The Hills Are Greener: Concerns Raised by Always-Online Games and DRM

The Hills Are Greener: Concerns Raised by Always-Online Games and DRM

Mar 11, 2013

The rise of the internet has done wonders for gaming, but there’s been plenty of new annoyances thanks to digital distribution and internet connectivity. No one who got a Sega Genesis for Christmas had to worry about updating the firmware before playing the new Sonic game. And in modern times, forced online connectivity is having an impact on our games. Look at EA’s SimCity. Or don’t, because all you’ll get is the inability to login.

For anyone making online-focused games, the rule is to always have servers ready. Have many of them ready. Do not let people who want to play be turned away due to technical reasons. Especially for major companies like EA, who have major marketing campaigns behind their titles, the fact that they have let SimCity become a server debacle is embarrassing. However, there wasn’t a lot in the way of positive harbingers for EA, as they took months to get The Simpsons: Tapped Out back on the App Store. The game now does extremely well, so there’s no telling just how much revenue they realistically lost by not keeping that game up and running. And with SimCity sales shutting down at some retailers like Amazon, they could be missing out on more money. Plus, people that want to play the game cannot because EA could not provide the experience they advertised.

However, there’s a secondary component to fearing online-only games, and that is digital archiving. Digital distribution is fantastic and convenient, but DRM makes it harder to preserve these games. We can easily go back and play Super Mario Bros. but how will we play games like Temple Run in a decade or two? Android is better for this because it’s easy to get APKs for games without DRM, but Google Play’s billing services and license confirmation could be an issue. Still, Apple’s DRM, especially for games, has been cracked in the past. In a way, while piracy can have an effect on the sales of games, it’s also doing a great job at preserving games, because those files may exist in a freely-accessible form somewhere. Pirates are doing good things in a way! But still, for other technical reasons ,we are at risk of someday losing access to the kinds of experiences that have defined a generation of gaming. Digital should not mean that we lose what we have.

I’m not saying that digital distribution is evil, because it is not. Digital can provide tremendous access that physical distribution fails at. But just because we can distribute games (and other forms of media) digitally, it does not mean that we should lose the physical aspect of it, because we should lose a generation our culture due to technological advances over the long-term. And in the short-term, the digital revolution is causing new problems that should not exist. Developers and gamers should consider how the games they make and support respectively have an impact on the culture, not just if they are playable.

Carter Dotson
Carter Dotson, editor of Android Rundown, has been covering Android since late 2010, and the mobile industry as a whole since 2009. Originally from Texas, he has recently moved to Chicago. He loves both iOS and Android for what they are - we can all get along!
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