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The Slippery Slope of Diablo’s DRM

Diablo 3's DRM model means it belongs more to Blizzard or your ISP than you - are you happy with this model for all digital media

There’s been no shortage of pixels expended on Diablo III over the past couple of weeks. Reviews have mostly been very positive, some critics have talked about its worryingly addictive qualities in the face of what ought to seem like relatively weak play and a lot of gamers got very angry over their inability to play right after launch due to server overload. Some people have made light of this and, in fairness, entitlement-rage in gamers is never a pretty sight. But to me, this is indeed an occasion for rage. Serious rage. Just not over entitlement.

The fury unleashed by the initial unavailability of the game was a consequence of its DRM model, which requires players to be online all the time even when playing solo. However, that DRM has other consequences that don’t seem to have been widely considered. It means that if your broadband provider has a blip, as is not uncommon, the game boots you out and you may loose progress. If there’s a broadband outage, you can’t play. If, like me, you’re fond of taking a laptop on road trips or flights to help keep yourself entertained, then Diablo 3 as the source of that entertainment is not an option. The product which you’ve paid good money for is not really yours at all – your access to it hangs on the whim of a number of outside agencies who at any time may fail to live up to the service you expect, or pull the plug entirely. There are advantages too, of course, such as the ease with which you can join multi-player games and cloud storage for your characters, but Blizzard could easily have given you these benefits of always-online as an option, providing a get-out clause for people who want to play on the move. They didn’t.

This is a new and extremely dangerous precedent. Think about it for a moment: by accepting that this is a valid model for the publisher of a video game to thwart pirates, you are effectively condoning similar action by the purveyor of any digital content. You’re telling the people making the next generation of games consoles that you don’t mind if you can only play a game on it – any game at all – when it’s online. How about if you couldn’t watch the DVDs you own without an internet connection? How about if you couldn’t play the MP3s you own, or read the e-books you’ve bought, without an internet connection? Does that suddenly seem so fair and reasonable as it does with a video game?

If you think I’m overstating the issues, then perhaps you should know that copyright people are very happy to leverage child pornography in order to get governments and legislators to do what they want. That’s the kind of people you’re dealing with here, and to think they aren’t looking at the widespread acceptable of the Diablo III DRM model and not twitching with delight, or that that it’s not being stored as ammunition for use in the debate over denying access to used games, is naive. If you’re a Diablo III owner, I suggest you at least stop and think about the wider ramifications of what you’re signing up to before you next play the game, otherwise the unfortunate consequences could be with you sooner than you think.

A Batch of GOG and Witcher 2 Announcements

CD Projekt Red held their “Spring Conference” yesterday, which consisted of several Witcher 2 related announcements and a bunch of updates at GOG. (I was rather hoping we’d hear about a new CD Projekt initiative or two, but no such luck.) Here’s the highlights from CD Projekt:

– The Witcher: Enhanced Edition is now available for the Mac (through Steam)
– All Witcher 2 owners get a “complimentary backup copy” of the game on (which, of course, means it’s DRM-free). More details here.
– Current Witcher 2 owners can pre-download the Enhanced Edition updates to their PCs on April 11th, six days ahead of the actual release date of April 17th. (You won’t be able to play the EE before the release date, however.)
– There will be a motion comic set in the Witcher universe released, for free, for iOS devices. The comic, “stars witcher Geralt in a perilous situation where the reknowned monster hunter may finally meet his match, fighting a cunning werecat in a battle to the death and where politics may force him to stay his hand.”
– 1,000 copies of Witcher 2 for Xbox will be made available to “enthusiast reviewers.” If you think you’d qualify and want to get in on this action you can find more information here.

On the GOG front, well, those folks have been rather busy:

– For about another 24 hours or so (as of this post), you can add Fallout to your account and download it for free. This offer expires at 23:59 GMT. I’ll let you do the time conversion.
– New “ Premium Editions” of the original Assassin’s Creed: Director’s Cut and Heroes of Might and Magic V Bundle are now available. You can get them both together until April 19th for 19.99. There’s also, according the to the PR, a full gigabyte of the usual extra GOG goodies included with these games, soundtracks, artbooks, etc. You have to marvel at the prospect of two Ubisoft games showing up on a DRM-free service.
– There’s a pre-order special for the upcoming release of Botanicula, an adventure game from the folks that brought you Machinarium. From now until the game’s release on April 19th, you’ll be able to get it for $8.99.

In light of some of the discontent we’ve been expressing towards the industry this week (well, mostly me), it’s important to point out where the good guys are in this business, and GOG and CD Projekt certainly fit that category. That said, I’m really most interested in a new game going up at GOG next week that went unmentioned: Legends of Grimlock. Party-based RPG for the win!

UPDATE: There’s also a terrific interview at RPS today with GOG’s managing director, Guillaume Rambourg. Well worth checking out.