Tag Archives: DRM

Sorry, Microsoft. Damage Done

I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that yesterday’s reversal was unprecedented. Games companies have gone back on unpopular policies before, of course, but for a hardware company to withdraw its plans for new DRM features that until yesterday had been trumpeted as essential to the new system, that had only been codified less than a fortnight ago, and all only a week after E3 – by far the biggest opportunity they’ll get to set out their stall before the consoles actually arrive

Now I don’t necessarily hold such a reversal as a mistake in itself. I see many, particularly in the States, where the suggestion of ‘flip-flopping’ can torpedo a politician, saying that this makes Microsoft look weak. There’s value in admitting one’s mistakes and rectifying them, and it’s far better than a dogmatic refusal to change course.

But this DRM snafu is only the latest in a line of missteps that have shaken my faith in Microsoft and the Xbox platform. Although this makes the Xbox One a far more attractive – and, once the price drops and Halo comes out, far more likely – purchase for me, I’m still jumping on the PS4 train for my primary console this generation.

As superb as the first few years of the 360 – and, indeed, the original Xbox – were, Microsoft hasn’t represented my interests for some time now. There’s the complete dearth of interesting first-party titles, even compared to Nintendo’s increasingly token efforts and especially so next to Sony’s adventurous, technically world-class internal studios; the relentless focus on Kinect, once an avoidable annoyance and now “an essential and integrated part of the platform”; the backwards inability for indie developers to work outside the traditional publisher-developer relationship when it’s a dinosaur in these days of digital distribution; the twice-exhibited inability to close out a console with software support up to its successor’s release.

Mainly, though, it’s the inability to see me, as a consumer who has spent hundreds on Xbox games every year since 2002, as anything other than a walking wallet.

I actually didn’t mind paying for Xbox Live Gold and have done since the beta in 2002, as it provided by far the best online gaming experience around. Even today, after innumerable updates over years of development, PSN can’t compete in terms of the integration of the whole system. But PSN is now good enough, and its premium service offers far better value for less money. I don’t care that the PS4 locks online play behind the paywall now because I stocked up on PS Plus membership when it was £20 for a year in Game.

Microsoft, meanwhile, arbitrarily locks features behind the paywall to justify the cost, when most of them – Netflix, Sky Go, et al – require separate subscriptions and are free elsewhere. Why would I pay to use Netflix on my Xbox when my PS3, Blu-ray player, laptop, iPad, phone and DVR all have it integrated at no extra cost. Hell, why should I? This inflexibility famously kept the BBC iPlayer off the 360 because Microsoft didn’t want to give away access and the BBC wasn’t allowed to charge for the same thing.

The attempt at matching PS Plus’s Instant Game Collection gave us free Assassin’s Creed II and Halo 3, from 2009 and 2007 respectively, while Sony has recently given us top-class games from 2012 like Uncharted 3 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Rumour has it August will bring DmC: Devil May Cry, which is less than six months old, to PS Plus.

Even as I’ve dropped money on Xbox Live, year after year, Microsoft pushes out dashboard updates that seemingly do little but create more advertising space. It’s a company whose idea of generosity ends up looking insultingly miserly. That Mojang had to fight to allow the free content updates to Minecraft that have come to every other platform without issue. That simply doesn’t give most publishers the option of offering free DLC, even if they want to.

Well, a week from now on the 27th, my ten-year-old Xbox Live subscription will lapse and won’t be renewed. The Xbox One will be the first Xbox that I’m not picking up on day one. While I applaud Microsoft for reversing this disastrous policy, what it has lost over the last few years has been the benefit of the doubt. I should buy an Xbox One? Prove it, because you’re getting as little for nothing from me as I get from you.

Why I won’t be playing Ace Attorney 5

Phoenix WrightI adore the Ace Attorney series. It’s one of my favourite series on one of my favourite systems, so by default the games are up there in my favourites of all time. Some of the best writing, the best music, the best story in any game. It convinced me of how good the visual novel genre can be, which is another untapped vein of unique gaming experiences.

But as much as I’d like to, I won’t be playing Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, which was today confirmed for an English translation.

Believe me, I really do want to play it. It was a major factor in my decision to finally jump on the 3DS bandwagon, after all. But I won’t as long as my only option to purchase is through Nintendo’s eShop.

For those who don’t know, whereas the likes of Xbox Live Marketplace, PSN, Steam and the App Store attach your digital purchases to your account, allowing you to play them on any compatible platform simply by logging in, the eShop links them to your hardware. This is annoying on the home consoles but, in the eyes of me and many others, an unacceptable risk when buying for portable hardware. If your 3DS is lost, stolen, or breaks outside warranty, you’re at the mercy of Nintendo’s customer support as to whether you can redownload your games. Sell your console without buying a replacement beforehand and you have to let all your games go with it.

Conceivably, a 3DS with an extensive library of games on it could be worth thousands. Good luck getting that much out of your insurance company if your £150 piece of hardware gets nicked.

And of course, none of these are issues for your games on other digital distribution platforms. Losing an iPhone is an annoyance, but get a replacement and you can download every one of your purchases again. Ditto for any other gaming hardware that isn’t manufactured by a company intent on staying a generation behind everyone else.

This is all especially relevant to me at the moment, as my 3DS has been in for repairs for the last three weeks. (That’s some 3-7 day turnaround you’ve got there.) Were a 3DS game I really wanted to play to come out right now, I’d be out of luck. Any current system from any other manufacturer would let me borrow a friend’s machine, log in on my account, and play the new release until my one came back.

