Tag Archives: DRM

Valve/Steam Rambling

Over at Ars, there’s an interview Ars had with Valve’s Director of Business Development, Jason Holtman. In case you are unaware, Valve is the game development company that has brought us Counter-Strike, the Half-Life series and Left 4 Dead. Valve is also the company behind the downloadable PC game store, Steam. In the article, Holtman discusses Valve’s success with Steam as a platform for digital distribution of games.

Steam and DRM

I have been using Steam since 2005. At first, I didn’t trust Steam very much. I think I was a little apprehensive about what would happen to the games that I buy if Steam should ever close it’s doors. Steam distributes the games it sells with a form of DRM – a non-obtrusive form of DRM mind you. Some games you buy require you to have a connection to the internet to play. Most do not and you can choose to take Steam “offline” if you want to play a game offline.

It has been my experience, so far, that you can download and install games as many times as you want. Some 3rd party games still come with Activation Limits or Install Limits. However, some of these games also come with programs that you can use to deactivate a game before uninstall, thereby saving you 1 activation.

While I have become more trustworthy of Steam, I can’t help but wonder what the hell will happen if/when Steam dies? I think this is a question that has been asked far too many times and that has not had a clear, precise answer. Will this DRM that Steam uses keep us from enjoying these games we purchase should they go the way of the Dodo?

Purchasing games on Steam within the European Union

There is a lot of [obvious] convenience when it comes to buying games on Steam. You don’t have to go to the store or order games from another online site that will deliver the physical medium to your door. Steam used to charge in US dollars but changed that well over a year or so ago. Since I live in Finland, I have to purchase each game in euros. Fair enough, but the problem is that Steam seems to be charging the same number amount in both euros and US dollars. For example, Steam is currently having a 5-day sale. A couple of days ago, they were selling Left 4 Dead 2 for 25% off. The price in euros was 37,49€. I checked with some Steam users in the States and the price was exactly the same in dollars, $37.49!

Now, $37.49 does not equal 37,49€;  it equals 25€ and 37,49€ equals $56. Now, I can understand and expect some price increase if this were a physical medium I was buying the game in, such as a DVD or a CD. Since you have to import the game into the country and we are talking supplies, shipping costs and import taxes. However, this is not the case. What about VAT (Value Added Tax) you say? Here is the price for a game that costs $37.49 with Finland’s VAT of 22% :

  • Game in US dollars: $37.49 + $8.25 VAT = $45.74 or 30,55€
  • Game in euros: 25€ + 5,5 VAT = 30,50€ or $45.65

So, I have to ask what the heck is going on here? Why is Steam price gouging it’s euro-using customers in Europe?

Steam isn’t the only company engaging in price gouging here in Finland. Finns have been complaining about this since the introduction of the euro. Products and services apparently used to cost way less under the old Finnish mark. My concern here is that some foreign and Finnish companies importing, physically or digitally, products into Finland are keeping their prices at the same number as they are in the States. Counting on the ignorance of Finns who do not understand what is going on here, either because of language issues or they genuinely do not understand. Meanwhile, hoping that the Finnish government will keep ignoring the will of the people as they have been doing in recent years.

I’ll end this by asking asking one more question, where the hell is Half-Life 2: Episode 3??? 😀


The PC… Err… Nerfed Version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

*Update: Activision responds to comments about IW nerfing PC CoD: MW2.

According to Tom’s Hardware, Activision President, Mike Griffth has responded to Kotaku concerning the comments by saying they are, “Watching this very carefully and paying attention to it. But we’re not overly concerned about it.”

Quite honestly, Activision does not have to worry about it. As I already addressed in the original posting below, IW’s and Activision’s bread and butter for this game will come from sales of the game to console owners. He admitted that Activision and IW have intended for the PC online experience for this new game to be similar to the “friendly consumer experience” enjoyed by console game players.

The problem with this is that no one told Activision to change the way PC gamers have been playing multiplayer games for more than a decade. If there is one thing that I have not heard since playing PC multiplayer games myself (1998) is “Gee, I wish someone would reinvent the way we all get together and play on a server because it’s just too goddamned hard as it is.”

In the end, pointing at the console sales charts is nothing more than an excuse to be lazy. Activision and IW have decided that just not enough people buy the PC version of the game to justify caring enough.

Some of the commenters in the Tom’s article are obvious console fanboys. You want to play games on a console? Go right ahead because I, personally, will not judge you. I mastered Super Mario on the NES. I played Pitfall on the Atari and Intellivision. I am the proud owner of a Wii and, hopefully, some day a 360 or a PS3. Fanboys are people who just don’t see both sides of an argument. They are right and everyone else be damned. I pose this question to console owners: How would you feel if Activision and IW said to you, “Sorry guys, but the PS3 and 360 versions of MW2 are single-player only. Console sales just do not justify us making any kind of effort for online play.” You would be pretty ticked off. And you would know how PC gamers feel right about now.

To be honest, my personal interest in this game was for the single-player side only. But now I need to seriously reconsider buying it or waiting till Steam sells it for dirt cheap before I pick it up. In the meanwhile, I’m behind in my games so, it would be no immediate loss for me. I feel bad for all of the players in the CoD PC community.

