DRM to prevent lifetime use

It’s becoming increasingly common: game developers using DRM to limit the ability of customers to play games.

By now everyone has heard about EA’s decision to DRM-ize Spore. In effect, the DRM scheme seeks to limit the number of times the game can be installed.

This scheme is promoted as a mechanism for preventing piracy. This is a purpose which I sincerely doubt it serves: thus far, no DRM scheme I’m familiar with has ever been successful at preventing pirates. Bottom line: your code runs on my machine, then it runs in an environment which I control, and which I can therefore manipulate (if I were a pirate, that is).

These schemes do prevent legitimate users from doing certain things, though. It keeps users from reselling games, and it keeps them from continuing to play games as they upgrade their machines.

These are not theoretical issues. Heck, even if you aren’t into reselling games (something that’s not especially popular for PC titles, though it is a long-standing tradition in the console world), you might concede that I should be permitted to upgrade my hardware without buying entirely new titles.

I’ve recently encountered this problem first-hand, as I’ve gone through 3 MacBook Pro laptops in the past 6 months, entirely due to hardware defects which Apple concluded were not my fault. As Apple replaced dead machine after dead machine, my iTunes account took a hit: iTunes lets you have only a handful of computers “authorized” on an account, and after a computer is dead, de-authorizing it isn’t an option (I’m still dealing with Apple on this).

Why do I need to keep buying software I already have purchased? In what world does this make any sense?

Now it’s starting to show up on consoles as well. Indeed, Nintendo has started to release titles which are designed to prevent resale; heck, they will event prevent re-use by gamers who replace consoles. Wonderful.

The libertarian in me says “so what,” since I suppose, in some sense, they can choose to design whatever crappy anti-features they want; indeed, the consumer in me laughs derisively, knowing damn well that this is precisely the type of behavior that allows long-standing industry giants to tumble before consumer-friendly newcomers.

Still, the level-headed person in me can’t help but be annoyed: I bought my Wii in good faith that it would behave like any other Nintendo product; and now that the console sales have stabilized, and they have a large customer base, they begin with the anti-consumer tactics. Way to change the relationship, guys.

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