Last week was a busy one for Entertainment Consumers Association President Hal Halpin.
On Wednesday Hal was in Seattle to serve as a panelist on the Federal Trade Commission's much-anticipated town hall meeting on digital rights management (DRM). From Seattle it was down to San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference. At GDC Hal was interviewed by - among others - Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica and spoke at length about the needs of the game consumer in relation to the game industry's desire for DRM and those pesky End User License Agreements (EULA):
We suggested a few things to the FTC, one of which was we'd like to see DRM disclosed. So when people go to the store and buy the packaged good, the PC game, they'll see something on the front of the box saying there is DRM inside, and to what degree it will be invasive.
The second thing that we recommended was that EULAs get standardized, so again, rather than have 30 or 40 types of agreements, there would be one standard one for all different types of computer games. People go into the store, buy the game, open it, and they can no longer return it... by standardizing the EULA, consumers will have the confidence to know what it is they're agreeing to before they buy the product.
That didn't go over so well. There was a room of attorneys that kind of gasped when we suggested standardization. One panelist commented that the EULA really were there as consumer information, and that was the one and only time that the FTC jumped in and said 'wait a second, this has nothing to do with consumer information, this is purely IP protection...'
Hal also spoke about the coming shift to digital distribution and how this will affect the game consumer:
The transition from disc-based media to digital media... it's essentially going to remove the "purchase to own" out of the equation, replacing it with purchasing a license. That's how PC games are now... That paradigm shift, it's very important for us to get out ahead of it, so with DRM and EULAs, so we can say these are what consumer's rights are, and have an easy way to identify that in the purchasing process...
One of the reasons it's important to get EULAs standardized and DRM disclosed is that when you talk about different [delivery] systems like Steam... there are still controls in place. While it's not SecuROM, it's another form of DRM, it's just in a different way. Consumers need to understand that...
Some [game] publishers... feel that the vocal minority of consumers who spoke up about Mass Effect and Spore represent the 'pirates' and in doing so fanned the flames for a much larger percentage of consumers who now feel like they're not being listened to. A dismissive attitude from the industry probably came back to haunt them in sales...
FULL DISCLOSURE DEPT: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics.