Subject: General Tech | November 11, 2014 - 03:10 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, gaming, eff, DRM, consolitis
This is something that I have been saying for quite some time now: games are struggling as an art form. Now I don't mean that games are not art; games, like all content that expresses feelings, thoughts, and ideas, are art. No, I'm talking about their ability to be preserved for future society and scholarly review. The business models for entertainment are based in either services or consumables. In the entertainment industries, few (but some) producers are concerned about the long tail – the extreme back-catalog of titles. Success is often determined by two weeks of sales, and the focus is on maximizing those revenues before refreshing with newer, similar content that scratches the same itch.
DRM is often justified as maximizing the initial rush by degrading your launch competitors: free versions of yourself. Now I'm not going to go into the endless reasons about where this fails to help (or actively harms) sales and your customers; that is the topic of other rants. For this news post, I will only discuss the problems that DRM (and other proprietary technologies) have on the future.
When you tie content to a platform, be it an operating system, API, or DRM service, you are trusting it for sustainability. This is necessary and perfectly reasonable. The problems arise with the permissions given to society from that platform owner, and how easily society can circumvent restrictions, as necessary. For instance, content written for a specific processor can be fed through an emulator, and the instruction sets can be emulated (or entirely knocked off) when allowed by patent law, if patents even interfere.
Copyright is different, though. Thanks to the DMCA, it is illegal, a federal crime at that, to circumvent copyright protection even for the betterment of society. You know, society, the actual owner of all original works, but who grants limited exclusivity to the creators for “the progress of Science and useful Arts”. Beyond the obvious and direct DRM implementations, this can also include encryption that is imposed by console manufacturers, for instance.
The DMCA is designed to have holes poked into it, however, by the Librarian of Congress. Yes, that is a job title. I did not misspell “Library of Congress”. The position was held by James H. Billington for over 25 years. Every three years, he considers petitions to limit the DMCA and adds exceptions in places that he sees fit. In 2012, he decided the jailbreaking a phone should not be illegal under the DMCA, although tablets were not covered under that exemption. This is around the time that proposals will be submitted for his next batch in late 2015.
This time, the EFF is proposing that circumventing DRM in abandoned video games should be deemed legal, for society to preserve these works of art when the copyright holders will not bother. Simply put, if society intended to grant a limited exclusive license to a content creator who has no intention of making their work available to society, then society demands the legal ability to pry off the lock to preserve the content.
Of course, even if it is deemed legal, stronger DRM implementations could make it technologically unfeasible to preserve certain works. It is still a long way's away before we encounter a lock that society cannot crack, but it is theoretically possible. This proposal does not address that root problem, but at least it could prevent society's greatest advocates from being slapped with a pointless felony for trying to do the right thing.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | May 14, 2014 - 09:56 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: ultraviolet, mozilla, DRM, Adobe Access, Adobe
Needless to say, DRM is a controversial topic and I am clearly against it. I do not blame Mozilla. The non-profit organization responsible for Firefox knew that they could not oppose Chrome, IE, and Safari while being a consumer software provider. I do not even blame Apple, Google, and Microsoft for their decisions, either. This problem is much bigger and it comes down to a total misunderstanding of basic mathematics (albeit at a ridiculously abstract and applied level).
Simply put, piracy figures are meaningless. They are a measure of how many people use content without paying (assuming they are even accurate). You know what is more useful? Sales figures. Piracy figures are measurements, dependent variables, and so is revenue. Measurements cannot influence other measurements. Specifically, measurements cannot influence anything because they are, themselves, the result of influences. That is what "a measure" is.
Implementing DRM is not a measurement, however. It is a controllable action whose influence can be recorded. If you implement DRM and your sales go down, it hurt you. You may notice piracy figures decline. However, you should be too busy to care because you should be spending your time trying to undo the damage you did to your sales! Why are you looking at piracy figures when you're bleeding money?
I have yet to see a DRM implementation that correlated with an increase in sales. I have, however, seen some which correlate to a massive decrease.
