What, Exactly, Is DRM?

We've been mentioning DRM, or Digital Rights Management, a lot lately here on Kotaku. It's an important topic! Thing is, we've been made aware a lot of you don't entirely know what it is. If that's you, here's a guide.

What is it? - Digital Rights Management is, as the name suggests, a means for publishers to control the way in which you can use a piece of PC software. In terms of our coverage, that means PC games.

Why is it there? - DRM is employed by publishers as a means of stopping you doing something they feel you shouldn't be doing with your game. Like giving it to a friend for them to install on their computer. Or illegally obtaining and installing a game you didn't pay for.

How Does It Work? - DRM works by restricting the things you can do with a PC game. Examples of this include limiting the number of times you can install a game, or the number of different computers you can install a single game on. It can also work by requiring the user to be connected to the internet when playing a game, so that their copy can be verified as authentic before allowing the user to play.

What Kinds Of DRM Are There? - The most notorious piece of DRM currently used in the PC gaming market is called SecuROM, which has been used by publishers such as Electronic Arts and Take-Two. SecuROM has proven unpopular amongst PC gamers due to the fact it remains on a PC even after the game has been uninstalled, and that most instances of its use have resulted in severe limits on the number of times a game can be installed.

Ubisoft recently began a first-party DRM solution for its PC games using the Uplay service, which requires PC gamers to not only connect to the internet to authenticate their games, but remain connected constantly or risk losing their game progress. This too has proven wildly unpopular.

Perhaps the most common form of DRM on the market, however, comes in the form of Valve's Steam service, an online shopfront and multiplayer hub that requires all games purchased on it (and some games purchased from retail stores) to be authenticated on Steam's servers before allowing them to be played. While widely-used, and commonly accepted, it's easy to forget that when this DRM was first introduced in 2004, for the release of Half-Life 2, reaction was so negative that a number of lawsuits were filed against Valve.

Why Is DRM a good thing? - Piracy is a massive problem for the PC gaming market, as indicated during our recent Kotaku Census, and Digital Rights Management is an attempt to curtail this.

Why is DRM a bad thing? - Many people are upset with DRM for two reasons: firstly, because it imposes unfair restrictions on a product that, once purchased, is their property, and secondly because it is seen as a punishment for legitimate consumers while pirates, who are able to circumvent DRM regardless, are not burdened with the same restrictions.

And there you go. A nice, easy introduction to the world of DRM. Hope you're now up to speed!


    You can never stop pirates, game devs try but you cant.

      This should probably point out that the modern forms of DRM also reduce the ability to resell/trade in games, probably a bigger source of lost revenue for the publishers than piracy IMO (but much harder reason to defend!).

        yeah resell is where all there money goes but since DRM is basically limited to PC games and there not resellable anyways kinda takes that out of effect

          They are, just not at EBgames or Gamestop. Chuck them on eBay and you're fine....unless you've activated it.

      Most of the time it isn't the developers that want the DRM. It's the Publishers, the Dev's don't get a choice they would rather not have it in.

      Just because you can't fight the tide doesn't mean you should just give up and drown.

        @Dogman: And at the same time just because your fighting doesn't mean you should flail about wildly and hurt the people who are actually supporting you either =P

    Many people are upset with DRM for two reasons: firstly, because it imposes unfair restrictions on a product that, once purchased, is their property...

    Unfortunately this is not strictly true. As far a the publishers are concerned you do not own the game, you own a license for the game. This is true of most software. You are not free to do with it as you wish. Read a EULA sometime, it's enlightening stuff.

      The problem is the EULA's are very questionable in terms of enforceability. You don't sign your name to anything, so if I buy a game for a child, and the child does the installing, then why shouldn't I be allowed to resell the game? I own it, and I never agreed to not be allowed to sell it again. Or, how can I child agree to a legally binding agreement? Also if EULA's were able to be used to block the selling of "already licenced" software, then PC stores would not be able to sell computers with Windows installed. Or are you saying that if I buy a PC with Windows pre-installed on it, I have agreed to the EULA which I never even saw, because the tech who installed Windows saw it and agree'd to it FOR ME? Yeah, that'll stand up in court.
      And why shouldn't I expect to be able to re-sell something which I legally bought? I can sell everything else that I buy.

    This article is rife with inaccuracies. I suggest you read up on how DRM is used in other Digital Products (particularly non-video game software) and look out how DRM has worked in the past. It goes so far beyond 'imposing unfair restrictions on a product'.

    Another reasoning for DRM is the stock market. Believe it or not, but people pay attention to these things, and if you're about to launch a product that is less likely to be pirated this will be reflected in both shares and people's willingness to invest in a publisher.

    Obviously they're trying to sell more copies, but its a little deeper than that.

      Concur. Big game publishers want to see returns for their investments; and if you're game isn't going to be pirated, you will probably have more sales, translating into more profit, which translates into a higher anticipation pre-launch with DRM than without.

      "if you’re about to launch a product that UNEDUCATED INVESTORS INCORRECTLY BELIEVE is less likely to be pirated this will be reflected in both shares and people’s willingness to invest in a publisher."

      Fixed for you.

    Lets not forget StarForce, the DRM scheme that destroyed many an optical through its crappy coding (it destroyed one of mine, and damaged another).

    I've never really had any problem with Steam. On one hand, games like Assassin's Creed 2, you can buy them in a store and then you're forced to deal with their DRM that comes along with the game you bought.
    With Steam, you actually buy the game with Steam, and download it through Steam, and Steam actually provides features for it (like file verification and achievements). Steam also has an offline mode now too, so it's even less of an irritant than before.

      exept for the fact that ac2 on steam has the ubishit drm ontop of the steam drm

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