Posted by: talkjack | June 22, 2008

Is DRM killing PC games? (Part 1 – The DRM Charter)

The DRM Charter is found here, below the introduction. Please scroll down if that is what you are looking for.


The old phrase in common use prior to the term DRM was ‘copy protection’. Nowadays, publishers want to stop people doing more than just copy something, they want to impose further restrictions upon their customers too.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the benign sounding term used to restrict what customers can do with digital media they have purchased. By ‘digital media’ I am referring to music, movies, TV shows on DVD or iPlayer, electronic books, games, in fact pretty much anything these days which can be run on a PC, TV, games console, PDA, mobile phone etc.

The PC games market is big multi-million business, dominated by a few wealthy publishers. Companies like Electronic Arts (EA) are in the habit of taking over successful small games companies and assimilating them into the EA collective, Star Trek Borg fashion as it where.

I believe that DRM in PC games is typically imposed upon paying customers to limit customer’s freedom with the game they have purchased in order to make more money for big business. This is in addtion, not purely to trying to stop theft (piracy) in order to make more money. That might be reasonable if the DRM methods being used were respectful and fair to paying customers, but this does not appear to be the case any longer.

Following the release of a new PC game, the largest amount of revenue is earned in the first 2-3 weeks. After that revenue tails off dramatically over time. Typically after 2-3 years customer support is reduced, saving ongoing maintenance costs for the game. .

The technical methods currently being used with PC games have become offensive, frankly, to paying customers. In a later article I have investigated more deeply the reports of DRM systems like Starforce and possibly Securom causing damage to customer’s computers. For now, I have decided to publish my version of a PC Gamers’ Charter, clarifying what current practices are unreasonable from the customer’s perspective. Here goes:


PC Gamers’ DRM Charter

1.    Stop the practice of covertly installing DRM software on a customer’s PC. Dishonest, malicious software such as viruses and spyware install themselves covertly and offer no removal mechanism in Windows control panel. You should be open about what you are doing to customer’s computers. Always list the DRM software in Control Panel so that users can uninstall it at will, knowing that the game requires it.


2.    Show me the logo! You are quite happy to smother the box with logos, copyright notices etc. for companies who contributed to the software on the game disc. You should print clearly on the packaging the name and logo of the DRM system you licensed and bundled with the game. This will allow customers to make an informed choice when they purchase your product, and not have a nasty surprise when they get home and find you have imposed restrictions upon them which were not clearly available at the time of sale.


3.    Instil confidence in your paying customers by removing your DRM when it is no longer necessary. After all, if sales have tailed off six months after the release of a game then the DRM is no longer protecting your income, so it is no longer required. It won’t cost you much to do this as customers will gladly download your patch at their own expense.


4.    Do not modify your customer’s PC by installing applications that run constantly. Your DRM system should only be running when your game is running. Otherwise you are slowing down the gamers’ PC and risking unnecessary conflicts with other programs they have purchased. You should not be stealing their CPU time and electricity when they are not using your product.


5.    If you require someone to connect their PC to the internet in order to ‘activate ‘ the single player game they have purchased then do so in such a way that they do not need to lower their hardware or software firewall protection just to allow your traffic through. If you require a customer to open ports purely to activate your game then you are putting their PC’s at risk of being compromised by hackers. Recognise that most of your customers are not PC experts, just people who want to play.


6.    Do not disable or ignore the keyboard and mouse when your game is loaded. Most people do not want to sit staring impatiently at the screen waiting for the EA, NVidia and numerous other animated logos and movies to finish playing. If they press  the escape key then let them jump to the main menu without wading through adverts beforehand. By the 10th time they have loaded the game you customers will not be watching with interest, but with boredom or animosity


7.    Do not use corrupt registry keys or secret files created in a way which violates the rules of the operating system simply to prevent a customer from deleting your files or keys. It is their PC not yours, and they should be able to manually empty folders and tidy their Windows registry whenever they want, without needed special software or hacker-style techniques to do so. See point 1 above about providing uninstall options in control panel. See my article on Securom about how this messed up my data backups.


8.    Do not repeatedly scan the CD or DVD in the customer’s PC while the game is playing. This technique wastes electricity (you eco-criminals, you) and causes unnecessary wear and tear on customer’s PC drives. Eventually you could cause the operating system to step down the performance of the customer’s drive permanently. By all means check gamers have a valid disk when they start the game, but then leave it alone. All you are doing is driving customers towards sites like GameCopyWorld to get no-cd patches for games, which make gaming a better experience.


9.    When someone uninstalls your game from their PC, always uninstall all traces of DRM software from their machines, and do so in a clean fashion. Do not leave remnants behind anywhere.


