The problem with Digital Rights Management

Digital Rights Management (DRM) can be a great thing. Wanton piracy of games greatly harmed the market for PC games, and services like Steam have led to a resurgence of the PC games market. Preventing piracy is obviously a good thing for developers, but it benefits gamers as well. Piracy raises costs and restricts consumer choice. All gamers pay for the selfishness of a few.

But there is a dark side.

Back in 2012, I purchased a game through a publisher’s website. When I got a new computer a few years later, I attempted to reinstall the game. I had saved my receipt, and I simply could not find the download link. After a couple searches, it was clear that I was not the only one with this problem. The publisher had switched to distributing via Steam and the download and validation links were shut down.

I called customer service to see what could be done. I had paid for the game, after all. They told me that there was nothing that could be done, but invited me to purchase the game a second time though Steam. You can imagine how excited I was at the prospect of paying a second time. I declined.

The version of the game I had was unavailable, and it was entirely the publisher’s fault. The obvious solution would be to either refund my money or give me a credit to purchase the game on Steam. Both options were rejected. If I wanted my game back, I would have to purchase it a second time.

Digital distribution has its advantages: You do not need to have storage space of physical media, you can get a new game from the comfort of your living room without going to the store, and you never have to worry about a new game being out of stock. But when consumers are cheated out of their games, publishers lose the moral high ground to pirates and thieves. This is a very bad situation.

Previously: XBox One, DRM, and the future of consoles.