The Hills Are Greener: DRM and Piracy Still Aren’t Dead on Mobile, Even in 2013

The Hills Are Greener: DRM and Piracy Still Aren’t Dead on Mobile, Even in 2013

Jul 15, 2013

Piracy in the mobile space is a story that has remained latent over the past couple years, what with free-to-play making the issue moot, largely. But it hasn’t gone away entirely, as seen by Deus Ex: The Fall’s release this past week on iOS. Namely, the game made it initially so that users with jailbroken devices couldn’t fire their weapons at all. Which, of course, is a slight problem in a first-person shooter.

Now, on iOS, jailbreaking is a direct precursor to piracy at this point: you need to do it in order to pirate apps, but all jailbreakers are not necessarily pirates. It’s a square and rectangle thing. As well, there’s a real problem with giving legitimate purchasers of a game the shaft just because they’re jailbroken. Thankfully, Square Enix seems to have recognized that this is a problem and is going to correct it.


However, it shows how DRM continues to create problems: it’s possible to use it in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t hurt those who legitimately purchase a game. Too many systems are being built that hurt legitimate users. And they exist on Android too. The license activation on apps that requires an internet connection before launching is something that has affected me. Namely, one time when I was playing Towelfight 2: The Monocle of Destiny from Butterscotch Shenanigans. I wanted to play the game on my Nexus 7 after having legitimately purchasing it, and I suddenly discovered that I had to connect to the internet in order to play it. Just one problem: I was on an airplane without wi-fi. I was left without playing their game because I couldn’t confirm that I actually bought it.

While this sort of DRM is annoying, I totally understand why Butterscotch Shenanigans did it, in part because they eventually released the numbers on it: 34,091 Android pirates to 1538 sales of Towelfight 2, which is a much higher ratio than iOS, which was close to 1:1 with purchases just outweighing sales. They actually decided to go free-to-play with their next game Quadropus Rampage, which has at least left the company in a much better position financially going forward.

And in many ways, it’s hard not to see this sort of thing as a microcosm of the industry at large: players rejecting paid apps to the point of piracy has created this market where free-to-play is seemingly required to draw players in and make money off of them. The market gets what it asks for, which is free games. Of course, for those who like paid experiences, they’re getting somewhat hosed by the pirates. But that’s such how the DRM dance goes: those who play by the rules wind up getting the short shrift when the rules change against their favor by those who would break them anyway.

So, while I wish that DRM would go away, and abusive free-to-play disappear, especially in the mobile space, when people still refuse to pay for content, it’s hard to be critical of those who decide to play by the new rulles. I just sigh because there’s a better way.

The DRM: Death Ray Manta Shoots Lasers Out of His Head and Lives in Space On Android Now

The DRM: Death Ray Manta Shoots Lasers Out of His Head and Lives in Space On Android Now

May 1, 2013

Rob Fearon’s DRM is now available on Android, thanks to Psychic Parrot Games.

Wait, why is a game developer releasing digital rights management for Android? No, DRM stands for Death Ray Manta. He’s a precocious little thing: he likes space tiffins and can shoot lasers out of his head. Players get to move and shoot with him through a challenging set of levels, set to the music of Gavin Harrison. The game’s been described as the pop song equivalent of a video game, so don’t expect a lengthy experience, but a short, challenging, replayable one.

The game has been toned down visually from the PC original, which required a decent GPU to power the intense visual effects – I tried playing it on a 2011 Mac Mini and my Surface Pro, and both chugged under the weight of the intense visuals! So having a pared-down mobile version helps out greatly.

The game is content-identical to the iOS one, so our review on 148Apps applies to the Android version. There may be a few Android-specific bugs that the developer hopes to quash. As well, listen to my interview with Rob Fearon on The Portable Podcast for more about the game.

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.