Personally, I hate Digital Rights Management (DRM). Hate it with a vengeance. In music, in games, it doesn't matter. Contrary to what the execs in their ivory towers believe, DRM serves one purpose and one purpose only: to piss off and prevent legitimate customers from playing and using their purchased goods.

Case in point: Crysis Warhead. I was actually extremely surprised, in a pleasant way, when EA (yes, EA!) released Crysis Warhead (and the original Crysis) on Steam for purchase. More impressively, they decided not to charge the Rest Of The World (ie. not the USA) far extra for exactly the same thing), otherwise known as price gouging. It costs, very reasonably, US$30. (Unfortunately, they are still gouging us for Crysis 1. US$40 if you download from the USA, US$60 if you download from Australia. What a crock.)

Obviously, releasing Crysis & Crysis Warhead on Steam is a toe-in-the-water test by EA to see the response from consumers. Certainly, Crytek, the developers of Crysis have been whinging like stuck pigs about the rampant pirating of Crysis. Of course, the extreme levels of piracy have nothing to do with the fact that Crysis runs like crap on the computers that your customers spent a lot of money upgrading to play your game, unless you're willing to crank down the graphics (which defeats the purpose of upgrading). It's alright, just blame your customers because they're obviously not smart enough to see a brilliant product when they see it. Oops, I've started foaming at the mouth... anyway, back to Crysis Warhead on Steam.

I'm always harping on about how, if games companies were to offer a decent product I want, not price-gouge me because I live in the Rest Of The World, not load it with crippling DRM, and optionally, offer the game as a download through Steam, I would be more than happy to throw my money at them like there was no tomorrow. So I decided now, with EA (yes, EA!!) putting Crysis Warhead on Steam as a test, was the time to put my money where my mouth is.

So I purchased Crysis Warhead.

That was a mistake, of sorts.

Don't get me wrong. The game is great. I like the game. I enjoyed Crysis, once I got past the terrible graphics performance and the crippling kick in the 'nads that I received upon realising those hundreds of dollars spent upgrading my PC were worthless since it still played like crap. Crysis Warhead is more of that (including the kick to the 'nads, but also the great gameplay). The problem is the DRM it comes infected with.

Stupid me. Thinking that some god somewhere had finally showed his hand and guided EA back to the path of righteousness (or some shit). I expected, having being released on Steam, EA would be utilizing Steam's DRM mechanism to protect their game. I was so wrong.

Steam's DRM is the only DRM that I have ever used that doesn't kick the purchaser in a very painful place. It never gets in the way. It has never, ever, prevented me from playing a game I own. I can play my games on whatever damn PC I want. I can redownload my games for free if I lose them in a hard-drive failure or something. I never get told that I can't play my game because I have some advanced computer-user tool installed. These days, it doesn't collapse in a smoking heap on launch day, preventing customers from playing the game. The only thing it asks is that I log in to Steam, which I don't mind. Why don't I mind? Because lots of games use Steam. If every different game used a different "log in please" program, I'd get annoyed. But with Steam, I can log in and get all my games, because it has them all (unless you live in The Rest Of The World, in which case it doesn't. I feel more mouth-foam on the way... must stay focused!).

Turns out, Crysis Warhead comes with the same DRM malware that has pissed off so many people who tried to own Spore: SecuROM. Incidentally, SecuROM is made by Sony, a company I loathe because of the contempt it holds for its customers. Crysis Warhead also came loaded with a load of bloatware as well.

When I started the game, Steam oddly requested admin rights (through UAC), which it never does. I granted it, and it began installing stuff, except it didn't have a UI, programs just popped up wanting to install. I was slightly suspicious, so I opened Process Explorer so I could see what the hell was going on. Steam was running some install script for Crysis Warhead, which was spawning off installers for various programs including Punkbuster. I let them through, but when it tried to foist off GameSpy Comrade on me by just throwing the installer in my face, I said stuff this and cancelled the GameSpy installer.