The thing is, Netflix might know that and I am pretty sure that some of the web browser companies know that. They do not necessarily want to implement DRM. What they want is content and, surprise, the people who are in charge of the content are definitely not enlightened to that logic. I am not even sure if they realize that the reason why content is pirated before their release dates is because they are not leaked by end users.
But whatever. Technical companies, who want that content available on their products, are stuck finding a way to appease those content companies in a way that damages their users and shrinks their potential market the least. For Mozilla, this means keeping as much open as possible.
Since they do not have existing relationships with Hollywood, Adobe Access will be the actual method of displaying the video. They are clear to note that this only applies to video. They believe their existing relationships in text, images, and games will prevent the disease from spreading. This is basically a plug-in architecture with a sandbox that is open source and as strict as possible.
This sandbox is intended to prevent a security vulnerability from having access to the host system, give a method of controlling the DRM's performance if it hitches, and not allow the DRM to query the machine for authentication. The last part is something they wanted to highlight, because it shows their effort to protect the privacy of their users. They also imply a method for users to opt-out but did not go into specifics.
As an aside, Adobe will support their Access DRM software on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Mozilla is pushing hard for Android and Firefox OS, too. According to Adobe, Access DRM is certified for use with Ultraviolet content.
I accept Mozilla's decision to join everyone else but I am sad that it came to this. I can think of only two reasons for including DRM: for legal (felony) "protection" under the DMCA or to make content companies feel better while they slowly sink their own ships chasing after numbers which have nothing to do with profits or revenue.
Ultimately, though, they made a compromise. That is always how we stumble and fall down slippery slopes. I am disappointed but I cannot suggest a better option.
Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2013 - 12:37 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: idiots, DRM, disney
If you bought a collection of Disney movies to keep the kids placated this Christmas, Disney has a great holiday surprise for you. From what we have heard via [H]ard|OCP your Christmas specials are going to disappear from your library and your only *legal* way of watching these specials will be to order Disney TV and schedule your holidays around their chosen broadcast times. Before you aim all your vitriol at Disney, save a bit for Amazon as they are the providers that have agreed to allow Disney to pull an epic Scrooge move. When Disney first approached Amazon to be a distributor of their movies and shows Amazon agreed to allow Disney to pull the content whenever they felt like it. Aren't you glad you paid for those movies and shows now? Too bad there is no other way to get hold of them during the holidays and stop your children from crying.
"Disney has decided to pull access to several purchased Christmas videos from Amazon during the holiday season, as the movie studio wants its TV-channel to have the content exclusively. Affected customers have seen their videos disappear from their online libraries, showing once again that not everything you buy is actually yours to keep."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Google may drop Intel for own-recipe ARM: Bloomberg @ The Register
- Further Teardown of the Saturn V Flight Computer @ Hack a Day
- Troubleshooting in the Command Line: Tips for Linux Beginners @ Linux.com
- SteamOS vs. Ubuntu 13.10 - Intel HD Graphics Performance @ Phoronix
- Ninjalane Podcast - Kingpin Video Card 4-way SLI goodness and is 4k a waste
- TSSDR Holiday Giveaway – Win 1 of 2 Unreleased Adaptec (By PMC) ASR-8885 12Gbps RAID Adapters
Subject: General Tech | October 29, 2013 - 06:48 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: ea, DRM, battlefield 4
((Update: October 30 @ 7:04pm: The issue was not resolved by EA before the EU release date. However, as expected, the game unlocked at 7:01pm. While I wish I could have reported that the issue was resolved ahead of time, it wasn't, and now (since EA did not demonstrate any concrete effort in resolving the issue) I cannot tell whether we will experience the same issue next time. It is possible this issue could plague several releases to come. Keep this in mind.))
I just do not have any luck with pre-ordering titles on Origin. Battlefield 3 had a rough launch, especially on my computer, with it being almost a year until they sorted through the mouse lag hiccups (seemingly related to having Google Chrome running) and random crashes. My second title was SimCity, which requires no further explanation, and my latest is Battlefield 4. Now, it seems as though the actual game launched decently for the majority of customers. They try really hard; they really, really do.
Supposedly this also affected the Beta and other Origin titles.
