There was a lot of news generated from this week’s E3, the annual Los Angeles trade show for console and PC games.
Usually, the bigger announcements are in the way of hotly anticipated new hardware and titles. And there certainly was that, with the unveiling of Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, the latest entries into the newest generation of gaming consoles.
But the biggest news has less to do with new technology and more to do with old. Specifically, used games and the use of DRM (digital-rights management), a term given to a method of control access to copyrighted material through technology. Digital-rights management pertains to CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, and even eBooks.
With video games, DRM could mean consumers pay additional fees for used titles, or in the case of the always-on games, which require constant Internet access, a used game could be rendered useless by a publisher if it’s been previously registered by another user.
Microsoft, with its neutral stance on DRM for the Xbox One, has tacitly embraced the practice by not denouncing it outright. And while this is to the advantage of a “special partner” like game publisher Electronic Arts — a longtime advocate of placing controls on games, and which, until recently, instituted an “online pass” to require secondhand game owners to pay fees — the announcement elicited criticism from gamers. Among them is David Mrozek, aka The Video Game Critic, founder of the site videogamecritic.com.
“I’m angry about DRM because Microsoft is trying to take game ownership away from gamers,” the Ellicott City, Md., resident said in an recent email interview. “I have enjoyed collecting games all my life, and I like the idea of owning them. With DRM, you are basically just leasing the games. Microsoft must give you ‘permission’ to play the game you purchased — for full price, no less. And when Microsoft stops supporting the Xbox One at some point in time, the games will no longer be playable. There is no upside for the consumer. The fact that Microsoft believes gamers will go along with this model blindly is an insult.”
DRM is meant to curb piracy, but studies indicate its effectiveness against illegal copying is dubious at best, not to mention that consumers resent the Big Brother practice.
Several years ago, Sony BMG suffered a digital-rights management public relations nightmare when it was discovered the company was secretly installing what amounted to spyware on PCs with millions of its music CDs. The rootkit was designed to limit piracy, but it inadvertently gave hackers backdoor access to the computer. Sony subsequently apologized and dropped the method.
It was no surprise, then, that on Monday Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, announced to great applause that the PS4 would not use DRM, although a later clarification to media indicated that Sony, like Microsoft, was leaving it up to the game publishers to determine their own policies, at least when it comes to used games played online.
“Similar to PS3, we will not dictate the online used game strategy [the ability to play used games online] of its publishing partners. As announced, PS4 will not have any gating restrictions for used disc-based games. When a gamer buys a PS4 disc they have [the] right to use that copy of the game, so they can trade-in the game at retail, sell it to another person, lend it to a friend, or keep it forever.”
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