Thursday, November 24, 2011

Blizzard's Worlds of DRMcraft - A Manifesto

Note - inflexible console gamers: you're already hopelessly addicted to your electronic kiddie crack, so you can skip this entire essay.

Blizzard Entertainment: a living legend in terms of game creation. The major releases being several highly successful game series - Diablo, Starcraft and Warcraft. These three include the World of Warcraft (or WoW for short) massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), the most successful subscriber-driven online game ever.

I've played and enjoyed Diablo and Diablo II, the original Starcraft and its expansion called Broodwar, and Warcraft III and its expansion as well. But due to Blizzard's insistence in the last few years to include unreasonable DRM (Digital Rights Management) schemes with their games, I have lost interest in playing their more recent releases. As long as they insist on DRM, I will continue to skip them at the checkout counter, no matter how "awesome" the game appears to be.

Here's an accurate and amusing video on YouTube that cleverly illustrates the wrongheaded approach that Blizzard now uses, specifically (in this case) their decision to not include LAN play in Starcraft II:

The "Real" Reason Why There Is No Starcraft 2 LAN Play

The argument over basic freedoms as a consumer has turned into a tiresome flame war in the Internet, with the majority of the combatants taking my side... and for good reason.

I love PC games. That's right, I said I love PC games. I love them so much, I collect them and cherish them. Regardless of endless EULAs (End User License Agreements) that keep shoving legal vomit down my throat that says the disk in my hand means nothing in terms of ownership, I still love and collect these disks and the boxes they came in. I consider the best ones as works of art.

I also love to play games on a PC because basically... well... playing games on a console just makes me feel like a lazy chump. That's right, a lazy chump, when I think about the lack of total backwards compatibility coupled with non-stop forced upgrades, the severe limitations of the format as compared to PC gaming, inferior graphics, and the insulting marketing analysis that indicates I'd rather use a console because I'm too feeble to figure out something as basic as game, patch and driver installation.

But this essay isn't about PC versus console gaming. This is about Blizzard's (and other companies') dangerous fascination with pissing off their once loyal customers. So back to it...

My love of PC games means I purchase and retain the original disks, manuals and boxes. I am not a thief. I do not download games for free; I do not install games I haven't paid for. I think referring to those particular kinds of thieves as "pirates" is deliberately deceptive hyperbole, but that's a whole different discussion.

I used to join in the aforementioned Internet argument about DRM and throw down with any slack jawed ding-dong who thought DRM was a harmless bump in an otherwise smooth autobahn of gaming joy. But I no longer bother with that waste of my time, as I eventually had an epiphany, which I will now share.

I would like to urge PC gamers out there to do as I have done:

Refuse to buy any new games that contain DRM greater than an initial online activation or perhaps a CD key serial number.

Does this make me stubborn? I suppose it does if you actually believe you can't live without playing the latest game from Blizzard, or any other DRM-crazed company. But the bottom line is the bottom line: if you speak with your wallet, the game companies will listen, plain and simple.

I could suggest that the more angry of you out there should deliberately download the cracked DRM-spoiled games for free from say, a site called Pirate Bay... but no... I will take the high road and not encourage anyone toward "illegal" activities.

How am I able to ward off the compulsion to give in and buy a new game and put up with its annoying, insulting and ultimately ineffective DRM?

Because there are thousands of DRM-free games to play on a PC. Within that group, there are hundreds of A-list titles that can keep you in gaming bliss for years! Most of these games are still available for purchase, and believe me, years after launch, the prices can't get any better! Imagine paying five dollars for a game instead of fifty or sixty.

This is not exaggeration; it is easily verifiable fact. Click the following link for only one example out of many:

This site sells over 300 high quality, DRM free older games, most for $5.99.

Combine that fact with another fact: how much free time do you really have to play video games? If you took a moment to honestly add up the time you devote to PC gaming, you will come up with an approximate number that can easily be addressed by only a handful of the hundreds of existing top-rated games I mentioned previously.

Don't be a sheep! Instead be a thinking, reasonable, wise person as much as it lies within you. Don't reward companies that treat their loyal customers like potential thieves, while the actual thieves download the cracked games for free and laugh themselves silly at all the money and time that publishers waste on trying to show the crackers who is boss.

