Digital rights management, or DRM, is a system installed alongside associated games that restricts the access, modification, and distribution of the content. The intent behind its use is for developers to prevent their product from being illegally downloaded without paying a penny. Because the potential profit losses due to pirated games racks up to millions of dollars, many big name companies like Electronic Arts force players to install DRM in order to play the games they've purchased. However, the addition of DRM has no direct link to an increase in profits. In fact, the policy might just inflict more harm than good. DRM encourages digital piracy by alienating players and punishes paying customers with irritating restrictions.
The tactics employed by standard video game DRM consist of installation limitations, consistent online connection requirements, and the insertion of game-breaking glitches or annoyances into pirated versions of the game. While the strategy might appear effective on paper, the reality of the matter is pirates are able to crack games and bypass these restrictions within days of a game's release. This leaves paying customers to deal with the cumbersome restrictions as pirates play for free and worry-free.
Spore, published by EA, is a notorious example of overburdening DRM pushing once-loyal players to piracy. The game initially allowed for only three installations -- though it was later increased to five -- and for only one account to be tied to the CD key. This prevents offline play, selling used copies, family members from each having their own account, and installation on multiple computers, as well as causes serious issues when the game has to be reinstalled, such as when acquiring a new hard drive or performing a system restore. Because of the grief DRM gave loyal customers, many turned to torrents, resulting in Spore becoming one of the most pirated games worldwide.
The presence of DRM too often results in game-breaking consequences. Upon the release of Sim City, another EA title, the always-online requirement made the game unplayable for many users, as the servers crashed and buckled under the traffic. In addition, save files containing hours of playtime were lost as disconnections eliminated any data stored online. Blizzard's Diablo III, which also employs the online DRM tactic, causes frequent upsets with players who deem the move unnecessary, and those who suffer from the dreaded error 37 and server crashes. Companies scramble to save face in the wake of DRM catastrophes, but the damage dealt to the consumer-business relationship is, at that point, irreversible. Electronic Arts was crowned Worst Company in America in 2012 and 2013, in no small part due to the terrible treatment tactics such as DRM shovels out to players.
Decidedly unnecessary in the minds of PC gamers, digital rights management attempts to stop piracy with a variety of tactics. As games are shackled with installation limitations and always-online requirements, paying customers must wrestle with the resulting problems while pirates easily outmaneuver them. Frustrated gamers turn to piracy as a solution, and the game industry suffers from both the loss of profit and damaged gameplay that drops in enjoyment and artistic value due to being designed around DRM. If the piracy epidemic is to be treated, companies must offer incentives to buy their games rather than paranoid iron first tactics. Players should be rewarded for purchasing video games, not punished with the all the infuriating drama brought about by game-wrecking DRM.