Different Approaches To Digital Distribution

Different Approaches To Digital Distribution



The consensus among the gaming populace is clear: We don't care very much for restrictive DRM and we want it to go away. Unfortunately, the nature of digital distribution, and its recent proliferation with the increasing penetration of broadband Internet into homes worldwide, provides, at its most basic level, a framework for rampant piracy. The code for a game isn't contained on a physical disc or cartridge, but on your computer's hard drive, where you can forcibly tool around with it if you so desire. Even if the game in question is on a disc, that disc still contains code that can be pulled out onto the computer in question and manipulated in less-than-scrupulous ways. So, DRM is a necessity, then? It's something that will prevent gamers, known to be disingenuous by nature, from taking advantage of their access to Torrent sites and file-sharing services like the now-defunct Megaupload, right? Well, yes and no. First, though, can DRM be done right? For that, gamers might want to look at Valve.

Different Approaches To Digital Distribution

Steam

Steam is the new face of computer gaming, and has been such since maybe a year after Half-Life 2 launched the service. Since then, it's tacked on cloud-related services, Mac support, and a tremendous library of games from both major publishers and independent developers alike, all with the promise of no charges for physical production or distribution. That is the tremendous benefit of digital distribution: It makes a two-dollar independent title potentially profitable, since the overhead is so small. Some of the best games on Steam are under ten dollars or outright free to play, and it provides a great avenue for ports of downloadable Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 titles, the likes of which might otherwise require a physical release and a boosted price tag.

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It's a stunningly successful service, which has also garnered a tremendous amount of good will from the gaming community as a whole, which is particularly counterintuitive when one notes that the Steam client essentially serves as that most reviled of all DRM: the always-online kind. To be completely fair, the client does feature an offline mode, but one must enable it ahead of time, the games demanding at least the equivalent of an online activation. And, of course, even if the files have been pulled down onto your computer, someone else logging into their account who doesn't own the same games as you will not be able to take advantage of their presence.

Is it the constant sales, then, enabling gamers to pick up even major titles for significant discounts? In part, yes, but Valve also tends to stay engaged with the community, offering them tools that improve their quality of life when it comes to popular games on the service. Steamworks comes to mind, as does the new Steam Workshop, which supports the modding communities for such games as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Portal 2. Steam's client also keeps your games updated automatically as long as you're logged in, eliminating the confusion of what order what patches must be applied to bring a title up to date.

Different Approaches To Digital Distribution

All of this comes at the price of needing to "activate" one's games, of sometimes being online even to play them in singleplayer, and gamers are willing to humor it with a straight face because Valve is so good about keeping Steam up and functioning and making the user experience worth what is, in essence, an anti-piracy measure. As such, it's the pre-eminent digital distribution service, dwarfing all challengers. That isn't to say, though, that everyone is clamoring to follow their example.

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