I’ve talked about, on various occasions, how DRM is the bane of gamers’ existence. When Microsoft announced that they were actually planning to have an Always-Online feature to use the XBox One, something which I’d hoped they’d be smart enough not to do but suspected they probably would, the internet blew up. So much to the extent that Microsoft had to back down on their stance. Clearly most people have a very visceral reaction to DRM.
Today, however, I found definitive proof that not only has DRM reached absurd levels, but it’s spilling over into other industries.
For those unfamiliar with the term, DRM stands for “digital rights management.” As the name implies, it’s a means for companies to ensure people don’t used pirated versions of their software. There have been a variety of methods over the years of ensuring people are legitimately paying for the media they’re using. A simple example is the warning you see at the beginning of a movie, basically saying if you try to make copies of the movie & sell it for profit you can be prosecuted. It’s also why you can’t download music for free.
Let me preface this by saying that I have no problem with copyright laws in principle. If someone created something — be it song, art, or a product — they should be the only ones allowed to make money off of it. Other people shouldn’t be allowed to claim it as their own & sell it themselves.
However, game publishers seem to have gone off the deep end in recent years & have started going to very anti-consumer lengths to ensure they get all of the profit from their games. In the past, it used to be if you were playing a game on the PC, when you installed the game you’d have to enter an activation code which was usually on the back of the manual. Although these codes were ridiculously long & cumbersome, in general I never had a problem with these. They didn’t prevent you from installing the game on multiple computers. It was just a way to check if you’d legitimately bought the game.
Within the past few years, there’s been a growing trend where DRM now refers to having to be connected the publisher’s server to play the game. Not just to play multiplayer portions, which makes sense, but even for single-player games. And companies have taken a lot of flack about it. Just look up the Diablo III & SimCity launch debacles.
I’m not an expert on the subject, so here are two videos that can better explain what DRM is, its history, & why it’s so dangerous for the game industry:
Today I read an article that, I think, gives definitive proof that this dangerous is spreading into other markets: Apparently, during the course of a lawsuit between TreeHouse Foods & Keurig (you know, the coffee people) TreeHouse Foods reported that Keurig is working on a new coffee maker that will only work if you’re using Keurig-brand coffee. You read right. In a “java-bean equivalent of DRM,” this new system won’t work with “unlicensed” coffee pods, meaning if you have it you’ll have no choice but to buy Keurig’s (no doubt more expensive) coffee.
Green Mountain (the company that makes Keurig’s official coffee line) has announced a new anticompetitive plan to maintain its monopoly by redesigning its brewers to lock out competitors’ products. Such lock-out technology cannot be justified based on any purported consumer benefit, and Green Mountain itself has admitted that the lock-out technology is not essential for the new brewers’ function. Like its exclusionary agreements, this lock-out technology is intended to serve anticompetitive and unlawful ends.
Keurig has since responded that, “It’s critical for performance and safety reasons that our new system includes this technology.”
Now, I’m not a big coffee drinker. I prefer hot tea, which I brew myself. And when I do drink coffee, it’s usually what I pick up at the local gas station on my way to work if I haven’t slept good that day. So I won’t claim to be an expert on the single-serve coffee industry. But is bootleg coffee really a problem? Is someone refilling old K-cups with Foldgers & selling them? Wouldn’t it just be easier to patent a cup shape that no one but your own affiliates could use?
I’m not even sure how this new technology would work. I know that the Tassimo single-serve system has bar codes on their cups so the machine knows what type of coffee it should be making. For instance, making a flavored latte requires a latte cup & a flavor cup which are two different sizes, so the bar codes tell the machine how much water to add. This is the only way I can think this exclusionary technology could work. Only “licensed” coffee cups would have the proper bar codes on them that the machine would have to read to work. Bar codes not matching Keurig’s process wouldn’t work in the machine.
Jokes aside, I think this illustrates the growing anti-consumer trend various markets seem to be adopting. We’re no longer treated as valuable customers who keep these companies afloat, but as enemies who need to be outsmarted lest we find ways to steal their precious profits. Because I don’t know about you guys, but I know I spend every waking moment trying to stiff lucrative businesses out of $30. We’re not buying products, but services now. Services that are subject to change at the company’s discretion.
Look at game DRM again. Even though you’ve legitimately bought their product, forking out $60+ in support of the developers, the publisher can still dictate how you can use it. You can only play when the publisher says you can. Guess what happens when the servers go down. Guess what happens when they’re shut down permanently. No longer are you paying to own products anymore, but are paying for the privilege of using their service — so long as you’re using it in the way they dictate.
Why is it okay for companies to treat paying customers like pirates? Because that’s what they claim, isn’t it? They do these things to keep people from pirating their products. Rather than encouraging people to pay full price for them by providing good products, special bonuses & other perks that build customer loyalty, they treat us all like criminals. Piracy isn’t the consumer’s problem. And making things harder for paying customers just encourages them to piracy, if only out of spite. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If publishers want to act like we’re just leasing their products, then do it like car dealerships do. People lease cars because it’s cheaper & to trade up later. So if you want me to lease your game, you’d bloody better not charge me full price. Don’t tell me I have to pay $60 & then dictate how I can use it.