DRM should be disclosed on game-boxes

Ars Technica has a report from the FTC's hearings on DRM, where Hal Halpin from the Entertainment Consumers Association proposed that game manufacturers should be required to disclose what kind of DRM they're using prior to purchase ("WARNING: World of Warcraft contains spyware called Warden to stop you from cheating -- it checks files and registry settings here and here, hides itself from the process manager, etc") and to stick to a set of standard EULA terms that everyday people can understand.
That's why DRM information needs to be front and center. "Disclosure is of paramount importance. People need to know what it is they're buying! We were joking before about information on food [Editors note: we referred to the proposed labels on gaming as "nutritional information" in a previous discussion] but some DRM is so invasive that you're buying a product and you need to know what's inside it, what impact it's going to have and how it may or may not be limiting the rights you believe you have, because there's now way to return it. That's the basis on which the FTC and your readers agree: disclosure, first and foremost."

This is important issue, and I asked Halpin if there are any other goods you can buy, not knowing what the product may do to other goods (your computer) when you use it, and that you can't return. "Not that I can think of. Anything else, if it's defective you can return it." That doesn't work at most retailers, where the employees won't take returns simply because of invasive DRM, if they even know what that term means.

"One of our primary goals, core to our mission, is education," Halpin tells Ars, and he strongly believes that if the FTC and the ECA is able to get this information onto game boxes, along with easy-to-understand, standardized licensing agreements, he can get the necessary information into the hands of consumers so that they can make better buying decisions and know their rights.

Hal Halpin to game devs: disclose DRM and standardize EULAs


  1. An even better idea! Return DRM-laden media to the place of purchase and demand your money back.

    This is one of the reasons that I buy software with a credit card. If I’m in anyway displeased with the software after purchase I demand my money back and if they don’t respond, Visa is always happy to intervene.

  2. Or you could just ignore it and play the game like 99.9998% of the game-playing population.

    Cory, haven’t you figured out that it’s not going to turn out the way you want it? Most people aren’t zealots about this stuff. If it bothers people so much as to make the companies notice, they’ll cut it out. But we’re in a transition phase now, trying to figure out how IP owners don’t get robbed blind while providing IP customers acceptable value for money. I didn’t buy any digital music until DRM dropped off and bitrates went up because it wasn’t worth it to me. And I still buy CDs for things I really like so I have an archived, high-quality copy. But all that time, a lot of people were buying up 128kb DRMed iTunes songs. It just didn’t matter to them. That’s their choice.

    Despite all the hooing and hawing over DRM on games, I, as an avid and technical gamer, have never particularly noticed. It sucks a little to have to put the CD in to play a game, but… Um, you just stick the CD in. It’s not the end of the world.

    I understand that you have a religious objection to this, but you, like all religious people, are going to have to learn to cope with the fact that most people don’t care about your religion and are really tired of you telling us what to think and do.

  3. People don’t read the EULAs now, they wouldn’t read them if they were printed on the box.

    That said, I would have preferred the game I bought last year to state on the box that I would need to register it via the web before I could play it.I didn’t have internet access then and boy was it annoying to find out I’d have to wait until I could get to a coffee shop to play the damned thing.

    Now, this particular game didn’t give me grief when I registered it again after my hard drive died, but I don’t know if all games make it that easy. I’ve seen some store policies say they won’t take returns of games that use a unique online registration code.

    So that SHOULD be on the box. The rest I don’t really care about. It doesn’t keep me from playing my game.

  4. i have a question ————–

    sure – theres system components – and programming – and all this stuff we know about —

    but arent we like – 3 generations deep into a world of “behind closed doors” think-tank design —

    i think trying to get a clear idea of “intent” or “honesty” or programs that arent invasive from any kind of corporate (especially THE BIG BOYS) is hopeless —– am i wrong? – i know crap about computers – ide really like to kno if someone more savy could give me a glimmer of hope

    could there be a whole side to computing/programming that isnt accessible to the general public at all????? or is my imagination getting the best of me

    please take this question seriously – i think its important

  5. Wow, Kyle — what a patronizing, shitty little note.

    So, if no one cares about DRM, then why has the FTC just held hearings into it? Why did so many people boycott and badmouth Spore? Why has the record industry dropped it?

    If campaigning for something that one believes in is merely “religious zealotry” and irrelevant, then what about the fact that this appears to be relevant to millions of people? Why has the World Blind Union asked WIPO to ratify a treaty on DRM and access to information?

    If there’s a parochial, small-minded point of view in this discussion, it’s yours — “I don’t give a shit about my rights, the future of technology, competition, accessibility or fairness, which means that no one does — and if someone does, then that person is ‘religious’ and should be dismissed out of hand.”

    Again, what a peevish, dismissive, petulant little note. I expected better of you.

  6. A year or so ago, I bought a $20 EA compilation shovelware pack. One game installed, the other four needed “keys” that were nowhere to be found.

    Any attempt to contact EA resulted in an uninformative bot telling me to look on a nonexistent jewelcase!

    Nothing I could do resulted in human interaction and/or keys!

    I found pirate keys for two more, but the other two games (that I bought legally, brand new, retail) I still haven’t played, thanks to DRM!!!

  7. @5:

    1) Came here to say the same thing..
    At the time I purchased it, I didn’t know that Norah Jones’ first CD was DRMed with Sony’s rootkit until I played it in the car minutes afterwards. (Thank goodness I hadn’t played it on my computer.) In the store’s parking lot, I waited a full minute for music to play. I realized that I had purchased a CD with Sony’s rootkit software on it. I immediately returned to the store, telling the clerk that if I had known that the CD was DRMed, I wouldn’t have bought it.

