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You Don’t Own What You Buy: Ouya Edition

Eliminate DRM: Defective By Design

On June 26th, the Ouya servers were finally shut down. After that day, there is no more store, no more updates, and no more games that rely on DRM in order to play. Razer in its announcement said it was up to the developers to decide how the games were going to be treated after the shutdown, and they had until that day to push out an update to fix any DRM issues.

But like any DRM that relies on a server check, some games on the Ouya store are no longer playable. I hopped on my Ouya yesterday to see what the state of the machine was. I wanted to see if any of the games I had were still playable. What I found was a huge mixed bag.

While some of my favorite games were still playable, many were not. Games like Freedom Fall, Knightmare Tower, Toto Temple Deluxe, Deep Dungeons of Doom, Super Mega Worm, and many others started up and played just fine. But two games left me upset at the state of DRM on the OUYA, and DRM in general.

If you know me, you know I am no fan of DRM. In fact, I am highly against it. I have boycotted Ubisoft for years based on its DRM stance among other issues. I refuse to get a uPlay or EA Origin account for this reason. I tolerate Steam, mostly because nearly all the games I have on it I have DRM free versions elsewhere. Most of my PC games were bought through the Humble Bundle and GOG. But DRM is a deal breaker for me for nearly any game.

Going in to the OUYA, I knew there would be some form of DRM involved. The ideal of the system was that games would be free to try, and then you buy the game to unlock the whole thing. Depending on the game, it could do something as simple as set a flag in the local data file, all the way up to verifying the purchase of the game on the OUYA servers. That is where two games failed me today.

As I was cycling through a handful of games, I tested out Towerfall and Final Fantasy 3. Both were games that I really enjoyed. I never did get to finish either game. But now, I will never be able to, thanks to the DRM on the games. When I attempt to boot up the games, I get a message saying it was unable to establish a server connection. This means the games can’t be played. This means that I do not own those games even though I bought them. That is the rub.

I do not actually own my property thanks to DRM. DRM means that you do not have property rights, or that your property rights can be arbitrarily taken from you at the whim of the copyright owner.

I could attempt to crack the OUYA and bypass the DRM on those games, but that is a violation of copyright thanks to the DMCA’s anti-circumvention clause. That law says that you are not allowed to bypass any sort of DRM on media that you purchased. The copyright owner actually controls your property.

I really wish this weren’t the case. I tried to reach out to the developers behind many of these games, including Towerfall’s Matt Thorson, but never got a response about what will happen to the games I bought. Many of them have long written off the OUYA and had no real incentive to push out a patch.

In the end, I am left with a game system, that I could hack, but would be violating copyright law. I have games that I can’t play unless I violate copyright law to bypass their DRM checks. I doubt anyone is going to care if I do so, but that doesn’t change the law. The law doesn’t care about the fact that you bought the system and games. It only cares that you bypassed DRM to use them. If that is the case, you are a criminal.

I will probably just stick my OUYA up on a shelf somewhere as a memento of a time in which someone outside the big 3 game console companies tried to do something innovative. A time when hope for a dedicated indie console was alive and exciting. That time is gone. And thanks to DRM, I can no longer reach back and play those amazing games ever again.

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