12.05.20

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Bringing DRM to GNU/Linux to Attract the Stereotypical ‘Gamers’

Posted in DRM, GNU/Linux, Wine at 11:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

DRM at the application level as opposed to operating system level

Mythical 'Gamer'; Stereotypical 'Gamer'

Summary: With streaming disservices such as Google’s Stadia (GNU/Linux-powered, albeit proprietary and spying) and rental-like disservices such as Steam the situation is further complicated for Software Freedom; what can be done? Gamers aren’t ‘lamers’ and attracting them too would be better than leaving them stranded in Windows.

THE “Linux Gamer” (Gardiner Bryant) cited our articles about DRM in Linux about a year ago, bemoaning what was happening to Linux (the kernel). But he himself is promoting lots of DRM (like Steam) and to many GNU/Linux users Valve is like an “ally” of GNU/Linux because SteamOS is Debian-based and there are WINE-centric efforts, which at times contribute to graphics drivers (upstream patches, so to speak).

“This subject is very difficult for a lot of reasons.”Earlier this year Alex Oliva (the ‘young Stallman’) asked me why I kept linking to news about computer games which were clearly proprietary, albeit had been ported to GNU/Linux (usually native, ‘proper’ ports, not WINE or similar). I told him that people would accept or tolerate such DRM regardless of the system, so whether they gamed on GNU/Linux or on Windows would sort of leave us in a situation of flux. The unspoken hope is that by bringing those users over to GNU/Linux we can introduce them to Free software (like browsers) they otherwise would not be exposed to, or even games that are free/libre. Heck, maybe even the game developers themselves would decide to liberate the code, bearing it mind that can help them receive code contributions (improvements to their games, game engines and so on).

This subject is very difficult for a lot of reasons. We’ll deal with only a few of them here. When I started using GNU/Linux more than two decades ago there were barely any games at all for the system (except very simple ones, nothing that could be taken seriously or be the equivalent of “killer app”). So seeing GOG, Humble, Steam, Itch and the rest of them sort of embracing GNU/Linux is perhaps more “gain” than “loss” (the alternative is no support at all). Remember that Linux Game Publishing and Loki Entertainment weren’t exactly a free/libre thing. Neither were some of the earliest GNU/Linux distributions — some of which contained more binary (proprietary) blobs than today’s distributions.

Loki EntertainmentWe may have to disagree with Mr. Oliva on this; Oliva told me he had gotten addicted to some games and I can relate to it because I spent much of my childhood gaming and in my 20s I got hooked on some games again (to the point of playing from dusk till dawn and dreaming about those games at night).

Games are not a good substitute for life, unless life sucks so badly (which is a reality for more and more people as the pandemic takes its toll). If people who love games choose GNU/Linux as their underlying platform (for better security, performance, maybe lower cost), let’s welcome them. Blasting Valve for its DRM schemes can be done politely, in conjunction, bearing in mind that they do in fact hire some Free software developers (last month they decided to pay the developer of Zink to carry on with his fine work).

Life is full of trade-offs and compromises; whether Steam runs on Windows or on GNU/Linux, it’ll still be problematic for many reasons. The question is, does it tempt away existing GNU/Linux users from freedom? Are users of Free software going to suddenly drift away to Google Chrome (proprietary) and Oracle databases because there’s some game they like on Steam? It seems very unlikely. Moreover, with games there’s a lot of emphasis on copyrights of games’ “assets”; surveillance isn’t a main feature because users barely feed any personal data into games. So is there so much to be lost? It is not ideal, sure, but let’s pick our battles for Software Freedom carefully. I, for one, welcome heavy gamers who jump over to our camp. Even if they use Steam a great deal (Debian Developers were given free access to it, so quite a few of them play games in their spare time).

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