Wednesday, January 7, 2009

iTunes Abandons Music DRM - Could Games be Next?

The internets are afire with news that Apple is abandoning DRM from their music on iTunes. Apple fans everywhere will say that this was Jobs intent all along, naysayers will say it was pressure from customer defection to places like Amazon MP3 (where I currently buy my tunes). Regardless, it's a good thing.

[As an aside, it's interesting that Apple caved to the labels' request for tiered pricing, which they've lobbied for in the past. Songs will be $0.69 and $1.29. Compared to Amazon's $0.99. I think the labels are entering a dangerous game by opening the pricing can of worms. They may end up getting the whip 'o the long tail. It's also cool that they are letting people un-DRM their previously-purchased songs, but kind of shitty that a customer has to pay them $0.30c/song to basically uncripple it]

Anyhow, while this is good, as BoingBoing points out there's still DRM-crippled sales around audio books (through an exclusive arrangement with Audible), and Video. Also, BB didn't point it out, but games too, are DRM-crippled at this time.

In the past, I've posited that it seems inevitable that the same consumer demand for DRM-free content will spread from music to video and eventually to games. However, I thought it would go in that order. Movies first after music, games last.

My thinking there was that (a) games tend to have the highest price point ($60 retail titles) and a fanbase most aligned, stereotypically anyway, with the 'young male hacker type' stereotype, they are played on connected compute platforms, so less 'owning the media as incentive to go legit', and (c) movies tend to have a glut of hit-driven inventory even more so than games (not sure about this, but that was my thinking).

In thinking about this in the context of iphone, I'm now rethinking that position.

When looking at iPhone games, or all apps for that matter:
  • The vast majority of paid-for apps are $0.99 price point, so similar to music. The convenience of purchase vs pirate is similar to music
  • The biggest obstacle for most devs isn't piracy, it's obscurity, just as it is for authors and musicians.
  • As apps get connected, and I assume more of this will come, there's the possibility of connecting them to services that are for legit customers only
  • It's a new platform with a new base of apps, unlike movies which are shackled to a lot legacy agreements about distribution rights and rev sharing and the like.
The question that remains, of course, is whether customers will actually ASK for DRM-free game titles, and if so, for what? 

Music and video content are consumable on other devices. I might want to back them up, play them on my 360 or in the car. DRM stops me from doing that, or at best tells me how and when I can. Thus the bad taste.

The games, on the other hand, are written only for an iphone. so what do I stand to gain from DRM removal: moving to your spouse's iPhone? Upgrading phones? Play the games on an iphone emulator on my PC or mac? I'm not sure, but I'd like to know I have the option. Still that's likely a minority sentiment. Real pressure will only come if masses of customers have something they want to do, today, and start to demand it, as they've done with music. 

The only legit reason that comes to mind that would be truly compelling is if someone (Google? Nokia? RIM?) were to come out with a competitive phone that could (natively or through emulation) run iPhone apps. If that were the case, as a customer, I might be tempted with the other device, but faced with a software library that won't come with it. 

And that might tick me off... and remind me of when I had the same issue with music...


not a real blog said...

I actually want DRMed games.

And by that, I feel that EVERY game should have a demo or playable trial period. Every game.

A common way to do this is with DRM to make a 30 minute trial period for a game that then needs a code purchased to unlock it.

Without DRM, the model of try-before-you-buy is severely hampered.

(likewise, for the vast majority of movies, I'd much rather rent it online for 2 bucks then buy it for 20).

People diss DRM but the concepts of "renting" and "try before you buy" are not viable in a DRM-free world. And I feel as it is games don't do enough try-before-you-buy.


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