Online gaming is DRM in disguise

Today, I fumed while reading about how Nintendo shut down all online services for the Nintendo Wii (their previous generation console.)

It is a strong and clear reminder to everyone that online gameplay services is a form of DRM and a remote kill-switch for your games. Games built around a focus on — or for games like Titanfall that exclusively works with — online gameplay only lasts as long as their supporting servers.

Less than a decade ago, many games shipped with servers allowing gamers to host the game themselves. Those days are long gone. Games and game consoles (including mobile) today have built-in and planned obsolescence.

I bought a Nintendo Wii U this Friday to play Mario Kart 8. This is the first Nintendo system I’ve owned in one and a half-decade, since the good-old Nintendo 64. To summarize my experience: I am not impressed with it so far. It seems to have been designed by and for a three-year-old who insists that elevator music and tones is a good and dominant user experience element.

I feel like an idiot for investing money in the Nintendo Wii U, Xbox One, and the PlayStation 4 (I now have all three.) I want to play games that are exclusive to each platform.

However, I hate the idea of letting the backing companies — Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony — having so much control over my consoles. They could disable the systems through a software update at any time. It isn’t likely that they will do it right away. However, what about the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3? How long will they be around? How long will the current generation consoles be around?

I want more freedom. To play the games I play today in ten years if I so choose. It is uncomfortable to give away so much control over my devices and my games to companies whose only interests are their own bottom lines.

I don’t see how I can achieve this without stopping my purchase of all games. I am heavily invested in the current generation of consoles. However, when the next generation consoles are announced: I will not be fooled again. It will be time to find something other than games to occupy my time.

Within the gaming industry, we truly see the effects of Stallman’s law. Each new generation of gaming platforms — be it computer or device operating system or dedicated console — is more restrictive and vendor-locked than the last. On top of the user-hostile platforms themselves, game developer studios try to lock users into their own schemes. From a consumer’s perspective, the only way to win isn’t to play.