A Modest Proposal About DRM

A Modest Proposal About DRM


When it comes to the future of combating piracy, extreme measures may need to be taken. DRM is one of the more controversial anti-piracy tools, but is there a way to use it to make a better future for gamers and developers alike?

In 1729 an Irish writer by the name of Jonathan Swift published a satirical essay anonymously about the growing problem of poverty-stricken children in Ireland and how they could be put to use in such a way that is beneficial to society at large. As anyone who attended high school English classes may remember, the essay was a commentary on the plight of the Irish poor and the British policies concerning them that prevented them from reaching a higher standing in life. What readers of the essay will remember though, is its proposition: the selling and cannibalization of impoverished Irish children by the wealthy.

While Swift’s essay about the consumption of (potentially delicious) children was designed to draw reactions of disgust and provoke thought amongst his audience, Swift’s approach to it was logically-driven and played the much needed part of a devil’s advocate. In a similar manner to the Irish living conditions in the 18th century it seems that the gaming industry is, from a developer and publisher perspective, suffering from a funding problem thanks to pirating and the sale of used games. What can be done about this? Not much currently but with a little industry-wide cooperation and perhaps lending an ear to this modest proposal we could find a way to solve these issues.

I have previously voiced my thoughts on video game piracy in a post called I Hate Pirates. For those who need to get up to speed or need more of a background to the proposal forthcoming in this article, please take the time to read that post. Otherwise please read on for the full proposal.

However, be forewarned readers as I am about to play devil’s advocate and you’re not going to like what is to be said below.

Sometimes Overkill is Necessary

Two of the biggest problems in the gaming industry are piracy and consequently developers not receiving the money that should rightfully be returned to them for the work put into their projects. The answer to solving these problems lies in Digital Rights Management. DRM is one of the more controversial pieces of anti-piracy tools and has been implemented in a good majority of PC games over the past ten years. But the true potential of DRM cannot be realized simply because of the platform on which it is used: the PC. But what if you could find a way to implement it on a console?

The console space has always been considered a region in which it isn’t proper to utilize DRM because, among other things, it is perceived as such a proprietary field that it isn’t necessary to use it. Yet thousands of players have been banned over the years for pirating games on all the major consoles. For a recent example you can look to the Call of Duty: Black Ops mass banning on the Playstation 3 thanks to its 3.56 firmware update. This example alone is enough of a reason as to why we need a modern reinvention of DRM for gaming.

So with this in mind I think it is about time that the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) and the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) along with the major software and hardware manufacturers should band together to create a new version of DRM to be utilized in the console space. Such a measure is certainly possible given the nature of the problem at hand. While the current technology available would not support it properly, the time is right to consider its creation given that hardware manufacturers are preparing design work on the next generation of consoles. But how should such a creation work?

A Simple Process

I think that a next generation of DRM can be built upon what has already been tested and tried on the PC. Utilizing a serial code system similar to what is used in most physical copies of PC games nowadays the collective might of the console gaming section of the industry could actually create an easy-to-update, simple and user-friendly system. Such a new DRM system should be composed of three main components: a serial number system, a user-friendly confirmation system, and most importantly, a checks-and-balances system to make sure that all is maintained.

The serial code system is the easiest place to start from. An ideal creation would be one that can allow for a theoretical maximum of several hundred quadrillion or even quintillion unique combinations per system that can accommodate both physical and digital software purchases. Inspiration can be taken from something that is actually quite common: bank routing numbers. Take the American routing number system for example. Composed of nine digits, the first two digits identify the regional federal bank in which a check is processed, the next two corresponding to the processing center and state in which it comes from, and so on. Similarly, one can make an alphanumeric serial code composed of let's just say thirty digits with certain digits within the code. These will identify the developer, the publisher, the type of software it is (physical or digital), the platform in which it will be played on, and the region in which this version of the software is published (I’m a strong advocate of region-free gaming but an identifier would help in anti-piracy cases). The rest of the code would conform to a unique code tied to that disc only.