An exposition on emerging trends in the early 21st Century, and the encouraging counter-culture to encroaching DRM schemes.
Around about 2008 indie game developers and the players that formed a growing fan base began putting stock into the idea of seeing games made available for the three major desktop Operating Systems, and at the same time, eschewing any form of DRM. This movement brought back to life a trend not widely seen since the mid 1980s, when popular commercial releases were ported to the likes of Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS and sometimes even the lesser OSes of the day. But in the context of modern Operating Systems, where desktop competes with mobile, the concept of cross-platform has shifted. Factor in vicariously restrictive digital distribution platforms (such as Steam, Desura, and Impulse) and things start to get a bit murky. To put it simply the term “Cross-Platform” can mean many things with differing implications. But from among the variations emerges a special, almost pure iteration of cross-platform in which a game is ported to run natively on Windows, Linux and Mac and does so without deploying restrictive DRM. We’ve begun to see this form, even in cases where the game is concurrently available on one or multiple closed platforms (Steam, Android, iOS to name a few). That unique, principled combination highlights a category of non-platform-restrictive games with a focus on trust between developer and his or her audience. This level of dedication to openness deserves special recognition and warrants a category more meaningful than the term “cross-platform” can offer. When you browse through my own list of Most Memorable Video Games, you’ll see that some of the titles have been given the designation of “CP-noDRM” to mean Cross-Platform and DRM free. More specifically, it means that the game:
Runs natively on all three major desktop OSes (Windows, Mac, and Linux) with no DRM… and may also be available on smart devices, but this is not a requirement.
This special designation (CP-noDRM) is meant to say, ‘This is a developer that is most deserving of our support’ because they have empowered players to choose their Operating System (Windows, Linux or Mac) without forcing allegiance to a platform and, on top of that grand gesture, chosen not to cripple the game with messy DRM. As more developers who take this path are supported by the gaming community we can all expect greater protection for innovation and, not ironically, more freedom and compatibility for the end user.
But before you go out and begin making purchases…
Please Note: Proper support for CP-noDRM games usually involves purchasing direct from the developer. Visit the game’s official homepage and be willing to pay a few dollars more for the CP-noDRM version over any port that may exist on a closed platform. Good Old Games (GOG.com) deserves recognition for bringing traditionally closed games closer to the DRM-free ethos. The more this happens the greater the likelihood we’ll see future games released in this form. And perhaps we can all agree that this is a far better trend than the days when closed platforms and all manner of DRM were creeping over the landscape.
And one final thought.
I do hope that Valve (and others) will continue to recognize the significance of ensuring that any single-player game in its catalog function properly in some or other form of ‘Offline’ mode.