 

*Original posting

As reported on Tom’s Hardware, Ars Technica and probably a billion other places, the newest release of the Call of Duty franchise by Infinity Ward comes with severe limitations that are guaranteed to piss off CoD PC fans and the established online CoD community.

During a podcast and a Best Buy chat, Infinity Ward gave out more details about it’s newest game that have enraged fans by limiting the amount of players on a server to 18 , no more dedicated servers and no custom controls via console commands.

Online play

IW has setup CoD: MW2 so that the game will automatically pick the host of the online match, based on predetermined criteria. Basically, those people with the best bandwidth and the computing power out of those who wish to play in the match will host a game. You will not be able to pick what player will host the game. There will also be an, at-least, 5 second pause during a host migration just in case the original host quits – for any reason.

The problem that comes into play here is that many ISPs have rules and regulations against it’s customers hosting any kind of server. Many ISPs will simply throttle bandwidth if a server has been detected. The game will then pick the next player who is capable of running the “server”.

For those who are hosting games, they will experience latency so their “connection” will match the rest of the players.

The ability to remove problem players from a game has also been taken away. So, this leaves PC players of the new CoD game left with almost no ability to use the game as a base to make their own modifications and help make online play better for their fellow gamers.

As for recording of games. Demoing matches is a staple of online play. I used to do it when I used to compete with clans in Quake 3 CTF and RtCW matches. With YouTube, players can upload their gameplay vids so everyone else can experience what the player experiences during play. When asked by a questioner if the ability to record games is in the game (and then begging for a “yes”), they were told “No”.

Balance

Apparently, “balance” is the new buzz word at Infinity Ward. In response to a question about console commands, graphics tweaking and other tweaking, IW’s Vince Zampella said, “We would like you to play the game the way we designed and balanced it.” This also means that there is no longer any lean (when you can peek around a corner to see who is coming without being shot). leaning would ruin the balance of the game, according to Infinity Ward.

The good news for players is that you can still customize your controls, use text chat in-game and change graphics settings. I guess doing this won’t ruin the “balance” of the game.

So why do this?

Piracy

That’s a really good question and one that cannot be easily answer even by Infinity Ward. Chatter around the campfire is that some of this has to with piracy. With IW completely at the helm, they don’t have to worry about pirates, cheaters and the rest of their ilk. But the problem with this is that, as we have seen recently with EA’s DRM debacles, instituting draconian measures and DRM just drives users to download pirated games. Users who would not normally pirate games can now enjoy a much better experience playing a game than if they had bought a copy from the local store.

I always encourage people to buy a game if they want to play it. I’ve been called a “goody-goody” for it but the thing is that this newest fanning of the flames by IW is exactly the knee-jerk reaction which makes the lives of everyone a lot harder. If you do download a pirated version and you like it, go buy a copy and spare the rest of us from having to deal with this bullshit.

And before you think otherwise, I am very much against draconian DRM and other measures that developers and distributers are now taking to combat piracy. They are losing the battle and the rest of us gamers are caught in the middle.

Consoles are where the money is

Let’s face it, without the need to break out statistics, sales of consoles and their games pretty much blows away the PC gaming market. It’s been this way for several years now thanks to big, cheap flat panel TVs, the Nintendo Wii and HD gaming via the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 with integrated entertainment systems wifi or wired net capabilities. Who needs to spend 1200€ on computer hardware like I did when they can get a console a fourth of the size of my computer case for a third of the price?

There are fanboys on both sides who claim that PC gaming is dead. Steam and the games it provides to the public is one of many fine examples of why that cannot be any further from the truth. I think the real problem here is the game developers are starting to go down the same path the recording industry did. The recording industry latched onto a huge source of revenue while becoming very complacent in their position. Quality suffered at the hands of quantity. The same thing is starting to happen with the gaming industry. The only thing we are missing now is a cartel “representing” the gaming industry suing every man, woman and child within a 1 mile radius of a DVD drive.


Borderlands PC Authentication Troubles

The PC version of the new “artsy” FPS coop game, Borderlands, was delayed for a week. This is fine and all but the problem, according to Ars Technica, is that because the “street date” was pushed back a week, those people who were able to buy copies of the game from stores have been screwed by the fact that the Authentication servers were not online. So, now people who have bought the game will have to wait until the game day the PC version of the game is actually released.

Another thing I wanted to point out in the article is the subject of software licensing and DRM. For a long time, we users have been under the impression that when we purchase a physical copy of software, it is ours. However, this is not the case at all. For example, when you buy a copy of Microsoft Word from the store you are only buying a license to use it. It’s like going to Filmtown here or Blockbuster in the States and renting a movie. The only difference being that you don’t have to return the Microsoft Word disc to the store after a certain period of time.

Both my wife and I are users of Steam. Personally, I enjoy the convenience of buying and downloading games from Steam right then and there without having to go to the store or ordering from Amazon UK, Play UK or CDON. However, I am worried about the day Steam servers go offline forever. While I have backup copies of the games, I am not entirely sure where it goes from there.