DRM and VWs

Danny Vogely sent us a query that follows on from a comment by Euphrosyne in an earlier post:

"[A] possibility this model brings up is DRM for game items. If you can only buy items from the developer, then it is relatively easy to make sure that you don't sell/give that item to others (via internal or external means). Avatars and possessions could be checked against each other for "proper authorization". Seems likely to infuriate players, but is still a possibility."

Vogely is writing a piece for Indicare and asks if we know of examples of DRM in VWs. I don't but the hivemind might. Comments welcome.

My one observation on this is to ask whether DRM is necessary in this context. Locking content makes a lot of sense where you need to gain commercial return from investment and the only way to do this is to send the content out into the big bad world, with nothing to protect it but an electronic chastity belt. Content (or virtual property) in VWs and MMOGs is inherently locked because it is just a database entry under the control of the VW owner. I can see that there might be a call for DRMing VW assets to stop eBaying, but since in-world alienation of property is a given (there are no commmunist worlds that I can name, at least amongst the big worlds) I would guess that this kind of prohibition is going to cause problems.


Comments on DRM and VWs:

Bob says:

World of Warcraft has something I guess you could consider a form of DRM for items. Once a magic item is equipped/used by a character, it becomes soulbound and can't be traded. Particularly powerful items, or quest rewards, are soulbound on pickup.

Blizzard doesn't directly sell items, but this scheme is designed to stop farming and ebaying of powerful items. (The 'bind on pickup' type.) It seems to me that it just pushed the whole external market to gold sales, instead of a split between gold and items.

Posted Feb 23, 2005 10:46:15 AM | link

Andres Ferraro says:

This seems to be there already. DRM enables actions (uses) based on rules, which is what the game code and data structures are all about.

However, current DRM technologies may be more applicable to games where the data and rules must be manipulated by third parties, such as a trading-card game or an MMORPG that takes this route.

Posted Feb 23, 2005 11:38:07 AM | link

Raph says:

The concept of "soulbound" items is a couple of decades old.

MOOs no doubt had interesting forms of DRM develop. Isn't the Schmoo Wars all about open source versus controlled "operating systems" (where the OS is actually an avatar)?

Posted Feb 23, 2005 7:05:12 PM | link

Rich says:

DRM technologies seem to apply mostly to copyright, not preventing transfer of ownership of distinct entities. I think that most items in game have unique ID's to prevent hacks that copy them.

Prevention of the trade of distinct entities does exist (soulbinding), but I think it's intended purpose is to control the value of in-game currency, not prevent eBaying.

Posted Feb 23, 2005 7:39:56 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

It would seem to me like DRM technologies might apply if game objects were actually being imported and exported from a game... perhaps in a game where player data was being stored client-side rather than server-side.

(Character/inventory backups for disaster recovery purposes, perhaps?)

Trying to bring your data back into the server might call for additional validation via something like DRM, but I'd think it would be easier just to put a few advanced hashes on the data and be done with it.

Trusting the client is typically a recipe for unending nightmares anyway. I'm left thinking "what's the point" of DRM for VWs in a realm where no objects of meaning ever exit the total rights-control of the server to begin with...

Posted Feb 23, 2005 8:36:47 PM | link

ren says:

I think that all objects in Second Life have a set of properties that cover the degree to which they can be shared, copied and modified. So it’s digital, they are rights and its managed – though I’m not sure encryption is involved so I don’t know if this falls within the industry definition of DRM.

Posted Feb 24, 2005 3:41:57 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Bob>It seems to me that it just pushed the whole external market to gold sales, instead of a split between gold and items.

That would make it much easier to control. It's far easier to code "No character can give more than X gold to another character" than it is to code "No character can give an object worth more than $X on the open market to another character". You could implement taxes on gold transfers, gold holdings... You could even cap the amount of gold a character can have. If gold farmers are still a problem, you can limit the number of hours an account can be played per week (to say, 40 or 50).

There are many ways to stop people trading in a single commodity; it's when they trade in multiple commodities it becomes trickier.

Richard

Posted Feb 24, 2005 5:42:38 AM | link

Danny Vogeley says:

It seems to be that there are many interesting and fascinating examples how DRM can be deployed in VWs. In an email, someone told me, that they were thinking to sell bullets in a game. With very fine-grained DRM, digital assets within a game could be managed separately from the game itself. I wonder if VW developers will encourage such trade for their games. Definitely it could be a new revenue stream, when they take kind of taxes on every traded item.

But as "ren" points out, to name these examples as DRM might be a question of definition.

We at INDICARE.org are using the following definition: "Digital Rights Management (DRM) is about the electronic management and marketing of usage rights in digital content. Digital content can be text, graphics, images, audio, video or software in digital format. Mainly, DRM systems are applied to media products which are to great parts protected by copyright." (State of the Art Report, http://www.indicare.org/tiki-page.php?pageName=Downloads)

When following this definition, the most examples so far can be entitled as DRM. And this is finally a totally new aspect of Digital Rights Management, which implications has been so far barely discussed.

Danny Vogeley

Posted Feb 24, 2005 10:19:29 AM | link

ren says:

“ren” here,,,

Danny Vogeley > In an email, someone told me, that they were thinking to sell bullets in a game.

Yeh, I briefly looked this sort of stuff a year or so back. I think that things like this are either software distribution or moving round digital keys (you don’t have to move bullets around but you do have to move levels / new skins etc). It tends to be used or at least looked at in non-MMO games such as pay-per-play games that one gets on iDTV etc.

In theory it’s an interesting business model as it provides ongoing revenue all around, I’m just not sure how many game types it fits though.

Posted Feb 24, 2005 10:49:48 AM | link