Many members of the military are avid gamers and overseas deployments can leave soldiers without internet. Soldiers don’t expect much comfort during a deployment, but many still get to enjoy playing video games during their free time. If a soldier was to buy a game with ‘Always Online DRM’, they could not play it upon leaving their homes, and would likely not buy the game for this reason. A minority will vote with their wallets on May 15th, the release date of Diablo 3, and be the vocal minority making Activision Blizzard aware that they are doing a disservice to them.
To concede a few points, internet is available on large military bases in places like Afghanistan, but this isn’t a free service. The service costs $70 for 30 days. This service is incredibly slow, providing download rates that average 28kbps, thus resulting in choppy, often broken calls to family back home. Secondly, the largest digital distribution platform, Steam, is a form of DRM itself. Users can put Steam into ‘offline mode’ which makes Steam games playable offline. Even still, Steam will occasionally have an error stating it must go online to re-contact to the ‘key server’. Until then, some games are unplayable. This isn’t ideal DRM, but it’s understandable that publishers want to protect their intellectual property.
Thrifty gamers commonly select games with a lot of replay value so that they get the most for their money. Not everyone has the disposable income needed to buy a plethora of games. For this reason, why would anyone spend money on a product they can’t frequently use? No rational consumer should buy any product that can only be used after jumping through hoops. No one would buy a pair of shoes that require a constant 3G connection to ensure they weren’t stolen. It would detract from the product’s value. Why do some Diablo fans and Blizzard see Diablo 3 differently?
There are instances of DRM that are acceptable, but since pirates continue to find ways to remove DRM, why should DRM create an even larger inconvenience to paying customers? Gabe Newell of Valve Software has a different solution. In an interview with the University of Cambridge’s newspaper, Newell said, “Prior to entering the Russian market, we were told that Russia was a waste of time because everyone would pirate our products. Russia is now about to become [Steam's] largest market in Europe”. Newell believes making Valve’s digital distribution service more convenient than piracy provides greater value to prospective customers.
Always online DRM has hurt Ubisoft in the past. When speaking with PC Gamer in the summer of 2011, Ubisoft claimed that there was a decline in pirated Ubisoft games. They made no mention of how this impacted their sales. However, in March of 2012, Ubisoft spoke with Eurogamer saying they were attempting to create a “less intrusive, less cumbersome” DRM. Ubisoft intends to offer features like automatic updating and “companion gaming” somewhat similar to features seen in modern MMOs. Their goal is to make their services and features more attractive when compared to a cracked version of the same game. Once satisfied, Ubisoft will begin to relax their DRM. This was after their release of From Dust, a PC game intended to be activated once by going online. The game instead released with ‘Always Online DRM’ and customers backlashed. Ubisoft began work on a patch to remove the DRM and offered a refund through Steam if customers did not want to wait. Michael Pachter, a research analyst for Wedbush Securities stated that Ubisoft’s game sales were down by 90% since ‘Always On DRM’ was implemented. While the decline of sales may not be a direct effect of the hefty DRM being implemented, Ubisoft is aware of the correlation. Ubisoft’s customers voted with their wallets to make Ubisoft understand that their DRM is unacceptable. Why hasn’t Activision Blizzard taken notice? Perhaps they expect enough people to buy the game no matter what?
It’s difficult to see an issue with a company attempting to protect the product they worked hard to create, but in this case it’s hard to believe that the end justifies the means. There is a small vocal minority unwilling to purchase the highly anticipated Diablo 3, but Blizzard either hasn’t noticed or are willing to ignore the admittedly minor loss in sales they will experience. Soldiers are able to play games with ‘Always Online DRM’ at home, why then should they not be able to use the product they paid for at any time? Blizzard’s Robert Bridenbecker dismissed it as “the nature of the industry”. The industry needs to change.