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Note: A reader sent us this interesting take on Steam and DRM, but requested to stay anonymous due to the nature of the article. We of course obliged.
Up until a few weeks ago, the last PC game I purchased and didn’t pirate was Team Fortress 2 via the digital download service, Steam. The last PC game I purchased in a retail box was Half Life 2. Yet like many, I’ve still managed to play every PC hit over the last decade. I simply couldn’t justify spending $50 on a game when pirating offers so many real benefits verses owning a legit copy.
Part of my motivation was that it’s just so damn easy to pirate a game. It’s like three clicks of the mouse to download a torrent and even less on Usernet. The files download as fast as my cable modem allows and I have the full game with simple cracking instructions a few minutes later. Why in the world would I want to drive to a store and give them $50 for the same thing?
Actually, I can answer that. Besides the moral issue of stealing, the primary reason people buy games retail is for the multiplayer modes. Most pirated games do not allow for multiplayer as the game often has to connect to an official server where its legitimacy can easily be verified by some sort of authentication service. So while I played through Modern Warfare 2’s single player mode twice, I haven’t seen one minute of the mutliplayer mode.
Those of us that download games understand this limitation. But for the most part it’s not a huge deal as great games are coming out at such a rapid pace. As soon as I finished my first time through MW2, Battlefield Bad Company 2 was released. Perfect timing. Sometimes we get lucky and games like Borderlands and the original Modern Warfare have an online mutliplayer mode that plays nicely with cracked versions, but that’s getting somewhat rare.
So in a way the main reason I was pirating games was that I was lazy and there wasn’t a service that catered to me. Either buying a game retail from Amazon required me to wait for it to ship or I had to drive to Best Buy. Once I own the game I can’t ever lose the CD key or it would be worthless. And the worst excuse is that it required me to have a DVD-ROM in all of my computers just to install these games. That’s silly. What the world needed was a service where I could buy a game once and never have to worry about losing the physical media or my rights to play it ever again.
Steam. That is what Steam is all about and I was completely ignoring it for years even though it was on most of my PCs so I could play Team Fortress 2. Steam is to games as iTunes is to music. Both platforms make a strong case for digital rights management and purchasing media, but I believe Steams’s case is a bit stronger.
Valve, the makers of Half-Life, released the digital download service back in 2003. Nearly every major game publisher has distribution via the platform now. Gamers can easily browse, purchase, and enjoy PC games with the service even though DRM is a central part of the ecosystem.
Digital Rights Management is a curse word around the Internet. It’s not that most people want to take money away from the developers and engineers that worked day and night for years. No, but rather most DRM schemes are obtrusive and get in the way of actually enjoying the game — or music, ebooks, or movies.
Look at Ubisoft. In order to counter piracy, they require all their games to have a constant internet connection. This means you’re SOL if your Internet drops or you wanna play a game on an airplane. Craziness. It’s this sort of scheme that forces people to pirate games.
Steam’s system wasn’t always so nice. In fact, its offline mode wasn’t all that great in the early days. Even now sometimes the online service goes offline, stripping all the logging and extra features out of some games. But it’s the benefits that keeps it relevant and why I started actually started purchasing games through it.
I already established I’m lazy. Steam understands that’s the norm for most gamers. That’s why Steam makes it so damn easy to buy games. There are top sellers lists, coming soon lists, demo lists, and best of all, legit sales and free-play weekends. I have spent over $50 during Steam’s summer sale on old random games just because it’s so easy and novel. (Today, July 5th, is the last day, btw) There are so many different ways for me to easily buy a game on Steam that’s detrimental to my checking account. Once I click the purchase button, Steam gives me the option to start the install process right away and I know that I will be able to install this game on any computer in the future thanks to the library mode. That’s big.
Then there’s built-in friends lists, achievements, easy installs on other machines, and so much more features that justifies Steam’s DRM. Simply put, there are more advantages to use Steam than there are DRM disadvantages. That’s the way it should be.
The movie industry really should look to Steam for guidance. The ecosystem could very easily be applied to purchasing movies as well.
One redditer made a graphic showing the pains of current movie DRM. It’s crazy the steps required to use one of these legal downloaded movies. Even experienced nerds have trouble with it. How do these companies expect novice computer users to “do the right thing?”
DRM schemes hate your freedom. They don’t want you to be able to travel abroad or enjoy your content on any system you want. That doesn’t really describe Steam, though, so at least one company is showing the whole industry how it should be done. I know it has converted this former pirate into a honest-to-goodness purchaser of digital goods.
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