Sim City

For anyone who is still not convinced that DRM, as a concept, is a terrible idea, the recent Sim City debacle illustrates why.

The short version is, software publisher EA so feared ‘piracy’ of the latest Sim City incarnation that they crippled the game to require a live Internet connection (to its authentication servers) at all times—not just on startup, but during play too.

Sim CityThey dressed up the requirement in a sort of social play feature, which, to be fair, did add some cool features to the game. But there was no solo player mode. You had to play in the ‘social’ mode at all times and be connected to the Internet to report back to Big Brother. If you lost your Internet connection for any reason during the game, all your progress would be lost and you wouldn’t be able to play again until you were back on-line.

Predictably, this was a disaster. I have been following the whole saga on Techdirt, and it’s like watching a car accident; I can’t tear my eyes away. On launch day, EA’s servers overloaded, leaving paying customers unable to play the game they had just shelled out for. It also turned out that you didn’t just need an open Internet connection, you needed a ‘slot’ on one of EA’s servers. If there wasn’t one available, you had to wait 30 minutes before you tried again.

The backlash was predictable, and swift: users pounded the usual sites with negative reviews, and a creative retailer with stock of the DRM-free earlier version tweeted that it was just $5.99, and propelled that title to a number three best-seller. Meanwhile, a modder hacked the game’s code in ‘debugging’ mode and figured out how to make the game playable off-line, so that those who bought the game could actually play it!

So, lessons learned? Well, the same lessons learned in all DRM stories.

1. The only people who truly suffer under DRM are the ones who pay for legitimate copies.
2. The ‘pirates’ won’t suffer because they will wait for the DRM to be cracked and download a modded copy.
3. DRM is always crackable, so the annoyance you’re putting your customers through isn’t really ‘stopping piracy’ anyway.