    The clerk refused, because the package was opened and it would only be replaced if the CD was defective. I insisted. She refused.

    “OK,” I said, “then, this CD is defective: I can’t play all the tracks and it takes a minute for the first song to play. If you want, we can open every copy of this CD and we can try it in my car stereo and I can show you that ALL of them are ‘defective’. She relented.

    (Note to Kyle: you should read up on the Sony DRM fiasco.)

    2) So, is Poesy teething? Or is it colic?

    /Yeah, I know, it’s late for that…

  8. @ #2 “But we’re in a transition phase now, trying to figure out how IP owners don’t get robbed blind while providing IP customers acceptable value for money.”

    Hmm, except that you can pirate any game that’s available no matter how ‘secure’ the DRM is. And the only people that suffer from the shitty, intrusive DRM are the people that actually pay for it.

  9. Oops, forgot to add:

    I bought the same Norah Jones CD, six months later, sans-DRM, for half the price.

  10. Here is Australia the DRM is made fairly clear on the packaging, though it varies from game to game.

    With PC games now, I can turn the box over, note that playing the games is conditional on opening a Steam DRM account and accepting those Terms (whatever they may be) or whatnot, and put that game straight back on the shelf.

    It’s a shame but my 20+ year game playing habit is about done now. I’m simply not prepared to buy things without owning them. This ‘buy and you don’t own it’ thing is not for me and never will be.

  11. Technically speaking Warden isn’t DRM. It’s only kindof spyware, and even then it’s detailed in the ToS and you are entitled to return the game directly to Blizzard if you don’t agree with it.

  12. I didn’t buy any digital music until DRM dropped off and bitrates went up because it wasn’t worth it to me.

    Why do you think DRM dropped off? Because the people who care complained a lot, and won you the ability to choose.

    Maybe you should be putting your shoulder to the next grind-stone, to thank the people who free’d you from the last.

  13. Actually, Kyle, you could try to ignore it and fail to be able to reliably play games on your PC. For a year or so before the recent massive decline in PC gaming, DRM was insane. You couldn’t play games if you had popular (and often OEM installed) DVD authoring software installed on your computer. Some DRM software replaced device drivers and made your system unstable even if you weren’t playing the game. DRM checks mid-game would result in crashes that didn’t exist in pirated copies, etc… It seems to me that DRM is what was primarily responsible for the recent massive decline in PC gaming. People don’t know that it was the DRM. They just know that their games didn’t work, and translated that to “The PC is a shitty platform for gaming”.

    Cory, I agree with your sentiment 100%, but to you expect/intend to force them to use such derogatory language about the DRM too? You know if they’re forced to disclose the DRM, the text will go through the PR filter first. You’re also being a little hard on Warden. I think you’ll find that most WoW players actually appreciate it being there. And unlike some things that other game developers use, false positives seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

  14. well, Cory, I have to agree with everything Kyle said.

    He’s 100% right about most people not caring until it really bites them in the ass (Sony rootkits, etc…) People don’t care if the DRM doesn’t affect them. For the most part, the really universal media either has no DRM (CD) or obsolete DRM (DVD). The industry is well aware that messing around with that would bite THEM in the ass.

    So, we do need watchdogs and activists, but he’s right about the zealotry. You (and certainly not JUST you) have jumped the gun on stories in the past, reblogging and disseminating rumors before anyone had the facts. The completely unverified one from Slashdot about Windows 7 DRM comes to mind. Peter Gutmann’s “Vista suicide note” was another.

    PC games that have DRM do usually have a little Copy-Protected logo somewhere on the box. DVDs and BDs have it too.

    Audio CDs usually don’t because they aren’t protected. The ones that are usually have it.

    One big exception: console games don’t have it, but it’s a locked-in platform. They don’t expect 99.9% of buyers to put the game in anything that could copy it. The consoles play them… that’s all the consumer wants.

    As for patronizing tones and narrow viewpoints, you take the taco this time, sir. How exactly is it that Kyle

    “…don’t give a shit about my rights, the future of technology, competition, accessibility or fairness, which means that no one does”

    when he

    “didn’t buy any digital music until DRM dropped off and bitrates went up because it wasn’t worth it to me.”

    The vitriol of your response comes off as a little insecure.

  15. Or you could just ignore it and play the game like 99.9998% of the game-playing population.

    Remember the Spore fiasco? notice that both the ‘most helpful favourable review’ and ‘The most helpful critical review’ both complain about the draconian DRM? Notice that even months after the game (that has received rave reviews for gameplay) still only has a 1.5 star rating on Amazon? Notice that is became quite rapidly the most quickly pirated game in history, whilst sales were dismally low for at least the first month?

    He’s 100% right about most people not caring until it really bites them in the ass

    Of course no one cares about DRM until it bites them in the ass! Why would you? All Cory has stated in this post is that if a company releases software that might bite you in the ass they should have it on the box!

    Back to the Spore example, if people hadn’t have complained about the DRM so damn much right when the game was released how many people do you think would have luck getting their software installed on their 4th computer 6 years down the track? By the time that the DRM would be biting you in the ass it would be too late to do anything about it.

    Sony only had to make payouts with their dodgy Rootkit crap after massive numbers of people complained and others took legal action against them.

  16. Not that I enjoy spamming this all over but we’re starting a call to action about these issues.

    Over the past year we have witnessed a growing concern among gamers about the issues of increasingly invasive Digital Rights Management (DRM) and End User Licensing Agreements (EULAs).

    Read the ECA’s statement, sign the petition and comment about how consumer rights are being diminished, http://action.theeca.com/t/2858/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=562.

    Brett Schenker, Online Advocacy Manager
    Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA)

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