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"Good" DRM vs "Bad" DRM

I've seen parallels drawn between XBOne and Steam or XBOne and iOS/Android. As a prolific user of all these platforms (except XBOne obviously), I wanted to point out the differences between what is essentially "good" DRM practices and "bad" DRM practices. I do believe there is such thing as "good" DRM, and I'll explain why.

First a clarification. DRM is any kind of digital rights management whether its a physical or digital good. In theory, the PS3, Wii U, 3DS, or any console that can download games uses DRM. The reason the XBOne is being criticized for DRM is because it is using DRM for physical games, not just downloads. Sony and EA have done similar things in the form of Online Pass in the past. But again, XBOne is being criticized for DRM because it is also using DRM for single-player, offline games, not just online games.

Device freedom

Most online ecosystems allow you to enjoy the benefits of owning multiple devices and sharing your content across all these devices. For PlayStation, you are allowed two PS3s and two PS Vitas/PSPs to share all your game content. For iOS, you are allowed ten devices. For Steam and Android, you are allowed an unlimited amount of devices. The reason XBOne's policy is abusive is because while it does allow "family" accounts, these are limited to 10 accounts which must perform an online check every hour (none of the other above ecosystems require this). This is a stark contrast to Steam's "Offline Mode", where a friend can sign into my account, go offline, and resume playing for all of eternity.


iOS and PSN both fail here, but Steam and Android excel. There are a few reasons for this. First, people seem to forget that Steam is not the only way to get games on PC. Amazon, GreenManGaming, GOG, etc. are all becoming more and more competitive on the PC platform. I have seen triple A games like Hitman Absolution or Arkham Origins sell for $40 for pre-order. PC deals like Steam sales, Amazon sales, Humble Bundle, etc. are so common and so cheap that DRM is almost completely forgotten. The sales on PC are so vast that there is an entire Reddit forum full of them. Similarly with Android, it's open ecosystem allows Amazon to compete with the Play Stores prices, which pushes Google to keep its prices competitive and release sales. Yes, PSN and Xbox both have sales, but they pale in comparison to the deals an open ecosystem provides. Not having these advantages and piling on restrictive DRM is a pretty hard sell.

Why Steam and others are "Good DRM"

My definition of "good" DRM is a DRM that simultaneously offers protection to the developers and convenience for consumers. As a PC gamer, I have been exposed to far too many cases of what is abusive DRM, such as SecuROM, UPlay, Blizzard, etc. In the case of Steam and Android, both provide positive benefits to the consumer. As a university student, I have a PC at home and a laptop in college. With Steam, I am allowed to have my entire game collection on both computers and my save games synced with the free cloud. By comparison, I must lug my entire PS3 game collection through airport security and pay $5/month for PSN Plus to enjoy this same experience. Another thing I can do is give my brother my Steam account information, and have us both play games simultaneously. If I log on when he is logged on, Steam simply switches him to offline mode and we can both play concurrently. I cannot do this on the PS3 with a physical disk, unless I buy another physical disk. There are advantages to having DRM free PS3 disks, of course. However, the fact that Steam can offer me these kinds of conveniences is why I consider Steam to be "good" DRM. Steam takes very little away from me in exchange for a nice amount of advantages.

Why XBOne is "Bad DRM"

XBOne is interesting because it is an combination of the worst DRM PC has ever seen put to full throttle. Whether it's SecuROM's five game activation, or UPlay/Blizzard's single-player online check requirement, XBOne represents the very apex of bad DRM. Unlike SecuROM, you can only activate your game on your account, and then send it to another account once. That account will be tied to the game for eternity. SecuROM at least allows you to have five machines own the game and the ability to activate/deactivate machines. XBOne allows you to have one machine to own the game and the ability to send it once. Similarly, UPlay, Blizzard, and XBOne force you to connect online even though you are playing a single-player game. XBOne actually one ups this by forcing you to connect online every 24 hours even if you aren't playing a game at all. This is the epitome of bad DRM, DRM that is thoroughly abusive to consumers while providing the same inconvenience of physical games. Keep in mind that with the XBOne, you are still lugging your game collection through airport security and paying for online services you get for free on other platforms.

I was convinced for a long time that Sonys PSN and Nintendos eShop were the worst that the gaming industry had to offer in terms of troublesome DRM. PSNs horrifically slow servers, laggy store interface, annoying download quirks and abusive online pass were pretty bad to begin with. And the fact that the 3DS and Wii purchases were tied to the system (meaning I cant play Pushmo on both my 3DSs or Paper Mario 64 on both my Wiis) was a real pain the bum. However, with the exception of the online pass, most of these are honest problems. Problems that both companies understand and try to fix. XBOne's policy is not an oversight or mistake. It is not something as simple as a technical problem or matter of simple misunderstanding. It is a carefully calculated plan to exploit and abuse the consumer.

Microsoft's new console is yet another sign of how driven the corporation is to control the consumer. While platforms like Steam offer DRM with the convenience of playing games on any of your devices or aggresive pricing for quality games, XBOne fails to deliver both. We are very fortunate to have many outlets for unique and impressive games this generation. If ultimately you do choose to own an XBOne, do so not because of some flimsy allegience to a souless corporation, but as an informed consumer. One who knows exactly what the alternatives are.

Note: I have done my best to decode the mess and jargon that is the Xbox One policy page. However, I may have made mistakes in my interpretation. If you have found any mistakes, please let me know. Thanks.

A look at some improvements the PS Vita can make.

I've had the Hong Kong version of the Vita for a while now and I thought I'd make a list of some areas I feel need improving. Overall the device is fantastic but a few things could make it even better.

1. HDMI-out

The PSP had TV-out and naturally the Vita should be expected to have it as well. I've been hearing somethings about DLNA letting you play the PS Vita on a TV wirelessly, but it would still be nice to have a low latency choice.

2. DualShock 3 support

Going off on the TV-out would be DualShock 3 support. This will effectively turn the Vita into a home console. Now you may see why Sony might have been hesistant about these two features, they make the Vita directly compete with the PS3. Personally I think Sony should worry more about making exclusive games on both platforms. I'd also argue that they've ALREADY made enough exclusive games to justify both platforms. Hopefully they realize that and address these issues.

3. Either Flash/HTML5 support or in-game browser

The Vita's browser is better than I expected. The only problems I really have with it are minor tiling issues and the lack of Flash or full HTML 5 support. On the other hand, the browser takes up enough of the Vita's resources that it can't run alongside an open game. I want Sony to either make it a full on, capable browser or make it a watered down browser than can be used in game.

You'll notice up top that I didn't mention internal storage. I would personally prefer that we don't have internal storage on the Vita, as having removable memory makes it easier for people to upgrade and sell their old cards whenever they want. I also didn't list the cameras, because it would drive up the cost for a really quite useless component of the system.