Friday, March 12, 2010

Games as a service, and why I want companies to stop giving me inferior products

Ubisoft DRM.  Much has been said about this topic recently, and I can't help but express my own frustration with the bumbling attempts by publishers to dissuade honest paying customers from picking up their products.  For the two people that aren't familiar with the DRM scheme that Ubisoft implemented in recent games, it works like this: To play one of their PC games, you must be connected to the internet at all times.  If you are ever disconnected, you cannot play and when the connection goes back up, play resumes from a predefined check point.  Let's say it's a stormy day in your neighborhood and the internet is a little flaky.  You might pop into the game for 30 minutes, lose your connection, be dropped from the game, then be reset who knows how far by the time your connection resumes.  This scenario sounds somewhat familiar, as it is how many MMOs operate.  The problem is that Assassin's Creed 2 is a single player game, the kind meant to be enjoyed by a person on their own time, without requiring a connection to the internet.  Got a laptop but no wi-fi hotspot to play?  Better find a different game.

The problem with the DRM schemes being implemented by these publishers is that they are eroding the value of not only their own games, but of all PC games.  At which point do I, as a customer, give up on PC games entirely because I can't trust that the game will work.  If you want me to rent your game, stop trying to charge 50-60 dollars for it.  I honestly think that someone with a stonger will and a copy of these games should consider a lawsuit, as I think this type of scheme violates fundamental use rights that consumers should have.   Microsoft, which charges more for their products and stands to lose a lot more from rampant piracy has figured out a way to authenticate software in a non-obtrusive manner.  As many people have pointed out, pirates inevitably figure out a way around whatever scheme is put into place and they enjoy the game no matter what.  I feel confident that their ranks swell every time they run into one of these DRM schemes.  It's hard enough trying to figure out whether or not your computer can run a PC game, let alone having to jump through the additional hoop of having limited access to the game.  What makes the entire situation even worse is the complete inability to return PC games.  In essence, publishers are saying "Here is a game you might want.  Buy it and play it when we tell you to, and if you have any problems, we are keeping your money anyway."  That's terrible customer service, and a surefire way to turn away people that may otherwise be interested in a well made game.  The development team suffers as well, because they are either unwittingly convinced that the DRM will somehow sell more copies or they are forced to implement the system because a producer or executive was afraid of the entire world stealing their game.

I feel strongly that DRM is a generational issue.  Once the teenagers of today become executives, I think a lot of the misunderstandings about why people pirate things will be made clear as the digital age grows up.  The editor of Wired magazine wrote an entire book on the concept of digital goods wanting to be free, and while I found myself to have a more conservative view of this topic than I expected, I am gradually coming to terms with what a free future will mean.  One important point he makes is that kids growing up today believe digital goods should be free, and we reinforce this idea with websites like YouTube, free to play games, and "pay what you want" music albums.  While this whole topic makes me grit my teeth now, I take solace in the fact that, at least for this part of the world, it will be a better place in the future.  Either that, or I'll stop playing PC games.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Still alive, collecting thoughts

Ahh..the beginning of a new year.  I had a number of blog topics lined up for the remainder of 2009, but, with a young child at home, I find time to be in short supply these days.  I came out slightly ahead in post counts for 2009 compared to 2008, but nowhere near the amount of posts I would like to make, and nowhere near enough to keep anyone looking for new content coming back.  Other goals I had set for 2009 didn't pan out either: I submitted a talk for GDC that did not get selected, I partially finished a couple of books on game design, and my completed game count didn't quite total up to where I wanted it be.  One the upside, I know for a fact that I finished and played more games in 2009 than in most years prior.

With all that in the past, it is time once again to set some new goals.  I will once again increase the frequency of my writing, but I don't think it necessarily makes sense for all of it to take place on the blog.  I have another idea cooking up that would probably make more sense as a format for the type of work I want to produce.  Speaking somewhere this year about game design, even if only locally, is also on the agenda.  I also plan to plug myself into at least one new game development community in order to increase the dialog I have with other developers.  Furthermore, I want to produce more of my own personal, original work this year, in the form of game levels or small games.  The Experimental Gameplay Workshop and Gamma 4 will be my starting points.  On the game playing front, I want to diversify.  While I would like to finish at least as many or more games in 2010 than 2009, I also want to try out more indie and experimental games.

In order to achieve these goals, I will set some milestones throughout the year to record how I'm doing.  While all of this sounds a bit like a mundane laundry list of personal objectives, I believe in the power of writing things down in order to enhance accountability.  That goes double for goals put out into a public forum.  2009 was an excellent year overall, both personally and professionally, but I'm thinking 2010 will be even better.  And I'm excited about meeting these goals.  Do any other developers out there come up with these kinds of lists at the beginning of the year?