Wake up, Blizzard, et al: the crackers own your DRM posteriors, and always will. Grow a pair of sensible spheres and treat your legitimate customers with the proper respect.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Keeping his DRM head in the sand

I have been a fan and subscriber of Maximum PC magazine for many years now. So long, in fact, I recall when "Thomas McDonald" was "T. Liam McDonald."

I've noticed that in recent times I enjoy McDonald's column less and less. There is a certain fanatical ethos that surrounds a magazine specifically designed for diehard PC enthusiasts, and Mr. McDonald appears to have lost it somewhere. Perhaps my perception is clouded, and McDonald never actually had it, I don't know. I may be mistaken, but when a columnist feels it necessary to waste his or her entire monthly contribution attempting to expose and ridicule reader complaints, I'd say it could be a sign that his tenure at the magazine is growing tenuous.

The column in question is in the Maximum PC "Holiday 2011" issue. McDonald's decision to make light of Maximum PC readers' angry letters regarding his November column entitled "The Diablo Is In The Details" was not the wisest of choices. Who knows, perhaps he has secretly wanted out of his obligation to Maximum PC, and figures a mob of keyboard tappers with torches will get the job done for him.

The nitpicker in me will dutifully point out that he's become so sloppy with his journalism, he can't even be bothered to reference the correct magazine issue. His holiday issue column states in the very first sentence that his Diablo III DRM commentary was from the December issue instead of the actual November issue. Petty detail yes; just one more indicator of his apathy, also yes.

Petty details aside, Mr. McDonald does not have the best interests of his readers in mind anymore, if he ever has. No one concerned about major issues such as Right and Wrong in regard to how software companies treat their paying customers would have been so flippant regarding Blizzard's (and other companies') decision to require a constant online connection for the upcoming Diablo III. Multiplayer? Of course that is necessary. Singleplayer? Completely unreasonable and wrongheaded.

Witness currently successful companies like 2D Boy and Stardock, who have won the hearts and wallets of millions with no DRM at all. In life, theft is unavoidable; it is merely a percentages game, since individual and collective human nature dictates that there will always be those who feel entitled to something for which they haven't paid.

I don't want this essay to go on too long, so I won't be individually attacking all of McDonald's ridiculous statements defending DRM, such as the "millions" of dollars publishers spend on their "loss-prevention schemes." How much code was actually necessary to require a constant online connection? Even the most expensive network programming contractors wouldn't charge anywhere near that amount to get the job done.

The ugly wake up call that many publishers seem oblivious to: DRM of this nature is not successful. It does not stop those who wish to play the game without paying for it! The long history of quickly cracked DRM is unblemished. So why expend so much effort including something in your game that will annoy your paying customers and ultimately not affect the thieves at all?

Ego.

The DRM-crazy publishers all live under the arrogant delusion that they can find a way to permanently thwart the crackers, and end theft of digital "property." Based on the structure of digital information, this is impossible. Unfortunately, some people who make important decisions still haven't learned this simple truth.

I do agree with one particular comment by McDonald (despite the sarcasm included in his version): if the DRM pisses you off, then don't buy Diablo III. Excellent advice I plan on following, despite my love of Diablo and Diablo II.

Am I missing out? Not really. There are so many great games to play out there, I won't even think about Diablo III, and I'm sure the invincible Blizzard won't miss my money either.

I'm also sure that Runic Games, the makers of the superb Torchlight series, will enjoy receiving my money. They treat me with the simple respect any paying customer deserves.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beware The Motley Fool's advice

While checking my local weather forecast this evening, I found the following text advertisement from The Motley Fool financial investment web site:



Okay. Aside from the obvious advance of technology, which dictates a high probability that some day personal computers as we know and use them today will no longer be the standard... we are nowhere near that day.

There are many reasons why these tired pronouncements of PC death are foolish; most obviously, these so-called PC-killers are really just PCs with different window dressing, as they contain the same technology our PCs already contain, albeit with much less power and adaptability. iPhones, HTCs, Blackberries, tablets, etc... they're all just comparatively weak and specialized PCs. So the notion of PCs permanently replacing PCs is a bit silly.

After actually laughing out loud at this latest croaking of impending doom, I then had some quick thoughts.

Yes, this was merely an advertisement for The Motley Fool, and as is so typical of marketing agency hyperbole, it shouldn't be consumed as fact. Yes, this was just one more prognostication of death for the PC, which has become a popular techno-legend, much like the previous propaganda about "the cloud" usurping PCs with billions of dumb, Internet-reliant terminals. There is no statistical evidence backing these proclamations in terms of dropping PC sales; the real reason we are occasionally treated to this poppycock is because some upstart company is trying to generate investor capital.

