Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

What Does DRM Mean to You?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 21, 2013

So when you are talking about “Digital Rights Management,” DRM, the sort of thing that used to be called “copy protection,” there are a lot of arguments out there. While there are “book answers” out there, I’m more curious as to what you guys think / feel. The whole DRM thing (which has been brought to a head recently with Microsoft backing off from their previous, nasty game-sharing restrictions on the Xbone). I’m kinda curious about what the folks ’round these parts think, so I’d like to ask you some questions:

1. When you talk about DRM, what kind of DRM are you referring to? What sort of practices? Is anything at all that prevents you from simply copying a directory to another machine and running it considered “DRM” to you?

2. Are simple license keys DRM?

3. If not, do they become DRM if the game “phones home” to make sure it’s valid?   If so, is there any point at which it ceases to be “DRM” in your mind? Like if it’s a common code or password to unlock the game? Or if you have to authorized a service (like Steam) on your machine before the games will run?

4. All that being said, do you prefer to have a big demo download that can be upgraded with a single code or password, or a smaller demo download that must be replaced by downloading a “full version” that doesn’t require any sort of DRM or unlocking mechanism?

5. How important are demo versions of games to you these days? Do you usually try a game before you buy it, or are your decisions mainly determined by watching preview videos / descriptions / reviews / screenshots?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

Filed Under: General - Comments: 27 Comments to Read

  • Dave Toulouse said,

    To be honest the only time I complain about DRM is when it doesn’t work right or it’s complicated. When I launched GTA IV the first time I cursed like never because I had to waste way too much time getting that Windows Live account to activate for some reason.

    If it just works like it’s supposed to and I can play without wasting time then I couldn’t care less about DRM. Not a fan of the philosophy behind it but eh.

    As for demo versions I did complain quite a lot when a game doesn’t offer one but truth be told it’s because I hop from one game to another but actually play few of them. I couldn’t say the lack of demo cost any dev money from me.

    For example I tried the Gunpoint demo, found it lovely, nice, clever and everything but I won’t buy it. It’s just not quite in the line of games I really enjoy. I satisfied my curiosity with the demo and now I’m done. I’ll still recommend to buy that game to everyone though as I see how good it is.

    Same with Door Kickers. That game was on my watchlist. They recently released an alpha demo so I jumped on it, saw what I wanted to see and now unless the final game really is quite different I won’t buy it. Oh it’s also an interesting game but the demo got me satisfied.

    Now the sad part … If both of these games wouldn’t have demo chances are that in some impulsive move I would have buy both or at the very least wait for a price cut to get them. Just to be able to experience them for myself.

    Sure I could just check videos but it’s not quite the same. For example I’m a huge CIV 5 fan but I dare you to watch a CIV 5 gameplay video without getting bored …

    So I’m the living example that demo versions did lost sales to devs. Am I part of the majority? I have no idea. Does the lack of demo cost even more sales to devs? I have no idea either. Only a dev with actual stats can tell for sure what’s good for him like this example: http://www.puppygames.net/blog/?p=1389

  • Lee said,

    1. DRM come in many sorts: game handbook check (loved those when nicely integrated, as in some Ultima), physical media check (CD/DVD/dongle (serial, USB)), licence server check (for non game software over LAN mostly) with or without token system, rootkit, static key check (printed on the box), user/computer generated key check, key internet check, permanent/repeated internet key check + user account, encryption keys (DVD video, BD…), hardware DRM as in some early mp4 devices, some tv decoder sets… I’m pretty sure I missed one or two.
    All of these got cracked at some point.
    Anything the Diablo 3 mix on-line/off-line content should probably count as a DRM system too.

    For me a DRM is any method that tries to enforce the terms of licence of any device/software/content by imposing artificial capabilities limitations.
    The way a program works or install itself, for some very good reasons (although there are alternatives), can prevent from simply copying a directory to another machine and running it. Moving/correcting the additional files and relevant CONFIGURATION register keys should be enough. Anything more complex is a DRM or bad design. (I exclude operating system from that though)

    2. Simple license keys are DRM, but ones I find acceptable… until I lost my keys. Or it gets blacklisted because some key generator issued it too many times to too many people… Even the CD checks were annoying back in the 90s. I used to crack the games just to avoid inserting the CDs.

    3. If not, do they become DRM if the game “phones home” to make sure it’s valid?
    It sure does.
    But unobtrusive DRM are acceptable, so static key and game handbook check (if it runs once per installation).
    However these systems are outdated given the ease to spread documentation and keygens over the net.
    I am going DRM free as much as I can without pirating any software.

