Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the Agenda at FTC Conference

January 6, 2009 -

Last September's controversial release of Spore demonstrated the extent to which digital rights management (DRM) has become a wedge issue between game publishers and game consumers.

Might the government step in on the side of consumers?

That's difficult to say, but we note that the Federal Trade Commission will hold a town hall conference on DRM issues in Seattle on March 25th. The event will be co-hosted by the Technology Law and Public Policy Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law.

The FTC is currently recruiting panelists and hasn't yet finalized topics. Here's the preliminary agenda:

  • Opening remarks
  • Demonstrations of DRM-related technology
  • Panel discussions regarding burdens on, and benefits for, consumers, and other market and legal issues involving DRM
  • Review of industry best practices
  • Consideration of the need for government involvement to better protect consumers.

That last bullet point is pretty interesting, especially in light of the FTC's mission:

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.

Game consumers have been complaining loudly about DRM and lately even filing class-action lawsuits over the issue. Publishers who employ DRM routinely cite game software piracy as the reason.

Those interested in serving as panelists or suggesting topics for discussion should contact the FTC at drmtownhall@ftc.gov by January 30, 2009. An FTC press release offers these guidelines:

Interested parties should include both a statement detailing their expertise on the issues to be addressed at the Town Hall, and complete contact information. The Commission will select panelists based on their expertise and on the need to represent a range of views.

Those with a view may also submit written comments or original research until January 30, 2009 to this URL. The town hall meeting is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is not required. It will be webcast live on the FTC website.

Thanks to: GP reader Steve Augustino


Comments

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

I agree with you there.

I personally had no problems with current DRM (maybe I'm just lucky, but Securom didn't had much effects after I installed Bioshock), but I recognise it as a serious issue (I had an old version of StarForce with my copy of Obscure and I had to use a crack to make it run on Vista, since the StarForce version was too old to be used). Fortunately, here in Québec, there are some protections for consumers. For instance, simply stating on the box that online activation is required isn't enough. In that case, there would be enough ground for at least a refund and (if you're willing to push that far) a lawsuit. I heard a story about a father who unwittingly bought an MMORPG without knowing that there were monthly fees. Since the fees weren't written anywhere on the box (the two rectangles with tiny writings saying that an online connection is required were judged insufficient), that man could ask for a refund, even if he opened the box (since you HAD to open the box to know that there was monthly fees).

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

"Right now, DRM is not tested sufficiently enough to prevent harm to consumer's PCs. I think it should be. DRM should have strict testing guidelines imposed to prevent problems faced in the past."

Having worked in the QA department for a couple of companies, almost exclusively with PCs while I was at Activision, I have to say that's an impossibility.  I'm not saying it's a bad opinion, just not an informed one.

The biggest obstacle is hardware.  There are so many different hardware configurations that there's no way to test every single one of them.  A PC gamer could have the latest in tech or could still be using a 5, hell, a 10 year-old DVD drive.  Add drivers, OSs, and other programs into the mix and you're asking for A LOT of testing.

And testing costs money.  Here, I'll give you an example as I've always wanted to explain this to other gamers.

There is the "Triangle of QA".  Basically take a sheet of paper, draw a triangle, and then label one of the corners "Quality".  Label the next one with "Time" and the third one with "Cost".  Now beneath the triangle write "You only get two".

The idea is that if you want a Quality product quickly (Time), you have to sacrifice Cost by paying out-the-ass for lots of employees with lots of overtime.  If you wanted a Quality product with a low Cost, you must sacrifice Time since you'll be working with a limited amount of employees and trying not to pay overtime.  If you want a cheap product out the door quickly, Quality is sacrificed due to lack of proper time to test it.

Now there's an old saying related to business, "time equals money".  Game producers try to follow this mantra almost to the letter.  So guess which corner of the Triangle gets sacrificed 9 out of 10 times?  (Here's a hint: all of your games have bugs in them.  All of them.)

Game companies would balk and scream and rage if they were forced to test DRM until it causes no issues.  It would cut too much into their profits.  They have some legit concern since, as I stated above, it's practically impossible for them to test all of the hardware.  Most likely than not they would just stop making PC games.

And then the pirates would just switch to consoles.  And we'd have to deal with all of this shiat again, only with console games.

