DRM-free Versus Social Features

I thought this would make for an interesting discussion.

Currently, many of the big digital distribution services have social features. Xbox Live and Steam have achievements, Playstation Network has trophies, not sure about Origin and the Wii online stuff. Most (all?) of these services have some sort of friends lists and chat features too.

Opposite to this are services like GOG.com, which offer DRM free games, or sites like Gamers Gate that don’t require a client to be running. These services, in my view, are a great idea. But it seems that purchasing games from them comes at the expensive of the integration offered by services that offer social features as well. Even if they did add an optional client with social features, its unclear how useful this would be since the services as less popular.

Anyway, I’m curious how much DRM-free versus social features/integration means to gamers. If you could buy a game on either type of service (lets say it’s for the same price), what would sway you more one way or the other?

Personally I don’t care for the social features, so I’d go with the version that doesn’t have DRM.

DRM-free is appealing if we’re looking at games as art - something to be preserved as well as enjoyed. With this is mind, I’m very glad that services like GoG.com have sprung up. I was surprised to see games as recent as Assassin’s Creed on the service.

That said, I do enjoy achievements - even though they’re gimmicky, they can be fun challenges that add the illusion of reward.

I don’t think it’s either or, just that it’s worked out like that so far. Steam could easily let you run the games without the client, if they wanted. At least the single player stuff that don’t rely on Steamworks for things like matchmaking and the like. They just don’t want to (actually, some games work without the client, of course you still need it to install them, although you could also just backup the files and copy them wherever, and of course they don’t advertise that it’s possible, it’s a side effect of some older and indie games). Just as former Impulse (now GameStop) has a client with Steam-like features but you can play the games without (but really it’s a half-measure, not full DRM-free, you need to run the client to install them, and update them). And yeah, gog.com isn’t just for old games now, they’ve got some all-new games like Legend of Grimrock too. They do have some social features though, they just happen to be all on their website since there’s no client. I think it works well for them, from the way users can review games, make lists, and of course the very active forums. I don’t care about achievements but they probably could add that for the newer games, optionally, when they feel it’s a worthy investment over other things they could be spending their money on. Their optional downloader application could probably evolve in a way that includes the site features much like the Steam client does though, that’d work well, as long as they retained the ability to download and backup and install your games without it. Actually, just the ability to install from backups as you can now is what’s needed to qualify.

It would be nice if games were designed to be compatible with multiple clients. For example, say you buy The Witcher 2 on GOG, then back it up and add it to the Steam client. Steam would then recognise the game and the relevant social features (achievements, games lists, etc) would be enabled in Steam. You’d need some sort of agreed upon cross client standard, but in theory it would be possible.

Yeah but the only way they’d agree to do it is to basically be a “steamworks” game, ie, no matter where you buy it from, you need Steam for it anyway.

Gog did something similar for Witcher 2 though iirc, they allowed people who had it on Steam to get a DRM free copy on their gog account.

I purchase and use Steam for deals, but I almost always look for a physical copy of a game and then activate it on steam as I want a disk just in case Steam collapses or something. This is the same reason I still purchase real books vs ebooks. I just don’t trust content providers to not take away or stop allowing me access to my purchases in the future. That is what scares me about purchasing anything on Xbox Marketplace. A few years down the line, who is to say they will still let me download my old games?

As for the features of those services. I love Steam’s tools. They are free and work well. Don’t particularly pay attention to achievements. All I want from my online service is a friends list, chat/voice functions, party functions, and game updates/add on’s. The rest is really fluff, to me anyway.

Just make sure you do that for the right games, if they’re Steamworks games then that means Steam is required regardless of having bought a retail copy so if Steam collapsed you wouldn’t be able to play them anyway. Not that I think this will happen.

I only dread the day Steam changes hands, I think it will be amazing as long as passionate and awesome people like Gabe Newell are in control. I wonder if they can somehow legally ensure it never goes public even, er, after their time…

Having full control over my games is one of the reasons I like gog, it may not have a physical copy but they’re not tied to anything, the setup files you acquire will work as long as you have them in digital or physical back ups whether the company exists or not (or more realistically whether they happen to have some downtime or unwanted changes in policies in the future or not). It’s great that they’re expanding their catalogue to include new games now (by the way they just added Alan Wake too).

Yes, this is major problem for ebooks at the moment; I can only hope that they decide to go the iTunes route eventually and drop the DRM. I buy ebooks from Kobo, mainly because of the portability, but its frustrating that the books contain DRM. Even though the Adobe ebook DRM is more flexible than Apple and Amazon’s DRM (it is possible to move books between ereaders that use the same DRM; the Nook, Kobo, and Sony Reader are compatible), the system is not perfect. For example, the covers of the books don’t appear to be stored in the epub file, so the books purchased on Kobo only show the covers if I use the Kobo software and not other software such as Adobe Digital Editions. Now, there are scripts to strip the DRM which work for most books, and there are likely ways to hack the epub files to add the covers manually, but its frustrating to have to go to these lengths.

If you don’t need need the portability, and have the storage space, sticking with physical books for now is a good choice.