Gabe Newell says DRM is dumb

I know, I know, another DRM topic. Are we beating a dead horse? I don’t think so, it’s a fairly important and controversial issue, and when people like Valve president Gabe Newell speak, we listen. It seems that game gods are more approachable than we suspected. In what I’m sure is a very rare happening, Newell responded to a direct email sent by a concerned gamer about Valve’s involvement with EA, a notorious pusher of the evil DRM scheme, SecuRom. In Newell’s response, he explains, “Around the world we have a number of distribution partners to handle retail distribution of our games (i.e. make discs and boxes). EA is one of those partners.” He goes on to say, “As far as DRM goes, most DRM strategies are just dumb.”

I tend to agree, Mr. Newell. He continues to explain that “the goal should be to create greater value for customers” which is what Valve has done with Steam. Reality is, Steam is a quasi DRM scheme. Valve games require you to have Steam and verify that you purchased the game through an online authentication system. But, the upside outweighs any perceived inconvenience it may cause. Steam isn’t like SecuRom, its not a malicious piece of software that breaks your computer and limits installs of a game you paid $50+ for. Steam, while protecting the games associated with it, offers online gaming benefits much like Xbox Live and will soon store your saved games and keybind settings on their remote server so that you can access them anywhere. It also adds very easy access to free content like mods and making installing and running mods, very easy.

Just like there are many critics of SecuRom, there are critics of Steam. Some people have horror stories how they got screwed in some way by Steam. In some responses you might have thought Steam mugged their grandmother and kicked her down a staircase. The truth is, Steam is a very reasonable DRM method, if you can even call it that. The concept of Steam is not out of line. Steam is no different than the idea of the console, it’s a controlled environment under which your game runs. It’s really hard to pirate a game when you don’t have the platform it runs on. It’s no different than needing an Xbox 360 to play Xbox 360 games. The school of thought that all DRM is bad and not needed, is a little to idealistic. Thats like leaving your car doors unlocked in the bad part of town and expecting your stuff to be there when you get back. Steam does what it needs to do and keeps the honest man honest, while adding tons of features that consumers today demand. It’s perfectly acceptable for developers to want to protect their IP and Steam does that in a way that we can get behind. Thats not so wrong, is it?