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DRM: These New Security Measures Will Not Stop the Tramps Getting In
by Mike Rose on 04/05/10 12:26:00 pm   Editor Blog   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


A few weeks ago, I arrived home to find my girlfriend thrusting a letter in my face excitedly.

"Look! They're finally doing something about those tramps!" she exclaimed.

Apparently the word 'tramp' is considered vulgar in American English, so let me first assure you that she was in fact using British English, referring to homeless people. Still a slightly vulgar expression, but when they're living in your basement, it can make you a little crude.

We live in an apartment building in the centre of Manchester. It's a lovely little place, but recently it's had a bit of a problem. A few homeless people have been using the apartment block's basement for escaping from the bitter cold.

Entry to the block is through a main front door, unlocked via key. Keys are held by every apartment resident. The homeless are apparently getting in by waiting for a resident to come along and unlock the door, then following in behind them.

I say 'apparently', because I've never technically seen one of them. The basement is only accessible via a lift, and there is no reason why a resident would want to go down there - it's just a bunch of boiler rooms, fuseboxes and the likes. I've been down there once to check my power usage.

To this end, I've not really been bothered by the news that there are guys in the basement. I mean, they're not bothering me and to be fair, it was stupidly cold this Winter. I can completely understand, however, why other residents would be a little uneasy about it all.

My girlfriend is one of these uneasy residents. "Take a look, they're changing the security to keep people out" she said, handing me the letter.

The letter, from the owners of the building, explained that new security measures were being put in place to stop unwanted visitors getting into the building.

These security measures involved the front door. The door would be replaced with a state-of-the-art magnetic locking system. A keypad panel would be installed next to the door, and a code would be given to each resident. Entering the code would unlock the door. No more need for keys.

The moment she saw me frowning, she knew I had some smart-alec reason as to why this was pointless/tedious/bad for some reason. "Don't you think it's nice to see them actually addressing the issue?" she asked.

Well, I explained, I'm not exactly sure how this addresses the issue at all. In fact, if anything, it makes the situation worse.

The homeless people were getting in by following residents through the front door. How exactly does a keycode entry stop them from continuing to do this?

Potentially, the homeless could now watch someone entering the code from a distance, then have free access to the building without having to wait around for people. Beforehand, they couldn't very well have forged their own damn key.

If anything, this new system is bad for the residents. Whereas there was no way I could ever forget my key - since I'd used it to lock my front door as I left - I could now potentially forget the code and be stuck outside the main front door waiting, ironically, for another resident to come along so I can follow in behind them.

The building owners were to introduce new security measures which, once you got down to the nitty gritty, did nothing to stop the problem (as long as the basement residents simply learnt the new system) and actually ended up hindering the people who paid money to live there.

Sound familiar?

I couldn't help but laugh to myself about how this was all very much like the whole DRM situation. Just replace the tramps with pirates, and the electromagnetic door and keycode with online verification and code registration.

Developers have every right to safeguard their work and try to keep non-paying gamers out. But introducing security measures which (1) make the experience worse for the paying customer and (2) are easily worked around by pirates with way too much time on their hands... is that really the best course of action?

We are all very much aware that piracy is a huge problem, but bringing down the experience for everyone through ridiculous DRM measures is fruitless. So is the effect of DRM on me, that over the last year I have gradually been moving over to console gaming. I now barely play any big releases on my PC anymore.

When the power to my front door fails and the code no longer unlocks it, will I be locked out of my apartment, with no means of getting in? I'm looking at you, Assassin's Creed 2.

[Michael Rose is a writer for and by day, and Batman by night.  He lives in Manchester, UK, with zero cats and zero dogs. And yes, they did introduce the damn door, and he did get drunk one night, forget the code and nearly fall asleep in the street.]

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Simon Fraser
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I think they should stop using DRM.... until they come up with a solution that works.

Work hard on developing working DRM, and stop "trying" to stop software piracy until they actually come up with a viable solution.

Kristian Carazo
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I agree with you. What I find really funny is that there are already a whole bunch of torrents and server emulators out for Assassins Creed 2. So basically, if you buy the game and your internet goes out... Tough luck. If you would have pirated the game instead... no problem!!

Perhaps I am missing something here but it seems to me that whenever a good game is released it's sales are fine. When a turd is released it's poor sales are blamed on piracy. Stronger anti-piracy measures are needed in order to secure an ROI on steaming piles.

I'm more inclined to believe that these new "DRM" systems are being used for data mining, rather than to prevent piracy.

Mark Raymond
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This is a brilliant, wonderful analogy; I love it. :D

I also think you should e-mail Ubisoft this article. Maybe then they'd start getting it.

ken sato
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Well most developers feel that way and DRM solutions are usually posed at the publishing level as a requirement. Since most studios are familiar with the implementation, they tend to minimize the time spent. You can usually see this on titles which only require a key disc to launch.

On line verification is a bit trickier as it relies on verifying externally which presupposes connection.

In any case, all costs are reviewed before, during, and post launch. The problem is that if you sales are robust, most costs are assessed as being necessary and the reason for robust sales while poor sales means that every expenditure is scrutinized. While both are reviews after the fact, success usually means promotion or continued employment, failure scrutinizes decisions to prove that the decision was necessary.

That being said, some solutions I've heard are hybrids expiration keys with primary key on purchased media, degraded or limiting assets to key media requiring key updates, and degrading or altering performance from an expired key.