 

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

I do believe that more thorough testing is needed in all computer software. Including games and DRM. By testing DRM, it should fall on the DRM producers to test it to insure that the software will not harm people's pc's. Sure it is near impossible to test on every possible configuration, btu they can test enough to get a feel for how it might react in certain situations.

Take Sims two, there were quite a few people who installed one of the expansions, just to have the DRM in that expansion conflict with the DRM on other expansions and disabling both. How as that not caught before release?

THe Time money quality excuse is just that. Just because game companies choose to ignore good QA, does not make it right.

E. Zachary Knight
Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA
MySpace Page: http://www.myspace.com/okceca
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1325674091

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Oh, I'm with you on that.  Game companies should perform better QA. 

But they don't.  QA is the most expendable of all the departments.  The majority of QA testers are temps.  They go from 500 or more employees during peek to, like, less than 100 afterwards.  That's a whole lot of trained, possibly talented employees that are just kicked out.  You'd also be surprised (and probably disgusted) with how many bugs are written off as Will Not Fix.

As one of my friends from there use to say, "Our department's title is BS.  We don't assure quality."

 

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Take Sims two, there were quite a few people who installed one of the expansions, just to have the DRM in that expansion conflict with the DRM on other expansions and disabling both. How as that not caught before release?

Because they didn't test it, I'd bet.  I wish I'd saved the link, likely now deleted, or screenshot the post (regret!), but the head developer for TS2 outright stated that BonVoyage, the first TS2 expansion released using Securom v7.3xx, wasn't tested w/Securom after they'd finished it up - they relied on 'reports from other games that use it'.  It's one reason why EA devs/personnel were so slow to understand or react; they had to go to Sony for answers.

/end anecdote that I wish I could back up with a link.  :(

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

"I don't think the current state of DRM is as bad as it could be (see MaskedPixelante's post above) it is still bad. "

 Generalist statement: I could say the same thing about anything. "The war is not that bad, people could be dying faster", "Taxes aren't that bad, atleast you're seeing something back eventually".

"Right now there is no requirement to disclose any included DRM. I think there should be. Everything installed by the software should be disclosed on the box for everyone to see."

 The fact that this should even be worth mentioning is disturbing. Why hide this fact at all?

"Right now, DRM is not tested sufficiently enough to prevent harm to consumer's PCs. I think it should be. DRM should have strict testing guidelines imposed to prevent problems faced in the past."

 By whom? For whom? DRM seems to be pretty exclusive to the PC market, and as we all know, PC are as varied as their users. How do you test every single possible case? What is considered a good sample seeing as the former is impossible?

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

If they can somehow manage to make DRM illegal or at least guarantee a full refund for infected purchased products then my faith in government will be somewhat restored.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

"The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" - Herodotus

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- "The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" - Herodotus

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

What they need is a big flat label for DRM like the Tabacco companies are forced to use. DRM, can wipe or disable drives at will. We need a warning label

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

I'm just hoping the ECA is considering getting its foot in the door for this, sounds like something that is almost exactly up their street.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Most of the ECA staff will be at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, but we've been talking about popping up to Seattle to be involved, as we feel it's an important issue for gamers and would like to see that perspective represented.

Brett Schenker

Online Advocacy Manager

the ECA

www.theeca.com

Brett Schenker Online Advocacy Manager the ECA www.theeca.com

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Good to hear, and thanks for replying :)

I know the ECA adopts the stance that overly-restrictive DRM can be harmful to a users experience, so it is good to know they will be trying to give their input, like most users, I'm not against DRM or a companies' rights to protect their IP.

My own opinion is that any form of DRM which may, though no fault of my own, render my game unplayable in the future is not a good form of DRM, any kind of online verification is a time bomb for the game, especially in the current economic climate, it's unfair to expect people to spend money on something that in 6 months time may be rendered unplayable due to bad financial choices by the company that you bought it from. Yes people can choose not to buy something, but there's a difference between consumer choice and playing Russian Roullette over a company's financial health.

At the very least, there needs to be some sort of clarification of what would happen if a company that  used online verification DID go under, I've heard lots of 'probably' and 'most likely', but I'm not aware if there is any actual defences in place to protect the customers of such companies in that event.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

One should hope that the ECA is about empowering consumers, not the government.  As many have said the solution here lies in the free market.  Spore is a great example here people wnated the game not the DRM so it was pirated to an insane degree. 

