The Sleaziest Digital Rights Management Fiascoes

These DRM disasters prove publishers will never learn

If the recent release of SimCity showed us anything it’s that DRM is an absolute nightmare for publishers and gamers alike. The game was so poorly received on launch that it was actually removed from sale on Amazon purely due to the cacophony of one-star ratings it received from angry players. When you make a game so poorly reviews that Amazon stops selling it, you know you’ve done something wrong.

Following the release of the game EA handled the issue with so much disregard for the sensitivity of the issue at hand that it would have made back-alley gender reconstructive surgeons blush. As wave, after wave, after wave of evidence emerged that proved the DRM was nothing to do with the game itself and could easily be removed, EA’s executive basically shrugged and offered excuses so limp that reading them makes you be automatically targeted by ads for Viagra. But SimCity isn’t the first game or even medium to have DRM ruin its credibility and it probably won’t be the last. For example, if you went back 8 years and opened a paper, you may have read something about.

The Sony Rootkit fiasco of 2005

2005 was a sad year for music; we lost Blink-182, Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer and Sony decided that they were singlehandedly going to try and kill CDs. Confused? well back in 2005 Sony added, without telling anyone, a rootkit into their CDs that effectively meant that once you’d put it into your computer, you could only make a finite number of copies of the songs included on it. The rootkit as well as being completely undetectable by all Spyware and Malware detectors of the day, was also described by experts (us) as “shady as all s**t.”

When people found out that Sony had effectively made their newly purchased CD almost useless, massively invaded their privacy and damaged their computer to boot, a top Sony executive responded with all the grace and tact you’d expect from a company bigwig by saying “Most people don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?” Yeah, just like most people don’t fully know what MRSA it, but you can sure as hell bet they’d be pissed if you put it in their corn flakes.

Of course this wouldn’t be a good story if there wasn’t a lesson and the lesson is that doing s**t like this will cost you millions. But the real damage was to the poor artists whose CDs had been filled with this stuff without their knowledge and had to watch their sales hemorrhage into obscurity. But hey at least people learned their lesson right? Oh, yeah, we’re not even half done with this list yet, we still need to talk about the whole …

HD DVD hullabaloo

For those of you who aren’t aware, HD DVD was the thing that was set to kill Blu-Ray before it even launched. However instead of doing that it was clubbed to death by the Sony PS3. Now it failed as a format for several reasons, however the main one is that the Sony PS3 came bundled with a Blu-Ray player, whereas the Xbox 360 had a costly and rather unsightly HD DVD attachment that no one cared about. Also it had a really s****y DRM component no one liked.

In a nutshell HD DVD had a DRM feature that basically meant that you could only use your HD DVD player if you bought a whole heap of expensive extras. Hackers quickly realized that if they stripped away a small part of the code  they were able to use their fancy new HD DVD player with any device. You know, like you can do with a regular DVD player.

Rather than realizing that all the people stripping away the protection had still bought a HD DVD player and were still planning on buying HD DVD (they just didn’t want to buy the cable that The Man said they had to watch them), the Motion Picture Association of America and the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator started sending out truck loads of cease and desist letters to anyone daring to share the code.

The end result was that god-awful copy protection was one of the main reasons cited for HD DVD’s failure as a medium. As it was unanimously agreed that telling people they can only watch films if they buy your special expensive cable when they could buy a PS3 for the same price and play Worms was the equivalent of commercial suicide. But hey, we’re not done yet, not before we talk about …

Great games that ground people’s gears

As aforementioned, SimCity isn’t the first and won’t be the last game to have a whole heap of DRM crammed into it. But there’s no harm in exploring how terrible the idea has gone before just to show why it’s a terrible, terrible idea.

You may remember Spore, the game that promised so much in terms of gameplay that PT Barnum’s corpse asked the PR team to tone it down a little. The game basically promised users the ability to follow a creatures evolution from cell to sentience, eventually peaking in the ability to explore a huge galaxy. The eyes of many gamers lit up at the thought of the sheer amount of dong-monsters they were going to unleash upon the world. And they stayed lit up right up right until it was mentioned that Spore contained so much DRM, the game was effectively crippled to unplayability, leading Spore to become one of the most pirated gamed of all time. Because the internet apparently loves irony.

"It's the wrong kind of copyrighted or something. Just keep your computer on until we can hack a replacement."

“It’s the wrong kind of copyrighted or something. Just keep your computer on until we can hack a replacement.”

But sometime DRM fails just because it fails to take into account that some people will download the game legally, which is what happened to Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. Basically the game’s DRM measures would ask a player to insert their disk, of course, players who’d downloaded the game completely legally had no such choice and were left with an unplayable game. To be fair to Ubisoft they did release a crack which fixed this issue, however it should be noted that they initially lifted the fix from a group of hackers. You know, those same guys who were apparently stealing and profiting from them.

The you have the sad tale of Assassin’s Creed, which despite being a single player game, required one to be online, all the time, no exceptions. Meaning that if a server went down, you couldn’t play and your game data would probably be lost, because screw you, piracy is the real enemy!

Hey, we’re not taking shots at DRM, we’re not smart enough to know all the technical ins and outs of the issue, but we do know that looking back, it’s never really ended well for anyone. So maybe, just maybe, we should try something else? Just a thought.

Karl Smallwood is a freelance comedy writer you can hire! His work has been featured on Cracked, Toptenz and Gunaxin. You should probably click those links to make sure he isn’t lying. He also runs his own website where he responds to the various pieces of hate-mail he’s gotten over the years, in fact, he got so much hate-mail that he wrote a book about it that you can buy on Amazon. When he isn’t writing, Karl also Tweets and uploads pictures of himself drinking on Facebook.

More from Karl Smallwood

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