I ran the game again and was presented with... "A required security module cannot be activated. This program cannot be executed (5024)." I pressed OK, and was returned to Steam sans Crysis Warhead. Shit, I thought, maybe cancelling that GameSpy Comrade cancer stuffed up some DRM-installing process, because it's damn obvious now that this isn't using Steam's DRM.

So after around 15-20 minutes of poking around on the Steam forums, I discovered why I was not allowed to play the game I legally purchased with my hard-earned money: I was running Process Explorer. For those who haven't heard of Process Explorer, its basically a fancy Task Manager that provides me with more information about what my computer's doing. It is not a cracking tool. It does not reverse engineer programs. It's even made by Microsoft, not some dodgy back-room company. But apparently, the joint Sony and EA gods of contempt decree that I'm not allowed to use it.

So in summary: I paid money for a game and was unable to play it after purchase. I then had to decode a uselessly obscure error message to work around the DRM before I could play. On the other side of the fence, I could have done the wrong thing and asked my friend Mr B Torrent to get me Crysis Warhead and I would have been playing immediately, since the Sony DRM would have been cracked out for me. Do tell me, which process do you think actually allows the player to actually play the game? Really, has the Sony DRM prevented the Mr B Torrent edition as is its purpose? No. The only, the only, thing it has done is to waste the time of legitimately paying customers like myself. Correct me if I'm wrong, but since I'm paying for the game, I ought to be getting a better, not worse, experience than those who steal it.

Daniel James, CEO of the games company Three Rings, in his post on Penny Arcade laid the smackdown on DRM and said it exactly as I feel about it:

DRM takes a big poo on your best customers -- the ones who've given you money -- whilst doing nothing practical to prevent others from 'stealing' your precious content juices. Worse, it makes these renegades feel nice and righteous about sticking it to 'the man'. Stop trying to persuade people to love you more by hitting them a rusty pipe. Put down the pipe, and give up on DRM.

He also says this, in reference also to the music industry (emphasis mine):

'Not fair', the vendor of music or packaged software cries. Well, tough shit. Nobody added your business to the list of protected species, despite what your lobbyists and lawyers say. Find a business model that's actually appropriate to the 21st century, and perhaps scale back your expectations of vast profits accordingly (oh, and fire some lawyers and lobbyists, too, please). For example, as some musicians have done by returning to live performance as their main source of revenue.

I yelled in joy when I read that. Finally, someone who gets it. In terms of the movie and music industries, trying to force your customers to use your far outdated business model by corrupting politicians and bashing people with the "law" (and it's not the law: they are just forcing you to do what they want because you can't afford a lawyer to defend yourself) is absolutely and undeniably despicable. And they wonder why people now take pleasure in stealing music etc.

And don't tell me that "oh the retail game industry can't make money if we make these changes you want, waah!". That is crap. Look at Valve. They make games that are quality and people want them. They sell them at a reasonable price that is the same no matter where you live in the world. Their DRM is Steam's DRM, so it's not obnoxious. People can purchase their games online and download them directly to their PCs. They can play the games on whatever PC they like, whenever they like. Their games play on the majority of PCs out there (Valve uses Steam to do hardware surveys to discover what level of computer they should target their games at. That data is available to all game developers for free). And because of all this, they make tonnes of money.

So don't tell me its not possible to make money without DRM. The writing is on the wall. DRM doesn't work. It never will. Treat your customers with respect and you'll receive the same back.

Please note that I do not condone piracy as a solution to the problem. Developers deserve your money, but they have to earn it. If you don't think a game is worth your money, don't pay for it and don't play it. Pay for and play games that are brilliant and don't treat you like a criminal. Speak with your wallet; money is the language that corporations talk in. Piracy only proves to them that you would take their product if there was no piracy (hence DRM). Show them that you wouldn't take their crappy product at all. They'll learn very quickly when they don't have piracy figures to fall back on as an excuse as to why people aren't buying their games.