic. And, in the process, they made themselves look like assholes. The same can be said for Nintendo and their crucifixion of Mr. Burt. Granted, Ubisoft’s DRM method for Assassin’s Creed II isn’t nearly as cruel or offensive as these lawsuits, but unfortunately, it has the same negative effect on the all-important relationship between game companies and the consumer.

The disturbing thing is that these draconian methods seem to be on the verge of becoming a trend. Take Sony and their ridiculous “entitlement” system for the recently-released SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 for the PSP. In order to play the game online, you’re required to register your copy online, which requires a special code. Thinking about picking it up used? Well guess what: a new registration code will run you an extra $20. But hey, at least those nasty pirates won’t be able to play online, right?

Again: won’t this only encourage piracy? Imagine yourself as Average Joe Gamer. You don’t have a whole lot of extra cash on hand, so you decide to wait a few months and pick up a used copy of SOCOM 3 when the price drops. You visit your local GameStop and walk up to the desk with a copy of the game, only to be informed by the kind and knowledgeable clerk that, in order to play the game online, you’ll be forced to shell out twenty more dollars.

If I was Average Joe Gamer, I’d probably walk out the store, direct a silent “fuck you” towards Sony, go home, and download a cracked copy. For free. And the same goes for Assassin’s Creed II. I’ll take my copy sans internet-requirement, please. I mean, come on… aren’t games one of the first things we gamers reach for when the internet goes out?

And what about when Ubisoft’s servers go kablooey?

There’s no easy answer to the issue of piracy. I recognize that. And by all means, the game industry should continue to take measures to discourage illegal downloading. But it can’t be at the cost of sacrificing good relations with gamers. Intrusive measures such as those employed by Ubisoft and Sony will, inevitably, accomplish the opposite of their intended effect. People will rebel because of the inconvenience, and people will rebel because they feel like the companies deserve it. And, given the way they’re all acting about it, who knows – maybe they do.

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10 Responses to “Sunday Soapbox: DRM and Public Relations”

  1. SiliconNooB says:

    -Epic article.

    -Game Publishers love fucking consumers in the arse, and by extension love fucking themselves in the arse. Nothing good will come of this.

  2. Ethos says:

    Well, in the case of that SOCOM example, Sony wouldn’t see the money from a used copy anyway, so I can’t find myself getting angry at them for that.

  3. ConstipatedCow says:

    TL;DR. What is DRM?

  4. Ethos says:

    O.o

    It’s the reason the Gamecube was the way it was.

  5. Riddles says:

    Ethos, darling, I know you like to disagree for the sake of it… but what does that have to do with anything? It’s still a needless penalty to the consumer.

    Ubisoft’s not making money off of their new DRM scheme either. It doesn’t make it any less shitty.

  6. Ethos says:

    To which consumer? Why should Sony give two shits about a used game consumer? They shouldn’t restructure around a base that they won’t receive a penny from, and that system really only seemed to be a detriment to those consumers. And if you’re buying games used, you don’t have a right to get pissed at Sony either. You’re not paying them anything. It has everything to do with everything. Otherwise, I entirely agree with you.

  7. Riddles says:

    Even if they don’t get money out of them, it’s not good business practice to give used game consumers the shaft like that. There are a lot of them out there.

    This goes back to my whole, huge point about public relations. “We don’t see the money from it, so we don’t give a shit” is not good PR. It’s still their product, and they should do a better job of standing behind it – even for those people who buy it used. Like I stated, this is the sort of thing that will only encourage piracy. My example of Average Joe Gamer remains legit.

  8. Ethos says:

    I disagree entirely.
    I think if you decide to be a used game costumer, you should not expect a single thing from the developer or publisher.
    Ubisoft’s DRM directly affects all paying costumers who would normally desire to pay full price for the product.
    Used game consumers are giving developers the shaft, so I hardly think it should be seen as the developer giving the used game consumer the shaft, that’s entering into spoiled princess territory.

    I agree entirely about the whole big Public Relations point, but it’s like saying that pirates are getting shafted. I understand that used games consumers spend money on the game, but developers and publishers really have zero reason to go out of their way to encourage people to continue to buy games used when it won’t benefit them in the short or long run. If you still see the companies as greedy monsters at that point, I will repeat my spoiled princess line.

    It’d be like if you bought Mass Effect 2 off of me and got pissed that you didn’t get the free Cerberus network with it. Suck it up, you’re buying the game at a lower price and Bioware doesn’t get a cent. It comes with the used game territory.

  9. DarthGibblet says:

    Compare buying a used game to buying a used car. For the most part, the used game will be a vastly superior experience. Short of disc scratches (which are usually covered with return policies), there’s no degradation in quality on the game when it’s passed from one owner to another. What Sony (and others, like Ethos pointed out with the Cerberus Network) is doing with schemes like this is adding artificial degradation into their products. Really, it just puts the used game market on par with other used goods industries, but the problem is with perception (which ties in with the PR issue). One thing I’ve noticed about consumers is we don’t particularly care about the position of the markets, we care about the direction things are going. Just look at gas prices. Every summer they start going up and people start complaining about them, then when they reach the same prices in the fall, but from the other direction, everybody’s relieved that gas is so cheap (OK, so it usually doesn’t get quite as cheap in the fall, but that only re-enforces my point).

    I think something similar’s happening here. For the longest time, use games have been more or less identical to new games. This is probably why the price difference is usually so small. What I fear will happen with this move is the prices on used games will stay the same, but then you’ll have to pay the extra fee on top of that (which, lets face it, most consumers won’t know about ahead of time), which may very well bring the used game price to more than the new game price. I hope somebody steps up and takes the initiative to educate people about this new “feature” of used games or else a lot of people are going to end up pissed off (and rightfully so).

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