10.  Do not install device drivers secretly.  It is not your PC so stop installing hidden device drivers on it which may conflict with other legal software that the customer owns. If the customer is not using your game at the time then you have no right to be monitoring what discs they are using in their drives, or what applications they are running.


     (See my part two of this article to read about StarForce and the CD / DVD drive issues I had with Starforce drivers on my computer.)


11.  Do not refuse the game to start just because the customer has perfectly valid software such as drive emulators or Microsoft Process Explorer on their machines or in memory. By all means detect whether the gamer is using the software to run a pirate copy of your game. However, just because they have got that perfectly legal software installed on their machines does not mean they are actually stealing the game you are supposed to protect. This practice is tantamount to treating all these customers as criminals, not just those who really are pirating your game.


12.  Answer your tech support emails about DRM. Be helpful. You are supposed to be helping your paying customers, not treating them all like suspected thieves until they can prove otherwise. Do not ignore customer emails to tech support.


      (JoWood, are you still there? I have been waiting 2 years for a reply about Spellforce 2 not running because of some unknown error with your DRM system.)


13.   A customer should never be required to download and install DRM system updates in order to get a game to work, e.g. Tages and Vista, Starforce and Spellforce2. If you are causing this much inconvenience to your customers then you are killing the fun of a gaming session and losing reputation and future business.


14.  If you are going to require a customer to key in long codes of letters and numbers then print them clearly. Do not use hard to read fonts such as Spellforce 1, where customers could not tell I’s and 1’s, 0’s and O’s apart and then force them to retype the whole thing if they make a typing mistake.  Do not hide the code inside the packaging such as Starcraft budget edition. Do not print the code on the back of a manual in ink which rubs off on the customer’s thumb when they are readying.


      (This actually happened to me with Neverwinter Nights!)


15.  If you are going to require customer’s to go online to activate their software then do not impose draconian limits on the amount of times they can do so, e.g. Mass Effect. If you are going to refuse to activate a paying customer’s game, making it unusable then the game is not fit for purpose because it cannot be played, and your customer should be able to return it as such. You could just as easily reduce piracy by allowing three installations a month for each key code, not three or five activations period as you do currently.


16.  If a customer is unable to activate their game because their activation code has been used by a pirate with a random key generator, then you should be helping your customer, not forcing them to jump through hoops. Do not force them to buy a scanner to scan and email their receipt, plus buy a digital camera to take a photo of their game packaging. What will you do next, force them to take a photo of themselves holding both receipt, game box, disc, manual and copy of today’s newspaper? Just apologise for the inconvenience, give them an RMA code and ask them to freepost you the unusable game for a free replacement. Or give them a letter instructing them to take the game back to the shop for a free replacement, and give them a voucher off a future purchase of one of your games by way of an apology, and to cover their travel costs. Or how about giving them a free electronic copy of an old game from your back catalogue to cheer them up? 

17.  Be up front and honest if you are going to limit the number of times a game can be installed or activated. Print this information on the retail packaging. When you advertise a game, say, for example,  “R.R.P. £29.99 for 5 activations”. If you prevent a customer from making an informed choice at the time of sale then you could be accused of misleading your customers. If a customer is not aware of the limit you have imposed then they will feel cheated by you when they are unable to play the game they have paid for. If you are not imposed installation or activation limits on a game then say so proudly! Print something like “R.R.P. £29.99 for unlimited installations and activations in accordance with license agreement” on packaging and advertising.

I think point 16 sums it up – customers are feeling that they are regarded as potential thieves, and not as valued customers. The only way they can stop this treatment is to vote with their wallets. That is why I am not buying Mass Effect – the DRM is too draconian. For me, DRM is killing PC gaming, because I am being put off buying games! Other people have said the same on forums; go see.

You will notice that I am not supporting or endorsing piracy in any way here. A typical tactic used by big companies to counter anyone who speaks up against DRM restrictions is to suggest they are a pirate. This dirty trick is insulting, so do not be gullible To be pro-customer is not to be a pirate!

If you buy a PC game in the UK and it does not meet the PC Gamers Charter then consider whether the game is fit for purpose, and is compliant with the Sale of Goods Act and the Distance Selling Regulations. As a paying customer you have rights – learn them and use them!

(c) Copyright Talkjack 2009

See also:

Is DRM killing PC games (Part 2 – Starforce)

Is DRM killing PC games (Part 3 – Securom)



  1. Hi Jacj,
    Great work on your ‘charter’ – with the antagonism towards DRM it has come to stand more for “Dumb Relationship Management” rather than for “Digital Rights Management.” We think the industry needs to move beyond this argument and evolve the solution to a new level that clearly recognizes and addresses the limitations of DRM to solve the piracy issue without negatively impacting honest users. We are executing a plan to achieve this and would like to republish your charter (with full accreditation to you/your blog of course) – please email me at (email supplied) so we can talk about it.
    best regards

  2. This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Read it and weep EA!!!!!! I will NOT buy Sims 3 with SecuRom!!!

