Ubisoft DRM: An Overreaction and an Inevitable Future

I don't often talk about DRM these days, other than in derisory tones. After all, the truth of DRM is that it is practically useless for stopping a determined "pirate" from getting their grubby hands on whatever data it is the DRM is meant to protect. While the theory of DRM, ensuring that a product is not copied and used without being legitimately purchased, is a good one, in practice it has been less than a speed bump for crackers and an inconvenient pain in the ass for the legit purchasers of the product. Wildly inflated claims of sales lost due to piracy have been trumpeted by almost every industry involved, from the RIA (music) to Hollywood (movies) and from book publishers to video game developers. Their numbers always make me think of Rumsfeld's famous quote - "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." Or in other words, how do you prove you lost a sale from piracy when the pirate went out of his way not to purchase the product in the first place? Would perfect, unbreakable DRM have actually encouraged him to buy the product, or would he simply have moved on?

With that in mind, I take the news of video game publisher UbiSoft' s new PC game DRM scheme as proof that some people just don't get it. Furthermore, their responses to PC Gamer's questions about the subject paints a clearer picture of an outfit that doesn't give a rat's ass how their idiotic scheme affects real consumers. Here's how it works.

You buy a PC game from UbiSoft, say Assassin's Creed 2. You must be connected to the Internet at all times to play this game, even though there are NO Internet components to the gameplay. It is not multiplayer, you do not interact with other players at all, and there is no benefit to being online when playing this other than the game saves being available online from any computer. That in itself isn't the idiotic part - after all, Steam requires the same thing for authentication on the products purchased through their service, at least when the product is first activated. But the UbiSoft scheme goes further. Not only is an Internet connection required to start the game, if your connection drops at any time during gameplay, whether through your own actions or the vagaries of the Internet, you are kicked out of the game and all progress since your last save are lost.

Does anyone anywhere have an Internet connection they expect to be working 24/7 without one drop ever? If so, I'd like to know who your provider is because it isn't Comcast or any other provider I've ever used. At some point, those servers controlling that DRM connection will go down, whether through maintenance, hacking, hardware failure or they become too expensive for UbiSoft to run. In the second link, the UbiSoft rep will not guarantee those servers will always be available - after all, they can't guarantee that. As a consumer, someone who pays money for this product, why would I bother? There are a ton of other games to play. No matter what sort of Robot Jesus a game using this DRM might turn out to be, it's still not worth the hassle of having progress in the game lost because my Internet connection crapped out. I have better things to spend my money on, things that don't piss in my face and tell me it's rain.

Since the rep explains that the DRM check can be patched out in future if need be, that means it's absolutely breakable, and probably much quicker than they anticipate. When that happens, the only one who loses is the customer, who paid money to be saddled with a pain in the ass while other people gleefully pirate the cracked game. I'm quite sure that in typical myopic fashion, UbiSoft will take the lowered sales on Assassin's Creed 2 that this sort of shit will cause as proof that pirating is killing their business, and come up with something worse. Maybe their next DRM will require a blood sample, retinal scan and voice print ID before allowing the customer to play.

Measures of this extremity are doomed to failure. It will be cracked. It will cause some customers to get the crack simply so they don't lose progress in the game to an Internet outage. You don't beat pirates by being more extreme, you beat piracy by respecting your customers. Stardock has offered their games DRM-free for years and it hasn't hurt their sales. Far from it, they seem to be selling well.

It's a simple equation. People who take the necessary effort to pirate your game were very unlikely customers in the first place. Pirating a game, even in today's BitTorrent-fueled anything at your fingertips Internet world, takes more effort than it's worth for 90% of potential customers. There's probably another 2 or 3% that won't buy the game under any circumstances. The rest might buy your game, unless you continue to treat them like criminals, at which point they raise their middle fingers and continue downloading your shit for free and laughing at your pathetic, futile attempts to keep them from doing it. For every 1 of these fuckers you sue into oblivion, 99 get away with it in obscurity.