More significantly, beyond those observations, what became quite clear to me was this:

If this advertisement's message is what passes as wisdom from The Motley Fool web site, I won't ever be utilizing their financial advice, unless I wish to be a motley fool with empty pockets.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"The X Factor USA": petty and revealing censorship

I encountered something revealing on the following page:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYY4zyiRwq8

If any of you read the blog essay just prior to this one, it is the same link to the same excerpt of "The X Factor USA." It's the episode segment where Simon Cowell calls "Astro" on his arrogant attitude.

What I found fascinating was that I left a simple comment thus:

"Astro" is not an a**hole; he's a symbol of the 21st century.

Now, I realize this isn't a glowing praise of the fourteen-year-old rapper, but it is far from anything near as caustic as many of the vulgar and rude comments being left by others, many of which contain the f-bomb. Many of the comments are disgustingly and unabashedly racist. My comment was actually a reaction to someone calling "Astro" an a**hole.

"mariana5791" another YouTube user, left the following comment before TheXFactorUSA deleted mine:

@spongefreddie i dont wanna live in the 21st century then... (HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT)

So I have to ask: Why bother to remove my comparatively tame comment?

I can only speculate on the why, as I have no access to the individual who clicked the 'remove' button on behalf of The X Factor USA (it's their YouTube channel).

As I don't want to get too wild with my suppositions, I'll simply observe that the decision to delete my comment was most likely based on anger, and that anger motivated by fear.

Fear of what, you ask?

Truth can be a lot more unsettling than cynical sarcasm and ignorant vulgarity.

"Astro's" Defining Moment

"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."

I just happened upon an excerpt from a television show called "X Factor," which consisted of Simon Cowell (one of the judges) sternly reprimanding an arrogant fourteen-year-old rapper who calls himself "Astro."

Here is a link to the full incident (The excerpt in question begins around 2:50):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYY4zyiRwq8

[Note: the video was made private sometime after this essay was published. "Private" is often YouTube-speak for removal under duress. Astro most likely complained, thinking his digital embarrassment would be removed forever. Like Tom Green in other posts in this blog, Astro was wrong. You can now see it here (this time starting at 3:10: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXHwPejVgoc


First off, other than viewing the clip, I don't watch the show, neither do I have any interest to start. Secondly, I'm not particularly interested in whether or not "Astro" deserved to escape elimination versus a forty-two-year-old woman. Thirdly, at this point I'm not going to expend any time with the perpetual argument between those who think 'rapping' is singing, and those who do not.

What I am going to point out is that on a very small scale, this televised incident, and the burp of controversy that erupted among some anonymous and angry Internet troglodytes, have both effectively demonstrated a problem that is becoming more and more evident in the 21st century: the negative results of hyperactive subjectivity.

I would lean toward arguing that "Astro" is merely emulating the idols he's grown up with... 'stars' who similarly have fooled themselves into thinking subjective opinion is all that matters. In a philosophical sense, this can be correct; however if a person is at all paying attention to cause and effect as it plays out around them, then they will observe that this way of viewing the world is ultimately wrong due to inevitably destructive effects.

Five years from now, very few will care much about the X Factor incident. "Astro" will most likely become a big 'star' with legions of human beings endlessly reassuring him via electronic blubbering and record sales that his every word and action is a gift from heaven.

Thus, the delusion is enforced, time and time again:

If we believe it, it must be true.

That works just swell... until someone comes along with a bone to pick with the human race and decides to take matters into his or her own hands.

There's a difference between the two? Yes, but only in magnitude of the destructive effect, not in the core reason the arrogance is wrong in the first place.

Read the first sentence of this essay again.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Capitulation, Netflix Style

Reed Hastings released this blog entry to the world on October 10th:

http://blog.netflix.com/2011/10/dvds-will-be-staying-at-netflixcom.html

This much shorter, less apologetic post gets right to the point. Qwikster has been abandoned.

This was a good decision, of course, so trying to put a negative spin on it is pointless.

The one thing I am moved to say is that I hope Netflix's exorbitant price hike in July has sufficiently offset their resultant poor stock performance, otherwise how will all of us millions of slavish subscribers be able to keep Hastings living in the manner he is accustomed?