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.