With the launch of GOG.com’s FCK DRM initiative, now is the best time to openly discuss Digital Rights Management and why it’s so bad. This website best describes the problem with DRM in the gaming industry.
“Because there is a killswitch built into your games. Sure, DRM might not affect you right now, but corporations hold the key and they’ll only let you in as long as you can repeatedly prove ownership. As long as you’re connected to the internet. As long as their DRM works without fault. As long they’re still around.”
“So should the burden of proof be on you? Do you place your trust in someone who doesn’t trust you?”
Video games, piracy and DRM are three intertwined issues that emerge every few years. Often, when big companies try and combat piracy, they increase Digital Rights Management. The most controversial of these efforts is to implement “always online” DRM, which almost always receives backlash. The biggest examples of such controversy are the SimCity and Xbox One PR disasters in 2013. However, there is one game company who is using their distribution platform to actively fight DRM. This is GOG.com, aka Good Old Games, a subsidiary of Witcher publishers CD Projekt. The website acts as a place to buy games with one crucial bonus, no DRM.
Founded without DRM
In 1990s Poland, where CD Projekt was founded, new companies were experiencing a newfound economic support following the collapse of Communism. However, there were virtually no laws on copyright and there was never anything like DRM around to protect developers. As a result, piracy significantly impacted businesses like CD Projekt, as not only were international hackers able to easily pirate games without any legal ramifications, but also the public started to accept pirated copies of games as legitimate sales.
Managing director of GOG Piotr Karwowski, while speaking to NoClip, stated “I’d say the biggest competitor for CD Projekt was the piracy. That was like the biggest thing in Poland. I mean compared to today, back then it was really bad. Rarely anyone bought games.”
In order to legitimise sales of Polish games, particularly foreign games being sold in Poland, CD Projekt needed a new distribution platform. Knowing that there was no way to combat piracy, which was socially expected in Poland, they would need to offer more. Their first success came in their work with Interplay and Baldur’s Gate (1998). In order to combat pirated sales, CD Projekt decided to localise the game, translating it from Russian to Polish. They then included more in the box, to convince Polish customers that the higher price was justifies.
Eurogamer writes “inside the box was all the added value a pirate wouldn’t provide: a parchment map sealed with wax, a Dungeons & Dragons rulebook, sourced locally, and an audio CD.” Similar to how a “digital deluxe” or “collector’s” edition justifies its higher price tag with more goodies, CD Projekt justifies legitimate, non-pirated gaming sales.
GOG.com and the FCK DRM initiative
While CD Projekt continued to prosper into the 2000s, online piracy began to hurt the gaming industry. To combat this, American companies, like Valve with Steam, introduced Digital Rights Management, whether in the form of CD Keys or online verification checks. However, without a culture of copyright laws, Poland and CD Projekt never saw these issues as ‘new’. In 2008, EA and Maxis released Spore, a highly anticipated Sci-Fi game that limited players to three installations of the game. In an article from 2008 from the Washington Post, they note that not only did this DRM policy destroy fan perception of the game, but also did nothing to stop the game from being pirated. In fact, one could argue that the difficulties associated with the official version actively led people to piracy.
With a decade of game localisation and restoration under their belts, and the release of their latest significant first party release The Witcher (2007), CD Projekt read the writing on the wall and saw that the public hated DRM. They launched GOG.com, at the time known as Good Old Games, feeling the public backlash against DRM also meant people would be more willing to pay for a legitimate copy of the game if it offered more than a pirated version, instead of less like in the case of Spore (2008). Coming from a country where they could never rely on DRM, CD Projekt instead offered older vintage titles as well as continued support for games, such as the Enhanced Editions of The Witcher and The Witcher 2.
As the platform and company have grown, so to has their efforts to combat DRM. Last week, CD Projekt launched its FCK DRM initiative, a website design to educate the public about DRM. This includes information about what DRM specifically is, what it means corporations can do with your games, and how it related to your consumer rights. Essentially, DRM gives companies a killswitch to your content, allowing them to deny your access to your games. However, this isn’t exclusive to games, but also to music, movies and TV. They also promote other organisations who are fighting the cause, including non-profits and other DRM-Free digital distribution companies.