Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Curse Of DRM Returns

Oh dear.  Less than 24 hours after I publish an upbeat story about a potentially cool new BioWare project, today there is the other kind of news, the type that game companies typically do not want you to talk about.

On Friday it seems that the Dragon Age: Origins DRM servers which authorise the DLC for the game failed, leaving a lot of people unable to play a game they had legitimately bought.  There are some (customer-devised) workarounds on BioWare's forums, but for the most part you are just SOL if a) you have bought DA:O but not yet activated the DLC, or b) have a saved game which contains any DLC elements.

BioWare (now owned by EA) immediately responded though, right?  Not so much.

There was no response from BioWare on Friday (when the hardware failure first occurred), Saturday or Sunday.  Instead, BioWare chose to wait until Monday to release this brief statement on their forums:

"Over the April 9, 2011 weekend, some of our Dragon Age: Origins content servers experienced an as yet unidentified failure. As a result, users began to experience error messages when attempting to access their downloadable content, indicating that the DLC was unauthorized.

We apologize for the inconvenience and are currently investigating and working to resolve the issue on our end. We will update this thread once we know more."

So after three days nobody at EA / BioWare knew what happened, nobody at EA / BioWare knew when it would be fixed and nobody at EA / BioWare could say whether or not it might happen again.

That's definitely a solid way to kick your paying customers in the pants, especially since many had bought the more expensive "Ultimate Edition" of DA:O containing all of the DLC and now could play none of it.

Meanwhile, everyone who has pirated the game can happily play without any hindrance or interruption, while paying customers get to twiddle their thumbs since there is no ETA from BioWare as to when it will be fixed (and given that it took three days for them to hold their hands up and admit there was a problem, I wouldn't be holding my breath).

DRM screwing over legitimate customers strikes once more.  While I can - possibly - envisage scenarios where unobtrusive DRM can be used to counter piracy (Steam is a good example of this), when it gets in the way of paying customers being able to play games that they have legitimately purchased, then it becomes an issue.  I also have no problem calling out publishers whose DRM goes too far in the first place, although this is a different situation.

It certainly seems that EA are fast regaining the poor reputation they enjoyed just a few years ago (before Activision muscled in on that territory).  Just recently there was the whole brouhaha about a BioWare forum ban also locking you out of their games; the mixed reception for Dragon Age II; EA's "Project Ten Dollar" attempting to kill the used-game-sales business and finally, starting to charge $60 for new triple-A PC titles instead of the usual $50 just because Activision started the trend and EA wanted to get in on that as well (even though an EA employee publicly stated that charging $60 for games was "exploitative").

I feel like I've got two black eyes and a cracked rib and EA are telling me "don't worry baby, it won't happen again".


  1. I am not happy at all lately with EA. Despite my hesitation, I bought Dead Space 2 for $60 a day or two after its release only to find that it had major bugs that disallowed access to content that should be unlocked after beating the campaign. Bugs that didn't get fixed until an entire month had gone by. To top it off, they permanently lowered the price of the game to $40 at the same time. Normally, I would welcome the price drop, but I paid $20 more than everyone else paid after only ONE month, and what did I get for it? A bugged game. You know the saying, "You get more for your money"? That doesn't apply here. After only one month, other people paid less and got more than I did. I'm not sure I've ever experienced a bigger slap in the face by a game company that I've purchased a product from.

    Now, I bought this Dragon Age Origins Ultimate Edition a couple months ago and finally was about to get around to playing it this past weekend. MAN, do I have horrible timing, lol. I made the silly assumption that since I fully paid for the game, that I could play it. Boy, was I wrong! The only way I can play the damn game is if I play it with absolutely no DLC enabled. This is completely unacceptable. EA's sluggish response to this is hardly any help at all as well.

    That's 2 strikes.

    EA enjoyed praise in the past for having "cleaned up their act" and being the far lesser evil compared to Activision and its dark master, Bobby Kotick, but they are very suddenly and quickly falling back down from grace in my book.

    If it wasn't for the Mass Effect series, I wouldn't have anything good to say at all about EA, and I don't much feel like saying those things right now.

  2. Kudos, on the DRM article. I was an enjoyable read and spot on, IMHO!