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Spore was pirated to an insane degree but that's got nothing to do with anything when you consider that Spore still sold very well indeed. Most people just pirated the game anyway even after buying legit copies so that they wouldn't have the DRM on their systems. And those people sacrificed one of the core features of the game by doing so.
---
I'm not under the affluence of incohol as some thinkle peep I am. I'm not half as thunk as you might drink. I fool so feelish I don't know who is me, and the drunker I stand here, the longer I get.


---
I'm not under the affluence of incohol as some thinkle peep I am. I'm not half as thunk as you might drink. I fool so feelish I don't know who is me, and the drunker I stand here, the longer I get.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Maybe so, but it's still something the ECA ought to be getting involved in, even if it is not to adopt a stance at the start, but merely to voice the opinions of their consumers on both sides of the divide.

After all, I was under the impression that representing consumer interests was the purpose of the ECA.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Tell Mr. Halpin there will be press there and I'm sure he'll be there like a shot!

--------------------------------------------------

I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

-------------------------------------------------- I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

That's unfortunately a valid concern.  Game companies aren't the "rebels" of the technology industry anymore like in the early 90's, their a mainstream corporate business now.  With such prestige comes scumy tactics.

Legit customers will always buy, pirates will also find a way to get it for free.  Always.  I don't mind companies trying to protect their products so long as it doesn't imped the legit use by legit customers.  Companies don't want to hear it, but those that really want to get it for free are going to get it for free, period.

Gaming companies and DRM apologists will cry about loss of sales (which is only theoretical) and throw the word "theft" or "steal" around a lot (both of these terms are inaccurate when it comes to the law) but that doesn't excuse the practice of treating each customer like a potential criminal.

 

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Ugh, was suppose to be a reply to Brokenscope's comment.

 

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

I more or less agree Goverment shouldn't stay involved with buisness but however we do need regulation. 8 years of tax benefits so they can employ more people only to hold onto that money and shipped jobs overseas have not helped us and I am a big Bush guy or was rather.

The Goverment should be stepping in making sure we are protected

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

 So... you're against big brother unless its to your benefit. How are you any better then the companies in question?

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

SOMEONE related to this should step in and say "OK, THIS is how much DRM you're allowed to use." Otherwise, say hello to 1 install per game, mandatory reactivation every day, and one week of access before you have to beg them for another install.

---You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

---You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

NO!

I'm not a fan of DRM by any means but government intervention seems just as much out of line as the DRM.  Actually I'm more against government intervention than DRM...

Why exactly does government think it should have a say in every aspect of our lives?  I'm pretty sure consumers can handle this one.  This simply makes the problem worse.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Government intervening for us against DRM is hardly 'having a say in every aspect of our lives'.  There are some good reasons to have government, and the best reason (perhaps other than maintaining a fire department) is to help the little guy against big business interests.

Of course there's no guarantee the government won't side with big business on this one - after all, the corporations will describe their customers as, at best, ethically suspect, and at worst thieves and pirates.  The folks in government, who mostly don't know a computer from a calculator, will believe them.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

It is another instance where Government takes control of the situation.  Add this into the extremely long list of other instances and we are getting dangerously close to being comfortable with government having a say in nearly every aspect of our lives.  If government isn't involved yet, it should stay that way.  The consumers can handle this.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

 This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard, you want companies to have free reign in regards to how they treat people? Do you understand how fundamentally dangerous that is?

 $20 says this guy is American, the only nation where the word government sends waves of dread and whispers of communism. The US would be face down in the water by now if their government wasn't steering things for their citizenry.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

So not wanting the government to have a say over how the game industry does business is the stupidest thing you've ever heard?

I'm sorry you feel that way but I simply believe in small government and little government interference because if you look at history(FCC, FTC, Federal Reserve, CIA, Public Education, any other government body) the government lacks efficiency and productivity.  Government often makes issues worse.  Furthermore inviting government into issues such as this is going to make them feel welcome in other issues we might not want them to be involved in.  You can't pick and choose, when government gets a little bit of a foothold they are only going to go forward, never taking a step back.