The PC game market is shrinking, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the ease of use a console system offers. Times are too tough to be pissing off any percentage of your customers in some misguided attempt to stop the 2-3% of idiots who will pirate your games no matter what.


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F*$K You, You Got Yours

I have many times in the last year and a half written or tweeted about healthcare reform, an issue I am very close to for many personal reasons that have nothing to do with this article. I have harangued critics who want no real change to the healthcare landscape at all, for being badly-misinformed puppets of monied special interests and the puppets they employ in our government. Today, with the apparent impending passage of a weak sauce insurance industry handjob of a healthcare bill in the Senate, a bill so watered down as to be almost completely useless, I want to take this momentous occasion  in history to thank every one of you ignorant cocksuckers out there that made this limp-wristed pile of monkey shit inevitable. To those of you who have continually criticized any sort of public option or single-payer healthcare, especially those who complained about it for no other reason than it was "socialism," I want to give an extra special thanks in the form of this statement.

Fuck you, you got yours.

This thank-you statement is, of course, what we as a nation should now adopt as our national motto, the creed, the very philosophical foundation on which we will build the future we deserve. Why? Nothing says ignorant bag of self-destructive cockgobblers like the attitudes we have taken towards providing basic goddamn healthcare to anyone without the means to pay than "Fuck you, I got mine." So for each individual in the following groups, I want to offer this saying.

Fuck you, you got yours.

To all you motherfuckers on Medicare who screamed at town hall meetings that Obama was a fascist who wanted "death panels" and that a public option was socialist, fuck you, you got yours. Your continued health, your very fucking life is entirely dependent on a "socialized" system that every working American pays into their entire working lives, and by all accounts works with more cost efficiency than private insurance, including the Medicare plans administered by private companies. And how do they do that? By negotiating lower rates with doctors, which according to most of the free market cocksuckers out there, is an abject sin.

To all those veterans who have given their lives and limbs to our country but complain that we might give public, socialized medicine to people regardless of their ability to pay, fuck you, you got yours. Before President Bush and the Neocon Parade drove our military straight into the ground with a useless fucking war in Iraq and overloaded it, the VA medical system was as efficient and well-run as Medicare. It was also completely funded by taxes that we all pay. It's not even a remotely equitable trade - you give up your lives for our freedoms and we give you healthcare. It's the least we can do. But don't complain when we want similar care paid for with our taxes.

For all of you with employer-provided healthcare, fuck you, you got yours. Yes, you most certainly do pay your premiums - but your employer pays more. Not only that, but both you and your employer's purchase of that insurance is subsidized by the government, which means its partly paid for by our taxes. These subsidies are in the form of the tax breaks for premiums (since they are taken out pre-tax) on individuals, but also tax breaks on employers. Incidentally, I am in this group myself - my employer pays most of my individual premium, and we both get tax breaks for it. The fuck me will come when I have to use this insurance and it's fairly large deductible and varied procedure schedule - something that will hit me directly in the pocket book at times when I can't work. I actually have to pay another premium for supplemental insurance to help cover those costs when I do get sick. As good as my subsidized plan is, I still could face serious financial ruin if I get deathly ill. And I can't afford the high premium to cover my self-employed wife with that, so fuck me twice.

To every motherfucking one of the Senators and Representatives currently bitching, moaning and complaining that ANYTHING that restricts the health insurance industry in the slightest is potentially passing through Congress, a huge fuck you, you got yours. You currently suckle at the best government healthcare teat imaginable, paying fuckall for a Cadillac insurance plan funded by the taxpayers, complete with your own fucking at call doctors and nurses in the same goddamn building. They don't even charge a co-pay. Their fuck you also covers anyone working in a government job using government health insurance who doesn't want to extend that coverage to the rest of us.

In short, YOU ALL GOT YOURS, and fuck the rest of us. Thank you very much for torpedoing any sort of real healthcare reform in favor of vague, idiotic worries about a political system you don't even understand, a knee-jerk buzzword taught you by vapid cuntwhistle pundits like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, used repeatedly to bludgeon the fear of anything that might hurt their master's bottom lines into you. These bastards don't even deserve the courtesy of a fuck you. They got theirs years ago have are merely fattening their larders on your sheep-like stupidity.

And finally, I'd like to direct a special fuck you, you got yours to Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, both of whom did everything in their power to ensure that real healthcare reform never made it into the bill being considered now. Lieberman appears to have done so simply to be pissy, while Nelson whored his vote for full Medicaid funding for his state and no one else. Congratulations, citizens of Nebraska, you are now the welfare state. Fuck you, you got yours.

I only hope when the clusterfuck that this bill creates comes crashing down around all our ears in five to ten years, all you bastards will be without the socialized care you currently enjoy. Maybe then you'll start to realize that every other fucking country in the world does healthcare for everyone in their country better and cheaper than we do with that evil socialism you ignorantly harp on about. Until then, wake up every morning and say the new national motto.

Fuck you, I got mine.

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Guest Blogging & Book Giveaway Contest

Heather over at the book blog Book Obsessed has posted a mini-review of Under the Amoral Bridge in front of the guest blog post I've written for her. Head on over to Book Obsessed and read The Genesis of Inspiration. I talk about some of the influences that first led me to write, ranging from my mother to cheesy B-movies and role-playing games. Heather is also giving away a copy of Under the Amoral Bridge, so don't miss out on your chance to win a free copy. And don't forget that from now until Dec. 1st, you can get 25% off the paperback or ebook version of the novel - click here for details. I'd like to thank Heather for the kind words about the book, and for the promotion.

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Thanksgiving Sale on My Debut Cyberpunk Novel

Thanksgiving is coming up and that means it's time for all you responsible bastards to start doing your Christmas shopping early, unlike me who waits until the last minute to do anything. What better gift to give than my thrilling debut cyberpunk novel, Under the Amoral Bridge? From now until Dec. 1st, I'm offering two discount codes, both for 25% off this fantastic read. For the paperback version, go to the CreateSpace store link and use the coupon code HC86CZSY to get the book for $9 + shipping (regular price $12). If you'd prefer the Ebook version, it's available in a ton of Ebook formats on Smashwords.com. Use the coupon code RS46Q to get the Ebook for $6 (regular price $8). I wish I could offer the book on Amazon or the Kindle store with similar coupons, but they do not offer such options at this time. If you're looking for a gift for that science-fiction fan on your list, or if you are a sci-fi fan yourself, you'll love this book! Let's move some paper, people!

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A Bunch of Fiddly Bits: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DVD) Review

There are times when I marvel at the movie-making business. After watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, this is one of those days, only the marveling is a reaction of pure horror and unadulterated confusion. I must inform you right up front that I entered this movie expecting to hate it. Not only did I hate the first Transformers movie, I have been extremely critical of Michael Bay's directorial style, if one can call man-crushing fellatio of U.S. military gear and copious, irrational explosions a "style." But as bad as Bay's previous films like Armageddon and the first Transformers movies are, they cannot hold a candle to the gob-smacking incompetence displayed in this edition of the franchise. What I marvel at the most, however, is how this movie ever got made.

Film studio producers and executives are nothing if not good businessmen. Michael Bay, for all his glaring flaws, is box office gold. The first Transformers grossed over $300 million in America alone, for a production budget of half that. With that in mind, I can understand why a studio would give him $200 million to make a sequel. What I cannot understand is how any of these good businessmen could look at what passes for this movie's script and think there is anything like a worthwhile project in it. The movie is an absolute mess, and not in the normal Michael Bay wants to blow up everything sort of way. No, this movie flails from one scene to the next without any sense of rhyme or reason, with no one coherent story to tie all its disparate elements together. There are the retarded premature fetuses of story ideas here, but none are ever developed enough to make up a 30-minute TV episode on public access, much less to make up a 2 1/2 hour movie.

