Food for Thought: Digital Rights Mismanagement

If your a gamer you probably heard about the now famous Sim City crisis. If not then to quickly sum things up you have this game which recently released however it is an always online games. It was being billed as designed specifically to be played online so that your part of a greater community and share ressources, etc. Basically a more communal Sim City where everyone lives in harmony.

Sounds great right? Well in theory it does however a large portion of fans wanted a solitary Sim City experience. All the other Sim City games were offline. But as gamers we know something is generally amiss these days when a game is always online and that’s DRM. Yup, this is rearing it’s ugly head again.

Whenever I hear about DRM I cringe. I just cannot understand this concept. I cannot understand that a company intends to sell me a game that has either a limited use (number of activations) or needs to always have an active connection to the internet (to verify the authenticity).¬† Essentially these days with DRM your not really owning your games anymore. I avoid these types of games at all costs as I think it is pretty bold on the publishers part to be so insulting to it’s consumers.

So let’s take Sim City. Ok so we know in the back of our heads DRM is really what they are aiming for. It’s the proverbial elephant in the room. Well so does this EA employee who had comments posted on Forbes. In his comments he bashes his employer for not following their core values and not respecting the consumers. Kudos to him! More companies should follow their core values but corporate politics tends to take precedence.

So consumers rightfully cried fowl at EA for this in which they then pointed to finger of blame to Maxis which is humorous when you think of it. It’s like seeing a shit storm coming and then going whoa, it was the other guy I swear. In the end all are to blame as this was in the planning all along. But that wasn’t the end of Sim City miserable life.

So you bought your always online game, you pop it in on release days and….servers not functioning. Not only were they not functioning but it took about a week or so to get things playable and playable is a strong word as from what everyone has been saying. The game is still not very playable.

Maxis went on the defensive claiming online was all along planned, nothing further to see here, sorry about the disturbance. They also said that Sim City is like an MMO. Yeah I face palmed on that one too. They also tried selling us on the idea that their servers behind the scenes were working wondrous magic making computations and simulating. It could not possibly be played offline and how dare we demand such nonsense.

But Maxis and EA have forgotten that gamers are geeks. Geeks are coders sometimes. Sometimes geeks can find out that your game has a line of code that forces a termination of the game after 20 minutes.Ouch!!

That was embarrassing. But then again, Maxis and EA were still saying how online was the vision and that the servers were still needed to make the magic happen. Well maybe they should find out who from Maxis basically confirmed at Rock, Paper, Shotgun that servers were not handling anything serious.

But with all these problems it’s not just a symptom of a bad game design and not listening to your customers. It’s about controlling their purchases and plain faced lying to them in any conceivable manner to hide what is really going on. What is really going on is that the consumer is getting screwed.

Since computers became so popular there has always been piracy. We don’t condone it at all but it happens and will happen. There has never been any anti piracy method that has not been cracked by someone which means every attempt at control has failed. And for what? Has the investment in these methods not outweighed the gain by now. Loss of consumer confidence, boycott’s and almost indirectly encouraging people to pirate their games out of spite.

It still doesn’t seem to resonate with companies though. They are still trying and even the new Xbox seem’s to be heading towards the always-on, always connected method. Which begs to question will we even be proper owners of the console of the future? And do we really own our games anymore? I feel like it’s the most expensive rental from Blockbuster ever.

To top it off when these servers all come down eventually we are stranded with a $60 plastic case and a disc of a game we can no longer play. At least there will be no mistaking who own’s that plastic case. We do and it is not nearly as fun as the game we thought we owned.

And that is some food for thought


Food for Thought: Can we just talk again?

I’ve watched as the industry has grown since I started roleplaying back in the 90’s and it’s been through some great and not so great changes. When I was first exposed to roleplaying the internet was slowly taking off. It was at it’s most basic form where sites where plain basic text blocks and RPG companies that there was at the time had things like mailing lists where you would join via Outlook Express (oh yeahhhh) and download a megaton of emails concerning the game or setting of your choosing. Also you didn’t have online stores either to tell you what was coming. To find out anything remotely new you had to walk or bus your ass down to the local game store which tended to be your comic store and see what was on the shelf at the time.

But looking back on it now I have a sense that were missing something now and that is the personal touch. Now your probably wondering wtf is he trying to get at. Well let me tell you. Back in the day with not much mediums of exploration into the hobby there seemed to be a very tight-knit community and one which was very enthusiastic. Your local retailer or in this case comic book guy would dish the news. You would see advertisements in your Marvel or DC Comic for Greyhawk or Palladium. It was…cool!

With the internet and mailing lists you had a direct line with your publisher and the writers tossing information back and forth about rules, settings and whatnot. It was more personal now as it expanded your range of social interaction with fellow gamers and the writers themselves. This was awesome. I remember reading posts from the authors of a particular game line going holy crap, this is so cool hearing more of his views into this particular game. PBEM”s where also thing to be seen and a part of. Sometimes just reading them was amusing enough.

The internet advanced, comic book stores became more about comics and less about roleplaying but there was starting to be a disconnect. Companies began not commenting on upcoming products. Too busy they are focusing on getting out the latest material and less about being part of the community. Sure companies have their community group boards as they call them but getting some passionate feedback from the developers themselves is not as common now.

I find this all a bit troublesome. We had a boom with D20 with a bunch of rising companies and there was tons of talk going on. A lot of publishers where talking and sharing ideas, trying to get you to buy their D20 product. Not because of the money itself though that is always a motivation. But simply because they believed in their product and fate willing, they would be the next big thing. This feeling also translated to other companies as well. Everyone was just more chatty.

Well a majority of them are all gone now and we have the old guard with some new companies which managed to be born or stay afloat from the D20 era. New rules and settings have been release but when I go around I feel that at times I am walking through a ghost town.

With Twitter and Facebook now, companies can simply market themselves. Updates tend to be X product coming out Y. Ok that is all well and good. I can maybe if I am lucky connect with fellow gamers on their community boards if they have one at all now (because community is so passé) but getting the real juice from authors and that little personal touch from the companies is just not there.

I think part of it is companies being a hell of a lot more cautious these days and they probably do hold their writers in check to an extent. I know whenever Gygax or other writers would post on a board people would be entranced and want to speak to them. The topics would grow, sometimes even requiring further threads. But this is something that used to be common and which is now an oddity.

So come on dear game companies, roll up your sleeves and speak to us. It’s OK to get me hyped on a product but I also want to talk to you about your products more in-depth. Why did you make that game? What were your influences? How about this rule? In this adventure did you mean for the party to have a rough time?

Maybe let your writers converse more via the corporate message boards. Encourage discussion. Often I see fan generated discussions with no hide nor tail of someone from the corporate side caring. Instead we get the same old response of ‘We regularly read the boards, but we just can’t respond to all the topics’. Well you don’t have to respond to all of them but making your presence known would be a good thing. Let us know your alive and care.

I feel old when I look back and see wow, those were the days. Then I start to think that maybe, just maybe we can learn a little bit by looking back. And that is some food for thought.