There were two drama’s this week that I got sick of really quickly.

The first thing was an article on Elemental by PC Gamer. Pete from Dragonchasers has already covered most of my feelings about Elemental, so I’ll leave it at that.

The second was the whole buying used games is piracy debate (and I’m using that word ironically). This whole thing was pretty off target, in my opinion. When I read Tycho’s post, I put the emphasis on the intent part of the statement and went on with my day. Then I got home and found half of the blogs in my RSS were talking about it in a completely different way from the way I understood his point. Since I’m so slow to post though, Tycho has already explained himself, so that’s that.

Moving on to more interesting stuff.

I’m reading the latest Mass Effect book, Retribution, and enjoying just as much as the prior two. This has started me jonesing to be back in that world, which is good because I still have DLC to finish. I had stopped playing halfway through the Firewalker DLC, so I finished that as well as the Kasumi missions. I was a bit disappointed that there was no real dialog on the ship with Kasumi outside of the missions, she does say some things, but she’s similar to Zaeed (which makes sense, but I was hoping for more). Her loyalty mission was still pretty fun though. I’m playing Overlord now, it’s the biggest DLC so far, and has a good mix of ground and driving sections.

I hadn’t originally planned to, buy I ended up buying SC2. Not to say that I was never going to buy it, but I had planned to wait until the sequels were out. I blame nostalgia and Twitter for my failure in self-control.

The funny thing about playing Star Craft 2, is that it has made me want to go back and play Dawn of War again. Ten years (or more) ago, when I played SC1, I’d never heard of Warhammer 40k, but now playing SC2, the similarities are is striking.

So, I’ve actually been playing a lot more DoW2 than SC2. I bought the Chaos Rising expansion during the last Steam sale, but hadn’t fired it up yet. Mostly this was because while I really enjoyed the original DoW2 campaign, the multi-player wasn’t as fun for me. This left me feeling a little cold towards the game. So I was pleasantly reminded of how much of actually enjoyed the single player when I fired up the expansion campaign. I’ve also started to enjoy the multi-player, I had a good night of CPU stomping in 2v2 with Oakstout, and I’m looking forward to trying Last Stand with Jayedub.

MMO-wise, I’ve just been dabbling. Played a little Champions yo check out the new update, popped into LotRO to get my house out of hock and catchup on my maintenance fees, and the rest of my time has been spent in STO. I made Vice Admiral, got my Discovery-class refit (my favorite looking ship in the game), and made Attaché in the Diplomacy ranks.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve also been writing quite a bit, but I’m having trouble publishing. Several times, this week, I’ve finished posts and just found no inclination to publish them. Apparently with venting, it’s enough to write it that I don’t need to share it, and honestly you’re not missing much.

I am curious though. If you blog, how much of what you write do you publish?

This is making me think about the dozen plus unfinished articles in my drafts folder. I really need to do some fall cleaning and either trash them or finish them.

No Excuse for Piracy

Even though I despise DRM, I don’t consider it a good excuse to pirate games.

First there are the ethical considerations. Pirating a game is stealing. If you want to play a game then you should pay for it. If you think it is too expensive, if you don’t like the DRM it comes with, then just don’t play it. I can see using pirated games as demos, but that’s really the only exception to the rule.

Beyond the ethics, there are very good practical reasons not to pirate.

First, you you never know what you’re getting when you download a cracked copy of a game. Key loggers, viruses, root kits, who knows what kind of malware has been dropped into that unlocked copy of Whatever 5. Sure you can limit where you get stuff from and use anti-virus and anti-malware, but that’s no guarantee. Oh, and yeah, I know some people consider certain DRM programs to be viruses or malware, at that point see the ethical responses above.

Second, if you buy a DRMed game and then download a utility to strip it out then the publisher and developer don’t see any impact to their sales. Which means they won’t understand their mistakes. They’ll continue to add DRM layers to their games. One exception to this is Spore, but there’s very few games that will garner that kind of publicity.

D, R, effing, M.