All that is really besides the main point which is the game industry can handle this one on its own.  You have to trust in the Developers, Publishers, Retailers, Consumers and ultimately the market in general(which relys mostly on the consumer imo).  If consumesr wish to kill SecuROM then we can do it on our own by negatively impacting the bank accounts of the developers, publishers and retailers.  Look at what the consumer did to Spore.  When it came packed with SecuROM it got annihilated on Amazon and when people see a 1 star rating on a new game they aren't going to buy it.  If a game isn't selling for a particular reason and the consumer is complaining about it then it is only a matter of time before they start removing that issue from their games.  Protecting your company from piracy is good but not at the expense of unit sales.

When your talking about situations that actually harm the consumers hardware, such as disabling drives, then I still say don't get the government involved.  Sue the shit out of the company and leave it at that.  If you buy a peice of hardware or software that does damage to your property and there is no warning of such on the product doing the harm I'd say you have a damn good case and you'll likely have company.  What should you do? Talk to others with the same problem and a few lawyers.

So I think its fine that you believe my opinion is 'stupid'.  But I have to disagree with it.  The Government is notorious for screwing things up and not representing the truth of the matter.  They respond to public outcry more than factual instances and that turns me away from them.  If you want to trust the government to make choices for you and you want to depend on them to protect you thats all on you.  I personally enjoy freedom and independence so I shy away from government constantly.  Government has no place in the market and no place in entertainment.  PERIOD.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

I'm not so sure, after seeing the deaf ear about invasive and problematic DRM turned to the customer base over the past year especially.

I don't care for the idea that the gov't. should regulate all either, but when Sony's Securom started disabling drives for TheSims2 players in Sept. 07, and the following shrug and point to Sony reaction from EA showed no relief or change of plan, I looked for consumer laws or rules or anything that might give players any kind of recourse and had no luck finding any.  Just the non-disclosure part of the deal was disturbing enough, but the tech problems (that continue to this day) were and are outrageous.

The market (and lawsuits) can and should determine what is good for the consumer, and the pace of such change can be glacial, but I do feel that a line needs to be drawn in the law for DRM, or any kind of extraneous program/utility included with software you purchase, that gives consumers back their right to know what's being put on their personal property *prior* to that purchase. 

Standards for DRM would also be nice, violations of which carry steep fines and parameters that are easy to understand for all involved.  And most importantly - keep the consumer in mind.  The FTC has some of its own cases to fall back on:  Sony's CD rootkit and (again Sony's) collection of personal information from minors very recently. 

Online stores that use proprietary DRM on purchases should be required by law to provide unlocking utilities for their customers when/if they decide to shut down or go dark so that the intergrity of what people bought from them is maintained.

A stickier issue, that might not be addressed for this particular topic, is what does a customer actually own when they buy a copy (and they're ALL copies) of software, and also fair use rights granted by copyright law in the US.  How far does a TOS or EULA go?  Do we sign away rights granted to us by US law when we install something with a contract we cannot see before we buy?

I don't know whether a conference can answer or address all these (and other) issues that swirl about DRM in general, but I do feel that the consumer is the odd man out these days and needs far more consideration than has been given.  It's unfortunate that publishers need to be boycotted, sued, or taken to task by a government authority to listen to what customers have been telling them for years, but asbestos use wasn't regulated by the government until 1971, and it was a known killer for nearly a hundred years until then.  Collusion and obsfucation kept it quiet.  It took an IRS agent performing probate on John Manville's estate to expose it after he died of asbestos related cancer.

DRM doesn't kill anything but sales, fun, and consumer confidence, but there are times when a government must and should step in to do what it's supposed to do and protect the welfare of its citizens.  The trick is to do it constructively.

I share your qualms there, but anything to put software publishers on notice about their DRM decisions is welcome in the consumer quarter right about now.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Hal has spoken about EULA's and called them "out of control."  You can read what he has to say on that subject at, http://www.gamedaily.com/articles/features/guest-column-eula-hell/?biz.

Brett Schenker

Online Advocacy Manager

the ECA

www.theeca.com

Brett Schenker Online Advocacy Manager the ECA www.theeca.com

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Thanks for the link, Brett.  I'd add my two cents and suggest that EULAs should not exceed the length of anyone's arm, leg, nor the height of the nearest small child.  ;)

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

I'm fairly short, so happy to offer up my arm for measuring.

