While those bastions of the music and video entertainment continue to pursue both locking down their products with draconian methods and letting their various lobbying trade associations practice being SWAT teams, the people who try to be honest are getting royally screwed. EA is using SecurROM as part of the security measures for their newest game Spore which is leading them into a SonyBMG like class action lawsuit. Each of the major players with online music stores that have been blessed by the music industry each have their own DRM methods of locking down something you have tried to be honest and pay for.
The problem is that by trying to play the game and be honest, you are leaving yourself open to being ripped off in some fashion or another. This isn’t even taking into account the various methods used to maximize entertainment industry profits by geotarding online services like Pandora or even the industry’s own glowing example of technology being done right – NBC’s Hulu. Because the entertainment is acting more like a modern day protection racket, people who are more than willing to pay for services are being told to go away. In the case of Pandora; an online music recommendation service, everyone from the RIAA and music labels wanted to close it down. Even though those parties appeared to come to some sort of agreement that would let Pandora live another day it appears now that yet another trade association is trying to torpedo the agreement.
For gamers it typically has been a case of addon security measures that are provided by third party companies and included as part of most game installs. While this has meant anything from something as simple as entering in a serial key during the install or making sure that the game CD is handy at all times in case the game is coded to run checks these methods have really been nothing more than a minor pain in the ass. Typically as soon as a game is release in no short order you can find a crack or a no-cd solution online. So while most game producers have been satisfied with this type of solution there is the chance that as more producers move to online distribution they might also look to similar DRM measures as employed by the music industry.
What happens however; as is being seen with the online music DRM, is one day the game suppliers; or third party DRM verification providers decide to shutdown those DRM verifying servers. As Tiktaaklik said today on the NeoGAF web forums (a video game industry discussion community)
Why does this matter and why is it posted in the games forum? Well the games industry is currently massively moving toward downloadable content, and while this movement is 100% necessary and has had a huge positive impact on gamers, providing us with games such as Braid and Castle Crashers which would not otherwise been financially viable, there has been little thought toward the long term implications of this.
Wii owners that have had their systems bricked will attest to the fact that it can be a huge pain and inconvenience to get their games they’ve downloaded back, and you really have to wonder how long will Microsoft and Sony support their respective networks and games. Will there be some future where it is literally impossible to play Braid or CastleCrashers or PixelJunk Monsters?
Thanks to console rom dumpers nearly the entirety of gaming history is available to us. With a little searching for example, you can easily find and download the entire Famicom disk system library (it’s about 10MB worth of data) which is genuinely a smart thing to do, considering that the hardware itself is notoriously failure prone. Hold your replies for a minute, we’re not talking about piracy, at this point I’m just talking about basic historical preservation.
So I’m wondering, how about our new era of downloadable games. As the above article shows one could easily see a future where XBL is simply turned off. Will gamers resort to buying used Xbox 360 harddrives in the hope that there is a Castle Crashers on there?
We’ve already seen games disappear. Metal Gear Solid 3′s online component was turned off by Konami after a very short time, and while it’s been replaced by the similar MGS4 online, the fact exists that you can now never play MGS3 online ever again. With online PC games hackers have frequently created ways to host their own servers and so online games will be able to exist long after their companies stopped supporting them, but online console games? I’m not sure.
After all, this is something that has hit the online music buying customer already with companies like Yahoo and Microsoft announcing that their DRM verifying servers were going to be taken down; effectively rendering all the music bought through them as being dead in the water. While both companies had to relent to public pressure over the move they did it in different ways. Yahoo on the one hand basically recommended that you pirate the music you already paid for; or take the offered replacement value coupons from RealNetworks Rhapsody service, while Microsoft has postponed the shutdown until around 2011.
Now today we hear that Wal*Mart will also be shutting down their own DRM verifying servers and like Yahoo one of their recommended ways of not losing all that music you paid for is to burn them to CD – after which of course you can rip back to your hard drive but that makes you a criminal
If you have purchased protected WMA music files from our site prior to Feb 2008, we strongly recommend that you back up your songs by burning them to a recordable audio CD. By backing up your songs, you will be able to access them from any personal computer. This change does not impact songs or albums purchased after Feb 2008, as those are DRM-free.
[you can read the whole email from Wal*Mart on Boing Boing]
If you think that this isn’t something that won’t affect video then think again because it has already happened with Google Video back in August 2007
Google sent an email to anyone who purchased or rented digital videos on Google Video explaining, in a nutshell, that the service will be shut down and that videos will no longer be viewable. Google initially offered affected users up to US $10 in credit for use on its affiliated e-commerce sites, but only if the user purchases at least that amount, and only for 60 days. The ensuing wave of backlash induced Google to change its story: it is now extending the life of the service another six months (though not allowing further purchases) and offering full refunds in addition to the $10 credits.
It doesn’t matter where you look when it comes to buying your entertainment online there will always be a chance that at some point you could end up being screwed and forced into pirating the stuff you have already paid for – either that or buy it all over again. Sure there are an increasing number of DRM free music stores but that isn’t going to help the people who have already been sucked into the DRM black hole. Along with that the whole idea of DRM isn’t going away any time soon and as soon as they can find a more palatable implementation it will come back and we will be playing this whole senerio over again.
As far as I am concerned until four simple things are agreed to the entertainment industry can go screw themselves. Those things are
- Absolutely no DRM on any products bought from the web or built into the computers or system software that we use.
- Equality in payment methods for these goods – not everyone in the damn world has a damn credit card.
- Stop with the stupid ass geotarding of services on the web – get a clue you industry idiots the web is global. The game has changed so grow up – catch up – and geotarding services is just another way to turn us into pirates
- Once I have paid for something – piss off. I should be able to do whatever I like with that product. Just because it is digital goods doesn’t give you any special rights on how I want to use that product; or service.
DRM means Digital Rights Management – the only problem is that it is the person who is paying money for those products whose rights are getting pissed on and being made into criminals. Except the real crooks are the people trying to sell us products and then tell us that it’s not really ours after all.
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