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Old 05-28-2009, 07:28 AM   #1
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Default Game distribution & DRM Discussion

I wrote this article for game distribution methods, I also discuss DRM which comes with each distribution method and the extent to which I believe it becomes restrictive/invasive. The discussion is mostly focused around computers, as consoles have retail versions and one online distribution channel owned by MS/Sony/Nintendo for Xbox/Ps3/Wii respectively. In the console world retail and online distribution have very little (if any at all) overlap regarding the titles offered so I don't find any reason to compare the two distribution methods there. I would like to suggest however to play on consoles games which are known to have invasive/restrictive DRM in their PC releases, Dreamfall, Mass Effect and Spore come to mind.

I will be quite strict on the DRM as quite often companies have used malicious code and do not list that code in the "to be installed" list. This invasive software can and will be used by virus writers trojans and hackers to get user data, credit cards and paypal passwords and imho customers should go after companies that do this and send them to court. Also these pieces of software can alter the way your computer works and make it malfunction for certain operations.The infamous Sony rootkit, starforce and latest Securom are some of the worst examples of DRM, while Steam has shown that DRM can be implemented without hurting the end user.

I am not against DRM but it is totally unacceptable to have a company installing rootkits on our computers, creating backdoors to our data for every hacker out there. Personally if a game treats me like like dirt I will either buy the console version or totally skip it. if I want it that badly & there is no console version and no Steam version, I will purchase the game and remove the DRM form it at a separate installation of windows on a second hard drive. I do not write this DRM text from the perspective of the misinformed, during my computer science undergrad I worked at the campus network at the network security post, I will become technical if people require more information.

DRM also kills second hand games and renting games from your local video club.

Is all DRM bad though? no DRM itself is not bad, it is restrictive and malicious DRM that's bad. Consoles & the iPhone have very good DRM because they can run only signed code and they challenge crackers more. PCs and macs do not (and should not) require the code to be signed so they use other methods to check if the program is genuine. Everything, securom, starforce and steam has been cracked at the end so a perfect DRM doesn't exist atm. Spore demonstrated that DRM barely reduces piracy and the good news is that EA will be using simple CD checks from now on (Sims 3, Dragon Age) also Ubi made Prince of Persia DRM free with simple CD checks. That doesn't mean that DRM is gone from all games out there though so my personal suggestion for DRMed ones is either grab the console version or use Steam which uses DRM which is not invasive and doesn't hurt your computer.

After giving it a long thought I have also chosen to include distribution channels which can be used in illegal ways. I will say plus, minuses and personal opinion on them as well but I want to make clear from this point why I have included them. It is not some sort of support nor a silent suggestion to use these channels. However since they do exist and some people do use them I cannot pretend they are not there and ignore them. Within the discussion of distribution channels I would be thankful if all kept in mind that I don't feel arguments in the lines of "it's way too overpriced and I got it from xyz.xom to show them" help the discussion, wait 3-4 months and the prices will drop, anyhow if you feel software must be free (a legitimate POV imo, even tho I'm a commercial software junkie) then please support GNU and use GPLed games instead of non legitimate copies as it helps their developers fix their bugs. I firmly believe that not too many games deserve to be played and anyone can afford the 1-2 good games that come out per year and in the rare cases where they do cannot, I have listed a couple of freeware/opensource games which deserve the support of "free software supporters".
The fact is however that companies go out of business (then you need to remove DRM to play the game in many cases) and they use themselves third party DRM removers (, ), therefore I cannot omit channels which provide DRM removers. Also DRM removers need to be used by people gaming under WINE/crossover/cedega on linux/mac platforms.

- Retail (aka good ol' CD/DVD)


1) customer really owns the game, he can always replay it 5 years later
2) feelies! aka books, soundtracks, printed maps, concept art. Unfortunately not that common anymore but collectors editions do have them, I find them quite nice to have.
3) you can rent games which do not have a limit on activations, trying out a game or renting a short game saves you money.
4) you can buy second hand retail games.