There's the story of Sam Witwicky, the worst-named character in movie history outside of pornography, and his impossibly hot vapid girlfriend, played by Shia LeBouef and Megan Fox respectively. Sam goes off to college and his parents suffer empty nest syndrome, eat pot brownies and vacation in France, where we assume they are abducted by evil robots since they show up later in Egypt in the clutches of an evil bulldozer robot. We never actually see them be abducted. There's the story of Sam and Mikayla, who are in a committed relationship but refuse to say "I love you" to each other before the other says it first. Sam has a transforming robot car in his garage, but he can't take the robot to college. Sam gets flashing visions from a shard of the All-Spark Cube from the first movie that he never noticed was stuck to the shirt he wore during the climactic battle of the last movie. Sam's college roommate runs a web site dedicated to exposing the truth about the alien robots that the U.S. government is hiding. For some unfathomable reason, the Decepticons send a robot disguised as a slut to tempt Sam into a kiss with a metal tentacle tongue. The Autobots and the U.S. military have teamed up to gangfuck Decepticons that are still hiding on the planet. Some Decepticons steal one thing to resurrect Megatron, who then joins some other more powerful Decepticon to get some revenge on the planet Earth by blowing up the sun. Other Autobots and Decepticons have been on Earth for years and they are hidden in plain sight somehow. And there's a key in some hidden temple that really isn't hidden because we've seen this same temple in tons of movies, a key that powers the sun-eating machine buried beneath the pyramids of Giza but has never been discovered despite all the excavations done on the site.

And on and on and on. Story kernel after story kernel pile one on top of the other at breakneck speed with no rhyme or reason. Despite being over 2 1/2 hours long, I think there might have been three or four complete sentences total. Dialogue was at an all time low. Most characters just screamed sentence fragments over each other, and when a cogent thought was presented, it was then repeated over and over again. I got the impression of gaggles of chattering monkeys howling at each other while larger metallic gorillas tossed exploding shitballs at them. Everything explodes in this movie. EVERYTHING. Shit is constantly blowing up for no reason other than someone or something waved a gun at it. I am reminded of Danny McBride's pyrotechnic character from Tropic Thunder amped up on crystal meth and Rock Star mixed with vodka. As a matter of fact, this is who I picture for the dialogue writer.

You'll notice I've said very little about the robots. That's because the robots are so rarely featured. That's right, in a movie about giant robots battling each other, I'd estimate they get about 25-35% of the screen time. When they do manage to fit in between explosions, most of them are indistinguishable from each other and anonymous. I still can't tell the difference between Megatron or Starscream when they aren't speaking. Only five of the Autobots stand out at all: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, and the twins. Dear God, the twins, Mudflap and the other one. I'm sure you've heard about them by now, the racist stereotype Autobots who talk in hip hop slang. They are incredibly irritating. You could not have used more insulting dialogue if you had painted them in Al Jolson blackface. This is not a Jar-Jar sounds like a Jamaican type of stereotype, this is a full-blown thug life pantomime. I have named them the Thugobots, because that's what they sound like. Then there is the leg-humping, Joe Pesci Gangstacon, who farts fire - don't ask me why a robot farts. The final robotic insult comes when we are treated to the sight of Devestator's testicles in the form of two clanging wrecking balls. Why? Seriously, why was this considered a good idea? It paints the image in my mind of old man balls swinging from behind and that is hardly the image I want in my head.

But my final criticism is for the camera work. Even if the plot had been tight, the idiotic touches like Thugobots and robot testicles had been removed, the camera work is blatantly amateurish. The camera never rests. It is constantly moving, swinging around the characters in twirling 360 degree circles, images of characters running is accompanied by the camera moving in perpendicular directions. It's as if the director has no confidence in his director of photography's compositions or the story's impact, he feels the need to move the camera to add tension. All it does is make watching this shitfest even more tedious than it already is.