All of the above solutions are variations on key updates as the first use / sale verification is what most finance / fraud officers are familiar with as the point-of-sale is tied to the first sale, and then the effort is on the consumer to assure continual usage. From their perspective it saves costs, keeps the consumer connected to the company, and allows metrics to be gained on title usage.

On the whole, this issue will keep coming up as long as their are such large product costs and financial investment to title development.

Saehoon Lee
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Ubi soft released Settlers 7 recently and it has the same problem as AC2. I know this place is not a formal place to make a complaint. But I bought that game and it was really hit and miss experience as Ubisoft DRM server went down almost in randomly. So sometimes I was able to play and sometimes not. I had to run the game and fingers crossed everytime. Definitly not a good experience and Ubisoft forum is being bombed with large number of the royal paying customers with the same server issue all over.

I don't mind having to have perm internet connection to play (even for single player game) but when I kept my side of bargain, Ubisoft needs to do the same otherwise I say that is pirating my money and time. DRM is ok as long as it works and only when it works. But we all know that things do fail from time to time. So DRM is not going to work

Ed Alexander
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The reason I have stood against DRM from day 1 - The paying customer gets a worse product than the pirates.

At the end of a day, you have a developer who is just wanting to make ends meet and wants to go home to his family and you have a legion of technically savvy hackers who have voracious egos who want to crack anything given enough time and interest to do so. Who is going to win?

DRM has never kept pirates out. It just hasn't. So to screw over your legitimate customers all in an attempt to fight the inevitable... it's madness. As long as people want to pirate, they are going to pirate. Address the reasons people do so, not the act of doing so.

I will admit to having played illegitimate copies of games. But I will also admit to having purchased games I have played illegitimately. In fact, I have bought the Diablo II + Lord of Destruction 3 times over; two of them because the battlechest bundle was so cheap.

For me, I can't afford to throw down $60 on every game that comes out. The price point is too high. And if you polled a bunch of honest pirates, I bet you that would be the most shared reason as to why. (Hint: See Gabe Newell's DICE 2009 speech regarding Steam sales when everything is dirt cheap -
ote---Gabe-Newell-Valve-Software.html )

Okay, DRM rant over. I really did enjoy your post, it is amazing just how well that situation parallels the intrusive DRM situation.

Edit: I just wanted to clarify, I have played less than 10 illegitimate copies of games ever, and purchased just under half of them. Things are different now that I'm in the industry, seeing companies fold and lay off their employees, seeing how monetarily driven small companies are, seeing and knowing people who could lose their job because the studio isn't profitable enough to sustain their workforce... it weighs in a lot more heavily on my conscience now. That wasn't something I really understood from the outside. Needless to say, I've been on the straight and narrow for a while, but my opinion still remains. Don't punish your customers! ;)

Dave Endresak
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I am writing an article that I hope to publish about this very issue.

The fact is that there are proven successful alternatives to DRM. In other words, the idea that IP must be "protected" is simply an idea, but there are alternative ways to successfully offer IP without worrying about "protection", and even pushing free distribution, and create lucrative revenue streams.

Adam Bishop
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I think arguments against DRM are based on an unstated assumption that I actually disagree with - that publishers are willing to listen to rational argument. I don't think most publishers are foolish enough to believe that DRM actually works. I think DRM has virtually nothing to do with actually preventing piracy or increasing sales and is really about making it look to shareholders - who probably don't understand the technology anyway - like the company is getting tough on pirates. DRM exists to make shareholders feel like their investment is protected and has nothing to do with actually increasing sales.

Brett Williams
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I understand peoples aversion to piracy, however your solution is to give up your freedoms entirely over the device you use by using a closed system console that has many of the same restrictions built into it?

The only difference between DRM on a PC and on a Console is they don't require hardware changes to pirate software on a PC, because it's an open operating system.

It seems to be a common idea that consoles do it better, but the only reason this appears so on the surface is because they hide so much people care less.

PC users get to look at what data their applications exchange and get upset when they do things without telling them. So you tell them what you are doing and they get upset you're doing it, so you can't do it silently without upsetting them, you can't do it loudly without upsetting them. On a console nobody seems to care, seems like that's the easy way to go, just find out how to fit it on that disc...

Mike Rose
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I don't get upset when my PC games do things without telling me - I get upset when I can SEE them doing things.

You say that the misconception is that consoles "do it better" because "they hide so much people care less", but isn't this exactly how we want DRM to work? I mean, the reason people are angry over Assassin's Creed 2 is due to the fact that the DRM is physically taking them out of the game for various different reasons and disrupting their play. I bought the game on PS3, and experienced nothing but fun. I you had asked a gamer (with barely any knowledge of DRM, obviously) at the start 'play through this game, then tell me if it has DRM with it', they would reach the end of the game and not be able to give you an answer, since there were no signs of it anywhere.

Like I said in the piece, I'm not asking developers and publishers to remove DRM altogether - it's their right to protect their work. I'm saying that if DRM is actually making the experience worse for the player, then surely it has gone a little too far.

Andy Ross
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In my mind, the opinion the article expresses is exactly the problem in a nutshell: DRM does not stop piracy and merely punishes those that legitimately purchase games. Pirates get a better product at a better price (i.e. nothing). How does that possibly make any sense?

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Luis Guimaraes
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@Ed Alexander

Thanks for the link.