Some quick thoughts on video game DRM

This week saw the release of two PC games that I’ve been super excited for: Sonic Mania, Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Sonic Mania was going to be released for all platforms on the same day, August 15 (incidentally, Clock Day), but the PC version was delayed by 2 weeks putting it in the same week as Life is Strange: BtS, much to my chagrin as I was worried that the two games would end up competing for my time. But I have to admit, I haven’t had any trouble managing both games on the same day. Yet. Oh and I’m loving every moment of them.

I’m not going to comment on the delay of Sonic Mania, the true intentions thereof, or any other political matters, because I trust the developers and frankly I don’t care beyond that. But as anyone following either game or both games is aware, Denuvo Anti-Tamper is included in both games.

What’s really intriguing (and what prompted me to blog about this), though, is the stark contrast in the Steam reviews between the two games: Sonic Mania’s product page is chock full of angry negative reviews complaining about the DRM (though I did find this gem of an adaptation of a well-known Sonic Sez segment), while out of the 1400-some reviews so far for Life is Strange: BtS, a whopping 96% of them are positive, and almost none of them even so much as mention the DRM. It’s almost as if the game didn’t come with any form of DRM.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that SEGA failed to disclose the use of Denuvo Anti-Tamper in Sonic Mania until it was pointed out by a consumer whereas Square Enix made sure to be upfront about it prior to the release of Life is Strange: BtS. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that the DRM initially prevented Sonic Mania from being played offline but not so for Life is Strange: BtS.

Now, I care very much about being able to play my games offline, and it does bother me to learn when a game that’s designed to be played offline cannot be played offline for no good reason, but I don’t get so angry I leave knee-jerk scathing reviews and make empty threats on the Internet. I send feedback to the right people (and even then only if I’m sufficiently bothered by this), and I wait and see if the developer and publisher iron things out. If they do, like in the case of Sonic Mania having received a day-one patch enabling offline play, then I consider the matter sufficiently resolved. If not, it’s not the end of the world, and my decision to purchase the game usually isn’t significantly impacted, certainly not if I’m already a huge fan of it.

Either way, I just happened to find it amusing how completely and utterly different the reviews have been between the two games despite the fact that both of them include DRM, said to be the scourge of the gaming industry. Well, it certainly hasn’t stopped 96% of the reviews for Life is Strange: BtS from focusing on what matters most, the game’s merits.

So what do I think of video game DRM in general? Well, I was one of the first 200 in Singapore to line up for a copy of Spore on launch day. It was the first game to receive a lot of bad press for its use of the SecuROM DRM scheme, and in the case of Spore, it tied the game to the machine’s hardware configuration, which in an age of viruses and custom PC building was a red flag. EA responded by releasing a SecuROM deauthorization tool and never using SecuROM again, though that didn’t stop them from implementing always-on DRM in Darkspore, and, well, look what happened exactly a year and a half ago:

So what bothers me isn’t really the use of DRM per se, but more of always-on DRM specifically and worse, always-on DRM that never gets patched out. Sure, it would be nice if games just didn’t come with any DRM to begin with since I’m sure there are much better anti-piracy measures out there than invasive DRM, but you know how the industry is. It can’t be helped. So we can only hope for the next best thing, for certain definitions of “best”.

Anyway, like I said, I’m loving every moment of both Sonic Mania and Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and I’m fortunate enough not to have run into any technical issues so far. Dishonored 2 also included Denuvo Anti-Tamper, but I’m fairly confident the gameplay performance issues I’ve had with it have everything to do with my AMD Radeon RX 480 and nothing to do with the DRM, considering it runs like butter on my brother’s NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070. By the way, I clocked my 500th hour in Dishonored 2 just in time for the release of Sonic Mania — and that’s over two weeks before the release of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (which will surely also include Denuvo Anti-Tamper, it’s a given at this point).

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Things to keep in mind: