It doesn't have the high-profile of the "Console Wars" or Mac Vs. PC battles, but there's another important fight going on in the world of gaming. As you may know, Steam, Valve's PC game download service, is on top of the heap when it comes to digital distribution of games. But it's not the only service in town. Tech company Stardock has its own system of distributing games -- Impulse.
Both services look different -- Impulse is a little flashier than strictly-business Steam -- but today, Stardock announced an update to improve its network. Stardock's new technology aims to solve some all-too-common digital distribution problems and offers some advantages over Steam.
This is a little tech-y, so work with me a bit, but here's the deal on Stardock's new technology. It's called Game Object Obfuscation (Goo), and it allows developers to encapsulate its game executable into a container that includes the original executable plus "Impulse Reactor," Stardock's virtual platform. Both are contained in one encrypted file.
When a consumer runs a game for the first time, Goo lets the user enter his/her email address and serial number then associates the game with the person as opposed to the person's computer. Once it's validated, the game need never connect to the Internet again.
This has a number of advantages over "traditional" means of game authentication.
- A third-party client isn't required. This means a developer can use this as a universal solution since it isn't tied to any particular digital distributor.
- It paves the way to allowing users validate their game on any digital distribution service that supports that game. One common concern of gamers is that if the company they purchased a game from shuts down their validation servers, you could be locked out of a game you bought. This was a common complaint about EA's Spore. If Spore used Goo, it wouldn't matter whether EA went out of business, you'd still be able to enjoy the game you bought.
- It opens the door to gamers being able to resell their games, because users can voluntarily disable their game access and transfer their license ownership to another user.
It's that last point that might end up being the sticking point for Impulse's DRM solution. It's great for gamers; almost everyone would like to sell played-out games to others. But it might be bad for game publishers who have been known to not take kindly to used-game sales -- they don't make a profit from them at all. I'm not clear on whether Goo will allow publishers to take a "cut" of used game license sales, but I called Stardock to find out, and hope to get a call back from them soon.
Either way, we'll see how it works out soon. Goo will come out on April 7 as part of the upcoming Impulse: Phase 3 release. Stardock says it "expects to be able to announce multiple major publishers making use of Goo in April, as well as adding their libraries to Impulse." We'll definitely be watching.