Last bits of DRM ranting for a while

I had a big rant about DRM last time, and an example of an issue it caused. I thought I'd round off with a few other examples of DRM issues I have experienced in the past. Get all the rants out of my system, before I move on to a post about more positive matters - the new cover for Turner!

My last post was about a computer game. Games with online activation are always problematic. See this recent example from Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Or their previous coverage of SimCity, or Diablo 3, or Anno 2070. Or the Ubisoft single-player games that stop working when they upgrade servers (which can then break other games). DRM leads to a cruddy, unstable, frustrating experience. Many of the important arguments against online DRM in games can be found here.

Even with physical discs, DRM reared its ugly head. Back in November 2010 I took an afternoon off work to play a newly bought game: Shellshock 2 on DVD. The game used Securom DRM, though I didn't know that at the time, since it wasn't mentioned in the item description when I bought it. The Securom DRM refused to install the game, saying it detected 'Emulation Software'. Yet there was nothing else running on my PC. After a lot of time I decided it must have browsed my hard drive without my permission and refused to let me play the game if I had (fully legal!) software installed that Securom didn't like. So I uninstalled Daemon Tools (used for my music software), but the game still wouldn't install. The Securom website was no help. I tried the Eidos website but that wouldn't even let you email them unless you created an account first. I spent over four hours trying to sort it out (with lots of back and forth emails and phonecalls to Securom). And it still wouldn't run, since the Securom DRM then claimed there was no disc inserted, even though it was. By then I'd had enough. I downloaded a pirated version, scanned it for malware, then installed and started playing that, because the DRM in the version I'd bought made the game unplayable. A month later I had exactly the same issues when I tried to play the game Jericho on DVD. In the end I tracked down a cracked .exe that disabled Securom - I could then play the game I had bought.
Nowadays, if a game has DRM then the amount I’ll pay drops by about 90%, depending on how severe it is.

Music At the height of the music DRM craze I stopped buying any music. Then Sony et al backed down and you could buy DRM-free MP3s. I rejoiced and started buying again, and now have a huge MP3 collection. The lesson is clear: many customers will pay for something that they feel they then own, but not for things that can be taken back from them.

DRM makes the purchaser jump through hoops
Last year I bought Dragon Naturally Speaking 10. It turned out you needed a serial number to install it, as it was an education edition. To get that I had to send scans of various forms of identification to an email address (which is bad security practice from the start!), then they said that within 24 hours I should get sent a code. A minimum of 24 hours of waiting to unlock the DRM! I just downloaded a crack and got it running quickly. As usual the DRM causes hassles for paying customers and doesn’t stop piracy.

Fun with film
When I first bought a projector I was really excited about being able to watch films by connecting it to my laptop (I don't own a TV). I researched the different options and eventually bought one. It worked well, except that on some films the picture kept getting darker, then brighter again. It was really distracting. I spent weeks trying to find out what the issue was, before I finally discovered it was the DRM system on some DVDs - Macrovision - interfering with the display. I then had a stressful time of it trying to return the projector as not fit for purpose.
“It works fine with DVDs, we never guaranteed it would work with Macrovision,” I was told. "You should have checked."
"I'd never even heard of Macrovision before this!" I replied. "Anyway, the projector description said you could use it to watch films, and apparently most films have a Macrovision DRM signal included now."
"Well, you can't expect the manufacturer to add extra hardware just to deal with an unnecessary and proprietary restrictive system, can you?"
Macrovision didn't even reply to my emails.

Repeated hassles
Software with DRM is often downplayed by the publisher. "It's only a one-time activation!". That's a lie. It's not a one-time activation since you have to do it again if you reinstall Windows or get a new PC or want to play it on a different computer or uninstall the game when you've finished and then reinstall it in the future... Basically normal life.

It doesn't get better over time. Over the years I have had massive and repeated problems with iPlayer downloads, where it just fails for no obvious reason. It always turns out to be related to Adobe AIR, the DRM system. Usually I have to uninstall iPlayer and Adobe AIR, reinstall them both, sometimes multiple times before it magically works. And then at some point it will break again. I've had similar issues with HTC Sync - the updated version added Adobe AIR (and doubled the size of the files). Suddenly my PC and phone couldn’t recognise each other, cue uninstall, reinstall, debug modes, switching cables and so on. That never worked again no matter what I tried, I had to give up. And no, these issues weren't on the same PC - different PCs, different operating systems.




Neil said...

Yeh, I don;t know about bluray but Macrovision came up a lot with DVD players on projectors. I think almost all the Region Free mods for DVD players also disabled the Macrovision. If I recall it was to prevent talking an analogue recording of the DVD and TV's coped fine, but projects didn;t.

Karl Drinkwater said...

It's one of the reasons my excitement about HD video such as Blu-Ray fizzled out: I read an article about the DRM systems built into it, that if it even suspected one of the pieces of hardware was in some way non-compliant with their standards it would downgrade the signal. I just knew there would be problems, so never bothered with it. Which suggests DRM puts early adopters off too, and people like me who are normally really into the implications of new technology.

Anonymous said...

Friendly heads up, Carl: You haven't credited cyanide and happiness for the header comic.

Karl Drinkwater said...

Thanks for mentioning that - I'd linked to the source of the image, but I assume from your comment that it comes from somewhere else! I'll look into it and update the picture.

Mark Lahren said...

Good writing here, and nice clear explanations regarding DRM. I've been preaching the same thing for years now, but you write so much better than I do.

Also,thanks for letting me know about Shellshock 2. I've actually got that game in my collection here somewhere, still shrinkwrapped. It really bothers me that we're practically not allowed to purchase something now with an eye to playing it much later. We're expected to "buy now, consume immediately and quickly, then dispose forever". It's a philosophy I loathe, and yet kids are being trained that this is the norm, and that there is no such thing as owning anything. Some kids are fighting this, and I'm proud of them, but most are simply going along with it.

I did the same thing with physical books; I'd buy them on sale, and sometimes wouldn't get around to reading them until years later, sometimes not at all. But the point is that those books are still mine, and still readable. Sure, they may fall apart, but taking care of them is up to me. In the same way that sure, old games don't work on modern systems, so it's up to me to maintain my old computers, which I do (yeah, there's DOSbox, but legacy hardware seems to perform better).

Anyway, good work. I checked out one of your books on the Amazon preview pages, and I just may end up ordering it (in paper form). You've got a good clear writing style.

Karl Drinkwater said...

Thanks for the comments, Mark. I'm the same: I have stacks of books I haven't read yet, and games I haven't played (including boardgames still in shrink wrap). But I look forward to getting round to them all one day, and the contemplation of that gives me pleasure. When I pick up an unplayed boardgame I imagine what it will be like to play it with friends, and I'm already enjoying it before I ever open it! There's a lot to be said for savouring things.

Some game stores now let you return PC games within some short period, but for people like us that is no good. The game sellers know people have big backlogs, but also know that with the many sales we all buy more. It's a rarity for many people to play a bought game within the first month. In fact, if it is a horror game, I'm more likely to wait until dark winter months to start playing it. And, of course, if it turns out the game doesn't run I often can't get a refund because I had the audacity to wait before installing it (even though Steam can tell it was the first time it had been installed).

As to books: thanks for your kind words. You'll be pleased to know that some variant of this goes at the start of my paperbacks:


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