    4. I prefer the smaller demo. Larger demoes do not encourage buying the game in my experience. Moreover, if the demo is too large, once I’ve finished downloading it I may not remember what the game was, where I put it, or why I wanted to play it.

    5. Demoes play a small part only now. With the gameplay videos and devlog/pitch in addition to the usual press articles, one can get a pretty good idea. I think for button mashing game where ergonomics is a must or unusual concepts, demoes can get pretty important (Dust, Don’t Starve…)

  • McTeddy said,

    I don’t mind DRM unless it breaks my game, or requires always-on internet (Because my internet sucks… and it breaks my game)

    I do think License keys are DRM, but they are on the lighter side. They can be clunky and easy to lose, which can frustrate me, but the single check in when I install the game means the rest of my gaming experience will be pure.

    I prefer small demo’s because if I am interested enough to download a demo, I want to play it now. Full downloads have a very long wait and I usually get distracted with something else… and never play the game.
    That said, I believe that full games with “Upgrade Built In” have a higher conversion rate… so I would probably recommend dev’s use that instead.

    As for using Demo’s though, I rarely play them. In the world of steam sales, I usually just wait until I’m paying an acceptable loss.

  • David W said,

    Technically, DRM is anything that prevents just copying the game and having it run…but when I talk, and especially when I complain, I mean ‘anything that requires someone else to exist and grant permission’. Or ‘anything that requires an always-on program on my computer’.

    So a license key is technically DRM to me, but I’m willing to live with it, because once I have the key, I have the game. The only phone-home DRM that I’m willing to tolerate is Steam, because a) Steam games are cheap, and b) Valve is going to be around for a long time. But there’s a reason I’ve been doing most of my game buying recently from GoG.

    For demos – I only buy games that have been either recommended by someone I trust, or I’ve played and liked the demo. Mostly indifferent on size, so long as it’s easy to remove. Ideally a small demo and the full version uninstalls the demo for me, I think.

  • Albert1 said,

    1. Yes, I consider a DRM every mechanism that prevents me from carrying the software I bought from a computer to another.

    2. If I lose my key and the developer, after verifying I’m a true customer, resend me the key, then no, it’s not a DRM. Note, however, that this doesn’t hold if key authentication is performed online.

    3. As I pointed above, I think key autentication should be done entirely offline, otherwise it’s a DRM.

    4. I prefer a small demo and a separate full version. Note that, in this day and age, a system, like the GOG’s one, that lets you redownload your games should be almost mandatory.

    5. A demo is extremely important to me.

  • Robyrt said,

    1-3. For me, “DRM” means an additional hurdle to jump beyond simple authentication. Paging through manuals is DRM, as are CD-in-disc checks and on-startup phone-home restrictions, but license keys, Steam requirements, etc. don’t really count. Basically, if it’s more arduous to start up your game than to log in to your website, it’s a bad sign.

    4-5. I prefer full-size demos just for convenience’s sake, but I don’t have a strong opinion either way. My purchases of smaller games are influenced by the demo, but not AAA games, for which I’ll read reviews.

  • TheBuzzSaw said,

    I want to answer this, but I have too much to say.

    Blog post incoming…

  • Jeffrey said,

    1-3. To me, DRM is anything that is not “install and run”. There is a scale of how intrusive and fault tolerant it is, from best to worst.
    * No DRM.
    * Offline “soft” DRM, like license keys.
    * DRM that requires initial online activation.
    * Offline “hard” DRM, like disc checks.
    * DRM that requires any periodic phoning home.

    I rate disc checks so poorly since it’s basically an offline version of phoning home, i.e. disruptive to normal use.

    Steam to me is automatic-DRM everything. I will only pay $1-10 per game on that platform because to me, that is what they are worth when tied to such an intrusive system of having a background client, mandatory updates and a limited offline mode.

    4. Either way is fine with me. Upgradeable demos are convenient but I understand that publisher might want to cut down the file distribution size and prevent demo cracks to full version. Accessibility is important for a demo–no DRM should be present.

    5. Personally, I don’t really care about demos, but I’m hardly a front-line gamer, I typically buy games (especially anything mainstream) after it is over a year old: its qualities are well known by then and the price is lower. I only preorder niche games (at full price) from developers I trust.

  • Anon said,

    To answer the questions:

    1. DRM is exactly what it says: Digital Rights Management and it concerns everything in connection with the rights of the owner of the intellectual property.
    The right to copy something or not is only a part of it as is the right to access (“play back”) the content on the device it was intended to.
    Most people confuse DRM with a copy protection but it’s only a part of it. Sometimes the rights owner grants the user the right to copy the material in question, often he doesn’t. In other words: The user is on a leash and the rights owner decides how long the leash is.

