Published on November 14th, 2014 | by ryankapsar


Policy and Games: The Long Term Impacts of Copyright on Gaming

Policy and Games is a look at tech policy and the gaming world.  The views expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of KBMOD or any of its contributors.

One of the comments that I hear from a lot of gamers about if they are going to buy a specific game or not is what they expect for the longevity of the game. Typically, the ability to mod a game is cited as a reason why games will or will not die within a few weeks. That’s the argument that has been made around Titanfall and why some people are avoiding games like Evolve. There’s no ability to modify the game and thus the interest level may die out.

Modifying games without the express consent of the game designers means that the modder has likely done two things. First broken copyright as the designer has copyright over the code as well as the images in the game. Second they have likely broken DRM. This is especially true in the case of games that require continual connection with a server. That is DRM through and through. In my last article I discussedd DRM and Copyright and the harm it causes to the end customer over time.

It can further hurt a gaming community that is extremely passionate about a game, because there will become a point when developer interest will wain. Servers will be shutdown or services terminated, making the game effectively impossible to play. I see this as a huge risk for a lot of smart phone games first and for always-online games like SimCity. There are still people playing SimCity 4 or even SimCity 2000 because they have more control.

Fortunately the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked the Library of Congress, in a petition, to create a Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA) exemption to allow for “Abandoned Games” to be modified to make them playable again. I’m sure this is raising questions, why the Librarian of Congress? Well they own copyright, and all the exemptions for Copyright. For cell phones to be unlocked it had to go through the Library of Congress, as the locking was considered a form of DRM which is protected in the DMCA. This is the exact same type of exemption. Pinging the server to verify it’s a legal game is DRM, so it has to go through this process.

It is important to note that this isn’t an exemption to games like World of Warcraft where the actual content is on the servers, so MMOs will die whenever they die, but it is for games that the bulk of the content is on your personal computer and use match making servers or DRM servers (Diablo III is a good example).

I think that this will also provide some legitimacy for the emulation community as well. This current petition also includes a portion specifically for “The computer programs described above are used for continued play, study, and to preserve them in a usable state for future generations.” Which might be interpreted to include defunct systems like an old Playstation allowing playing of Crash Bandicoot even though it’s not being supported on a current system.

I think that this could really create a novel market for older games and help keep fan favorites alive well past the “expiration date” determined by developers or publishers. Hopefully the EFF is successful and the Librarian of Congress understand the cultural significance of keeping old games alive.

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I write articles about technology policy and how it affect the gaming community.

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