Unfortunately, I was at Mozilla Summit. I cannot comment on that. No experience.
Somewhere in Origin there is a mistake with region-locking and certain ISPs. My primary ISP (Teksavvy cCable... not a typo) does not qualify, for some reason, as a North American release region. October 30th at 7PM EDT corresponds to October 31st at midnight CET so the game likely believes my connection belongs to the European Union. AT&T U-Verse and Vidéotron were also reported as having this problem.
I used my (in repair) Bell Canada DSL connection and was able to access the Battlefield 4 campaign (the connection is too unstable for multiplayer until it gets fixed). I, then, tried to access it again with Teksavvy? Nope. Relocked.
I contacted EA Support (I never identified myself as a journalist) who were honest and blunt about the issue. I respect that! Congratulations, EA, for having technical support open at 2 AM and treated me with respect. The company also started a thread in EA Answers asking for more information about affected customers. Still, currently, the issue has not been resolved.
But even that is irrelevant to the actual point because this is obviously an honest mistake. Still:
The DRM is making me not want to pre-order (or purchase at all) another title on Origin!
And... the kick while down... it has not helped anyone!
Region-locking does not make sense, especially not anymore, within a worldwide digital distribution network. I can connect by a VPN to anywhere in the world to pretend that I belong there. I legally purchased the title. There is no financial reason to make me wait to access it; in fact, especially with their recent refund policy, it might encourage me to cancel my order or outright ignore the product's existence in the first place.
EA has been expending tonnes of time and resources making Origin more desirable where it counts. They seem to actually care about their distribution platform's success. The have seemingly around-the-clock live tech support and a great refund policty. Yet, time and time again, these little mistakes where it doesn't even count add up to the terrible user experience. Yes, I could refund my title; I do not get the game I want and EA loses a sale. Great job, DRM!
EA, what has this accomplished except support costs, bad press, and anger legitimate customers?
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | June 19, 2013 - 09:08 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox one, gaming, DRM, disc
Microsoft faced a major backlash from users following the unveiling of its latest Xbox One console. Users were rather unnerved at Microsoft’s reveal that the new console would be required to “phone home” at least once every 24 hours in order to authenticate games and allow sharing. Considering Sony carried forward the disc traditions of the PS3 combined with the user uproar, Microsoft has reconsidered and issued an update to users via a blog post titled (in part) “Your Feedback Matters.”
Amidst the uncertainty caused by various MS sources issuing statements about functionality and DRM that conflict with one another and an air of as-yet-un-announced secrecy pre-E3 where MS released just enough info about the DRM to get users scared (can you tell the way MS handled this irked me?), the company talked about the Xbox One moving forward and taking advantage of the ‘digital age.’ The new console would require online authentication (and daily check-ins), but would also allow sharing of your game library with up to 10 other people, re-downloadable games that can be installed on other consoles (and played) so long as you log into your Xbox Live account (the latter bit is similar in nature to Steam on the PC). Further, disc games could be resold or gifted if the publishers allow it.
That has changed now, however. Microsoft has reconsidered its position and is going back to the way things work(ed) on the existing Xbox 360. Instead of taking the logical approach of keeping with the plan but removing the daily authentication requirement for games if you keep the game disc in the tray, Microsoft has taken their
ball Xbox One controller and completely backtracked.
DRM on the Xbox One is now as follows, and these changes go in place of (not in addition to) the previously announced sharing and reselling functionalities.
For physical disc games:
According to Xbox Wire, after their initial setup and installation, disc-based games will not require an internet connection for offline functionality (though multiplayer components will, obviously, need an active connection). Even better, trading and reselling of disc-based games is no longer limited by publishers. Trading, selling, gifting, renting, et al of physical disc-based games "will work just as it does today on the Xbox 360." Microsoft is also not region locking physical games, which means that you will not have to worry about games purchased abroad working on your console at home.
In order to play disc-based games, you will need to keep the game disc in the tray, even if it is installed on the hard drive, however.
Changes to Downloaded games:
As far as downloadable games, Microsoft is restricting these titles such that they cannot be shared or resold. In the previous model, you would have been able to share the titles with your family, but not anymore. You will still be able to re-download the games.