Brett Schenker

Online Advocacy Manager

the ECA

www.theeca.com

Brett Schenker Online Advocacy Manager the ECA www.theeca.com

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

 YOu say at the very bottom here that it kills "Consumer confidence" Well... low consumer confidence damages the economy but limiting spending and investing. Look how the low consumer confidence now has damaged teh economy (Even further then the initial collapse)

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Someone should merge your reply and the guy you replied to into one comment and send it to them.

DRM hurting the economy would definitely get them on our side.

 

"That's not ironic. That's justice."

"That's not ironic. That's justice."

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

 I don't understand this statement, you expect people to invest when major banking institutions are literally out of money? Thank whatever deity you worship that there has yet to be any mass panic as people try and salvage their vapour-liquidity from said banks, only to find it doesn't physically exist anymore.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Now I wonder if a publisher is going to pull a comcast and pay folks to fill seats.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

That's what I was thinking when I read this. I wouldn't put it past them, considering most publishers are about as ethical.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

People who buy PC games should be allowed to install them an infinite number of times on an infinite number of computers. Computers die, they get upgraded, stuff happens that causes the need for us to uninstall the games that have install limits. It's not like on a console, where they don't fail on a similar level to the PCs. We want to have our games, not an extended rental like we're getting from EA now.

You have every right to protect your sales, but it's just bad customer relations for you to have us beg for more install slots.

---You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

---You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

And additional software tied to the game should be as easy if not easier to uninstall than the game.  If any of you deal with Adobe products, when I upgrade they keep installing Bridge or Cue or some stupid program with it that I never agreed to install.  So I think across the board, everything being installed should be at attention of the user in a list of what is being installed. 

---

IE: Sims 2 - Apartment Life

-Sims 2 Apartment Life game
-Updates to character builder or whatever if so
-SecuROM
-Whatever else if anything else

---

Beyond that, I agree with Masked.

You buy a movie and can watch it on any DVD player, and if you are having a party, you can link your DVD player to your cable connection and have it play on all the TV's in your house.  Like a horror movie costume party.  That way people can watch the movie or hang out, or kinda do both.  (Wow, okay, I like that idea...  I have a new party to have now.)

All in all, you bought the damn thing, and should have the ability to use it in the way you desire as long as you are not breaking the law, which is what DRM is suppose to protect against instead of second hand market sales.  If a household buys a game, and they have a computer for mom, dad, brother, and sister, plus an additional computer, and they all want to play the game, I do not see why they should even be required to buy more than one copy of the game, but with CD keys, they already do.  So they should stick to raping people in that manor, because that was abuse enough.

Nido Web Flash Tutorials AS2 and AS3 Tutorials for anyone interested.
How to set Xbox 360 Parental Controls

Nido Web Flash Tutorials AS2 and AS3 Tutorials for anyone interested.
How to set Xbox 360 Parental Controls

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Y'know i can't remember clearly from the last time i installed abode on my computer, but i was fairly certain that there was an option to customize the install instead of installing everything and from there you could uncheck such programs... though like i said, i can't remeber since it's been like half a year since the last time i had to install those programs

Re: Do Consumers Need Govt. Protection From DRM? It's on the

Last time I did it from a suite package, I did the custom one and it worked actually, it was the times before that it didn't have that option.  So yeah, you're right.

Nido Web Flash Tutorials AS2 and AS3 Tutorials for anyone interested.
How to set Xbox 360 Parental Controls

Nido Web Flash Tutorials AS2 and AS3 Tutorials for anyone interested.
How to set Xbox 360 Parental Controls
 
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Matthew WilsonAgain the consequences were not only foreseeable, but very likely. anyone who understood supply demand curvs knew that was going to happen. SF has been a econ/trade hub for the last hundred years.04/17/2014 - 2:45pm
Andrew EisenMixedPixelante - Would you like to expand on that?04/17/2014 - 2:43pm
MaskedPixelanteWell, I am officially done with Night Dive Studios. Unless they can bring something worthwhile back, I'm never buying another game from them.04/17/2014 - 2:29pm
 

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