1) many of them install DRM which classifies at the level of malware, good news is that EA is abandoning Securom in favor of simple CD checks after the spore dissaster.
2) CDs and DVDs break, you must make the two backup copies that you are legally allowed to.
3) you need to carry the CD around unless you use a noCD but a noCD piece of code has an unknown author and could be malicious

personal opinion: I prefer retail version to any other, in fact I go after the collectors editions to get feelies, have my CDs in protected CD cases and make backups.

- Online distributions (e.g. Steam)


1) DRM is implemented really professionally in the case of Steam. The customer there is treated like a customer and his rights are respected.
2) In some cases (Steam does this) games are ALOT cheaper.
3) You can shop anytime of the day.
4) You can shop from home and you don't have to travel.


1) effectively its a "rental", you don't own the game.
2) company may go out of business and customers have payed for a bunch of games they cannot use anymore.
3) requires an active internet connection (not everyday but it does require one).
4) many of them install DRM which classifies as malware (Steam doesn't, that's why it's my personal preference).
5) quite a few times the support for the game is not as good as for the retail version. The less popular the channel the less likely it is to see updates (second reason which makes Steam a champ).
6) a real rental model is not yet implemented properly imho. You can't rent a game for 5 days, pay very little for it (video club prices) and then "give it back".
7) not all games may be there under a good game channel.
8) No feelies gief!
9) A second hand model needs to be implemented.

personal opinion: after trying a couple of online services I ended up using Steam only. It doesn't install malware through its DRM, the pricing is very good, essentially proving that pricing for online distributed games can and should be very cheap. Under Steam I love that I can shop anytime of the day from my house and at the same time not get malware or worry about carrying my CDs with me, finally the pricing is just great, it has reasonable prices and not just a little bit bellow retail versions which is what other online distribution systems do.

- On demand (e.g. On Live): no discussion here, I haven't tried any of these, gaming over the cloud is quite unexplored, it may prove the next big thing, a disaster or just another way to get your games. If anyone is in the OnLive US beta I would be thankful if we could have some feedback.

- DRM free/older games: Here I just mention


1) games are DRM free/you can replay your games and you computer doesn't get malware from gaming.
2) The prices are very reasonable.
3) games have been made compatible with later operating systems


1) you won't find the new hot titles there.

personal opinions: smart idea!

- free/opensource games. here I do not say plusses or minuses, just give out personal recommendations. the games are free and anyone can try them out. Note that by good I don't mean meeting the set of standards I expect from commercial releases, after all if you don't like the game you haven't lost any money trying it out.

OpenSource games I found worth spending time at:

strategy: Battle for Wesnoth, FreeCiv (Civilization clone), FreeCol (Colonization clone), Widelands (Settlers II clone), GNU Chess, GNU Go.
simulation: Lincity (simcity clone)
rpg: Nethack
adventure: browse this site, AGS, Scummvm site !
shooter: OpenArena
Action: yo frankie
Puzzle: Pingus
Platform: Secret Maryo Chronicles, Ardentryst
and many more abandonware games, I use to obtain them.

- p2p, torrents (highly questionable legality for most countries)


1) your CD broke, you can get a replacement here and use the license from the legally purchased CD.
2) DRM removers are available in these channels. Even companies have used 3rd party removers and these channels are the most popular DRM remover channels
3) some fan made content like mods, texture replacements, community patches are available in a packed form there and users don't have to search the web endlessly to get them.


1) can be used for illegal downloading aka piracy. You have to figure out yourself which content is legal to download from these channels.
2) may contain malware/trojans that can harm your computer.
3) no support

personal opinion: If you want to play a commercial game you should buy it. Use these channels only for DRM removers of games you purchased, fan content and for the odd case where your CD breaks.

Last edited by imisssunwell; 05-28-2009 at 08:13 AM.
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Old 05-28-2009, 07:31 AM   #2
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Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 118

This ^^ was from the clients perspective. I am sure from the developers perspective there are other points to be mentioned, e.g. I assume online distributions are allot cheaper than retail ones for developers (up to a developer to confirm), but since I am a customer, I wrote the article from a customers point of view
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