But I recently noticed one little place when where I think making games pirate-proof is resulting in a better world for everyone. In the interest of fairness, I feel obligated to point it out.
(Edit: When I say "pirate-proof," I mean "So difficult to pirate that nobody bothers," not "Impossible to pirate.")
Let Me Sell My Stupid Used Games! (Or not.)
When Half-Life 2 came out, around eight hundred years ago, I vented to everyone who would listen about how angry its new rights management scheme made me. You had to sign in through a Steam account (which, at the time, did scary things to my computer). And, to me far worse, your game was attached to your account, keeping you from loaning or selling it. This new game future seemed to strip too many rights away from users, and I wanted no part of it.
Lately, though, I've been finding that this is exactly the future I am living in, and I've been extremely happy. I'm having a great time, buying fun games for fair prices. I'm just doing it on the XBox.
The rights management in PC games is still generally hostile, punitive, and self-defeating. Requiring an internet connection to play a single player game or limiting the number of installations does nothing to prevent piracy (as hacked copies are always easily available from BitTorrent) but plenty to hurt legitimate customers. And piracy is rampant, no matter what. So the PC world is still screwed. (And there is increasing evidence that these problems are spreading to the iPhone.)
All I Want Is Fun, On the Cheap
But on XBox live, over the last month, I'm played Shadow Complex ($15), Defense Grid: The Awakening ($10), and I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 (a ludicrously low $1). These games are all seriously fun. They also have impenetrable DRM. I don't have to be online to play, but I can't sell or give away my copy. There's no piracy on XBox Live.
When the inability to share (or pirate) a product comes with a low price, I don't mind anymore. Defense Grid is ten bucks, and it's giving me more than ten bucks worth of fun. Sure, I'm at Microsoft's mercy, and I don't "own" the product, but hey. Ten bucks. And the manufactures can still make a nice profit at that low price (though probably not much lower) because ninety percent of its users aren't stealing it.
No DRM. But Plenty Of Injustice.
Compare that to the games I sell. I charge $28 for a new game. I would LOVE to charge ten bucks. But, to stay in business, I'd have to triple my sales, and that won't happen. Would sales go up? Sure. Would they TRIPLE? Almost impossible.
I have minimal DRM. People can transfer their registration to someone else if they want. I even have a one year money back guarantee if someone is unhappy. I've tried to be ethical in all the ways I want as a consumer. The result? My games get pirated like crazy, and I have to charge a lot to stay in business. I have a situation where honest people have to pay lots of money to subsidize the people who rip me off. The good people pay to buy games for the bad.
This, of course, infuriates me.
What I Wish I Could Do
I'm not going to be writing games for the XBox, sadly enough. My sort of games just work better on PC and Macs. But if I could snap my fingers and give myself the same absolute control over my games XBox Live has over theirs (in return for lower prices), I would. The freedom of the current system is nice, but it comes at too high a cost. The unfairness is just this side of intolerable, and it's only getting worse.
DRM is fair if, for what the corporations take, we get something in return. One of the problems with eBooks is they take away the ability to loan or sell the books you buy online, not to mention the lack of a satisfying physical object, and they still charge the same price for the book. What nonsense! Make the price of the books low enough to make people not mind what they are costing and I promise you the eBook business will improve.
DRM Has Its Points
DRM has developed a terrible reputation. Heck, it's earned it. But remember, the purpose of DRM is to prevent free riders (aka self-justifying weasels and morally damaged scumbags). None of us like being told that we don't deserve free things, but it's still true. If DRM enables products to be sold for a price that is cheap to users and fair to developers, it is something we should all grab with both hands.