Steam, a software distribution client and GOG (Good Old Games), which sells older games that are free of digital rights management, are on opposite sides of the DRM issue. Steam is run by the Valve Corporation, a software developer and publishing firm founded by Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington, former Microsoft Employees. Started in 1996, they are responsible for such games as Counterstrike and Half-Life.
GOG launched in 2008 with the expressed goal of offering older games DRM-free. Digital Rights Management is a set of technologies and procedures designed to prevent theft of intellectual property by limiting access or requiring codes for consumers to access digital content after point of sale. DRM is not just limited to games, though it usually refers to the copy protection schemes found on physical game CDs and DVDs as well as so-called activation procedures for those purchased online. Such companies as Sony, Amazon and Electronic Arts use DRM liberally to control access to their products. Proponents of DRM claim it helps prevent piracy of intellectual property and opponents believe it merely inconveniences legitimate customers.
GOG’s marketing strategy proposed that once you bought a game from them, it was yours to do with as you wish, completely free of any scheme to limit access to the game you bought. The company, a subsidiary of CD Projekt RED based out of Cyprus, started releasing classic games, such as Baldur’s Gate, without DRM for Windows and MAC OS X. The company re-branded to GOG.com and expanded to releasing games from independent publishers and larger games from major publishers.
Among those major publishers is Ubisoft, makers of the Splinter Cell series and Assassin’s Creed; Atari, producer of the milestone game Neverwinter Nights; and Funcom, producer of the critically acclaimed The Longest Journey. CD Projekt RED released its own title The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings—all DRM free. None of these games are small downloads, measured in gigabytes; in the case of the Witcher series, up to 15.
GOG.com, sitting directly opposite of Steam on the digital rights management issue, provides complete support, re-releasing games and patches free as operating system challenges present themselves to keeping older games playable. Many of them are bundled with third party shell software such as DOSBox in the installer for a smooth gaming experience. At present, over 600 games, old and not so old, are available through GOG.com, and now they all come with a one month money back guarantee.
Steam, on the other hand, is not DRM free. Valve’s primary goal was to provide ease of updating and patching without server shutdowns for online games such as Counterstrike. It has since expanded to provide homes for independent game publishers and community generated content for released games. Such notable games as Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas and Batman: Arkham City reside on Steam. Online games such as Rift and Defiance are also on Steam.
Now both Steam and GOG.com, still opposites on the DRM issue, are expanding to provide support for Linux, going mobile with apps, and in the case of Steam, providing connectivity via home entertainment systems, complete with mobile controllers. Also, DOTA 2 players get access to the same powerful modeling software called Modo to create any kind of in-game weaponry as was used to create alien gear in such films as District 9 and Star Trek: Into Darkness—albeit it is a more streamlined Steam version.
By Lee Birdine