DRM and Microtransactions

Up until recently M-Rated games and MMOs were the only broad classifications that I’ve deliberately excluded from my list of Most Memorable Video Games, which aspires to be an historical journey of discovery along the timeline of the medium.  This hasn’t been terribly heart-breaking as only a handful of truly notable titles from those two categories have been pushed aside.  But the past several years have seen another shift in the way video games are being packaged and distributed.

According to Wikipedia the sale of Virtual Goods began appearing in online game worlds, right around the early part of the 21st Century.  Initially, an informal economy of trade and bartering of virtual goods for real-world currency grew out of the player communities of several online worlds.  Later, game developers and publishers tapped into the concept and found ways of monetizing these ‘microtransactions’ as part of a business model built into the games themselves.  A variation on this theme is today called In-App Purchasing.  For a time, it seemed that this trend was limited to MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games) which have a natural pre-disposition to this model…and casual (especially Social) games due to their mass appeal by less discerning gamers.

I believe another shift is now taking place – where this model is spreading from the outer reaches of MMO and casual spheres, closer to the center, where we’re beginning to see it used in more traditional video games.  The thing that I find distasteful about virtual goods is that they create an incentive to adjust, if not model outright, gameplay around this single mechanic.  So what you end up with is a game designed in a way where the greatest goal isn’t to complete the game, or achieve mastery over it, but to perpetuate a cycle of perceived advancement or dominance through limitless additional micropayments.  And since we already know that video games can be addicting unto themselves, this introduces a kind of lever attached to that potential addictiveness that I believe degrades the spirit of the medium.  A game should be addicting because it happens to be fun, not because it was designed to slowly siphon away discretionary income.

Ok.  Let’s move on to the issue of DRM.

More specifically, the type of DRM I have in mind is the sort variously referred to as Persistent online authentication.  I believe examples of this are SecuROM and TAGES, though I may be wrong and the goal here isn’t to address any specific mechanism that may have, or may in the future be used to achieve this particular level of DRM.  The idea of DRM (in-and-of itself) is understandable, and the merits and effectiveness of it have been debated extensively.  Rather than assuming an intractable position I’d rather state plainly where I [currently] draw the line.  If a game requires any form of persistent connection to a server, regardless of platform, I won’t support or publicly endorse it.  It’s that simple.  It doesn’t matter to me the developer’s or publisher’s position on DRM, or their stated reasons for implementing whatever kind of DRM they feel a game needs.  If a game cannot be played without an internet connection or without having to phone in to a server each time it launches, the publisher has crossed over a line with respect to my rights (or at least what I feel my rights as a consumer should be).

In short, there are now two additional characteristics that will almost immediately remove a game from consideration: Those that employ Microtransactions in Virtual Goods and/or Persistent online authentication of any kind.  The most unfortunate thing about this is that, unlike the vast majority of M-Rated games, there is a greater potential that truly noteworthy titles will be tarnished by the presence of one of these measures.

I suppose the only promising developments, at present and on the horizon, are a possible shift away from intrusive DRM alongside the ongoing contributions of so many talented independent game designers,who’ve done an admirable job of filling in the gaps.

Published in: on October 2, 2012 at 11:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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