    2. You obviously mean keys that are checked offline: Yes, they are DRM, too, even if they are using only a simple scheme. The advantage for the user is that he can usually sell the software as long as he sells it with the key. This is similar to the old manual checks, except that the key is unique.

    3a: “If not, do they become DRM if the game “phones home” to make sure it’s valid?”

    => This is DRM, too, of course, but a more problematic variant – for both the user and the rights owner.
    The user has to connect to the internet (which costs money and/or there may be physical circumstances that prevent it), the rights owner has to support a key server (which costs money).
    It really gets ugly if one party has problems with its part (getting online or not being able to support the server – or not wanting to because of the costs).

    3b: “If so, is there any point at which it ceases to be “DRM” in your mind? Like if it’s a common code or password to unlock the game?”

    => If the rights owner decides to open up access to a game he makes a decision regarding the management of his rights. Usually there isn’t a common code but the software is patched to provide unrestricted access. In the end it doesn’t matter: If the user has free access all is well.
    Here is a funny example for common key access: Earlier this year Adobe provided keys for the Creative Suite 2 applications because it wasn’t able to support the key servers. The news spread like wildfire and people thought that Adobe was giving away the software for free (being eight years old or so). People downloaded like crazy because many don’t need the most recent (and still expensive) version, but the official stance for Adobe is still that only rightful users (= customers) of the suite are allowed to use it (even if they don’t pursure non-rightful users). I guess they either didn’t expect this or used it as a way to advertise…

    3c: “Or if you have to authorized a service (like Steam) on your machine before the games will run?”

    => I don’t accept games that use Steam and I’m no user of this platform (I had exactly one title to try it out and run into trouble the second day of playing it).
    Steam imposes too many restrictions on me like not being able to sell mainstream PC games on disk hat employ Steam only as a copy protection system.
    I don’t care for their cheap game sales as they are still bound to the platform and other companies offer similar sales (GOG.com, indie bundles).
    I also don’t care about their collection of user data but it does enforce “child protection” in Germany. In other words: If a game has to be censored to be available in Germany (on disk) the game will also be censored if offered by Steam as a digital download. Therefore it’s not possible to simply get the uncensored US version of a game anymore.

    Therefor no Steam for me – and the same goes for Origin or the Ubisoft system. All companies employing these systems lose mainstream PC sales by me.

    On the other hand I use the Playstation network, which is also DRM-laden, and I’m even a subscriber to the Plus service.
    Why? Because of several key differences:
    – Sony provides several games for free for subscribers each month. This is more than I can actually play and it reduced the money I paid for regular PS3 games (this scheme apparently works for Sony and now Microsoft is adopting it for Xbox Live…).
    – I can play all games offline. The moment I downloaded the game it is automatically registered and after that only online-multiplayer games need a live connection (as far as I know – there may be companies that require online connections for their games but Sony doesn’t).
    – If I buy a regular PS3 game on disk I can freely sell it to somebody else. There may be a one-time fee for using the multiplayer part (“online pass”) if the first owner did use his key but at least the game can be sold. Games purchased online can’t be sold, naturally, as with Steam even if this would be technically trivial to do so (transfer of a license to another member so the first member can’t continue to play – but of course the rights owner doesn’t want that).
    – Sony will completely abandon region codes with the PS4 (the PS3 already has pretty much none either) which enables me to get uncensored US versions if I want to.

    4. Which demo variant I prefer?
    The first variant blocks or reduces my download capacity and I may end up not liking the game (I know that you can’t fathom this for your games… ;-))
    The second variant enables me to install the game at will, not needing any online check after the initial download.
    What do you think which version I like better?

    Of course the first version will attract crackers (as the whole content of the game is available) and the second one will get distributed immediately (even if you encrypt the purchaser somehow into the installation file) so you as the producer will lose out unless you use a closed platform like Steam…

    5. Demos aren’t important to be anymore. I can make up my mind by seeing 5 to 10 minuted of gameplay footage. I’m playing video games for more than 30 years and I don’t make many purchasing mistakes anymore.
    Actually, there were demos that lead me on a false path like DOOM back in the day where I only liked the demo levels…

    And in fact I hate demos if I like the game and can’t transfer the save file and have to replay the section again. Therefore I usually don’t bother with demos anymore.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    I keep a lot of things separate in my brain.

    A disc-check is a disc-check. I don’t particularly even THINK of it as being related to copy protection, just an annoyance. Get a No-CD patch.

