The DRM Dilemma: Alternatives

By Mike on 2:00 pm

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The extreme approach to DRM had failed on two fronts. It has not stopped increasingly brazen pirates. It's also angered paying customers to the point where they abandon the platform or turn to piracy. Publishers are not going to abandon copy protection on their products. But they're going to have to consider changing tactics. Let's look at a few alternative DRM system and see how they measure up in fairness and protection.

The No-DRM Method (aka The Honour System)
This method has been advocated by Sins of a Solar Empire publisher Stardock games. It's pretty self-explanatory. The single player game has no DRM while multiplayer requires a CD key. Stardock has blasted it's competitors DRM in the past. Even to the point of publishing a "Gamers Bill of Rights". The game does require you to register your legitimate copy with Stardock to purchase expansions or get patches. The system is by far the most user friendly. No keys to input, no install limits. However, the game remains wide open to piracy. Sins still sold quite well though. The game itself wasn't exactly a mainstream title so it could fly under the radar. This method works best for indie titles but isn't going to work for blockbuster releases.

-Most user friendly

-Leaves it wide open to piracy
-Only practical for smaller releases and indie games

CD Keys and Disc-In-Drive
This is the DRM system that most old-school gamers are familiar with. When you bought a game, it had a key tied to it. Usually printed in the manual. You had to entre a valid key when you installed the game. Otherwise, it refused to work. The game disc also had to be in the drive in order to play it, just like with consoles. The CD Key method is by far the most commonly used DRM system today. Most non-gaming software including Windows still uses it. It has become less common for games. Fallout 3 is one notable title that still uses it. It's simple and it works. However, it's fairly easy to find pirated keys available online that circumvent activation.

-User friendly
-Tried and true method

-Relatively easy to circumvent

Valve Software launched Steam as the DRM method of choice for Half Life 2. Since 2005, the system has exploded into one of the most popular gaming stores online. It wouldn't be a stretch to call it the iTunes of video games, since it works in the same way. In order to use it, you must sign up for a Steam account and download the client software. You then purchase games through the Steam Store, which are downloaded directly to your computer.

The games are tagged to your user account and can be installed an unlimited number of times on an unlimited number of systems. Steam also lets you make disc based backups of games. So you don't need to re-download them if they're uninstalled. It still requires an internet connection but you only have to be connected to boot the game. In the last couple of years, it's become the dominant service for gamers. Mainly due to the ease of purchase and frequent sales the store has.

The system is not perfect though. Steam does allow third party DRM systems to be used with their titles. The store does list what these restrictions are, which is a major step up. Therefore, gamers know which titles to avoid. You also still need an internet connection and download times are lengthly. Steam doesn't have boxed games. Furthermore, if Steam should close down its servers, the games you have become unplayable.

-Relatively user friendly
-Online distribution offers easy, one stop shopping
-DRM isn't intrusive
-Discloses DRM limitations if any

-Still allows 3rd party DRM on some games, such as Assassin's Creed II and Wings of Prey
-Requires an internet connection
-Download times can be lengthly
-Games become unplayable should servers shut down

FAQ of the Week: CPU or GPU?

By Mike on 1:09 pm

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A lot of people want to know what part they should upgrade to improve PC gaming performance. It usually boils down to getting a faster/more core CPU or faster GPU.

Most current PC games today are console ports. These are more dependent on graphics power. Therefore, it makes more sense to put the money into your graphics card. Get the best graphics card you can afford.

There is a point where bottlenecks can develop but most recent Core 2 or AMD Phenom class processors will handle today's games just fine.

Today's games also value higher CPU clock speed over more cores.

If you're considering a multi GPU setup, don't. Using two GPUs you'd think would give you double the performance. However, realistically, you can only get a 50% boost from this in an ideal world. It's not worth the expense. Get the best single card you can afford.

Image from AMD via The Gadget Blog

Moe Star Wars

By Mike on 1:03 pm

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I spotted this on Japanese curiosity shop I'm not sure who the original artist is. As any Star Wars fan will know, the movies borrow heavily on Samurai mythology and film.

DSi XL on sale March 28, costs more

By Mike on 12:50 pm

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The supersized DSi XL is going to arrive on North American store shelves on March 28th. The new DS features larger screens and is about the size of the front of a DVD case. Nintendo is pushing it as yet another eBook reader. The company is releasing a collection of 100 classic books for $20 on the DSi Shop. These include titles such as Bram Stoker's Dracula. The system is targeting the lifestyle audience more than previous DS systems. The XL has been on sale in Japan for a few months now. The system will retail in the US for $189.99, up from the DSi's current price of $169.99.

