What, Exactly, Is DRM?

We've been mentioning DRM, or Digital Rights Management, a lot lately here on Kotaku. It's an important topic! Thing is, we've been made aware a lot of you don't entirely know what it is. If that's you, here's a guide.

What is it? - Digital Rights Management is, as the name suggests, a means for publishers to control the way in which you can use a piece of PC software. In terms of our coverage, that means PC games.

Why is it there? - DRM is employed by publishers as a means of stopping you doing something they feel you shouldn't be doing with your game. Like giving it to a friend for them to install on their computer. Or illegally obtaining and installing a game you didn't pay for.

How Does It Work? - DRM works by restricting the things you can do with a PC game. Examples of this include limiting the number of times you can install a game, or the number of different computers you can install a single game on. It can also work by requiring the user to be connected to the internet when playing a game, so that their copy can be verified as authentic before allowing the user to play.

What Kinds Of DRM Are There? - The most notorious piece of DRM currently used in the PC gaming market is called SecuROM, which has been used by publishers such as Electronic Arts and Take-Two. SecuROM has proven unpopular amongst PC gamers due to the fact it remains on a PC even after the game has been installed, and that most instances of its use have resulted in severe limits on the number of times a game can be installed.

Ubisoft recently began a first-party DRM solution for its PC games using the Uplay service, which requires PC gamers to not only connect to the internet to authenticate their games, but remain connected constantly or risk losing their game progress. This too has proven wildly unpopular.

Perhaps the most common form of DRM on the market, however, comes in the form of Valve's Steam service, an online shopfront and multiplayer hub that requires all games purchased on it (and some games purchased from retail stores) to be authenticated on Steam's servers before allowing them to be played. While widely-used, and commonly accepted, it's easy to forget that when this DRM was first introduced in 2004, for the release of Half-Life 2, reaction was so negative that a number of lawsuits were filed against Valve.

Why Is DRM a good thing? - Piracy is a massive problem for the PC gaming market, as indicated during our recent Kotaku Census, and Digital Rights Management is an attempt to curtail this.

Why is DRM a bad thing? - Many people are upset with DRM for two reasons: firstly, because it imposes unfair restrictions on a product that, once purchased, is the property of the user (especially in the case of store-bought games), and secondly because it is seen as a punishment for legitimate consumers while pirates, who are able to circumvent DRM regardless, are not burdened with the same restrictions.

And there you go. A nice, easy introduction to the world of DRM. Hope you're now up to speed!