Avalanche: DRM helps no one
Christofer Sundberg, founder of Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios, believes that DRM does nothing but punish legitimate customers, and is far from the solution to PC piracy that publishers proclaim it to be.
Speaking to us earlier today, Sundberg gave a markedly different opinion than that of Martin Edmonson, the founder of Ubisoft Reflections who backed his publisher's controversial always-on DRM on the grounds that games are expensive to develop and "PC piracy is at the most incredible rates." While Sundberg disputes neither of those points, he does not accept the belief that DRM is the answer.
"If a DRM system constantly needs to be defended, something must be wrong," he tells us. "As a developer you will never win over any fans if you constantly let everyone know how much it costs to develop a game and how much money you lose.
"I don't like always-on DRM solutions at all, since they offer nothing to the consumer. If you continuously give something extra for registering and being online, and award them for actually paying for and playing your game, it'd be different, but always-on DRM only says: 'Thank you for buying our game, we trust you as far as we can throw you."
As is often pointed out when the subject rears its head, the sad irony in DRM is that those who pirate the game – the very people the DRM is designed to thwart – are unaffected by it. Buy a legitimate copy of a Ubisoft game and you'll only be able to play it when connected to the internet; download a cracked version and you can play it offline to your heart's content. "I know people who go and buy the game," Sundberg says, "but get the bootleg version just to get rid of the always-on requirement.
"PC games always have and always will be pirated, cracked, modded and what have you," he continues. "That is the nature of the PC as a platform; you can never get around this problem." The answer, he says, is to engage rather than enrage, to prove to customers that there is value in buying a legitimate copy of a game, and that you in turn value them for doing so.
"My solution to the problem is to start designing games for the PC player, and award PC players for being part of the community of your game and for staying connected to you – not forcing them," he says, pointing to the likes of Europa Universalis, the strategy series which has succeeded in large part by fostering a deep connection with its community. "If you continuously tell the player that you care about their opinions, and appreciate their investment, you will lower the amount of bootleg copies."
Sundberg is not attacking Martin Edmonson's views; he disagrees but is realistic enough to acknowledge that, were a publisher to pressure Avalanche into including DRM in one of its PC games, he would have little choice but to to along with it. "We don't have much choice, as the publisher owns the IP," he says, "but I can assure you we would go down screaming before anything like this ends up in any Avalanche game.
"I would have a hard time explaining to my team why we would have to implement it…there is certainly a studio-wide opinion that DRM is a threat to the entertaining experience we want our players to have."
It's a refreshing take on an emotive subject, and a rare one from someone on the creative side of the fence, and an even rarer one from the founder of a developer of AAA games. Ubisoft may be the PC gamer's current bête noire with its delayed releases, shoddy ports and DRM, but the problem runs deeper and wider than that, and in that context progressive attitudes like Sundberg's are to be applauded.