DR-effing-M. *sigh*

I am reminded of the following quote:

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. – Albert Einstein

Ubisoft has decided that they do not want to learn from the experiences of EA and 2K Games.

PC Gamer has an article about how Ubisoft is requiring an internet connection for Assassins Creed 2 for the PC. That’s not just for registering the game initially, or launching the game, but for the entire time the game is running. So your router goes down, or your 2 year old son unplugs your modem? You get kicked out of your game. When your connection comes back up you’re at the last checkpoint you reached. Hopefully there are a lot of checkpoints in the game.

There’s a follow up at PC Gamer where Ubisoft tries to address their concerns, but the only thing I got from it is that they don’t have a firm grasp on reality.

What it boils down to is that they are trying to combat piracy. They are trying to sell this system as a value add, by saying that you don’t have to have the disc to play, that you can install as many times as you want, and that your save games will be stored on a server. What they don’t seem to understand, though, is that when I buy a single player game, I don’t want to have to worry about launch day player floods of the authentication server. I understand, and expect, that as part of the MMO experience, but I don’t want that in my single player experience. Ubisoft doesn’t even believe that it is unhackable. So, once again, people of rip off the company will be able to play however they want and paying customers get to deal with the hassle.

Let me explain something to Ubisoft. I haven’t played Bioshock. I didn’t buy it for PC because of all of the problems 2k had with their server-based DRM scheme. There were plenty of other games for me to play at the time, so why purchase something that is going to cause me frustration. I also didn’t buy it for Xbox 360, since I didn’t want to encourage bad behavior. Not a big deal, right? That’s just one sale. Well not exactly. I’m not buying Bioshock 2 either. Not because of any DRM of 2k boycott, but because I never played the first one, and I feel I would be missing out on the full experience by not having played the first game.

This whole debacle is very timely. I didn’t play Assassin’s Creed 1 because of some of the reviews it got about repetitiveness, and I was deep into several other games at the time. Generally this means that the window of opportunity for me to get into a franchise is closed. Assassin’s Creed 2 has been getting such good reviews, though that I thought about picking up both games for my 360. I was actually in Best Buy this last weekend and had both games in my hand. I didn’t end of buying them, but only because I decided I should check with friends and see if I really needed to play the first game or I would be better off watching some Youtube cut-scenes. Boy am I glad I didn’t buy those games now. So Ubisoft has cost themselves two sales from me, and likely any additional sales on the franchise since I’ll be so far behind on the story.

As rants go, this one is pretty weak, but I’m not really pissed off so much as exasperated. You would think that gaming companies would look at case studies of what the music industry went through already, or at least what other gaming companies have already tried and failed at.

It reminds me of a corporate reorganization at a former job. We had a full IT department meeting, where the CIO outlined a reorganization we were going to do. Instead of grouping staff by technical skills (team of Java devs, team of Oracle admin, and so on) we were instead going to be grouped by business area/process. This meant that a team in charge of a specific business area would have one or more developers (of different skills sets like Java and Progress), a DBA, a tester, etc. The funny thing about the meeting was the CIO introduced the idea by saying it had been tried at other companies and never worked, but we were going to give it a shot anyway. I left wondering what the heck he was thinking.

So good luck to Ubisoft, trying to do nearly the same thing that EA, 2k, and others have already tried. I’m sure that you won’t have a multitude of issues every time a new game releases and thousands of players try to authenticate against your servers at the same time. I can’t imagine that you’ll have a horde of  angry customers calling support wanting to know why they can’t play their offline, single player game because your DRM servers are down for maintenance. I’m sure no one will mind in a couple of years when you decide to decommission the servers for old games, or really care if you decide to patch out the DRM at that time.

If you want to read some more about this, there’s some more good information and opinion over at both Rock, Paper, Shotgun! and Ars Technica.

Personally, I’m not committing myself to a boycott of the company or anything. I’m not going to start rage posting on forums or signing a petition. I’m just not going to buy the game and then move on with my life. I suppose I may be tempted at some point to buy an Ubisoft game despite the DRM, but right now I can’t think of a game that I’m looking forward to enough that I’d be willing to deal with that kind of DRM. Assassin’s Creed certainly isn’t interesting enough for me to bother. I have so many more convenient ways to spend my entertainment time.

