I had some more thoughts on the DRM issue, inspired by recent information regarding Xbox One. Games have been distributed in the following fashion since removable cartridges were invented:
- A publisher encodes digital information onto a physical object, like a disc, disk, or cartridge.
- That physical object is packaged along with other materials (manual, map, cloth map, registration card, pewter figurine, advertisements, rubbish).
- This package is then shipped by via boats, planes, and trains to retailers, who then subsequently ship it to their outlets.
- You, the gamer, then travel to a retail outlet, buy this physical object, then return to your home. Alternatively, you order it online, then wait for a day to a week.
- Your console or computer transforms the data on the physical media into a game.
All that up there, that is not going to continue that much longer. This is the legacy way of acquiring software. Moving physical objects around to accomplish a digital process is going to look increasingly ridiculous. It's the equivalent of printing off a document, driving it to your coworker's house, and scanning it into his computer, instead of just emailing it to him. Buying software in a box will be gone with the wind pretty soon.
So what does this mean? Let's talk about the logical ramifications of the obsolescence of physical media. The most obvious is that ownership of a game (or properly, I should say, the rights to use a game) will no longer be tied to owning a disc. Your ownership of a game will be virtual, tied to an account that is maintained on some giant company's server. This sort of scheme is already in place, and in fact, has been around for years. A few examples:
- Xbox Live Arcade
- Apple App Store
We haven't been able to trade/resell games off any of these platforms since they went operational. Why aren't people complaining about that? I mentioned this in my last blog: Gamer complaints about Xbox One are almost entirely focused around DRM, and the fact that they won't be able to resell boxed copies of games. DRM is an unavoidable consequence of virtual ownership. Virtual ownership models have been around for years in the world of gaming. This is not something new.
One of the complaints levied against Xbox One is that you won't be able to rent games, which proves that the people complaining about Xbox One aren't thinking. Tell me, reader, is it easier--for both a business and end user--to rent a game by mailing out a disc, or downloading the game? Is the Netflix digital subscription or the snail mail subscription more popular these days? With the next generation of consoles (the current generation, actually), there's no reason you couldn't just install the GameFly app, and it allow you to play your two full games per month instantly, without leaving your chair.
Virtual ownership opens up a whole new slew of ways to sell games. Perhaps we can get away from the monolithic $60-per-game pricing that's been around for the last decade. I think some comparisons to music are in order here. In the old days, you bought a CD for $12, and owning that CD defined your ownership of the songs on it. I don't know one person who still buys CDs. Why? Because there are host of more convenient ways to get music: Ad supported streaming, buying tracks/albums online, or buying a subscription. Any of these could be applied to games.
I have an Xbox Music Pass (grandfathered Zune Pass) that allows me to download or stream all the DRM'd music I want, and download 10 DRM-free tracks per month. A similar model could be applied to gaming. For some flat monthly fee, you can play a certain number of full games. For a higher fee, play an unlimited number of full games per month. Companies can come up with all sorts of pricing schemes, and none of them need involve me leaving my house, riding my motorcycle to a store, and spending $60 on a green plastic rectangle with a disc inside.
Once we get away from the "pay $60 for this disc," games could become more modular, similar to how people buy tracks rather than albums these days. Single and multiplayer modes could be purchased separately, and more episodic content could be produced. Obviously the technology to do all this on 360 exists already. I think the reason this doesn't happen is the gamers and publishers are still locked into that $60-for-full-game mindset.
I'm sure when iTunes went operational, there were people complaining about it, how they wouldn't be able to resell an album once they bought it. Such a complaint sounds archaic, and wouldn't even occur to us now. In ten years, no one will give DRM in games a second thought. It'll just be the way we go about our gaming.
I am not passing judgment on any of this. This is simply the way things are going. Gamers are complaining about it, because they haven't spent two minutes to think beyond "I won't be able to resell my games!" Well, you won't be able to resell your games, and that's annoying. However, there will be good changes too, like finally getting away from that ubiquitous $60 price tag.