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The Steam Scare

Or, holy crud there goes $1.3k worth of my games!

I suspect the vast majority will disagree, but let me suggest something crazy: No DRM > SecuROM > Steam. Wait, what? SecuROM > Steam?!? Blasphemy!

I’m one of those strange fellows who has never cared too much about SecuROM being installed on my computer (yes, you can stop reading right here you people). I mean, it’s already on there from I don’t even know which of my games anyway, right? (You can facepalm now.)

Ok, seriously though. Let me explain my train of thought here.

I’ve come to be a huge, huge fan of Steam. It’s hard to say no to all those unbelievable (but now actually quite believable, and indeed, habitual, expected, and seemingly inevitable) sales—not to mention what Steam means for indie developers.

But there was a time when I refused to install Steam, and Valve received all that flak about inability to meet the huge demand required for legions of waiting fans to finally get their hands on HL2 (Steam was the most criticized aspect of the HL2 experience on that game’s release, iirc). Valve, though respected, hadn’t yet won all the tremendous amounts of goodwill and trust that it has piled in reserve now.

Consider the early perspective: HL2 was basically the only game on the service (ok, not true). And, it being impossible to foresee how many other publishers would eventually join in, it was hard to justify installing something apparently about as intrusive as a third party search bar on your browser that actually works as a web tracker. It’s on all the time (that is, game time), you can’t play your games without it, and at least occasionally you need to access Valve’s servers so you have permission to play your games.

It’s long, long since passed that I’ve had any qualms (of which there wasn’t much, or any, to begin with) about licensing instead of owning my software (or using Steam for that matter). But basically, if no DRM is something the publishers just won’t pursue, the only way we can actually own our software anymore is something like SecuROM.

(Hear that publishers? It’s time to go no DRM if you want an actual competitive edge against Steam!)

So, due to some overzealous fraud prevention on the part of my bank, a few purchases (amounting to 20 bucks) came into dispute, resulting in me being locked out of all 90+ games (amounting to over a thousand bucks) that I have on there (as opposed to, say, just the three that were disputed).

I have to say, this is the first time I’ve had any trouble at all with my account in the years I have been using Steam. And the trouble I speak of was entirely legitimate and justifiable. Plus, I’m pretty sure that my account will eventually be reinstated (when all that bank stuff finally goes through).

Still, it’s not until your egg basket bursts that you realize how fragile it was. Really, this whole experience just makes me kick myself in both shins and think, “Man, I knew I should have bought Witcher 2 on GoG.” I mean, who knew I’d actually be thankful to EA/BioWare (and even Direct2Drive of all things!) for having their own “social service” (yes, W2, F:NV, Civ 5, Shogun 2, or basically all the games I’d rather be playing, are stuck in Steam) so I can resort to my physically owned Dragon Age 2 as a temporary fix? (Thank god I still buy most games I really care about on disk. Except, you know... that didn’t do much for F:NV, Civ 5, Shogun 2...)

Let me paint a strange picture, then. In the near, near future, in-house services for publishers a la Steam will be ubiquitous enough that customers will become comfortable with the idea of buying from somewhere else other than just Steam. The only real difference between them, then, will be how willing the customer is to trust the publisher enough to fork over their cash. At that point, the thing that will set them apart is how willing the publisher is in return to trust that their customers will pay for their products and use them legitimately.

So, here’s an idea. No DRM is the new F2P. And GoG, with its formidable library of DRM-free classics you can’t get anywhere else already lending it a Criterion Collection-like authority, is way ahead of the game.

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