Gears DRM Debacle

Event like the Gears of War DRM debacle perfectly illustrate why Digital Rights Management is such a bad idea for the PC platform.

As a software developer myself, I can guarantee that there is no such thing as bug-free code.  Any piece of software that has more than 50 lines of code in it is going to have bugs, and any bug fix can introduce additional problems.  So anytime a developer adds functionality (like say DRM) to a product they are adding new possible problems.

When new functionality improves the game experience, this increased risk of problems is worthwhile to a gamer, but the addition of DRM usually provides no experience  improvements.  This is why Valve’s Steam has so much customer buy in.  Games are digitally distributed so there’s no CD/DVD required in the drive and I can buy and play a game without having to leave my house, and Steam allows me to download my purchases again if I need to.

With the exception of MMO’s, I’ve stopped buying PC games except through Valve’s Steam or Stardock’s Impulse.

Game publishers (and movie studios) need to look at what happened with the music industry.  Record studios pushed DRM in different forms for years without success, and now both iTunes and Amazon are doing great business without any DRM at all.  Customer’s pay for convenience and quality, not hassles.  Pirates won’t pay no matter what kind of protection is included.

DRM is stupid.

The music studios finally figured this out.  It hurts paying customers.  It entertains pirates and gives hackers something to do.  So why bother?  Yes, something needs to be done about organized piracy, but DRM has zero impact on that.

What DRM does impact is PC gaming.  Either people don’t buy stuff, they buy for consoles, or they download it cracked.  For example, I didn’t buy Bio Shock or Mass Effect for the PC.

Bio Shock’s activation horror stories just after release convinced me not to bother picking it up for either PC or console.

Mass Effect I already owned for the 360, but I was considering pickign up the PC version both for the UI updates and just to show support for the studio.  Then I saw the DRM announcements.  No thanks.

I did purchase Spore, but it was because I had pre-ordered from Amazon and my order shipped before the DRM hit the fan.  My fault for not researching it first.  I’ll admit that I’ve had no problems with the game yet, except for the annoyance of having to disable Process Explorer which I use as a task manager replacement.  But my problem is what happens when I build my next gaming rig.  I didn’t pay $50 to rent a game.  I paid $50 to own a copy.  If they want to sell it as a limited 3 installation rental, fine, but they need to knock the price down.  Say $30 bucks, or less.

I’m really looking forward to Fallout 3, but you can be sure that my platform choice will be heavily influenced by the DRM attached.  So DRM may not kill gaming, but it could kill PC gaming.

Just to clarify, I’m not for piracy and I’m not against DRM.  But I don’t like either one.  I do think that if you’re going to use it, DRM needs to “just work”, 99.99% of the time.  I also think that if a company wants to lock down a game as tightly as EA seems to then they need to be extremely forward about it.  A big sticker on the box and a description of the rights and restrictions on the back.  It should also uninstall with the game, period.

Studios and developers are entitled must protect their work.  But when DRM turns a game purchase into a game rental for the same $, then there’s a problem.

If I want to play a 360 game, I turn on the console and put the disk in.  If I want to play a PC game, I’d like to be able to do the same.


Is the gaming industry turning into the music industry?

Recently this question popped into my head.  For a long time it seemed as though the music industry was trying to kill itself.  Finally with iTunes starting to offer mp3’s, which has accelerated since the opening of the Amazon store and the Zune Marketplace, I think the music business has finally corrected its downward spiral.

If the gaming industry goes through the same learning curve, how much of today’s industry will survive?  How long will it take?  If/when it happens will I care any more?  I’m afraid it those answers will be: the largest three to four companies, too long, and no.

Like with the music industry I think the gaming industry has exaggerated this problem.  No one has any real idea how much money is lost to piracy, and I can’t think of anyway they’d really be able to quantify it.