That next-generation experience, detaching the games and service from the hardware, is clearly beyond Nintendo, and I won’t be supporting even my favourite series while they’re propping it up.

In a word: OBJECTION!

Game good, DRM bad

The furore over SimCity’s always-online DRM has been inescapable over the last few days. EA has joined Activision (via Blizzard) in spectacularly failing at launching a major new game with mandatory online functionality, hopefully casting doubt over the future of the approach when titans with such deep pockets can’t make it work.

People are understandably upset, and it’s led to a predictable outcry aimed at media outlets who haven’t factored such technical issues and consumer-unfriendly DRM into their scores. Reviewers are out of touch, the argument goes, because they get to play these games without paying for them, in conditions where the authentication servers are nowhere near capacity, with a PR team on the other end of the phone who’ll bend over backwards to fix any issues, lest the critic have anything other than a stellar experience.

I’m siding with the reviewers here, though. And I think Polygon was wrong to change the score on its review.

That said, I’m not defending this form of DRM. It’s shit, and it’s a practice that shouldn’t continue. If the rumours about the next Xbox requiring a constant Internet connection and so effectively doing this across the board – and as good as Xbox Live is, it can’t be said that it’s been immune from capacity issues – are true, it’ll put my investment in the console in doubt.

But the quality of the game and the DRM are separate issues. The fact that its DRM is overzealous doesn’t make SimCity a bad game any more than the fact that I can’t rip my Blu-ray to watch the movie on my iPad makes Wreck-It Ralph a bad movie. That argument would be ridiculous in film criticism, but when writing about games it seems to be a common opinion. Maybe, if games are art, we need to separate the reviews of the game from the program, as a DVD review would award separate scores for the movie and the AV quality.

It all comes back to an argument I’ve made before that people want consumer advice, not reviews. A list of features and a number at the end, being careful not to rate it anything that might affect the Metacritic score too negatively.

When all this is ironed out and SimCity becomes reliable and playable, it will be a 8, 9, 10, or whatever score you think it’s worth. And since it’ll be the same game as everyone’s trying to play now, so it should always be.

Diablo III’s Brave New World

Diablo III is my first experience with the series, and I like it a lot. Or rather I like it when it’s not doing something like this…

Diablo III Error 33

Bearing in mind that I’m going through it solo for my initial run, this is a single-player game with lag, server queues and no offline play. Goodbye flipping open the laptop on the train for a quick go and, for the moment, good luck playing at peak times.

This has been written on at great length and much more authoritatively than I could manage, so I’m going to point you in the direction of Eurogamer’s arguments for and against this new approach, because what surprised me about these discordant articles is that I agree with both of them.

When you’re online, the connection’s reliable, Battle.net is running properly and you have no urge to venture outside somewhere without a good wi-fi signal, Diablo III’s infrastructure is magnificent. Log in on any computer, PC or Mac, and your characters are there. Make some progress or just throw a couple of things into the auction house and it’ll all be reflected on your computer at home when you fire the game up later. That’s how ‘the cloud’ is going to change gaming, and we’re starting to see it with cloud saving in Steam, Xbox Live and PSN. Throw in how always being online makes playing alone, playing with randoms and playing with friends one and the same and never more than a couple of clicks away and it’s a good advert for the natural progression of what we’ll see in the next-generation versions of our current online services, only available right now.

It’s for these reasons that I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt. Blizzard is forging a new path here, and although it does a lot that needs to be done better, it’s a very respectable first attempt. When you can get on, that is.

Starforce Dumped

Following on from Starforce’s recent PR disaster, Ubisoft, one of the main proponents, have announced that they’re unceremoniously dumping the malware software from all future games after “investigating the complaints about alleged problems with Starforce’s software.” Good to see them taking the initiative, because if high profile users jump ship it’s likely that smaller publishers will follow suit.

Hard to crack though it may be, this goes to show that if people are vociferous enough with their complaints the consumer will always win out in the end. Even if most copy protection schemes don’t stop large-scale piracy, at least they don’t stop people using their computer in the way it was intended. I hope Starforce dies a painful death, and I hope they don’t sue me for saying that.

MPAA: The MP Means “Missing the Point”

BoingBoing are reporting on a new download service that will allow the legal downloading of Hollywood movies. The caveat is that not only can they only be played in Windows, but they cost twice the price of buying a DVD, and burnt copies can only be played on a PC. Somehow they justify calling them DVDs despite this.

I’m not a fan of digital distribution since I like having DVDs/games/CDs on my shelf which I can browse through but I see it as an inevitability, and I sincerely hope that they start to show the consumers some respect if they expect people to buy into this. iTunes has the right idea by making downloading a matter of clicking a button and bundling in fairly permissive DRM (if we must have DRM that’s the kind to have) while making the price reasonable, but nobody will pay double the price of the physical media for such a crippled copy.

The assertion that people will pay that for the convenience is just laughable as well. I hear people saying that they use iTunes to get new albums for the convenience, even though it’s usually cheaper than actually going to the shop and buying it. Double the price isn’t the cost of convenience – it’s extortionate. Not to mention that, like the comment on BoingBoing says, the files are going to be big (you need at least 700MB for a passable quality movie) and it’s never going to be more convenient to sit and download for a couple of hours than it is to go five minutes away and buy the shiny new DVD…for half the price.