It’s not hard to find statements from frustrated console gamers regarding their hatred for the rumours (stress that word; these are rumours, perpetuated by an outfit – Edge – that has an iffy record in this regard) that the next XBox will have checked off every single thing that they hate. Single-use installations of games that make physical media such as CDs meaningless and kill used games off? Check. Perpetual online connection? Check. Other obtrusive DRM that comes inherent with any console, on a system that isn’t even as powerful as a top-end gaming PC today? Check once again. Gamers won’t buy it, they’ll ignore it, they’ll hold their breath until they get what they want.
Ignore these people. They are weak willed, and spouting off with the first things that come to their mind. They will buy the new XBox. If the new PlayStation has these same features, they will buy that, too. History has proven them right.
Ever since publishers have figured out that they could use technology as a heavy-handed way to protect their assets and maybe glean a little bit of sellable user data on the side, they have done so, to increasing effect. The true turning point was SecuROM, which first really showed its ugly head in BioShock, leaving behind files that you couldn’t delete, which blocked otherwise legitimate programs from running because they could be used for piracy, and that installed without any reference in the EULA. Since then, SecuROM hasn’t gone away, but we’ve had activation limits that limit how many times someone can install a game, always-on DRM that force-quits the game you’re playing if your internet goes down, DRM that installs on top of already existing DRM (example: SecuROM and Games For Windows Live installs despite games being on Steam), and in many cases, a combination of all of the above. The spectacle hasn’t been limited to games, either; Sony (the company behind SecuROM) achieved notoriety because of rootkits that came with select music CDs, which didn’t become clear until a security researcher noticed them, by accident, well after they hit the market.
If I asked you what happened to the companies that instituted these policies and the software associated with them, and you told me that they were punished via lost sales and negative public relations that forever tainted the company, I would tell you you were wrong, and then we would both consume alcohol. Bioshock sold gangbusters. Grand Theft Auto’s PC ports all sold well. Ubisoft’s PC games sell well despite that company’s aggressive stance against making their PC games any sort of playable. You name it, and unless the game just wasn’t any good, or didn’t hit some sort of hype/likability singularity, it sold well, in some cases selling exceptionally well. DRM has made virtually no impact on sales.
The simple answer for this is that ultimately, it’s the games that matter. I always use the mantra “It’s the games, stupid” to cut through a lot of the drivel you read from financial types such as Michael Pachter, but that’s a double edged sword. At the end of the day, gamers play good games, and will jump through flaming hoops to do so. If an exceptional, GOTY contending game came out that required, as a matter of fact, an install of SecuROM and all its worst options, a perpetual online connection, the acceptance of fifteen EULAs, and a hot-iron brand of the publishing company’s logo on the ass of the purchasing player, you would see gamers lined up at GameStops all over the country with a pen in one hand and aloe to sooth their already-exposed rear ends in the other. While receiving their permanent mark of ownership, like cattle in the literal sense, they would be cussing out people who even remotely tried bringing up the rights to their software that they were giving up to play a video game. For all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years regarding DRM, I’d wager 65% of it was ambivalent about it, with a healthy portion of that consisting of people who were aggressively in favour of it so long as they get their games. One guy I used to write with, Nathan Birch, once made his opinion clear in one of our end of year best games lists: “go cry about the horrors of DRM elsewhere, douchebag”.
It’s statements like that that make me realize that we can bitch and moan about what the system is rumoured to have – for what it’s worth, nothing’s confirmed, but I see a lot of smoke; there’s a fire somewhere – but it doesn’t matter. For every person who boycotted BioShock, ten more bought it. For every person who despises Origin and won’t install it, fifteen more happily bought it. In most cases, the people bitching the hardest were the first ones in line. There is a mindset among gamers that publishers are like their friends; they can say something displeases them, while still supporting them, and that their friends will listen. “I don’t think you should be dating her, because she’s crazy and I think she’s cheating on you, but you’re my friend, so I’ll take you two to the party. Just consider what I say, OK?”. Publishers – every one of which, in this conversation, are large, multinational and publicly traded in some form – don’t care about any of that stuff; the conversation ends once they receive your money. “Thanks for the ride. But I want you to buy us beer now, you’re over 21. What do you mean you won’t!? Fuck you too!”
For every few people that learn this, more and more come up who either don’t understand, or don’t care. In a way, John Calhoun’s comments about gamers thinking that microtransactions are just a consequence of playing video games has some truth to it. He’s full of crap, and was rightly lampooned for them, but when you think about it, the things that older gamers like I consider sacrosanct are antiquated to those coming behind me. When I was 16, CD based games were still new, and the closest we had to the internet was mail-ordering games via import services. To a 16 year old in 2013, punching a credit card into your iPhone to buy Smurfberries isn’t even the new normal; it’s normal. So when I look and go “this is daft, I’m never buying this garbage”, the kid behind me wonders what the old guy is mumbling about. That kid buys the system on day one; the older guys convert the moment Halo 5 is confirmed. It’s a virtual guarantee.
If the games on a system are desirable, gamers will buy that system, no matter what they have to go through before, during or after buying that system; the launch of the PlayStation 3 proved that. Nothing anyone says about that will change that. The only thing that will make gamers truly outraged is making a bad game.