The Police State of Videogames

(This is another edition of /RANT, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)

Today, Blizzard revealed that any customers buying a digital copy of Diablo 3 would be made to undergo a “review” process in which they would be restricted to the Starter Edition of the game for up to 72 hours. That’s three days in which players can climb no higher than level 13 and progress no further than the Skeleton King boss battle in Act I. After so much controversy surrounding the game‘s always-on DRM and associated login errors, this is literally the last thing Diablo 3 needed, at least in the eyes of those among us (rightfully) grinding our axes. Blizzard’s justification for this is a continued crackdown on cheaters and thieves, but most users see it as little more than another unwanted inconvenience as Blizzard solves problems that it, as the developer, has been mostly responsible for.

All that said, the issue of Diablo 3′s new “review process” is indicative of a wider problem in the games industry, a problem that sees the paying customer continually treated with mistrust and made to jump through hoops, all to demonstrate their loyalty and trustworthiness to companies that display absolutely no loyalty or trustworthiness themselves. Diablo 3′s trial period is more than just another rung on the game’s ladder of shit, it’s exemplary of current corporate attitudes, and a grim indicator of where big-budget gaming is destined to go.

Naturally, this all goes back to the grandfather of consumer inconvenience, digital rights management. Over the years, DRM has justly earned its reputation as a piece of shit that provides zero benefit to the end user and acts as little more than a placebo to the publisher implementing it. Under the guise of protecting its intellectual property, the publisher exercises its right to make users input codes, check in online, or stay connected to the Internet entirely, all so they can continually be authenticated, verified, and proven worthy. This idea was brought from PC to console with the dawn of the online pass, yet again excused by companies as a necessary tool in fighting those evil used games. The used gamer has to pay ten bucks to access half a game, while the brand new consumer is yet again expected to fiddle with crappy virtual keyboards and plonk codes in to prove to a boardroom that they’re a loyal little consumer. This “review process” of Blizzard’s is, potentially, a further evolution of these unreasonable consumer demands, as videogames go from a fun pass-time to an out-and-out police state.

It’s already bad enough that one needs half a dozen accounts to take advantage of some of the bigger games out there. In this generation alone, I’ve had to set up accounts for Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Steam, Origin, GameLoft, Blizzard, EA.com, Battlelog, fucking Kalypso, iTunes, Game Center, GOG, and others too obscure to remember, all in the name of my job as a videogame reviewer. I have so many passwords that I feel like a walking fucking Enigma machine. I have all these because of publishers demanding control over my personal details, and expecting proof that I’m willing to go out of my way in demonstrating how loyal I am to them. This need to effectively dominate every aspect of the user’s experience is starting to look downright creepy, and it’s only going to get worse. More and more, individual publishers are setting up their own little services and demanding users create more and more accounts. With things like Battlelog and Call of Duty Elite, we’re seeing individual videogames setting up their own little services and demanding users to create more and more accounts. Accounts within accounts within accounts, all to further control the consumer at every single level of play.

When we take into account how the big budget game industry is currently run, the Diablo 3 “review” process makes total sense. Why not force users to stand around in a paddock like fucking cattle for a few days while you clear them for access? You might as well, since they’re already covered in fucking barcodes.

The truly insulting part of all of this is, of course, that none of it bloody works. DRM can demand codes, checkups, and constant online connections, yet it still doesn’t stop piracy from running rampant as thousands and thousands of users download intellectual property for free. Online passes can make publishers some extra money on the side, but the used game market is still in full effect and stores are even starting to print and pack in their own codes alongside each purchase. Diablo 3 can force users online, tie them to an account, and stick them in a waiting area, but people are still going to duplicate and cheat and steal and lie and turn that fucking game into their prison bitch. At this rate, these little schemes can exist for only one of two reasons — pure placebo effect, as publishers realize that they’re never going to win but desperately feel like doing something in order to get some peace of mind, or a knowing plan to control not pirates and cheaters, but the paying customer.

That latter possibility is nothing but logical, since we know that DRM only affects the paying consumer, yet it’s continually used with the excuse that it’s there to stop pirates. When even an idiot knows that DRM doesn’t do the one thing it’s advertised as doing, why are companies still using it? Well, with fears of Origin mining data and SecuROM being filled with all kinds of glorified spyware shit … who knows what DRM and its makers really intend with that shit? I know, I know, it sounds really paranoid and alarmist, and maybe I’m getting a bit carried away. The only other explanation is that these publishers are just incredibly fucking stupid, and I somehow don’t think they’re that dumb. They can be short-sighted, too greedy for their own good, and misguided, but I don’t think they’re at the level of imbecilic required to truly believe that DRM does what it tells everyone it does.

Whatever it’s intended for, and however successful Diablo 3′s latest sure-to-not-be-very-successful-security-check is, the fact remains that big budget gaming is turning into some sort of ridiculous Orwellian dystopia, where the end user jumps through hoops and recites pass codes on command, all in order to demonstrate to some unseen power that they have a right to access the product they already paid good money for. And while these companies claim that what they’re doing is necessary, while they state that everything has been done for the greater good, I simply don’t believe them.

Because for as much trust as they expect to have in me, I have absolutely zero trust in them.

