With Spore’s flagrant copy protection causing a stir, DRM is once again the hot item of debate in the gaming world. I welcome any rigorous discussion of the topic, because while most of us will agree that DRM should not be used, it most certainly will be. The more we discuss it, the louder we sound to publishers, and the better the chances that we create fair solutions.
Yet rigorous discussion is something we still seem to be waiting for. Some of the best “independent” voices in the press see fit to bring up the same pedestrian talking points that we have heard constantly, while others that try to play devil’s advocate will be scorned by gamers. I think we need to look at the issues of DRM and piracy from the proper angles, which in turn will help us determine what can and cannot be changed.
For one, the Spore fiasco proves that, without a doubt, some sales are lost through the use of DRM. But just how significant are those losses? If EA dropped Spore’s DRM, would the added sales significantly increase the cool million it already sold? On the other side of the coin, look at Sins of the Solar Empire. The indie game has been a darling thanks to its lack of DRM, but is that really why people bought it, as opposed to its great quality and fair price? Just how much does DRM affect actual sales, rather than customer satisfaction?
It is in most ways a stupid question. If it does affect sales, get rid of it. If it doesn’t, there are still enough reasons to get rid of it. Personally, I’m not sure what I would guess as to an answer. While I would like to say DRM doesn’t cause a significant dent in sales, I know that I buy music online via Amazon MP3 store for no reason but the fact that it is DRM free, so to say it isn’t an issue for some consumers is a lie.
My purpose in asking it is that with a solid answer, perhaps we can phase out the debate about DRM. We will look for it, and protest it, but I think the fact of the matter is that there are other problems which are leading to low PC sales, factors unrelated and unaffected by DRM.
For one, it would be great if the industry just accepted the fact that piracy is going to happen, no matter what you do. Remember when Radiohead allowed us to pay what we wanted for their new album? A huge percentage of folks paid nothing, though the band still made a lot of money (more on that later).
The internet allows information to flow freely. This can give us the power to learn and say things we couldn’t before, but it has also created a generation that feels entitled to entertainment. The concept of selling belongings at a flea market or thrift store to buy new games (once suggested by a Gamespy editor on their forum years ago) is a foreign concept to younger gamers with little income. Many younger gamers are simply used to getting entertainment free on the ‘net.
I’d think about it if they were infinite and downloadable.
These people make endless excuses as to why they can and will pirate. They will argue that they will only pay for quality games, which is a pitiful argument that allows them to adjust their opinion of “quality” on the fly, so that they never support any developer. They whine about being broke. They whine about big companies not needing their money and screwing everyone over. Are these people frustrating? Absolutely, but there are few ways to stop them. The Internet gives them games for free, stripped of DRM (which is always, always broken). In their mind there is no reason why they shouldn’t pirate.
Let us then focus on those that pay for games. This leads to a major issue: games are too damn expensive. I’m not saying that $60 a pop is unreasonable. I mean that even at that price, a high profile game has to sell significant copies in order to make a profit. The Radiohead example falls apart from a money standpoint; even if not all of their downloads were paid for, there were enough paying customers of In Rainbows for the band to make some good money.
Assume that games try a similar model. The numbers of paid copies would have to be much greater, and on a “pay what you want” system, you’d still have trouble. People paying five bucks to download an album that should be priced 15 is one thing. Paying five bucks for a game 12 times more than that in cost? It isn’t going to work.
All of our fancy technology has made game budgets unruly, meanwhile gamers are getting more and more stingy, refusing to pay a measly ten dollars for good downloadable games. Something has to give. The industry should support downloadable games as best they can, since they can deliver small, quality experiences that still look great, without needing a million purchases to turn a profit.
The developer projected sales goals for Bionic Commando: Rearmed were met in the first week, and assuming there are any future sales (and perhaps a surge of popularity when the new BC game is released) it will be ruled a success. Something like Mega Man 9 has a higher budget than you might expect, but when all is said and done I doubt Capcom will mark it as a loss.
On the other hand, we still want AAA titles. We just have to find a way to make them more cost effective, or simply scale back the level of experience that is delivered, and try somehow to explain this to an audience of demanding gamers.
These are the kinds of issues that need to be discussed and solved, rather than fighting DRM head on. This is a field of entertainment where the costs are significantly higher than its competitors, DRM or not. Other industries have large markets with lots of people in all shapes and sizes. Gaming, no matter how much it has grown, still eyes a main demographic of young men, an area where income is low and entitlement has changed drastically compared to their forefathers. How this plays out will be crucial to the future of games, and we aren’t going to overcome these issues it by keeping those who pay from enjoying their purchase.