Down with DRM!!

I’ve been noticing a quiet, but nevertheless, very apparent shift in the industry away from that scourge known as Digital Rights Management. I’ve always been stongly against it, as I’ve posted many times in the past, and it’s extremely pleasing to see big players in the digital world also voicing similar opinions. You can now purchase non-DRM protected MP3s from some online music stores, HD-DVDs are currently all region free, Bill Gates himself said that DRM is rubbish, and you should rather rip your own CDs than buy them MP3s with DRM, etc etc.

The fact of the matter is that DRM hurts the honest consumer more than anyone else. Pirates who want to crack something will do it, eventually. Honest consumers who purchase a song from iTunes and are then restricted horribly to only playing it on a certain device, in a certain way, and sometimes only for a certain time just plain sucks. Putting these ridiculous kinds of usage limits on music when I can go and buy the CD and rip it myself DRM free is dumb. I wager that removing DRM entirely will benefit the market, so long as costs are also kept in check. There will always be pirates, just like there will always be thieves, but stop punishing the legitamate users, please!!! All this does is force people like myself, who for example, did purchase a High Definition copy of Terminator 2 only to find I was locked out of it by the draconian limitations placed on the content by the owners, to look for “other” less restrictive means of obtaining content.

Down with DRM. Get rid of it for good!!! It can only be a good thing!!

Disgruntled About Disk Replacement Policies

I am upset about the lack of customer service here in South Africa when it comes to replacing damaged game disks. Below is a letter I wrote to NAG Magazine (New Age Gaming), which probably the best gaming magazine in South Africa, and rates pretty highly worldwide. This should appear in the January issue:

I have a serious issue with the disk replacement policy, or lack thereof, exhibited at every South African Gaming retailer I’ve seen. The fact that I can’t return a damaged disk and receive a replacement is an outrage . I am more than willing to pay a small handling fee of R50 or so, but making me buy a new copy of a game I bought for more than R500 is ridiculous. The reason for this sad state of affairs may not be the fault of the retailer, but rather the distributor; I don’t know, but something must be done.

I purchased Project Gotham Racing 3 for XBOX 360 a few months ago, and REALLY enjoyed this game. Because I am very careful of scratches etc, I made sure I ALWAYS returned the disk to its case after use. However, this careful practise of clicking the disk into the case over and over again caused a small crack in the disk starting at the centre hub, eventually spreading into the data area of the disk, rendering it unusable. I had to purchase another copy in order to keep playing this game. I know of several people with similar stories. Sometimes, the disk is damaged due to negligence, which is why I am happy to pay a small replacement fee, to ensure people do look after their disks in a reasonable way.

Thinking about this lead me to thinking about DRM (Digital Rights Management), which basically is protection of intellectual property by using various methods of copy and usage protection? The studios (in the case of a movie) or the publishers (in the case of a game) insist that you do not own the digital information contained on a DVD or game disk you purchased, but merely have a license to use it as they see fit. That same argument surely cuts both ways, in that if I purchase a game or a movie on a fragile plastic disk, and the disk breaks or is damaged, my license to use or view the content is still valid. I didn’t pay R500 or more for a stupid little piece of plastic and a small booklet. I paid for the game or movie, or the “license” to view or play it.

I’ll be honest; I haven’t always paid for every game I’ve played in my life. Since I got my Xbox 360, (and what a great system it is!), I have become 100% legit, and will not even consider modding my console to play unoriginal games. I’m definitely not condoning piracy, but my issues mentioned above cause me (and millions like me) to rethink this decision. How does this help the gaming industry at all, if thousands of newly reformed ex-pirates decide paying twice for a game is insane, and simply go back to their old ways?

I trust somebody in the gaming industry will read these thoughts and remedy this situation. I know a friend of mine in the USA damaged one of his game disks and EB Games replaced the disk for him at no charge. I don’t know if this is something they do for all their customers or if he was just lucky, but I do know that here in South Africa, he would have gone home a very bleak boy. Surely, as long as I can give them a damaged original disk, case and booklet etc, that is proof enough that I do have a valid claim to a replacement?

Duncan Rae

Xbox Live GamerTag: DuncThePunk

Revised iTunes thoughts

After using iTunes and my iPod for a while now, I thought I should revise my initial opinions about it. 

It’s not too bad, I suppose.  Once I got my head around being forced to keep two copies of all my music, and got the album are sorted out, I’m quite happy.  The multiple copies thing is ok, since I don’t put all my music on my iPod, therefore I only need to keep what I actually want to have available in iTunes. 

So anyway, I’m admitting I may have been just a tiny bit wrong with my earlier comments.

Windows Vista Reliability and Performance Monitor

I’ve been using Vista since Beta 2, and I’m a little embarressed that I only found this AWESOME new feature today.  The Reliability Monitor keeps track of how reliable your machine has been over time, and notes when any software was changed or installed, and if the installation was successful or not.  The day you build your PC, you get a reliability rating of 10, and this comes down with each app or Windows crash you experience, and goes up for each “incident free day”.  Very cool!  (I think I found it before, but didn’t realise exactly what it did, since it was the day I built my machine, therefore, no data!) 