    ‘Copy Protection’ in my mind still means all those manuals and things we had with older games, some of which were cute and inspired more creativity on the part of the developers, some of which were counter-productive (learning to pass the test without the right book becomes a game in itself!), and some became far more annoying as time went by (if you lost the paper bits, or worse, HALF of the paper)

    ‘License Keys’ (the sort that doesn’t contact a keyserver) are not DRM to me, but a formality designed to remind you that the game ain’t free. This is actually a real problem sometimes with modern games floating around – customers can’t always tell a freeware game from a pirate link! Sure, it’s easy to pass around a license key and let other people play, but they have that instinctive knowledge that they are using someone else’s key.

    At the point where a game starts contacting a remote server to get permission for you to play the game, then it’s getting into DRM territory for me. My level of grumpiness will depend on how exactly it works (and how confident I am that I can bypass it if the seller DOES shut down).

    I do play demos, but generally only if I’m uncertain of my interest level AND the game costs more than $10.

  • Xenovore said,

    1. When you talk about DRM, what kind of DRM are you referring to? What sort of practices. . . ?

    It’s all DRM, although usually when I hear “DRM” I think of the internet-connection-required sort, e.g. Steam et al.

    2. Are simple license keys DRM?

    Certainly. Are they less egregious than always-connected DRM? Definitely.

    3. If not, do they become DRM if the game “phones home” to make sure it’s valid? If so, is there any point at which it ceases to be “DRM” in your mind? Like if it’s a common code or password to unlock the game? Or if you have to authorized a service (like Steam) on your machine before the games will run?

    Absolutely; it’s already DRM. No, it never ceases to be DRM.

    4. All that being said, do you prefer to have a big demo download that can be upgraded with a single code or password, or a smaller demo download that must be replaced by downloading a “full version” that doesn’t require any sort of DRM or unlocking mechanism?

    Definitely a smaller download. (Especially with my crappy DSL connection.) I don’t want to waste time/bandwidth downloading anything I don’t have to.

    5. How important are demo versions of games to you these days? Do you usually try a game before you buy it, or are your decisions mainly determined by watching preview videos / descriptions / reviews / screenshots?

    I love to have demos; every game should have a demo. There’s only so much you can tell about a game from screenshots and videos. (Particularly if those show very little actual game-play, as many are prone to doing these days.)

    One point to make: I already have Steam, and I’m used to dealing with that; it’s mostly painless. Having to deal with yet another DRM platform is stupid; no I don’t want to install/connect to Origin, or Games for Windows, or Uplay, or whatever other lameness. And if I purchase a game on Steam that should all the DRM required. Don’t force me to connect to something else in addition; e.g. Ubisoft’s Farcry 3 forces you to register/connect to Uplay, in spite of the game already running via Steam. So weak.

  • Xian said,

    To me, DRM means Digital Restrictions Management – it restricts what I can do with the product I purchased. I am talking about:
    *limited installs
    *requiring a constant or even once every 24 hr connection in the case of the Xbone 180 for the product to work
    *tying your purchase to a single account with no resale rights or even the ability to give it away

    I realize that some protections have to be in place to prevent rampant piracy, but what I don’t understand is why I can’t treat my digital purchase the same way as any other purchase. There should be some kind of clearing house to allow the transfer of a license. I think Microsoft was going that way to some extent, with allowing digital used game sales, before they scrapped the plan.

    My son was playing a lot of Sierra’s Counterstrike when Valve purchased the rights to it. In 2003 Valve started requiring Steam to play it. After a few years we had both purchased several games on that account. Everything was fine until he left home and we wanted to split up our games and found we couldn’t do it. I ended up re-buying the games he enjoyed most on a separate account for him. Now I have a lot of games, such as Counterstrike on my account, that I will never play, and can’t even give them away.

    Another thing that concerns me is what I am going to be able to leave my children and grandchildren? Are account passwords and logins going to have to passed down from generation to generation, or does a lifetime of digital purchases just vanish into the ether? When I was young, I found a box of books that my uncle had left behind when he moved out my grandparent’s house. I started reading one, A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and I was hooked. I have spent literally thousands of dollars since that introduction to Science Fiction, which also introduced me to Fantasy and probably had a major role in my predisposition to RPGs many years later. I have to think, will my own grandchildren be able to have that same thrill of discovery when much of what I own is locked behind the chains of DRM and non-transferable rights?

  • jwmeep said,

    >1. When you talk about DRM, what kind of DRM are you referring to? What sort of practices?
    To me it only becomes “DRM” when it starts being invasive. If information has to be taken off my computer and sent to somewhere else, it’s invasive.

    >2. Are simple license keys DRM?
    Not to me. To me that is copy protection. No more invasive than say entering a code from a manual, or a disk check.