Source: Kotaku
Image: Nintendo via Crunchgear

Nintendo Cereal System goes for $200

By Mike on 11:52 am

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Would you pay $200 for mouldy old cereal? Somebody did. A 22-year old "unopened" Nintendo Cereal System box went for $207.50 on eBay. I was but a wee lad of two when this box first hit store shelves. That's a bit disturbing. I really hope the purchaser isn't planning on eating this stuff. But I guess it's no worse than cowing down on boxes of 200 year old Sugar Bombs.

The box itself contained two cereals. A fruit flavoured Mario cereal and a berry flavoured Zelda cereal. Interestingly, it was made by the Ralston Purina Company. The same company that makes Alpo dog food. It was sold only in the 80s obviously. Everything seemed to get it's own cereal back then. It must have been sold only in the US because I don't remember ever hearing about it here in Canada.

Source via Kotaku

The DRM Dilemma: An Introduction

By Mike on 10:00 pm

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Is DRM killing PC gaming? UBIsoft is currently rolling out a new DRM system which other game publishers are looking to copy. It takes advantage of cloud computing. While it supports unlimited installs and off site storage of games, it requires a rock solid internet connection. If your internet goes down (which it often does), you're booted out of the game. It applies to single player and multi-player titles. Assassin's Creed II will be the first PC game to use this system.

Of course the gaming boards are buzzing about it. Not in a good way, naturally. It's the latest salvo fired in an ongoing war between publishers and pirates. A war with legitimate gamers caught in the middle. They take the brunt of the damage as each side struggles to get the upper hand.

Penny Arcade
's Jerry "Tycho" Holkins discussed what's been going on.
"The trouble is that this dialogue between pirates and publishers, one which was always characterized by falsehood and ill-will, has ceased to exist in this case. A maneuver this extreme means that they're finished talking altogether: this mechanism is their response, the final word. Only it's impossible to get the final word here in The Cloud. Ever." He summed it up best in two words. "Nobody wins"

Unfortunately, this is moving the PC gaming industry towards self destruction. In recent years, the PC gaming market has collapsed. A large number of PC gamers have fled to consoles. Sales have plummeted and studios have closed up. There are vary few PC exclusive game studios still in existence.

There has been no serious discussion on the issue. Both sides have taken a reactionary stance. The industry has made its reasoning quite clear. The pirates though are just as vocal and unashamed of what they do. There are plenty of reasons why people pirate. Some do it because they can't afford games. Others see it are a challenge. The rest just refuse to pay for games period. They are thieves regardless of their motives. We can admit right now that it is a problem.

The people who get left out of the discussion entirely are legitimate gamers. Those who actually pay for the game and always will. The silent majority of PC gamers.

Some argue that DRM is no different from locking a door to keep criminals out. But imagine having a security guard pat you down each time you leave a store. Just to make sure you're not shoplifting. Well, some people stole some socks so the store would have legitimate reason for protecting their stock. However, it is an extreme response. It will catch a few thieves but it violates the rights of the consumer. In the end, the paying customer won't put up with the harassment. They'll refuse to shop at that store, or worse, sue them. That's what happened to EA back in 2008 over Spore's DRM.

Obviously nobody can expect publishers to abandon copy protection. They're not no matter how much gamers complain. The question is how we can create a system that's fair to the legitimate gamers. First of all, publishers have to open a dialogue with that silent majority. Some inroads have been made but UBI's move is a huge step back. Perhaps it's time to look beyond SecuROM et al and look at some alternative systems. We'll do that in part 2.

Site Reboot - new format, new styles, less crap

By Mike on 10:26 pm

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In the next month or so, I'll be doing a major reconstruction of MMN Tech from the bottom up. Yes, I know I've promised this many times. However, I've been unsatisfied with the results, or have just lacked the time to produce the advanced content I want. As a college project, I've been given the task of building a website from the ground up, or modifying an existing site to make it more professional.

Over the next couple of months, I'm going to be changing things. This involved delving deep into the HTML coding for the templates. So inevitably, stuff is going to get moved around or go missing. Please be patient. When everything is done, I hope to have this site contain a rich assortment of multimedia. I ask for your patience as I'm still learning web coding.

Thank You

Update 02/19: Got the new theme up, going to work on a better logo. Links across the top don't work yet. Test video up.