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Aemony

The DRM column and its purpose

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Sorry, I think this devolved slightly into a rant at the end.

 

Related threads:

https://community.pcgamingwiki.com/topic/1880-steamworks-drm-in-articles/

https://community.pcgamingwiki.com/topic/1075-analysis-why-steam-isnt-drm/

https://community.pcgamingwiki.com/topic/1640-availability-steam-drm/

 

Instead of revisiting /exactly/ the same discussion (which were focused on Steam as a DRM) I instead wanted to discuss what /purpose/ the DRM column is currently intended to serve, and how to best go about it.

 

Right now when you hover your mouse over the DRM column you get the description: "DRM required to play the game"

 

That description is short, and to the point. It also only cares about >the DRM of the game<, and nothing else. Meaning it doesn't care about launcher, websites, or anything, really. It cares about the game itself and nothing else. This mirrors pretty much what I think all gamers are mostly all about when they discuss DRM: "What DRM-specific restrictions limits my use of the game itself?"

 

>The game< is the focus. Not how you access the content that makes of said game initially.

 

I bring this up mostly in the case of where publishers (such as Paradox Interactive with their Paradox Launcher) starts to provide DRM-free versions of their games through their own services. These are games that you can do whatever you like post-download. You can move them to another computer, you can run them offline, you can effectively treat them as DRM-free in every meaning of the word, post-download/install (aka "after you've accessed said content").

 

It is, I think, dishonest to list games that have no DRM preventing your use of them post-download as having DRM, while then turning around and treating every single title from GOG as "DRM-free", despite those having similar initial limitations albeit in a different form.

 

Therefor we come back to the question: What /purpose/ is the DRM column intended to serve?

 

Is it to blatantly push the narrative that GOG is the only place that provides DRM-free games, solely because their download interface "only" requires standard HTTP connection and a semi-modern browser to access? Or is it to actually provide readers with meaningful information on what restrictions and limitations they might face after having downloaded/installed a game?

 

For example, I can't on good faith list Tyranny and Stellaris as "account-based DRM" on the Publisher row, because neither of those games enforces an account requirement post-download/install. You can take that game folder, archive it, ship it to the most closed off machine in the world with no Internet connectivity, and play the game just fine without ever needing an account or online connection to do so. They are, in every meaning of the word, DRM-free. Yet we're supposed to list them as account-based DRM solely because they require an account during the initial access of said game content (hint, so does GOG) ?

 

What I believe the average gamer want to know when they discuss DRM in relation to their games are what restrictions are applied >after< having accessed said content. Not what's required of them to access said content initially.

 

I want that column to basically mirror the copy-protection of a game itself, and not the platform the game is downloaded through. To use a different explanation: if a game could be pirated simply by copy/pasting the folder to someone else then it is in effect DRM-free, and should be listed as such, regardless of how the game was first initially accessed and downloaded.

 

The current way of treating the DRM column as a mirror of the Source column serves no purpose. Right now if the store is Origin we set DRM == Origin. If the store is Steam we set Steam as the DRM. If it's Twitch we set Twitch as the DRM. If it's GOG we set DRM-free instead (special treatment, woohoo!). And if it's publisher we set account-based instead. This is not helpful for anyone, as the Source column already suggests as much. Nobody cares what hops you have to go through to access the content that makes up the game. What everyone cares about is what restrictions/limitations that content have after you've gotten your hands on it.

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So.. I kinda skipped most of the post.
Indeed, most of those threads should just be disregarded, given it's mostly me arguing ad nauseam with some this-much-craze dudes - and a normal person shouldn't have much to learn from them (though there are thoughtful insights here and there).
 
Now remembering everyone DRM means "Digital1 Rights Management" (where management is arguably an euphemism for "restriction"), I'll just post some axioms I hope everybody will agree2:

  • f* law or EULAs: this is just about principles
  • upfront paying is not restricting one's rights
  • accounts protecting paywalls aren't restricting one's rights
  • requesting use of a specific software for download/transit/retrieval is not restricting one's rights3 (we could argue whether present lack of an open source alternative is restriction - but then what's you to stop from doing something like this?)
  • moreover installation nor [whatever it is] preparation should be restricting one's rights. Only there is where the game appears and is granted to you, physically4.
  • ...
  • External "dependencies" aren't necessarily restricting one's rights. Being portable is usually a consequence of being drm-free, but I concur "failure"4 to be so may not strictly offend
  • [Functionally5 unnecessary] external external dependencies (as in "material", like a cd-key6, or "the net") for game to function are restrictions of one's rights7.
  • Obfuscation or anti-tampering of binary code is not restricting one's rights8(might be controversial: but assuming you condone "proprietary", then this is not any different than selling you a phone with a "low iFixit score")
  • Machine-specific "locks" are restrictions of one's rights (not much per simply se, but more because they require aforementioned external stuff to further work)
  • Drm-free might still be hackable, for the records. Say, ubisoft games bought on steam not requiring the latter if launched with a switch, or safedisc ones with unsafedisc.

You might notice I listed those claims "in order" from "source" to "end use" (kinda).
With a blank wonder in the middle, which would correspond to whatever happens from "everything has been downloaded" to "everything is 100% ready to be played"
The only wonder I'm left with, personally, is *how* "first launch" should be considered separately from previous phases9
And similarly, when "the starting point" can be considered the installer (if present), instead of the actual game unpacked files.

1Personal showerthought: is this adjective just to describe the circumstances in which whatever else applies ("in a digital world"), or actually the methods ("in a digital way")?
2And if not, well, they are so clear cut, neat and explicit that at least no way we can spin around in circles, in a loop with no visible end.
3There's no conceptual difference between a fully fledged internet browser, and a "dedicated software downloader".
And if you think so, you are conflating the deservedness of your rights with mere convenience. And shame on you for lowering the level of the discussion.
4IMO a registry dependency shouldn't count towards this. Aside of "its intent" not being that, a devil's advocate could just say that the installer is what instead is thereby granted you.
It would conflict with the previous point though. A quick hotfix for this dilemma could be considering the installer OR the game in the equation.
5Requiring some random crazy codec, or flash, for in-game FMVs is dumb - still philosophically justified. What about online authentication for online games though?
6Though.. What about games/dlcs that got a free public key for everybody to use? E.g. Mass effect dlcs. I fail to find a restriction in such a case.
7If *I attempt* to use SteamAPI as a drm - what happens?
8Yes, I very well know this seems worded specifically to excuse a very pesky software... Still. I'll talk about it in a moment.
9Yes, I know what you might be saying: it's evident. I don't know. Functionally it seems just a matter of labels where to say "this is where you are left on your own, bye" and "we are still finishing with you"


With these considerations (I'm tired, sorry) making up a perfect definition of drm shouldn't be that hard.
Once we get that carved in stone, all the aforementioned examples should simply come consequential.
 
And even without, well, I think operationally we'd still be good to go - in the meantime.

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