There is no word on whether or not gamers will still lose access to all of the titles in their game library if their Xbox Live accounts are ever banned. It is likely that gamers will lose any downloadable games though as those are effectively tied to a single Xbox Live account.
While at first glance it may seem as though gamers won this round, in the end no one really won. Instead of Microsoft working around gamers concerns for physical media and moving forward together, it is as though Microsoft has thrown up its hands in frustration, and tossed out all of the innovative aspects for digital/downloadable titles along with the undesirable daily authentication and other invasive DRM measures that gamers clearly indicated they did not want.
I believe that Microsoft should have kept to the original game plan, but added an exception to the daily check-in rules so long as the console was able to authenticate the game offline by identifying a physical game disc in the tray. That way, gamers that are not comfortable with (or able to) keeping the Xbox One connected to the internet could continue to play games using discs while also allowing those with always-on Xbox One consoles the privileges of sharing their libraries. Doing so would have also helped ease the console gaming populance as a whole into Microsoft's ideal digital age once the next Xbox comes out. However, instead of simply toning down the changes, Microsoft has completely backtracked, and now no one wins. Sigh.
What are your thoughts on Microsoft's latest changes to the Xbox One? Was it the right move, or were you looking forward to increased freedom with your digitally-downloaded games?
- The PS4 and Xbox One Hardware Revealed, Console Makers Have Different Goals @ PC Perspective
- E3 2013: Microsoft can ban your Xbox One library @ PC Perspective
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | June 19, 2013 - 06:33 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: steam, DRM
You can learn a lot by scanning configuration, registry files, and so forth; many have made off with a successful bounty. Most recently, some Steam Beta users dug around in their user interface (UI) files to notice a few interesting lines, instructing the user that the title they are attempting to launch will kick off a friend it is currently being shared with.
"SteamUI_JoinDialog_SharedLicense_Title" "Shared game library"
"SteamUI_JoinDialog_SharedLicenseLocked_OwnerText" "Just so you know, your games are currently in use by %borrower%. Playing now will send %borrower% a notice that it's time to quit."
"SteamUI_JoinDialog_SharedLicenseLocked_BorrowerText" "This shared game is currently unavailable. Please try against later or buy this game for your own library."
Sure, this whole game DRM issue has been flipping some tables around the industry. Microsoft tried permitting users share games with their family, utilizing about the worst possible PR, and eventually needed to undo that decision. Users would like flexible licensing schemes, but the content industry (including the platform owners like Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, who receive license fees from game sales) are unwilling to cooperate unless they are assured that users are honest.
Of course, what usually happens is honest users get crapped on and pirates enjoy a better experience, after initial setup.
While there is not much difference, from a high level view, between Steam and the proposed Xbox One, there are a number of differences. The obvious difference is Steam's offline mode, but probably the larger reason is trust. Valve has demonstrated a lot of good faith to their customers; where Microsoft shuts down access to content people paid for, Valve has shown they have intentions for both long-term support and consideration for the user's experience.
Ultimately, I feel as if DRM is not a necessary evil, but while it exists at least there are companies such as Valve who earn trust and use DRM both for and against users. I expect that some day, the industry will turn against DRM either willingly, by legal intervention, or because companies like cdp.pl will use DRM-free as a promotional tool and nibble their way to dominance.
And yes, despite the fact that this will be confused with bias: if you prove that you are untrustworthy before, you will get away with less later regardless of your intentions.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | June 19, 2013 - 06:16 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: DRM, The Witcher 3, GOG
cdp.pl, formerly CD Projekt, has been one of the last holdouts against DRM. Founders of GoG.com and developer/publisher for The Witcher franchise, they offer a DRM-free platform for users to purchase games. Sure, they are usually good and old ones, aptly enough, but they are confident enough to include their most ambitious titles, The Witcher and The Witcher 2.
With The Witcher 3, we will see the title launch without DRM on GoG, trusting their users will purchase the title and be honest.
Apparently, the game will have a world slightly larger than Skyrim.