    >3. 3. If not, do they become DRM if the game “phones home” to make sure it’s valid?
    >If so, is there any point at which it ceases to be “DRM” in your mind?
    If all my information stays on my computer, and I am not required to connect to anything only then will I not worry about it. I’ll tolerate one time activation things, but I don’t like them. Periodic updates I’m pretty against. “Always connected” means “I’m never buying that product”. Above all I want to buy my game. If I pay $20 to $60 bucks, that game better well be mine. Not licensed, not rented, not a right to play on a certain device. Owned.

    >4. All that being said, do you prefer to have a big demo download that can be upgraded with a single code or password, or a smaller demo download that must be replaced by downloading a “full version” that doesn’t require any sort of DRM or unlocking mechanism?
    Being from the shareware generation, I’m okay with the codes. Under the circumstances above. Either way works for me.

    >5. How important are demo versions of games to you these days? Do you usually try a game before you buy it, or are your decisions mainly determined by watching preview videos / descriptions / reviews / screenshots?
    Demos are a big selling point for me to be honest. Reviews are harder to trust these days, let’s play videos are okay, but are dependent on who is doing them. Nothing beats a good test drive in my opinion.

    That said, these aren’t hard fast lines on the ground. Does steam count as DRM under my definitions? Yes. But i love steam just for it’s convenience (though I do keep it in offline mode as long as I can get away with it.)

  • alanm said,

    Like any engineer, I’m precise about language. So DRM means what it is – anything that relates to managing digital rights. I understand it to encompass everything up to and including open source licenses.

    That said, I realise that the media and other people less precise about semantics often use “DRM” as a buzzword to refer to invasive software schemes aimed at preventing the perceived theft of proprietary software, often computer game software. That’s ok, even if it’s imprecise.



    I prefer the big demo that I can unlock. After I’ve evaluated the demo, I want as few barriers and as little time to stand between my decision purchase and my ability to continue playing the full game. Don’t make it hard for me.

    Quite important – I have precious little time for gaming, and I almost always play the demo before deciding whether to invest more time in a game.

  • automata said,

    1. When you talk about DRM, what kind of DRM are you referring to? What sort of practices? Is anything at all that prevents you from simply copying a directory to another machine and running it considered “DRM” to you?

    Anything designed to reinforce the licensing agreement, either to the copy or to the individual.

    2. Are simple license keys DRM?


    3. If not, do they become DRM if the game “phones home” to make sure it’s valid? If so, is there any point at which it ceases to be “DRM” in your mind? Like if it’s a common code or password to unlock the game? Or if you have to authorized a service (like Steam) on your machine before the games will run?


    My problem is that these aren’t really the questions to ask regarding DRM, though you’ll probably get the answers to some of these anyway. If I were selling games, I’d probably ask:

    a) Is it worthwhile to implement any DRM system?

    This will depend on your target market and game design choice, as much as anything. If it’s a game for the type of person who buys games (versus playing them, as there is a difference), then it might be more problems than its worth. On the other hand, if your game design choice drastically limit the game’s appeal, or makes it appeal to more to people who’ll just pirate versus actual customers, then all the DRM in the world isn’t going to help you get enough sales to recoup your investment and then some.

    At the end of the day, the problem isn’t so much piracy (or, as seems to be a similar thing, used game sales on consoles) as insufficient revenue for game developers/publishers. Sometimes “the” problem isn’t the management of your digital rights, and you need to be sure you’re actually solving the right problem before you come up with an answer.

    b) If so, is it worthwhile implementing this type of DRM system?

    One thing to keep in mind is that any system has problems, and you should be aware of them: both from your own point of view as well as that of your customers.

    c) If so, is it worthwhile implementing this particular DRM system?

    A system can be acceptable in principle, but fail in practice, or alternatively be usually unacceptable, but in a particular specific case actually work.

    Let’s take license keys: at least one I’ve encountered allows you to copy-paste from the verification email. This is tremendously useful, as it avoids problems like “telling the difference between upper case i, lower case L and the number 1”, as well as transposition and whether you need to include the separators or not. This doesn’t seem like a large hassle – and in honesty, it’s not – but anything that keeps paying customers from enjoying your product isn’t going to help earn repeat business or promote word-of-mouth sales.

    4. All that being said, do you prefer to have a big demo download that can be upgraded with a single code or password, or a smaller demo download that must be replaced by downloading a “full version” that doesn’t require any sort of DRM or unlocking mechanism?

    It really depends on the type of game, and how they are implemented. In general, if progress can be made in the demo that corresponds to similar progress in the final game, then progress should be easily transferable, regardless of the size of the demo.

