DRM (digital rights management) in games is not a new concept to gamers. In fact, DRM has been around since the early era of PC gaming. In the past, DRM was used as a way to prevent piracy via peer-to-peer transfer by having the game’s user activate a serial key to install the game to their hard disk drive. In doing so, the game could not be activated without first being confirmed. By hacking this DRM, you could still play the game on other hard drives, just not online. However, the idea of DRM has become a major problem in the current generation of games because of it’s use as part of the business model.

With the recent announcement of the Xbox One, many gamers have become irritated with how DRM is being used on the console. This is because the major difference between PC DRM and the new console DRM is how Microsoft is using it to gain more money. They are doing this by requiring a small fee to be paid for in order to activate used games on other consoles, since they are installed to the hard drive. On top of this, the Xbox One must go online every 24 hours to allow the system to prevent game piracy. Effectively, this prevents players from trading games with each other, and this also makes it very difficult to buy a used game from a non-retail seller. However, while Microsoft is defiantly taking a risk with the used game stance as well as other forms of DRM like online passes, it certainly cannot be the only one doing so. While the PS4 has not had many details regarding used-game functionality, there is nothing saying that Sony will not do something similar. If this holds true, this form of DRM will certainly be an irritant when it comes to consoles.

With the Xbox One, DRM is not too different than on PC.

DRM is not a completely new concept to console gamers, though, as it is already present in this current generation of consoles. This form of DRM is also quite controversial and you may recognize it, as it is the idea behind online passes. Online passes are a serial key used by certain companies like EA (although theirs was recently canceled) to prevent you from using the online features of a game. This online pass comes free with every new copy of the game, which is fine. The flip side of this, though, is that if you get a used copy of a game you must buy a new online pass key to use the game to its full extent. This essentially means that if you buy a used copy of a game you must pay around 10-20 dollars to get an online pass if you wish to have full access to the game. Although there are some games that allow you to play online free for a while before buying the online pass, allowing you to decide if it is worth the money.

These online passes made it so you could not play online without an extra fee.

While the concept of DRM is comparably new to the console gamer, as stated above the PC crowd has dealt with it for a while. The major difference between this generation and the last, though, is how it is being executed. Currently, almost every game on the PC must be activated via serial key and cannot be played without the key. (The exceptions are the indie bundles and sites like GOG, where I get most of my older games.) Unlike games from previous years, many games require you to go online at least once to play the game; however, after you have done this, the game can be played offline. This is mostly acceptable since the publishers are trying to avoid piracy. The other major problem that tends to occur, though not as much, is that the serial key as it is that is cannot be easily sold. This is primarily because the key must be activated to an account, which attaches the game to said account. On the bright side, after the game is attached, you are allowed to re-download the game again, but once it is activated, the license cannot easily be traded so the game may be stuck clogging up your hard disk or your Steam library, even if you’ll never use it again. This also prevents you from being able to participate in the used games community as conveniently as console gamers can. Luckily though, since the lack of trading is being brought to the attention of most PC gaming hubs, there will hopefully be a way to easily trade licenses soon, as both Steam and Desura are working on adding this feature.

With all this DRM and recent policies on used games, companies like Gamestop have a higher chance of going out of business.

While this is useful for the PC crowd, where does this leave future console players? Will they be forced to deal with an ever-encroaching set of DRM, or will this error also be remedied? Assuming this excessive DRM is an incomplete idea, there could still be hope of trading licenses on consoles like PC players can do through steam. In other words, since PC players have already been dealing with DRM and so have the console gamers in some ways. What does this mean to you though, does DRM in games irritate you, or do you really care at all? Are you getting the impression that companies are assuming you are going to pirate their games? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

One Comment

  • As someone who collects games and almost never trades them back in, not being able to re-sell games doesn’t really bother me. However, the inability to lend a game to a friend (or at least the idea that it might cost money to do so) is not something that sits well with me.

    That basically becomes a matter of First-sale Doctrine. By suspending or limiting the ability to freely lend or re-sell, they are essentially circumventing this doctrine. This would require them to argue that we are only “renting” the software from them, not purchasing it, as there is precedent (albeit in the EU) that reselling even digital-only copies of software is protected by first-sale doctrine. (Which, I believe is the real impetus behind Steam and Desura working on a re-sale market).

    The other major concern I have with DRM is that if it requires online authentication; at some point, those servers won’t work anymore. They’ll be deactivated, and that will in-turn remove our ability to use the software anymore without someone hacking the DRM authentication, which is, at best, a legal grey area.

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