Technical Difficulties: Missing The Point – The SimCity DRM Discussion


It’s a-ok as long as it works, right?

[As always Technical Difficulties is a segment where I lose my shit and rant, so please, don’t see this as some kind of high-quality article]

This is my very quick commentary on the current SimCity DRM extravaganza.

Erik Kain from Forbes has already weighed in on the whole DRM issue, and while I agree with his overall sentiments, I think that he doesn’t think far enough and frames the discussion in a wrong way.

John Walker on Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a slightly more ranty take on it and while I love his fervor, he also seems to be missing the point.

In fact, when I look around the net, listen to podcasts, read BBS and chat, almost everyone seems to be completely missing the point.


So what happened?

SimCity (5) was released as a pseudo-online game, where to play the game a user has to be continuously connected to the servers even if he doesn’t want or need to play with others.

On launch, the servers were severely overloaded and a large amount of players who purchased the game discovered they couldn’t play it at all. Alternatively, if they got lucky to play the game for a while, their progress was not saved and the game was generally plagued by a multitude of bugs/crashes/glitches related to the always-online nature of its architecture.

The game being a highly anticipated and almost universally praised by critics -before- the release version was available, lead to a very large influx of customers enticed by the advertisement and critical acclaim.

Almost a week later most of the problems still seem unresolved and features have been deactivated to make it easier for the SimCity servers to operate.

Missing The Point

The framing of the discussion currently seems to be that the SimCity always-online system is bad because it didn’t work.

The center of the discourse is that the customer didn’t get what was advertised (a playable game), and that this is what makes it doubleplusungood. Another framing is that SimCity didn’t -need- an always-online connection since it’s traditionally a single-player game and thats what makes the system bad/unnecessary.

What the SimCity situation did is to demonstrate what can possibly happen with -all- online DRM.  This time it was simply incompetence that lead to consumers losing their ability to consume a product they paid for, what about next time? The question isn’t so much if, but when.

The Point

The problem with SimCity’s always online DRM isn’t that it didn’t work. It’s not a problem that the game was traditionally a single-player game that now forces you online.

These things are all irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

The problem is that the online DRM exists at all and that people accept it everywhere, especially in gaming, without a second thought.

People will shit on SimCity for its abysmal launch state but will declare praise and good wishes upon Valve and the Steam platform. Steam is online DRM, so is Origin and all other launchers, download services and “social options”. They are all prone to the same failure we experienced with SimCity.

Steam needs an internet connection to log on to the service first to play your games, you can not just launch the game when your internet is down before you log on. Your purchased content is tied to the service and is dependent on the goodwill of the content-provider to let you consume it.

Do not be fooled, it is the same shit in a slightly more convenient packaging that deludes you into thinking you have some kind of ownership over your purchase, it also has exactly the same probability of failure as SimCity.

I can currently take nearly every pre-steam-era game off my shelf and play it without online activation-codes, online logins. For all intents and purposes, these disks are mine and I can play SimCity 2000 all I want even 30 years from now (as long as I have compatible hardware).

One-time online activation, Steam, GFWL, they are all a form of DRM that will some day make your game unplayable. The services are not forever, Steam will be over one day. But thats not even the worst part, the worst part is the centralization and monopoly created by these services.

Yes, yes, Steam works it slightly better than others with its offline mode (which you can engage only after being online first), but thats just a “lesser evil”.

Less intrusive DRM is still DRM, its the same disaster waiting to happen in the long run. Convenience and that it “works” is the biggest trap set by these services that you can walk into. Making you believe that these systems are “reasonable” and “good for you” is smoke and mirrors.

Any centralization of data and services is an immediate threat to the very foundation and idea of the internet itself. The point was to create a decentralized structure as to protect information and communication, DRM is the antithesis to this.

With centralized DRM we are running the risk of losing culture as the content can not be preserved without the rights holder. We are catering to the capitalistic model of copyright monopolies without thinking about the consequences. “Pirates” might be doing us a favor by cracking games in the long run. How will you play your copy of Black Ops II when it becomes abandonware? You will pirate the crack for it.

This is the discussion that needs to happen right now. We can’t be lapping this shit up because “it just werks!!!” for now, what if it stops?

We are halfway down the slope here people, SimCity is the -second- demonstration how this system is dangerous for consumers, we already had a first taste of it with last years Diablo 3.

Do we really need to wait for Origin/EA or Steam/Valve to tank like the Titanic before we start adjusting our perception? This isn’t some new and revolutionary concept, this has been a discussion since Steams inception.

We need to stop overriding the very real potential danger these systems bring, with feelings of convenience and trust for the corporations running them. They are not your friends and their goodwill only reaches as far as your wallet does.

Lets use the SimCity disaster to bring attention to this, it’s a perfect example of the “what if” scenario in progress.

SimCity 2013, never forgive, never forget.


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