And yet, it has made over $400 million domestically. Michael Bay could not have made this movie any worse if he tried (though I hope he doesn't take that as a challenge). Uwe Boll would have done a better job with this movie. It has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and I cannot fathom the degree to which one must quiet their logic centers in order to enjoy this movie. But there you go. If American audiences weren't completely stupid before, this movie should finish off their intellect for good. I cannot in good conscience recommend this movie to anyone. I believe this is the movie they showed Malcolm McDowell's character in A Clockwork Orange to burn out the violent parts of his brain. You have been warned. Watch at your own peril, preferably drunk with a crew of ranting movie talkers shouting at the screen. It's the only way this could be an enjoyable experience.

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Big News!!! My Self-Published Novel

For the last couple of weeks, I've been hinting at some big news in the Bridge Chronicles universe, and now I can finally announce it. Under the Amoral Bridge, the first novel in the Bridge Chronicles series, is being published! Thanks to the great group over at CreateSpace.com, I am self-publishing a physical copy of that first novel. Available now at the Create Space Estore, it will be available at Amazon.com within two weeks. The cost is $12 for a really nice, trade paperback edition. Not only is it the entire first novel exactly as it appeared on the Bridge Chronicles blog, but it includes a Bridge short story that has never been published before. This story, Feeding Autonomy, will only be available in this print edition.

Please buy my book. No, really... buy the book. I'm begging you.

Ok, with the whoring done, let me just explain how this process works. This book will be a print-on-demand book. Both CreateSpace and Amazon will take their cut (a percentage of the price + per-page fee + per book fee) and I get the difference. I get about 50% more off a purchase from the CreateSpace store than from Amazon, which I will attribute to Amazon's discount. Naturally, I'd prefer you buy from CreateSpace (and yes, they offer international sales as well as U.S.) because I make more money, but so long as you buy the book, I get paid. Did I mention I like getting paid? If you do purchase the book, no matter the channel, I ask that you post a review on Amazon.com. Note, I didn't say a positive review. Please be honest, I can take the criticisms - bonus points if you dog the novel in a funny or entertaining way. At this early stage of my career, any press is good press if it gets my name out there to the book-buying public. The worst feedback a writer can get is no feedback at all. Our massive egos are so fragile that we constantly require acknowledgment that someone read our work, even if the reader hated it.

Keep an eye on the Bridge Chronicles blog for more updates, including the upcoming listing on Amazon. Those interested in following my other pursuits can always follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HaemishM. Thank you for your support of my literary efforts and I hope you enjoy the title.

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A Tangled Mess of Incompatible Motivations

The healthcare debate in the U.S. has been THE hot topic of the summer of 2009. My Twitter posts have been hammering on that particular drum like a shaggy Muppet. It's time to step back and logically examine the motivations of four of the current players in the upside-down craziness we call our for-profit healthcare system in this country, if for no other reason than to figure out why they act as they do. The four players are care providers (doctors and hospitals), insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and the patients, and each wants something slightly different from the healthcare system. It is these different desires that are at odds with each other, and that opposition is contributing to the declining quality of healthcare in our country.

In a for-profit system, three of the four players compete for the attentions of the fourth and most important player, the patient. The patient is the ultimate source of profit for those three players, though not always in the most direct manner. The patient's motivations are easy enough to decipher, because we all share them. No matter if you are rich or poor, male or female, no matter what race or creed, religion or sexual preference, you access the healthcare system for one reason only: you want to be healthy. That's it, you want to be healthy. Unfortunately, the for-profit system has added a qualifier to that desire. Everyone wants to be healthy, and will do everything within their means in order to achieve that health. The for-profit system restricts that health based on the financial means of the patient. Everyone wants to be healthy, but no one wants to go bankrupt doing it. After all, if your cancer is cured but you lose your home and can't afford to feed yourself, the cure is akin to burning the grass to mow your lawn. Yes, your grass is indeed controlled, but it looks like the aftermath of Hiroshima and smells like gasoline. People want their health so they can enjoy their life as it is, not so they can move into a van down by the river. I'm sure most patients could care less who treats them so long as the end result is health without financial ruin.