    5. How important are demo versions of games to you these days? Do you usually try a game before you buy it, or are your decisions mainly determined by watching preview videos / descriptions / reviews / screenshots?

    Pretty important, especially if you’re a new or small developer, or don’t have a “name” for yourself.

    Almost all of the games I’ve bought in the last few years have been:
    * old games with good reputations amongst people whose opinions tend to match my own, particularly those that have been LPed by people I enjoy watching (e.g. Anvil of Dawn),
    * games from designers I’ve enjoyed in the past whom have released a similar game (e.g. Jane Jensen’s and Obsidian’s kickstarters, Fate of the World after playing the free online Climate Challenge by the same people, IA’s QFG-alike after playing their KQ3 remake), and
    * games with demos that I’ve played and enjoyed (e.g. Minecraft, Eschalon, 7 Grand Steps).

  • Tom Willoughby said,

    I count DRM as anything which attempts to reduce piracy but which actually detracts from legitimate users of a product without adding anything of value to the user. This is particularly annoying considering a pirated copy of these games will usually bypass DRM, meaning the developers have created a product which is inferior for legitimate users without solving the piracy problem.

    Licence keys I don’t think are DRM, because they’re a minor inconvenience at most, but if they have to phone home more than once then they do become DRM because playing the game depends on a stable internet connection for the user, a stable and uncongested internet connection for the developers, and it relies on the developers continuing the activation servers ad infinitum.

    I can’t honestly remember the last time I played a demo. Most of the games I buy come from word of mouth, NerdCubed videos, or Humble Bundles.

  • globurz said,

    1. Basically, I would define DRM as anything that requires a second party to play a game. (or listen to music, to watch a video, read an ebook, etc.)

    2. Simply entering a license key the first time you start the game or to unlock a demo should not be a problem and is not DRM by that definition, as long as it’s only checked locally and not over the network.

    3. The latter is a certainly DRM, as whether the game will work or not depends on something else than myself and my own machine.

    It’s not that unlikely that maybe the vendor has problems with his servers, or perhaps goes bankrupt or turns them off after a while. It certainly has happened before.

    So by that definition, copy protection and DRM are not synonyms, as there are CPs that are not DRM, like a license code verfied locally, or entering a code from the manual. That’s a CP, but not DRM, because it’s easy to do myself and doesn’t require a second party in any way.

    I’m mostly a Linux user, and many games could be played on the system in a VM or with compatibility layers like wine or crossover, except that some stupid DRM nonsense keeps me from doing so, as that code is oftentimes windows-only. Thus, CD-Checks and the likes ARE DRM, because they DO require a second party to play, one that provides no-cd-cracks.

    Until recently, the result of that was that I would often buy the game, put it in a big box under my bed and then download and play a “pirated” copy with a crack.

    Nowadays, I rarely buy boxed versions anymore, and thanks to gog and indies, the first thing I try is to buy a DRM-free downloadable version, and only go for a cracked version if there isn’t one. A nice side-effect of that is that I don’t have an optical drive in my PC anymore – either I play something that I downloaded without DRM to begin with, or buy the boxed version and then play a downloaded version with a crack. In some cases, when only DRM-laden versions are available, I might even skip the part where I buy the game and go directly to a pirated version. Giving money to people who intentionally try to annoy me seems kinda stupid.

    In closing, I would define DRM as anything that requires a second party beyond myself to play a game – whether that second party is a server to connect to, someone to provide a no-cd-crack, a service like steam, a certain hardware, a dongle, or anything else you can think of.

    Everything that I can do by myself without requiring something from others can be a copy protection, but is not DRM.

    4. A small demo to be replaced with a full game seems preferable, because it doesn’t have to involve DRM. Try the demo, like it and buy the game, and then download and install it normally. In an unlockable demo, it’s much more likely that there is DRM involved, as the demo might connect home to verify the unlock code etc. It’s doable in a DRM-free way, however, as I believe that’s how the spiderwebsoftware games do it, from what I have seen their demos only check the unlock-code locally. That’s perfectly fine. In most unlockable demos, you rarely know in advance how it works, and what problems you might run into, so lacking further knowledge the demo + full game variant seems preferable over unlockable demo.

    Unless you already know that unlocking happens locally, in that case, having only one download instead of two does sound simpler, I would even go as far and say that that is the BEST variant. You CAN combine the simplicity of a single download and the userfriendlyness of no DRM if you just want to. Some, like Spiderweb, already do.

    5. Demos don’t matter much to me, I take them when I can, mostly I read reviews. Many high-profile sites like IGN are bought and will give top ratings for everything that comes from big publishers, no matter how bad the game, but there are still some sources that I trust, like RPS, or your blog, and some others.

