As the internet becomes more and more prevalent in everyone’s lives, video game developers are looking for more clever ways to protect their products from piracy. One of the most popular outlets is promoting your game through some form of internet hub, like Steam or Origin, as a user must first make a connection with your servers before being able to access your products. While this works great for companies like Valve, it falls short for others and seems to miss the point of piracy altogether. Valve’s CEO, Gabe Newell, once said that piracy is a service problem, not a pricing problem, which you can read more about here. The point that Mr. Newell made is that people don’t primarily pirate video games because they can’t afford them (even though that is a possibility), but rather because the pirated product gives a better user experience than the retail product. For example, when one buys a DVD and puts it into a DVD player, one must first dig through what seems like an endless stream of advertisements, trailers and other such garbage. A pirated movie (as I’ve been told) supplies the smoothest user experience, as it is simply a video file, jumping straight to the product that the customer is interested in. Users would be much less likely to pirate movies if the movie industry didn’t try to shove so much crap down their user’s throats.
That being said, many companies, like GrindingGearGames and Blizzard, are forgoing online experiences for the sake of protecting their games from piracy. What separates the user experience of Battle.net and Steam is that Steam, while forcing their users to connect to their servers, also allow for offline access to one’s games library after one’s account has been authenticated. A lot of users, especially the casual crowd, dismiss always-online DRM (which is the buzz word that is attached to this form of piracy protection), because they don’t mind a little bit of lag and have regular access to the internet. For everyone else, though, always-online DRM is, at best, a huge mark against games like Path of Exile and Starcraft 2, and is, at worst, a deal breaker that forces certain users to pass up otherwise really great games.
In May of 2012, Blizzard lost the trust of many of their customers when Diablo 3 launched and was crushed under the amount of players trying to connect to their servers. The infamous Error 37 kept many users from playing their game, that they spent $60 for. Although most MMORPGs suffer from similar products, the Diablo series has always been primarily a single player experience. Not being able to play a singleplayer game that costs money up front (as opposed to it being free to play) is completely unacceptable. Although this was a very specific incident that was quickly resolved, many users with less than perfect internet suffer from this problem regularly.
Always-online DRM has also caused the E-sports scene to suffer as well. The most recent MLG (Major League Gaming) Anaheim, along with a myriad of other problems, lost internet access throughout half of their venue. This meant that, even though MLG was able to maintain their livestreams, they were unable to play games like Starcraft 2 or League of Legends, because neither game offers a LAN function (Local Area Network). What was specifically ironic was that the fighting games at MLG Anaheim, Injustice and Killer Instinct, did not suffer from this problem, mainly because always-online DRM has yet to take over the console gaming market.
Some games, like the aforementioned Path of Exile and League of Legends, design their entire business model around their always-online model, which makes any form of offline capabilities very, very unlikely. On the other hand, games like Starcraft 2 or Diablo have absolutely no excuse to not allow their customers without reliable internet to play their games. Maybe I’m the only person in the United States that has a really unstable internet connection or maybe everyone has forgotten the bliss that was being able to play Starcraft: Brood War over LAN with friends, but the fact that no one is speaking out against always-online DRM, like Battle.net 2.0, worries me. If we, as the gaming community, stay silent and shrug our shoulders every time our hardcore character dies because of roll-backs, then companies like Blizzard will continue to shove always-online DRM down our throats. Unlike Gabe Newell, who knows that the best fight against piracy is to create the best user experience possible, Blizzard, and other companies like them, would rather force their customers into using sub-par services that either hinder or, in some cases, completely obstruct a pleasant user experience.