Beyond DRM: New Anti-Piracy Measure

Beyond DRM: New Anti-Piracy Measure

Digital Rights Management, or DRM, has been touted as a piracy preventer by entertainment and gaming manufacturers while being blasted by end users as restrictive and ineffective against illegal downloading and copying of electronic media.

One gaming company has heard the cries of the players and is releasing its latest title without DRM. While the firm isn’t inviting pirates to copy its game, it does think it’s found a way to keep its customers happy and still put a dent in the counterfeit gaming process.

DRM encrypts material in such a way that only a particular device or code can play or retrieve it. Gamers who buy DRM games usually get a digital code to insert at the beginning of the game, which allows it to be played by that player’s console or computer.

Companies claim they need to use DRM to maintain the integrity of the games they produce and ensure that the end user is getting the quality they’ve paid for. Publisher Ubisoft created a virtual firestorm in March, 2010, when it put DRM protections on its game Assassin’s Creed II for the PC.

At the time, players quickly lashed out at Ubisoft, calling the DRM plan easy to circumvent and burdensome. It required the game to constantly be connected online to verify the purchase; so if the Internet connection was lost during gameplay, all progress was lost and players were forced to restart or hope for a reconnection. The same was true if Ubisoft’s master servers went down.

Other gaming companies have tried to protect their product with other types of DRM systems – some succeed, others are still working toward a system that thwarts pirates and doesn’t disrupt legitimate game play.

Stardock, maker of the Galactic Civilizations series, believes that DRM doesn’t work and refuses to place any DRM copy protection on its games.  But it has a process that only allows legitimate customers access to all the game’s features.

Its latest title, Elemental: War of Magic, is a turn-based strategy game that contains a role-playing game element. As a ruler, you will found new cities, research technology and recruit specialists and champions to do your bidding much like a strategy game. However, you will also increase your own personal stats, talents and spells like an RPG game character.

Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, hopes the combination of play styles will be a big hit with gamers.

“Unlike some games where you do the quest and if you fail, someone else has to clean up the mess, in our game, you are the one to have to clean up from adventurers who unleashed evil on the world,” Wardell said. “You will be able to literally build your own world with your own quests and monsters.”

The game was recently released on August 24 via stores and through Impulse, a digital download platform without any DRM protections. He said it is all about trying to focus on the customer.

“We want to reward customers for buying the product,” he explained. “We release lots of free updates for our games with several in the pipeline and more in development. Pirates won’t get this.”

Wardell emphasized that he isn’t endorsing nor does he want his games to be pirated.  But by releasing a base game then adding free material after a gamer registers, he believes that pirates won’t want to waste their time with a product that doesn’t have all the features.

“If you buy it online, we know who you are,” Wardell said.  “If you buy it retail, there are concerns about being inconvenienced by (DRM) connections.  We want to remove those concerns and try to focus on our customer.”

He said a player’s paid account with Stardock will grant them access to everything the game has to offer, including the ability to make your own challenges and creatures and share them with others. He touted that the unique art style in the game allows for lower hardware requirements, but still projects a beautifully-rendered playing experience without having to upgrade your computer.

Wardell doesn’t think he’s breaking any new ground by not including DRM protections. He said it is too obvious of a move to be considered a new trail.

“We just want to reward those customers who are loyal for buying Elemental: War of Magic,” he said. “Pirates just make me mad.”

About Larry Frum
Larry Frum has been a gamer from the Atari 2600 to the PS3 and every console in between (yes, even the Genesis). His gaming articles have been featured on numerous sites including CNN.com and Sci Fi Wire. Larry also has his own gaming blog – Gamers Notes.

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