DRM innovation: where is it?

We’ve all heard the news; Microsoft has backtracked on their used game and online connectivity requirements. That makes for quite a historic day in the gaming community. We spoke with our words, threatened with our wallets, and Microsoft actually listened and made everything better.

But did they really? Certainly it’s a vast improvement from the policies we were expecting just several days ago, but we’ve been taken back to the system that has been in place in consoles for too many years. While the saying ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ holds true, it’s about time for consoles to innovate the system behind DRM on physical discs as well as digital media, and they need to innovate in a consumer oriented manner; a concept which has mysteriously failed to register with anyone.

Microsoft honestly had the right idea when it came to installing discs on your hard drive and being able to run them without the disc. In today’s world, I don’t expect to need physical access to my cash in order to make a purchase. Hell, I don’t even expect to need physical access to my debit card in some situations. Once I’ve got everything configured, all I need to do is tell Steam (or Amazon, or Newegg) where they need to take the money from and I’m done. Applying the same concept to consoles is long overdue. Once I’ve proved ownership of a game, I shouldn’t have to take the time to swap discs out just to switch games.

Where Microsoft failed us, and Sony as well, is giving up on the innovation required behind such a system.

Every gamer knows that if you can install a game and never have to use that disc again, nothing stops you from passing it around to all your friends. Every gamer also knows that free games for everyone is a bad thing, so we expect to be locked down to our discs. Sony took the smarter move and avoided this completely. Microsoft took the risky (and quite frankly, stupid) move and assumed that everyone would be soooo happy that discs are no longer required to run your game, that nobody would care about the anti-consumer restrictions they deemed necessary in order to make such a system work without allowing everyone free games.



My vision of the future was that Microsoft (or Sony) would allow me to play all my games without using my discs and be able to share all my game discs, without allowing all my buddies to get my games for free. How would that work? One idea would be using DRM in a consumer oriented manner. Utilizing internet connectivity, we already know Microsoft had intended to confirm that I was the sole owner of whatever game disc I had purchased and inserted into my Xbox One. But when I give that game disc away, where Microsoft failed miserably was not recognizing that person as the new owner of the disc. The next time I went to play it on my Xbox One, a friendly message might pop up saying “Hey Greg, it looks like you lent this game to (insert gamertag here). We’ll let you play it for a bit, but you need to get your game back before you get full access to it again”.

This would be immensely more flexible than the ‘disc is required’ system we have right now. It might even allow me some time to play the game with that friend over Xbox Live from different consoles. A great opportunity if you are trying to convince your buddy to buy a copy for himself or herself.

Microsoft might see my simple, off-the-top-of-my-head solution and say to me… “Well that might work, but we would need to require our users to connect to the internet periodically so we can verify whether a user is playing a game disc they purchased or a game disc they borrowed from a friend”. Again Microsoft, you’d be wrong. You could take the high road, and realize that most games are centered around online multiplayer, and most gamers wouldn’t go through the trouble of keeping their consoles disconnected from the web just to play their friends borrowed game at the same time that they can. Or, I’m sure you (Microsoft) could come up with a multitude of other options to make this work. You could even go so far as to put 2g or 3g antennas inside every console for the sole purpose of transmitting game DRM data.

As long as the end result is 100% consumer friendly and secure, I don’t care what’s physically inside the box or inside the coding. All the DRM hate comes from the inconveniences it gives to the people who purchase your product, not the ones who temporarily can’t pirate it. So instead of spending countless millions of dollars trying to protect against people pirating games (most of which generally wouldn’t have bought a copy anyways…), why don’t you spend millions of dollars so I can keep my shiny discs tucked away in a safe spot, never to be moved, scratched or stepped on?

I’d appreciate that very much!

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