I’m really excited for LongHorn server, because this is an awesome tool to show server reliability or uptime to management types who like to see pretty pictures representing system stability.


Nothing is Perfect in the World!

I recently got myself the 8GB iPod Nano.  The reason for this was that the device impressed me beyond belief in the following areas:

Design: The design of the actual device is breath-taking.  The UI is brilliant, and it just looks and feels right, nay, better than right!  Downright awesome!

Quality: This is a quality piece of kit.  The feel of the actual device, as well as the quality of the sound are phenominal.

Peripheral Support: Being the No.1 player (excuse the pun!) in any market means massive support with regard to accessories from both first and third party vendors.  Some of the complimentary products to the iPod are excellent.

BUT, (and there’s always a but), iTunes Sucks!!!  Why, oh why can’t it just support WMA and MP3 and sync with Media Player 11 (which as an aside ROCKS the socks off any other media player ever!)??  Why???  If this VERY small little software change was done, it would be the perfect device.  Seriously, it would be absolutely insane how cool this thing would be.  With iTunes, I have to have 2 copies of all my music, firstly in my nicely arranged WMA library for Media Center and Pocket PC, and then another copy in M4A, whatever that is.  Also, after spending hours (seriously!) on getting all my album art correct, iTunes just ignores it.  Then, iTunes tells me that in order to get album art, I need a iTunes Store account, oh, and it isn’t supported in South Africa yet.  What makes me even more upset is that stupid iTunes forces me to install Quicktime.  Yuk!

Another case in point:  Xbox360.  Another brilliant device.  BRILLIANT!!  I absolutly love it, mainly for the games (COD3 baby!!!), but can’t make it the king of my digital media space since it is crippled by not supporting DivX.  Hopefully, one day, MS will fix that, but they also may not.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

GamerScore: The good, the bad, and the Ugly

Ahhh. GamerScore. For the uninformed, GamerScore is a points system Microsoft created for use with the Xbox 360, and will soon be ported over to PC and mobile games with the “Live Anywhere” initiative. Basically, each retail Xbox 360 title can have up to 1000 GS available, and downloadable arcade games have 200, which are allocated to achievements, that the developer can use in many interesting ways to add excitement to the game or encourage completion on a harder level, and maybe, take the player into areas of the game they wouldn’t normally go. A good example of this is Call of Duty 2, where in order to complete the game and receive the full 1000 GS, you must complete the game on the ludicrously difficult Veteran level. Ordinarily, I would have finished this game in Normal, and that would have been it. Thanks to my obsessive competition gene, I just had to get the 1000 GS, and I’m so glad I did. The game comes alive at Veteran level, and I’ve never, ever, felt such a sense of accomplishment at getting to the next checkpoint. Another good example is Far Cry, which has achievements allocated to each game type in single and multiplayer. In order to get the full 1000, you need to have played, accomplished several kills and won several times in each type of game. Unfortunately for Far Cry, I didn’t like the game very much, and didn’t bother with getting those achievements. Seemed just a bit too much like hard work if the game doesn’t grab you.

Which segways nicely into my next point. The bad of GamerScore. GamerScore can become a futile addiction. A never ending pursuit of that next thousand. If you are involved in a community of players, and have a large friends list, the competition can become quite intense. The advent of Xbox Live Leader boards hasn’t helped matters at all. Suddenly, being just off the first page re-ignites a fire of rage, and you’ll find yourself walking to the mall and going straight to the game store to buy another 1000GS worth of game. This is where is starts to get ugly. Suddenly you’re playing a game you hate, just to get through it for maximum GS. You start to turn down invitations to play games online unless you can get GS out of it. You start to lose all sense of fun and enjoyment as it becomes your all encompassing life goal. You pass 5000, then 10000. Still, you want more. You’re deep in debt; you have no friends left, either real or online. You’re starting to turn grey due to lack of sunlight and adequate nutrition. Then, all of a sudden, it hits you. Gamerscore has taken over your life.

You decide to stop with this futile chase. You’ll never have the highest GS. There will always be someone with more time and money than you.

This is where I find myself now. I have done the chase for a little while, spurred on by a number of fellow Xbox Live players to stay on the first page. I’ve since re-evaluated my stance. A high GamerScore is really not something worth pursuing. Achievements are worth chasing, as the sense of accomplishment and reward can be extremely gratifying, however I no longer compare myself to others based on GamerScore alone. I look deeper, into how they achieved that score. High scores for games like PGR3, MotoGP, Call of Duty 2 etc are worth far more than King Kong, FIFA RTWC etc, which have GS so easy to achieve it’s almost insulting.

So, Gamerscore. It’s good, no doubt, but it can be bad, and even downright ugly. Enjoy it, and let it be something to help you experience games like never before, but it shouldn’t be what your gaming life is about, at least not for me.