Lately there has been a lot of talk about how big business is ruining gaming, creating a very Gamers vs. Developers mentality. Few companies have received as much criticism for this type of business practice as Electronic Arts, and not without reason. It has been shown time and time again that EA couldn’t give less of a crap about it’s customers after it gets its money. Big business can cripple an industry, or it can be the driving force behind its expansion.
An excellent example of big business gone awry is Capcom recently becoming a huge proprietor of DRM (digital rights management) ridden games. Some examples include region locking, “always on” Internet requirements, and even single use games. Region locking is something that is common with DVDs, keeping people from reselling their movies to other countries that have different region codes. So why is this such a big deal? Well Capcom is largely a Japanese based gaming company, releasing games only in Japan quite often. This ends up being a slap in the face to any supporter of the company that does not live in Japan, all in the name of keeping their product “safe.” Always-on Internet DRM is something that isn’t all that serious because most places in the world have some form of reliable Internet, but for those that don’t have reliable Internet, tough luck. Why would a single player game require that you always have some form of Internet connection? To make sure that only you are playing the game. There has also been speculation, and in some cases proof, that always on DRM is used to gather information about you and your computer/console. Then we come to the worst of the three listed. Capcom put the most restrictive DRM of all on their Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D game. You are only allowed one save that cannot be overwritten, effectively restricting playthroughs of a game to one, making it impossible to resell, replay, or re-enjoy the game entirely, whether you paid for it or stole it.
The prior list of Capcom’s sins is indicative of a trend in the industry to put as much restriction on games as possible. This is really awful considering how awesome the used game industry is, and how it is one of the few options you have to enjoy the games of eras past. The gaming industry is also the only industry that seems to abhor the idea of resale and rental, even going so far as to say that anyone that participates in used game sales is an enemy of the business. Imagine there being laws against reselling a car, or a book, or a movie. This matters because the best way to gain a rich culture, and thus a growth in an industry is by investing in the people who support you. Take Valve for example; they are a good example of the good that can come from big business. They provide Steam, and while this is really one of the ultimate forms of DRM, it brings a lot of advantages. I own most of my games because of their sales. You can say that this is manipulation at the highest level all you want, but what this shows us is that by providing these huge sales it boosts the sales figures for these games, especially indie game developers, otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing it., and this is a good thing for all parties involved. There’s also Gabe Newell responding to personal emails. Whether or not he actually responds isn’t what’s important, it’s that he at least pretends to do it. This provides an air of closeness between the consumer and the distributor that leads to a sort of brand loyalty rarely seen.
CD Projekt RED, the developers of The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings came out saying that they felt that restrictive DRM was needless and created a rift between the consumer and the producer. They claimed that DRM does not do anything to protect your games, basing this on the fact that within hours of the release of The Witcher 2 there was a crack for the game. They say that all subsequent games that they release will be free of any kind of DRM as a result. There have even been rumors that they will release a distribution platform to compete with Valve’s Steam, though that is based on a video that makes very few actual claims.
What this says to CD Projekt RED’s community is that they have heard that no one likes DRM, and that it provides insubstantial extra security for their product, and that they are trying to do something about it. It builds brand trust, and loyalty, and once you have that it really takes a lot to mess that up (see the Bioware incident of 2011-2012). You have now taken the audience that you worked so hard to gain, and you have given them a reason to stick around beyond the next big game release. If you can do that, then you have done more for your revenue stream than any amount of marketing could ever do. In fact, with this you have made it so that you really don’t have to spend much, if anything, on marketing. With a loyal fan base anything is possible. It takes a lot of work, but anything that is worth having is difficult to gain. The good news is that the initial investment returns large dividends. Just ask Gabe Newell.