Debate Time: Ubisoft Says DRM Is Needed, Valve Says No It Isn’t.

September 8, 2011 Posted by zachary

This post was originally published on Techdirt.

It’s not every day you get two diametrically opposed views on DRM from two high profile companies in the video game industry, yet that is what happened recently.

While both were speaking to different gaming news sites, their conversations have an almost debate-like feel. So I think we will let the two execs duke it out on the debate floor. In one corner we have Martin Edmonson of Ubisoft Reflections speaking to Eurogamer. In the other corner, we have Gabe Newell of Valve speaking to Kotaku (thanks to Matt for being the first of many to send this in).

We will let Martin have the opening statement:

You have to do something.

It’s just, simply, PC piracy is at the most incredible rates. This game cost a huge amount of money to develop, and it has to be, quite rightly – quite morally correctly – protected.

If there was very little trouble with piracy then we wouldn’t need it.

Gabe shoots back:

We’re a broken record on this. This belief that you increase your monetization by making your game worth less through aggressive digital rights management is totally backwards . It’s a service issue, not a technology issue. Piracy is just not an issue for us.

Martin responds:

DRM is not a decision taken by us as a developer at all. It’s a purely a publisher decision. The publisher has every right to protect their investment.

It’s difficult to get away from the fact that as a developer, as somebody who puts their blood, sweat and tears into this thing… And from the publisher’s point of view, which invests tens and tens and tens of millions into a product – by the time you’ve got marketing, a hundred million – that piracy on the PC is utterly unbelievable.

Gabe shares a story of how Valve protected their investment, in Russia no less:

When we entered Russia everyone said, ‘You can’t make money in there. Everyone pirates.’

When people decide where to buy their games they look and they say, ‘Jesus, the pirates provide a better service for us.’

The best way to fight piracy is to create a service that people need. I think (publishers with strict DRM) will sell less of their products and create more problems.

Ok, so it wasn’t a long debate, but I think the point is clear. Ubisoft and many other developers and publishers are under the impression that those who pirate games are doing so just to get free games. Yet, Valve has learned that piracy is a symptom of a greater problem: unmet customer needs. It learned that Russians pirated games to get a better quality localization than what the publishers provided. It didn’t respond by upping the DRM. It responded by providing high quality localization.

So rather than fight your fans and treat them like criminals, why not embrace them and provide them with the product they want? It’s amazing that anyone needs a debate to figure that out.

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