Monday, February 26, 2007

You wouldn't steal a car, you wouldn't steal a handbag...

Marketplace content on the Xbox 360 comes complete with its own digital rights management (DRM) in place. The content knows which user profile downloaded it, and also - this is the important bit - which Xbox it was downloaded to. The content will work fine for any user profile on that Xbox, but will only work for the original user profile on a different console, if you take your harddrive around to a friend's house, for example.

This system works fine until your console decides it's had enough of playing Gears of War and gives you the fabled red ring of doom - telling you that you'll need to send it to Microsoft to be replaced (or buy a new one if it's out of warranty). Apparently this is quite a likely event for a 360 user (my own anecdotal evidence seems to point to something like a 30% failure rate), and it's at this point you'll realise that any marketplace content you bought is now restricted to just the original user profile that download it - since the console you'll get back from Microsoft won't be the one you sent them.

If you have other profiles on your console who play the content then your options are either to suck it down and buy it again, or phone support and try and argue them into giving you marketplace points or vouchers.

Sony has obviously been regarding this whole situation, and has come up with its own clever solution (the obvious one of 'make your hardware unlikely to die' is too much of a pain, it would seem). Any premium content or electronic distribution (eDist) games you download on to your PS3 come with 5 're-downloads' for free - which do exactly what you would expect and allow you to get the full content for free again in the event of something going horribly wrong.

Except in their eagerness to please it would seem they've overlooked the ingenuity (read: greed) of gamers.

By sharing some of your account details (though nothing too unsafe, like credit card numbers) you can allow other trusted gamers access to your five free copies, giving them premium content and eDist games for nothing but a 'thank you' to the original buyer. That's full content, not time or content limited demos.

Which means that any developers of this content can expect their sales to be up to a fifth of what they otherwise could be.

Now, this way of copying games isn't exactly easy - the need to share some details will obviously put off a lot of users from trying, and it needs a fair amount of co-ordination - and people will always grab freebies they weren't otherwise planning on buying, just because they're free.

Because of these factors I don't think that you should assume to multiply up all sales figures by five to get a 'true' rating, but I do find it rather worrying that it's possible at all, and that it doesn't require any software hack or trickery to activate. As it's a feature that the manufacturer themselves has put in place, it seems to be in a bit of a grey area of DRM piracy which allows it to go unchecked in communities that usually don't allow discussion of such things (I first heard about this on the SomethingAwful forums, where the thread still exists).

Overall, while it's a nice present from Sony to gamers, it may be a bit of a nipple-twisting to developers.

1 comment:

Raoul said...

You're absolutely spot on. And I don't think Sony sees this as a problem...yet. But it will get worse as more consumers learn about it and start abusing it.