  • Silemess said,

    We seem to get somewhat distracted by the finer points.

    What do I think is DRM? Anything that gets in between me and the full copy of the game that is in addition to the install.

    License Keys? Yes.
    Disc check? Yes.
    Phone home? Yes.
    Required secondary “control” program? Yes.
    Even that old “Look up the third word on the fifth page in the manual”? Yes.

    And any others that go on that vein. That one additional step that’s unrelated to the install of the program but needed for the program to run. But the question seems to be, what DRM methods are off putting enough to cause me to either rethink or say no to buying something?

    The manual, disc check and license keys are all fine in my book. They can be annoying, but the onus is then on me to preserve my access. In the old days, if you lost the disc, you lost the ability to install (and thus play) the game. So it seemed a fair shake that you had to have the disc in the drive to play the game. Saving the manual, keeping the license keys in a safe spot? Fair.

    Control Systems? I’m dubious on those. I had a computer lose a CD drive to Starforce, so obviously if it has a hidden watcher like that I say “no”. I’m still warming up to systems like Steam and Desura, but I don’t buy big ticket items and I much prefer to buy directly from the developer.

    Phone home? No, no way. Nuh uh. Dead sale right there. Servers go away and I’m stuck holding the bag. If I have to go online to validate, then I know this game has a shorter life span than most of the other games in my library. This does go for license keys if they’re needed to call home to check even the once.

    If I lose my game because of my choices, fair. If I lose it because of theirs? Not so good.

    To be fair, I’m not the one making games. I can see where handing out a key that lets people unlock the game is bad. At that point there’s nothing that stops them from sending it out to all of their friends. Phoning home is the only way to really control that. No happy medium. Wrap the key in a validated install? Then they can pass around the install, download the install each time? Then it’s server side again. One side has to trust the other, and there are always bad actors ready to take advantage of trust situations.

    Now on to demo’s. If I’m on the fence about something, I try to find some gameplay footage. Either a Let’s Play, or a preview video, or a demo. Usually in that order. Do I use demo’s to judge games? Sometimes.
    Have I used the large demos that just need a key to unlock, yes.

    Is the presence or absence a killer? I really couldn’t say. I don’t always play the demos, but when I do, I usually wind up picking up the game. If the demo doesn’t deliver a taste of the fun I was expecting, then I walk away. If it delivers, then I buy. But I don’t always do the demo.

    The three prompts for the demo are: New developer to me, price enough to keep it from an impulse buy and uncertainty about how the game actually plays. But, I’ve rambled on enough. Sorry for the wall of text.

  • Charles said,

    DownRight Mean?

    Hey everyone else wrote novels so I thought I’d stick with a cheap pun 🙂

  • Ryan said,

    1. While DRM has shown its face in many forms over the years these days my issue with it stems from always online or required online check ins. I absolutely consider limited licenses that prevent installation on a specific number of CPUs DRM but it’s not as intrusive and I only game on 1 CPU so it’s far less of an issue for me.

    2. Yes, but not a form of it I’m up in arms about.

    3. Absolutely DRM if the game “phones home,” especially if it must be done before every play. I simply won’t buy it at that point. CD key or Book check ins were/are still DRM but they’re so unintrusive I’ve never had an issue with them. While Steam is DRM, the ability to launch it in offline mode whenever and wherever I want (been lucky to never have any issue with that), is fine with me. If Steam tried the required 24 hr check in like X1 I’d never use the service. I avoid Origin because of the online requirement (and EA pushing out garbage more often than not).

    4. I don’t care either way.

    5. Any game I’m on the fence about needs a Demo or lots of video to sway me, preferably a demo. Before I throw my money down I want to know if I’ll enjoy the product.

  • Xenovore said,

    Thinking a little more about what I want for a demo. . .
    I want the old shareware way, like Doom. I.e. I get part of the game for free — the demo. Then I can get the rest of the game later if I want; but it patches/adds to the original game installation, rather than reinstalling a completely separate installation.