Hopefully, with very little empty space.
I have long been a proponent of DRM-free media, as you could probably tell. I believe that DRM-free titles end up netting more sales than the same title would have with encryption; even if that were not true, society is harmed more than enough to justify its non-existence. Sure, we all know unapologetic jerks and they are, indeed, jerks. Just because these jerks exist does not mean your company should, or successfully will, be the alpha a-hole on the a-hole food-chain. Chances are you will just upset your actual customers, now former customers. There are reasons why I never purchased (never pirated either, I just flat-out ignored the entire franchise's existence) another Crysis title after the first one's SecuROM debacle wrecked my camcorder's DVD-authoring software.
So, when The Witcher 3 comes out, back it up on your external hard drive and maybe even keep a copy on your home theater PC. Most importantly, buy it... sometime in 2014.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | September 11, 2012 - 02:54 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Amnesia, piracy, DRM
Frictional Games, the developers behind the Penumbra and Amnesia franchises, commented on the two years since the release of The Dark Descent through their company blog. Frictional has finally released the development budget for Amnesia which rings in at just $360,000 USD which is less than a tenth of their revenue. They also have not even thought about piracy in over a year: they are paid in sales not piracy figures – and paid they have been.
It is so nice when common sense prevails.
As I have discussed in my “Video Games Do Not Want to Be Art?” column, there are some developer-publishers who find their content intrinsically valuable and aim for long-term steady sales. Frictional Games appears to be one of those companies. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is possibly the most terrifying game in existence without compromising on their highly engaging story.
They also have not even thought about – let alone get frightened of – piracy in over a year.
Or maybe after making Amnesia these Swedes are not scared by anything lurking in shadows.
There is room for both blockbuster titles as well as enduring content with intrinsic value. Over the course of the last two years Amnesia has sold just shy of 1.4 million units. Amnesia currently – 2 years after its release – sees a steady 10,000 units sold each month excluding bumps in sales due to discounts. This revenue is over ten-fold larger than the $360,000 development budget.
The developer kept the topic of piracy brief with a simple statement:
It has been over a year since we even thought about piracy. With sales as good as above we cannot really see this as an issue worth more than two lines in this post, so screw it.
That is literally all that has been written about piracy.
Whenever I discuss piracy I feel the need to preface my statements with, “The solution is not to condone piracy.” I do not condone piracy nor has Frictional Games. If you wish to acquire a game – pay for it. If you do not wish to acquire a game – ignore it. Still, from the developer or publisher’s point of view, do not concern yourselves with piracy figures. Piracy figures are horrifically inaccurate and – most importantly – not a measurement that pays you one way or the other.
Worry about what will increase your sales – such as adding mod tools or design to sell your product indefinitely – because that will be what puts the roof over your head.
If you lose customers because of your paranoia – companies like Frictional will be there. Good on them.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | March 1, 2012 - 08:10 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: ubisoft, piracy, DRM
Ubisoft has been known to aggravate their fan base on the PC. Several off-hand comments have been made which claim that most PC users of their titles do so without paying. Ubisoft attempted to mitigate this alleged problem by aggravating their legitimate customers with progressively more annoying DRM and embargoing the PC platform.
Ubisoft’s sales have suffered massively as a result of these initiatives including a drop of 90 percent with the decline attributed to their in-house DRM. Despite their claims that their DRM was a success, Ubisoft is dropping DRM from their Rayman Origins PC release later this month.
The Steam product page originally made no claims about 3rd Party DRM earlier this week which led to questions about whether Rayman Origins would be free of DRM outside of Steamworks. Those questions were answered when the product page was updated to directly state No 3rd Party DRM. The typical convention is that no mention of 3rd Party DRM implies that there exists no 3rd party DRM on the title. Whoever updated the product page, however, probably believes that some clarity is necessary with Ubisoft’s track record.
While I give credit to Ubisoft for trusting in their customers, Rayman Origins has been quite delayed from its counterparts on other platforms. I hope that sales of Rayman Origins for the PC are quite good and show Ubisoft that their customers are always right whether they believe they are paying or not.