What is DRM?

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DRM (Digital Rights Management) is a controversial and current topic in the gaming community. This article gives a short overview on what DRM is and its main advantages and disadvantages.

What is DRM?

DRM are technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works. It is used within a variety of different products, from tractors to phones to music, but it is most commonly used to prevent the free distribution and free use of digital media. Within gaming there are a number of different examples of DRM. One of the oldest and most basic form of DRM is the product key. This is generally is an alphanumerical serial number that is needed to be able to install the game. There also exists other forms of more intrusive DRM, for example, Diablo III and SimCity requires the player to be online at all times, even when they just want to play alone. One of the most common forms of DRM is requiring the game to be launched through the Steam client.

Advantages of DRM

The main advantage of using DRM is that it help prevents pirating and unauthorized distrubution of copyrighted works. Using DRM on their products is a way for game developers and publishers, and other content creators, to make illegal distrubution and acquisition of their products more complicated. DRM can also be bound to services that are beneficial to the user, for example the chat and other services that are available through the Steam client, which further incentivizes people to acquire the product legally.

More arguments in favor of DRM can be found on this page.

Disadvantages of DRM

There are many different criticisms of DRM. Free Software Foundation (FSF) argues that DRM is a restriction of the users freedom and of all "the incredible possibilities enabled by digital technologies". FSF also argues that DRM "concentrates the control over production and distribution of media, giving DRM peddlers the power to carry out massive digital book burnings and conduct large scale surveillance over people's media viewing habits". More information about the FSF's stance on DRM can be found on the website of their anti-DRM campaign Defective by Design.

More practically oriented criticism against DRM states that DRM often hinders many legitimate uses of a product. For example, some forms of DRM will prevent users from doing backups of their purchased media. Other forms of game DRM requires the user to always be online and connected to the games servers. Diablo III and SimCity are two examples of games using this form of DRM. This means that the player can't play these games, even if the games are legitimately acquired, if their internet connection or the game's servers are down.

DRM is also criticized for being ineffective. Many forms of DRM are easily cracked and often a game or other product will be cracked within days, sometimes even hours. The argument goes that since DRM is so ineffective, its simply a waste of resources.

DRM-free gaming on Linux

There are a couple of stores that sell DRM-free games. The most prominent of these is GOG.com, but DRM-free games can also be found on Humble Bundle, itch.io and others. Steam also sells DRM-free games which can be run from outside of the Steam client. Steam have no way of indicating which games lack DRM though, and the Steam client is still required for downloading these games. Because of this the stores mentioned above are preferred for DRM-free shopping. More info about these, and other, stores can be found on this page of the wiki.

Open source games are another alternative for gamers concerned with DRM. A list of open source games available on Linux can be found here.

Further Reading