BC: The Unlikely Saviour of PC Gaming

Article first published asĀ The Unlikely Saviour of PC Gaming on Blogcritics.

Whilst I’ll never advocate piracy, either maritime or electronic, I do believe they have the right idea about some things. Frilly shirts, large hats, a penchant for all things shiny… pirates have a good time about life. My largest point of envy for pirates, though, is the fact that they never have to suffer DRM. DRM, or digital rights management, that boil upon PC gaming’s overwise volumptuous and tempting bottom, has hit a new low in inconveniencing paying customers. And the pirates get none of it.

See, once a game has been cracked, it’s cracked. It might take a while; Ubisoft’s infamous always-online DRM took months to crack – but they got there in the end. And once they’ve done it, they have a game stripped of all of the annoying things that continue to plague us paying customers.

I understand why DRM has to exist, I really do. And I honestly don’t mind about entering CD keys on install. That’s been part of being a PC gamer since before I can remember. That’s normal and quite acceptable. What isn’t acceptable is the new DRM that companies think they need in order to preserve what they believe are lost profits. Always-online, limited installs, Games for Windows Live, Steam… they’re all DRM in one ugly form or another, and whilst some are more acceptable than others (I’m a massive fan of Steam and Valve) they’re still a way of chasing after vanishing ghost profits.

I don’t understand economics, and certainly not the economics of piracy, but I do understand one thing; pirates probably wouldn’t have bought the game anyway. Whether or not you feel you have lost a sale from piracy, the truth is that you probably haven’t. And if they weren’t gonna buy the game anyway, then you’ve lost nothing. Technically, you haven’t lost anything anyway, since a digital version of the game hardly amounts to a physical copy anyway – it isn’t the same as stealing. Nothing physical has been lost. But that’s something I don’t understand deeply about, and am probably wrong about anyway. Feel free to pick apart my fleeting knowledge in the comment section; back onto the subject.

The DRM that is supposed to keep pirates away and stop them from playing the games that the companies have worked so hard to make (and they have) only inconveniences those who have to put up with it – the consumers of the product. Those honest people who actually bought the game. The pirates breeze right by as if the restrictions weren’t there, and it’s us honest people who foot the bill.

It’s like a sign saying, ‘don’t buy this game!’

Some might side with the game creators on this issue, and I can see why. Yes, they have the right to protect their intellectual property from people who are distributing it unofficially. But why must they feel the need to prosecute the innocent in order to vainly strike out at those who aren’t affected by it anyway? It really isn’t a good business ethic, and it must be stopped. Surely, great minds such as theirs must be able to figure out a new method of DRM that doesn’t infringe on their users and actually stops pirates from using unlicensed software. Steam managed it – despite it being a variation of the always-online DRM, it still allows you to be offline (sometimes, when it’s not being buggier than Starship Troopers) and is generally unintrusive to your gameplay. The same can’t be said for Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live. Having to log in through a buggy and slow interface every single time I boot a game was stupidly annoying, and made only more so by the fact that I knew pirates wouldn’t have to go through this rigmarole every time they wanted to play Arkham Asylum.

And so, I come to the main reason I typed this article. My solution to the whole shaboodle is a simple one, and I expect that many of you have come up with it yourself. It comes in two steps: buy the game you like, despite the horrible DRM; then pirate a version that doesn’t have the offending demon-DRM. You still bought the game, and that should give you the right to play it however you like, especially if that’s without restrictive DRM that doesn’t apply to you, a person who actually bought the game and can prove it with a boxed/digital copy.

And frankly, if that’s not legal, you have to wonder why not.

BC: Why We Care About Historical Accuracy.

Article first published as Why I Care About Historical Accuracy. on Blogcritics.

Quickly, before I copypasta this article in, I want to say a few words. The tag ‘BC’ now means that this article was first written for Blogcritics and was first published there. This doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the blog, since I can post the same articles on here, and actually means that there’ll be a wider degree of stuff on here now! Hurrah!

Anyway, without further ado, here is the first post I wrote for Blogcritics.

So this is my first Blogcritics post. Hello, my name is Mark. I study Ancient and Medieval History at university, I do historical re-enactment and I love historical accuracy in my gaming. It’s a very clear divide: those who whine about the accuracy and those who who don’t care. The most common answer is ‘why does it matter? Why do you care?’. And I want to explain why we do care. Why it does matter.

I wasn’t always this way; I started out as most other people do; I hated it when self-proclaimed historians ridiculed at the inaccuracies that they saw in films and games. I hated it when someone disregarded a game I enjoyed simply because it wasn’t up to their exact standards. And when I entered into my degree, I vowed to never be that way.

Last week, I watched Kingdom of Heaven with a group of my friends and I laughed at it and mocked the version of ‘history’ it proclaimed. I go to re-enactment events and criticise other societies kit and gossip under my breath about wrong colours and out-of-period helmets. I’ve become that which I hated. And I’ve realised why we do it.

The epiphany came whilst I was reading a rather boring article about the inheritance customs of the Normans. The article stressed that William the Conqueror’s inheritance to his son was not down to any system set in place, but because he chose who inherited what. And I thought: ‘why can’t I do that in Medieval II: Total War? I want to choose who inherits the kingdom, rather than letting the game choose my eldest son by default, because that’s how William did it. I was disappointed that a game I loved so much wouldn’t allow me to follow in the footsteps of a great historical figure.

And that’s the root of the grievance. As a gamer, I expect to be drawn into a world and I expect to feel like a part of it. That’s basic immersion; that’s what all fictional media attempts to do. The problem is that as I learn more history, I expect the same games to live up to my new expectations, and as I learn more and more I notice more and more of what doesn’t fit; what’s out of place; what isn’t accurate. And that breaks the immersion and I no longer feel as snugly in-universe as I did.

I’m now disappointed when I start Civilization V as Alexander III of Macedon, and get Athens as my starting city. Sure, I could change that, but that’s not the point. That’s not what makes me sad. Not only can I not follow in Alexander’s footsteps and start from his true origins, but I’ve been broken from the experience that I could be Alexander the Great.

And that’s where modding communities come into their own. There are always a bunch of people out there who are willing to spruce up the authenticity of a game. The Stainless Steel mod for Medieval II; mods that let you have a correct starting location in Civ V… stuff like this fills me with glee and breaths life back into a new game. And it’s not because I’m anal about the whole thing, it’s because I care about my own experience in the game: I want to follow such great historical figures and see if I can better them. And when a game doesn’t allow you do that to the best of your knowledge it’s frustrating to the point where your immersion and experience in that world is tainted.

So please, the next time you see a ‘historian’ complaining about the level of realism, take a step back from the standard response and think about what he feels is missing. I’m not saying not to tell him to STFU, I’m just hoping you understand more about why he feel it’s important. I’m just asking not to type that sentence.

‘Why does it matter?’

Until next time, game well.

Find me at my profile on Blogcritics.