When Popularity Trumps Principles

If you’re a reader of this blog or really just a savvy media consumer, you don’t need me to tell you that DRM sucks, it doesn’t work and it only serves to punish customers for a fight against piracy that is unwinnable. This doesn’t stop companies trying of course and a quick Google search will find you all the examples you need. In the gaming space, the most egregious and obnoxious form of DRM comes in the “always-on” variety, where you have to be constantly checking in with a publisher controlled server to make sure you aren’t stealing anything. Several companies have tried it and the gaming community has rightfully screamed from the rooftops about it pretty much every time. Like other DRM, it also hasn’t worked and it’s caused nightmares for the legit customers. Don’t get me wrong, pirates are thieves by my moral compass but creating headaches for the people who aren’t stealing from you isn’t how you solve the problem. My lifestyle puts me in a position where I do tend to have fast Internet that’s reliable and always available but that’s not the point. If I’m not playing a game online, there’s no need for me to be online and I don’t want a product I paid for being tied to a short term focused company’s infrastructure.

The problem the gaming community (and to a lesser degree the press) have is that when they take up a fight over principle, it only tends to last until it requires them to sacrifice something popular or that they really want. Oh sure, gamers will scream about boycotts and refusing to support the evil publishers trying to strip us of our rights to do with our purchases as we see fit but if it means turning down the new shiny, as a whole we’re frankly pathetic. Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. Personally, I hate always-on DRM but I don’t judge you negatively if you choose to not take up arms against it and purchase titles that use it. I think the concept does damage to the gaming medium and I don’t think it should be supported but who am I to tell you how to spend your precious money and free time? If you support it, I think you lose the right to bitch about it for a while but that’s about as far as I take it.

This was perhaps no better demonstrated than with Diablo III. This is a game that can be 100% completed solo without interacting with another living soul. Many including myself prefer to play it this way, at least our first time through. Nonetheless, it requires an always-on Internet connection, even when you want to play by yourself. This was most certainly always-on DRM but it also served the dual purpose of also making sure Blizzard’s horribly balanced and broken Real Money Auction House was always shoved in front of you, tempting you to spend more money for a game you already paid full price for. On top of that, they made such a mess of it that the servers were unreliable for days after launch, rendering paying customers unable to access their games. Even to this day, Diablo III is still subject to lag issues. It didn’t need to require an always-on connection but it did and Blizzard did so with this game because they knew it had a rabid fanbase that would bitch and whine about it but line up to buy anyway. And they were right, it’s sold north of 12 million copies as of this writing.

Fast forward to now and we have a new hyper anticipated title about to launch, the reboot of SimCity. From what I’ve been reading, this looks to be a really neat, fresh take on the idea and people seem to be loving it but like Diablo III, it also requires the Internet to be up at all times to play it, even by yourself. Yes, there are a multitude of social features as well but none of these are required, yet the constant connection still is. Beyond that, these forced social features remove many of the things people previously loved about SimCity (such as being able to revert back to previous saves and have fun with the manually triggered disasters) and from what I’ve read, some of them aren’t even that well implemented and could stand to screw up people’s games due to factors they can’t control. In other words, it’s another game forcing online down people’s throats, even when it doesn’t make sense. Like Diablo III, EA carefully chose this title to try this new initiative because it’s a crazy popular series and they know people will line up for it. And once again, they appear to be right.

I was stupid and bought Diablo III. I shouldn’t have, I compromised my principles as a staunch opponent of always-on DRM but I was suckered in. I regret it to this day because beyond that issue alone, Diablo III is a poor entry in the series with dated visuals, dumbed down game play and frankly, it’s just not a very good game. Diablo I and II were better as are both Torchlight games. I refuse to be suckered into making the same mistake again with SimCity, at least not while it’s at full price. Disregarding that I don’t want social hooks shoved down my throat in every game, I also don’t trust EA to do right by their customers on this. For Blizzard’s faults, one can never accuse them of not supporting their games. The servers for the entire Diablo series (including the first entry released in the 90s) are still online and Diablo II was receiving patches mere months before Diablo III’s release, even though it was more than a decade old. I have no fear of the Diablo III servers going away any time soon.

EA on the other hand is a company that shuts off servers for two year old sports games in order to force people to buy newer versions that are basically just roster updates. They drop support for games at a frightening pace and have no regard for players that might want to keep playing them, not when there’s slight iterations to be sold again at full price. I have no confidence that they will do right by SimCity players in the long term. They have a history of not caring about their customers and treating them as adversaries more than allies. There’s a reason that EA is often considered the “most evil” publisher, even when they have Activision as their chief competitor.

Nonetheless, now that continuing the fight against always-on DRM means once again having to choose between principles and sacrificing the new shiny, many gamers and indeed reporters in the enthusiast press are not only glossing over the concerns but belittling and dismissing those who continue to have them. Once again, if you’re cool with purchasing titles that utilise this method, feel free, even if you were someone who derided the practice at one time before. People’s opinions can change, even if it is just to justify not having to sacrifice something popular. But exactly what gives you the right to wave off those who do have a problem with it and continue to state it?

The people who make snarky comments such as those linked above seem to think that just because the Internet is full of blowhard protests that rarely amount to much, that they never amount to anything and that’s just not true, even on this issue. Ubisoft, who were among the very first adopters of always-on DRM announced a few months back they were scrapping the practice, specifically because of feedback from consumers. People spoke with their mouths, keyboards and wallets and a big company listened. There’s other examples of this working elsewhere too. Yes, there’s a lot of meaningless whining on the Internet that doesn’t have any action backing it up. But that’s not representative of all Internet protests and when enough people speak up, companies do listen. The only way anything we don’t like changes is when people speak up in numbers and keep speaking up until change is realised. If you have a passionate dislike for something and don’t make noise about it, you can’t blame anyone but yourself when nothing changes.

Some of us are able to stick to our principles, even when it means turning away from something we want. I’m turning away from SimCity (at least for now) and I will also turn away from any future game console that requires a constant Internet connection and/or which blocks used games and rentals. I’m fully aware when I say such a thing that I caved on Diablo III. I regret that decision to this day and believe me, as someone who loves SimCity and really likes what I’ve seen of the new one, it pains me to say no to it but I will do so. If you don’t care, that’s your choice to make and I hope you enjoy the game for as long as EA permits you to play it. However, avoiding it is also my choice as well and if you have an issue with me both making it and openly saying why so that others can be better informed, feel free to get on the high horse you rode in on and piss off, be you forum poster or journalist.

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One Response to When Popularity Trumps Principles

  1. Pingback: The EApocalypse | Geek Bravado

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