  3. Talkjack’s note: This pingback arrived today. The source is an interesting discussion on Securom DRM from the Electronic Arts forums. I have allowed it through because I found the forum debate to be pertinent to the DRM charter. It makes interesting followup reading. At the time of writing you can click through the above link in order to read the forum should you wish to do so.
    … Talkjack July 2008

  4. A company called Byteshield (to whom I an unrelated) have produced a white paper on this subject. They have picked up on my DRM Charter and made significant reference to it in their white paper. Their ideas make interesting reading. The link is here:

    … Talkjack

  5. Is DRM killing PC games? No, because there are always enough sheep to swallow the bull. Sad, but true.

  6. Hi Silver Arrow.

    Think beyond sales figures and the state of the inudstry, I am talking about the effect draconian DRM is having on customers. DRM is killing the hobby for many long term PC gamers. Very sad and true.

    I reckon that DRM should not be a dirty secret, so spread the word about what the money men are doing to our hobby. Greater awareness amongst gamers will reduce the number of ‘sheep’ as more of us spend our money wisely.

    I would like to see everyone buy Sins of a Solar Empire as it is a great game that is not spoilt by DRM. Can’t say the same about Mass Effect!

    … Talkjack

  7. Hi Talkjack. I have lots of anti-securom/anti-EA rants on my blog already! I did a poll on my blog recently and – though I didn’t get that many results – it seems that there are always going to be people who are so desperate for such and such a game that they’ll buy it regardless of the crap bundled with it. I’ve heard so many people complain and complain about how they hate Suck-u-Rom, but still rush out to buy the latest Sims EP the moment it’s released.

    Unless sales are hit, publishers are going to continue to foist this rubbish off on their legitimate customers. Thousands of people complained about securom on the sims BB for instance, and their posts were just censored out by EA. Yea, there are ways of working around Securom (think cracks) but it means that people are still buying the game and giving EA (or whoever) the green light to illegally install securom on our PCs.

    Thing is, these moronic publishers don’t realise: DRM DOESN’T WORK! Can you name even one game that hasn’t made it on to the torrents because of copy-protection? All it does is push disgruntled customers to piracy. i.e. you’ve scored an own goal, EA. Nice one!

    How about this for a radical idea? Ditch ALL copy protection. Yup, all of it. Safedisc, CD-checks, whatever, scrap the lot. This way, customers will be happier, more loyal and more likely to purchase a legal copy. Create incentives for buying rather than pirating, maybe something like nintendo’s stars catalogue. My guess is that sales will actually rise. Why not give it a go?

    Sorry for the insanely long rant, but as someone whose PC was screwed by securom once before, this is something I feel quite strongly about.

  8. Hi Silver Arrow

    Yours is not an insanely long rant, I have read many similar comments by gamers who are disgusted with modern DRM. I have also read about the EA censorship that you mentioned. I get the impression that DRM in PC games has become something of a dirty secret, given that publishers are trying to hide it!

    Its ironic really that when I look at all the retro PC games I own, I realise that I am buying far less PC games over the last couple of years thanat any time previously. Nasty DRM is the cause.

    As a direct consequence of DRM I never, ever impulse buy a PC game in a shop any more. I always wait till I get home and check out the DRM online before I make a purchase. There are more than 30 full price, games on the PC that I never purchased because of the DRM system they sneakily included. That is hundreds of pounds I did not spend on my hobby due to DRM! It is insane to think that current DRM systems are helping the industry.

    Check out – they seem to have the right idea, and I will be trying them out in September when the site goes live.

    … Talkjack

  9. I like your article. I agree with everything you say. I too am a gamer. I have been thinking about and studying what is happening to the PC games industry for some time. You want to know what I think the real problem is? Consoles.

    Now let me explain. There has long been this perception that PC games are pirated and that the industry loses 100s of millions a year to it. My first problem with that is this: if a person pirates a game that he/she would never have purchased in the first place, should this be added to the “total sales lost” figure or not? I contend that it should not. I would say that at least 25-50% of people that have pirated PC games in the past would not have bought the game in the first place. So my feeling is the lost sales numbers are way inflated. I admit that piracy is a problem, just not quite as inflated as we constantly hear.