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10 Comments on The Police State of Videogames

Swcloud99

On June 22, 2012 at 9:52 am

Cue *Loud applause*
these guys.

Devil's Advocate

On June 22, 2012 at 10:31 am

Because we all know that this is a good reason to pirate.

Go right ahead and pirate it. Just don’t come crawling to me when they start supporting acts like SOPA again and I’ll be looking at you when they decide that DRM is more justified. Remember kids, acts like SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, CISPA, and the use of DRM is further “justified” by Morons Like You™.

JPH

On June 22, 2012 at 10:36 am

@Devil’s Advocate, I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here — are you just trying to say piracy is bad? Because Jim never defended pirates or said piracy isn’t a bad thing.

Frank

On June 22, 2012 at 10:39 am

Well said Jimothy, well said.

JX

On June 22, 2012 at 11:20 am

@Devil’s Advocate

That is like saying people will jay walk, so lets put a huge ball and chain on everyone’s ankles so they can’t jay walk. Yet people finds ways to break that ball and chain, so only the law abiding ones are stuck with it.

Why not just punish the Jay Walkers? As oppose to putting ball and chain on everyone? Spend the money and go after pirates, what does putting DRM have to do with paying customers? Games are cracked within the first few days of release if not sooner, only the paying customers are stuck with the ball and chain.

Hoju84

On June 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Bravo. The more I read from Gamefront the more I like them. Too many gaming news sites are beholden to the industry, this is one of the few sites that is a true defender of the medium and the consumers. I’m getting really tired of the big publishers treating us as the enemy whop should be grateful that they sell us a product that they want us to buy.
Piracy is bad but treating everyone as if they are a pirate or a criminal is no way to treat the consumer.

R.J.

On June 23, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Like the folks at CD Projekt Red said in an interview on this site, DRM just doesn’t work. Somebody will find a way around the controls you implement in a relatively short amount of time, so you just end up plugging holes. That’s why they dropped DRM from The Witcher 2. It wasn’t helping, and they knew it.

Steam seems to be doing just fine even though Valve operates it in Russia, which is typically regarded as a den of thieves by publishers.

Most folks want to do the right thing, but when you treat them like wrongdoers, they resent you. Resent is a good way to get a loyal customer to become a pirate.

Ikari

On June 24, 2012 at 8:10 am

I’m very sure that a large amount of people doesn’t pirate the game because of the money, but only and exclusively because of the DRM.
Just compare: when you buy a game with DRM, you’re treated like because all sorts of harebrained “protection” schemes making you jump through thousands of hoops, inputting codes, staying connected all the time even for single player games and whatnot. You even pay money for being treated like .
With a pirated game, you just download the game, install it and play the damn game. No jumping through hoops, no nothing.

It’s no wonder that many people choose the option which gives them a much better gameplay experience, even if they easily had the money to buy it and would gladly pay for it, if they weren’t treated like with all the DRM crap.
It’s not only that DRM ist totally ineffective at curbing piracy, its declared goal (which isn’t its true aim anyway), but it’s very counterproductive in that it’s driving people away from buying the game who would otherwise gladly buy it, if they were treated better. The more radical DRM gets, the more people will be fed up with it and stop paying for it, just to procure it elsewhere.
Publishers need to realize they’re just shooting themselves in the foot with these rabid DRM measures, and that playing Big Brother doesn’t pay out, as it drives away too many paying customers.

Nulltron

On June 28, 2012 at 1:34 am

Jim Sterling,

The problem is that you are not paranoid enough, not the other way.

Why they do it? Because they can. There is this general misconception that the IT has come a long way and that we have come along with it, and that it is time to sit back and enjoy it or at least deal with it as something that is comprehensible and predictable. That is simply not the case. In retrospect, automobiles were developed and perfected much faster than the internet and the IT industry as a whole. IT and the internet are constantly changing and constantly experimenting with technology and users of that technology. I suppose it is completely predictable that people get annoyed when they find out that they are being treated like laboratory rats. The saving grace for rats is that they do not need to get their fix, but the gamer, the internet user does. And as for games, the user is comprised mostly of young kids. They do not give too hoots about what you are saying here. They can keep row after row of passwords in their heads and thread the maze for the sweets. Doing that even makes them feel important. Why should Blizzard or any other powerful company refuse that opportunity?

It is not important how much you curse while you are playing. What is important is playing or not playing.
I suppose your occupation does not allow you such indulgences, but have you ever considered a rating system of “play” or “dont’ play”? It is simple and to the point.

brasil 82

On June 28, 2012 at 11:43 am

The author of the article is correct, these mega corporations don’t just want to rinse as much money out of the gamer as they can, they also want to control how you access their game. I truly believe these game corps, don’t see gamers as customers, but as suckers part of their cult, which is why they are erecting more barriers to playing games, such as DRM & online passes, because they know from pavlov’s dog experiments, all they need is to condition their sheeple, i mean customers to accept these massive inconveniences as positive developments to improve their game experiences. For me the future of gaming is not bright, there may well be some great games in the future, but the process of playing them will be so onerous & frustrating as to not make the game an enjoyable experience, coupled with the rampant call of dutyifcation of games ranging from mass effect 3 to dead space 3 to halo 4, the industry is headed in the wrong direction.