The other three players have entirely different motivations, and it becomes most apparent when you consider what type of patient these players desire the most. Care providers, such as hospitals and doctors, are paid based on the services they render, whether that be an MRI, 20 minutes in consultation with a patient, an X-Ray, a surgery, or a hospital stay. Their most profitable patient is likely someone who is just sick enough to need plenty of care but not terminally ill. This ideal patient is also someone with the financial means to pay every time services are rendered, whether they pay directly or through an insurance provider. Healthy patients are no good to them because they don't need that many services. Poor people can't pay, so in addition to the costs of providing care and the time they take away from patients who can pay, poor people cost more because the provider often has to pay for collection agencies to extract as much money as they can from the non-paying clients.

Pharmaceutical companies want patients that are very similar to a hospital's ideal patient. As long as you're just sick enough to need constant medication but not sick enough that the medication is only delaying the inevitable, you are manna from heaven if you have the means to pay. In addition, if you need help for a condition that doesn't threaten your life like impotence, you are even better. No one NEEDS Viagra - it could go away tomorrow and the patients who use it wouldn't die. These drugs are very similar in my mind to things like alcohol or tobacco without the deadly side effects. Get the patient hooked on the euphoric feeling the drug provides, and they will keep coming back so long as they can pay. But people who can't pay for even the basics of care without significant hardship? Like care providers, pharma doesn't want them either.

Insurance companies, however, want a completely different type of patient. Their ideal patient isn't a patient at all, it's a healthy customer with the financial means to pay premiums. Premiums are revenue, revenue leads to profit. But the minute a patient needs to use the insurance product, they are a drain on the insurance company's revenue. Paying claims is a loss. The most profitable patient is the one that never uses the service.

With that in mind, it becomes obvious that providers and pharma are at odds with the insurance companies. Hospitals and pharma need patients that use their services, but insurance companies need patients who do not need those services. When those services are used by patients, it is in the best interests of the insurance companies that the prices for each service are as low as possible, while the care provider and the pharmaceutical companies want to charge as much as the market will allow. The patient wants to be healed with minimal financial loss and minimal interference.

How do you reconcile such conflicting desires? As a matter of policy, which desire should the government pay most attention to when discussing reforms? Is it the care providers, who want patients to use as many of their services as possible? Is it the pharmas, who want patients to use as many drugs as possible? Is it the insurance companies, who generate huge profits from not providing their services? Or is it the patient, the people part of the whole "We the people" form of government?

Government policy must put the needs of the whole community first in a system founded on the principles in the U.S. Constitution. All four of the players in this drama have financial motivations as a component of their desires. Is it more important for hospitals to make a profit than for insurance companies? Since hospitals provide the care that saves patients' lives, I would lean towards the hospitals. Should pharmaceutical companies be more important than hospitals? They are likely to be co-equal if not slightly less important than the hospital itself. In all this, insurance companies are the least important - after all, their function is that of a facilitator of payment. While their function can certainly ease the burden of the sick, are we any better off for having a third party extract a fee for shuffling paperwork instead of dealing with direct payment for services rendered?

But what should become readily apparent in all of this is that none of these entities exist, none of their profits are possible without the patient. If no one gets sick, the providers do not get paid. If no one needs to pay for treatment, insurance companies have no function. If all the patients die off, no one gets paid. The source of all the profit in the system is ultimately the patient. And since every single last one of us will be a patient at some point in our life, the patient IS the most important element in the entire healthcare system. Government policy must absolutely center on the patient, and the patient's desire for health without financial hardship must absolutely take precedence over any other desire.

There may well be room for profit in a patient-centric system. We can argue over the amount of that profit, or the recipient, as there are valid arguments to be made on all sides. But those arguments must never, ever forget that without caring for the patient, there can be no profit.

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