FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
DRM is designed to prevent people from playing copies of games that they have obtained illegally. Unfortunately, DRM doesn't work. This is a fact. Every major game that I have ever heard of has had its copy-protection scheme cracked in a matter of days after the game's release. In some cases, the scheme is cracked even before the release date. Once the copy-protection is cracked, playing illegally obtained games is no more complicated than downloading the game from any number of wildly popular torrent sites. In most cases, the most complicated action the user will have to perform to bypass the copy protection is to simply copy some files over from a conveniently-named "crack" folder to the game's main installation folder. Another fact of DRM is that it can cause issues for people attempting to play a legitimate copy of a game. This is, in fact, one of the main reasons this "Town Hall" meeting is taking place. So in essence, what you have in DRM is a system where freeloaders are simply delayed from obtaining a "cracked" copy of the game for a matter of hours after release, while a small percentage of normal, legal users will have extreme difficulty playing the game at all, and for a much longer time than a matter of hours. There are several alternative methods of DRM that have enjoyed success. One in particular is Steam, from the company Valve. Games can be purchased and activated over the internet, and because of the way the system can always check if your copy is legitimate, it makes it much more difficult for people to play illegal copies of Steam games. However, one of the criticisms of Steam is that if Valve ever goes bankrupt or some other bad event happens to the company, people who have paid for their games could "lose" them, by losing the activation information approved by Valve's servers. Perhaps if a government entity were to handle this sort of activation, people would be more comfortable with the lower level of risk, similar to how people can choose to buy treasury bills instead of stock.