Consumers dis-N-Gaged by DRM

29 May 2008

Recently, Nokia found itself in the midst of a DRM flap regarding its revamped N-Gage mobile games strategy. At issue was this: if you downloaded an N-Gage mobile game and later wanted to transfer the game that you paid for to a new Nokia phone "&brkbar; you couldn't. Period.

According to All About N-Gage, anyone who wanted to transfer the game to a new handset had to buy and download a new version. In other words, every time you changed your handset, you had to re-buy all the N-Gage games you downloaded on it.

Understandably, N-Gage users were a little annoyed to discover this. Two days of outrage on the Blogosphere later, the official Nokia N-Gage blog posted a statement made its excuses (we're trying to fight piracy here, etc) and said it would enable transfers of games - as an intermediate solution.

There's little new here - most mobile games have similar DRM locks tying them to the device they're downloaded to. But it's another clear example of how DRM is firmly establishing itself as an anti-consumer proposition - especially when it depends on locking content to a device. Yes, consoles like Nintendo do the same thing, but people don't update their game consoles once a year like they do with mobile phones.

It's likely that none of this is strictly Nokia's fault - it's probably a condition imposed on them by the game developers. On the other hand, why tie the game directly to the device‾ Why not, as All About N-Gage suggests, at least tie it to a user account on the server that requires a login and password‾

In any case, this story isn't over yet. Nokia says it will allow game transfers, but only until it thinks of another solution - presumably, one that keeps some form of DRM in place.

The more stories like this come out, the harder it is to see at this stage how anyone in the mobile content value chain can continue to justify DRM as a good idea that customers don't mind. Do these people ever even use the very content they sell‾ Who in their right mind thinks that making content harder and more expensive to use is a good business model‾

The parallels to other types of media, like music and videos, can't be understated. Music in particular has had the exact same problem with DRM for some time now (ever tried transfering a a favorite ringtone to a new handset‾), and customers are already getting tired of that.

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