    So how does this relate to consoles? Well, the industry believes whole heartedly that piracy is costing them millions a year. Millions that would go into their pockets, R&D, Development, Testing, etc. Now add to that a game platform that has pretty tight DRM (XBOX, PS3, Wii). Add the fact that it is cheaper to create, test, and support a single platform vs. a PC platform. Overall it is cheaper for everyone to write games for one platform. Add to that most games on these platforms cost more than any PC game on the market. Add to that the uncontrollable desire for parents to do “whatever it takes to make little Billy and Suzie happy”. I have two nephews whose parents buy PS2, PS3, and 360 games constantly. I just don’t get it.

    These platforms are FAR more appealing to publisher and developers than the PC. Look at EA’s recent decision to no longer release sports games for the PC. They say it is because of piracy. I call their bluff and say they are using that as a convenient excuse to make more money off the console platform.

    Look at EBGames and Gamestop. Have you ever been into one of those stores before? They are about 98% console and about 2% PC games.

    In defense of consoles, why wouldn’t anyone prefer that platform? It is less cumbersome. The DRM is transparent. The copy protection doesn’t destroy the console. It is just plain easier to use.

    There is one edict I know to be true with all things. Make it easy for people to give you money for your products or services. Make them happy they bought your products or services. Make it easy to buy your products and services. Just make your customer the center of your products and services and the money will follow. Unfortunately, I feel that businesses have forgotten this. We see examples ALL over the industry. Just look at Microsoft’s Vista. Vista is an OS created to deliver 3rd party wares directly to your desktop. The end user was an after thought. American car dealers function the same way. You spend so much time bickering over a few hundred dollars either way that they forget about the customer. People HATE the car buying process. I bought a BMW and they made it SO easy for me to give them money I was amazed. The first time I ever walked away from a car dealer thinking “wow…that was actually a pleasant experience”. Why more companies don’t get this simple idea is amazing to me.

    I guess maybe it is like Silver says “there are always enough sheep to swallow the bull”.

  10. i feel the same way, i bought crysis warhead with out knowing that it had a DMR on the game, it is a brilliant game and is ruined by this “DRM” i am now refusing to buy Farcry 2 and Fallout 3. The game companies are killing there sales by putting DRM on there games, another thing with crysis if you have a powerful pc that is able to run crysis you will want to re install windows regularly to keep your computer running at its best performance. i now feel trapped and unable to re install windows because i do not want to lose crysis warhead. GET RID OF DRM! THEY SAY THEY ARE TRYING TO STOP PEOPLE DOWNLOADING THE GAME OF SOME DODGIE WEBSITE, THE GAME COMPANY’S ARE ENCOURAGING IT!!!!!! PLEASE GET RID OF DRM :@!

    Talkjack’s Response: I was initially feeling very benign towards Bethesda after their recent statement about their customer friendly intentions for Fallout 3. However it seems they have imposed Securom version 7 onto Fallout 3. I have had technical problems with Securom in the past, so do not willingly install it on my PC. However at least Bethesda have not imposed online activations, so you can reinstall Windows and Fallout 3 as often as you like. I do feel tricked by Bethesda who have not been quite so customer friendly as their message implied. I wrote an article on Fallout 3’s DRM.

    As for Farycry2, I feel the same way, and have decided to wait for the game to come out on budget instead of buying that game now. Shame on Ubisoft!

    … Talkjack

  11. Very well done. I like most if not all of the points that you have put across here. Personally I haven’t had any experience dealing with DRM. Stayed away from games with it like the plague. Thank god for the Amazon reviewers posting about it or I wouldn’t have even known DRM existed.

    Pity about C&C3 and Fallout 3 eh? Was looking forward to them.

  12. […] […]

  13. Damn some SecureRom and all the other activation methods. Just be glad some one bought your game. I mean your dealing with intangible and untouchable merchandise to start with, the fact that you got some one to buy it is amazing all on its own.

    Great article by the way. I’m constantly looking for ways to defeat securerom, I’d much rather use a No-Cd patch to play my games vs. having the disk in there, since all it wants to do is read the disk and use my internet to death, even in single player (offline mode).

    Guess there just paranoid, but the “high rollers” over at EA and other companies might as well get it in their head, people are going to steal software. If they don’t want the software to be pirated, they might as well just say, “OK were gonna close the internet, you can go home now” or some shit.

  14. Hit the nail on the head, DRM is killing us. Like steam buying all the best game developers and forcing them to only make console versions and then port them to PC, dumbing are systems down and making us play with 5 year old console hardware.

  15. “As for Farycry2 , I feel the same
    way, and have decided to wait for
    the game to come out on budget
    instead of buying that game now.
    Shame on Ubisoft!”

    What do you mean, “Shame on ubisoft!”? The game can’t help the fact that it was coded and betatested properly and working just fine until it was broken by the application of Digital Restrictions Malware. And the company that unwillingly gave its name to DRM broken software because of its bullish insistence on the practice? Oh, yeah, Ubisoft…

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