  • flashbak420 said,

    1) Anything which interferes with me playing the game that I purchased on hardware that I purchased and that meets the games requirements. Anything that installs additional software to my system in directories where I have no control (if your dev team is so weak that you have to write to my system drive your entire team deserves to diaf.) over nor the option to not install. Examples: Punkbuster, Safedisc, Sony root kits (still can’t believe that company is allowed to function after that), and others.
    2)Yes a license key is a form of DRM and the only one that should be allowed under law. All others hijack some part of our system, all others hijack some amount of our bandwidth, both of which the game’s company does not pay for, I DO, when you hijack that which I have paid for for your own use you owe me restitution.
    3) please refer to point 2, it is hijacking my system for their personal use. I want restitution for every bit that is sent.
    4) Small demos are not reflective of the real game. During the last years of actual demos they were using separate teams to build demos off of code that did not exist in the retail game. Giving a demo of game 1 and selling game 2 with game 1’s name I think helped kill demos, too bad it didn’t kill the careers of the individuals involved in that. So, only big demos (preferably the complete game) that can be unlocked with a key are what I download.
    5) well demo’s aren’t released much anymore so there are other ways.

  • Merin said,

    1 – Digital Rights Management is a euphemism. It is like saying someone who died has “passed away” or “moved on.” It is absolutely not about protecting creator’s rights, it’s about protecting business profits. Those CAN coincide, but as often as not do NOT. DRM means, to me, needless restrictions placed legitimate customers in a Quixotic attempt to stop “rampant” piracy. Fighting piracy is as simple as Netflix and Steam sales, which is far more effective than having to be logged into a server 24/7 to play. It is all well and good that creators want others to not mess with their work – that isn’t what DRM is about, however. It’s about power and control, about wanting to make you rebuy games and, if they could help it, pay every time you start to play it (think DivX.)
    2 – License keys are a form of DRM, yes. They are minor annoyances, but they are annoyances. I won’t bay at the moon over them, I freely accept them as an acceptable compromise – but they are a compromise that is more like an exterior hook and eye lock on a door with a sign saying “Do Not Open Unless You Are The Property Owner” – it’s highly ineffectual. Does the actual owner of the house have THAT MUCH an inconvenience to undo that every time he goes inside? No. But that inconvenience really outweighs any level of protection it illusorially provides.
    3 – Any attempts on the publisher/seller’s end to control how I access the content I bought, adding unnecessary hoops for me to jump through just to try and make sure I really REALLY bought it, are DRM.
    4 – Smaller demo. Either give me the game for free, completely, and ask me to pay what I think it is worth, or give me a scaled down demo and ask me to pay when I want to get the full game and then I get the full game. No unlock codes.
    5 – Demos are great. I don’t personally use demos nearly as much as I should, but I have used them (most recently I can think of are KoA:R and ME3) and think that trying before you buy is the right way to go. I think reviews (and the rest), both “professional” as well as normal gamer ones, are useful but need to be parsed carefully.

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    For me is a HUGE waste of time. Bioshock deserves more than that Windows Live hell. And Minerva’s Den is captive inside. It’s something like a moral problem.

    And now, now… I have not conection at home, and Steam offline system JUST NOT WORKS!

    So, fuck DRM.

  • poopypoo said,

    In my opinion, DRM of any kind (especially on Indie games) simply encourages piracy and redistribution. Games which evoke no pride to crack rely upon some independent game fan to redistribute. They may do so here or there but these seeds will peter out. Unless you have a megasmash on your hands, to wind up on a professional server, it helps to be cracked by a big scene group. So DRM never solves anything.

    Steam et al are DRM, but they also provide a convenience to users, so that’s a safe bet (although I recommend having a regular version too). In general though, the rule of thumb should be, piracy will always exist in some amount, how can I waste as little of my time and my customers’ time as possible?

    Demos are nice but I confess I never play them. I’m only interested in four or five games a year tbh. I know about them in detail, or they are from a trusted developer, or I will wait until anecdotal evidence from trusted sources sounds encouraging. I don’t have time for the rest. So put up some solid gameplay videos. Often the best gameplay video is a short tutorial for noobs. This can be as little as 90 seconds long, and gives a very real impression of what the bulk of the game is like.

  • TheBuzzSaw said,

    I am OK with people responding here or there.


    Those are my feelings on the matter.

  • Petrell said,

    Game is DRM-free if it:
    A: Installer is standalone.
    B: Game does not require internet connection to install and play (singleplayer obviously).
    C: Patches are available standalone.
    D: If there’s updater, it has to be part of the game, not part of “client” program or completely optional for patches (see C).
    E: If game has or is primarily Multiplayer (but not MMO), functionality is build in or uses generic client (not service based like steamsh*tware) and does not require more than licence key to connect. (I’m more lenient about this because I don’t care about MP and would buy say Civilization V Complete from GOG even if all Steamsh*tware features were cut out to make it available there).

    I’ve not played Demos in years so It’s unimportant to me (I mostly check LP’s from youtube and reviews to determine if game is good enough for me). However I’ve played few shareware games that I’ve upgraded to full version and liked that I could just continue from save and not have to replay early part of the game.