iTunes variable pricing will hit on April 7th


Apple will soon be launching the variable prices that it was forced to accept from the major labels in exchange for DRM-free content, during the contract renegotiations earlier this year. If the LA Times is to be believed, the change will occur on April 7th.

It’s currently unclear how the pricing will be distributed, but most analysts expect newer and more popular songs to command a higher price, while back catalogue ends up heavily discounted. It’s also unclear how the public will respond to what will essentially be a price hike on the most popular songs.

I’d argue that iTunes has long been irrelevant to most hardcore music fans. They’re the biggest users of P2P because it’s the most efficient way of getting tracks that are otherwise unavailable. This change will impact on mums, dads, and anyone else that generally buys their music from Tesco, rather than independent record stores.

(via Digital Music News)

Microsoft on Games for Windows updates: It's not DRM, honest


Microsoft’s got an uphill battle going on with Games for Windows. It’s got to try and take Steam’s market share by battling Microsoft’s poor reputation among many gamers, while still keeping the major publishers happy, who’ve been working with Microsoft for years.

At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Ars Technica had a chat with Microsoft to try to find out what the company is planning – both in the looming update and also in the future.

First of all, the company wants to ditch the “DRM” tag. Claiming that DRM is designed to stop copying, not piracy, Microsoft is calling their new service “IP protection” instead. It all operates in the cloud – with games only working if you’re logged in and the account you’re logging in with has a license.

One potential consequence that Microsoft brings up is that game publishers could then happily publish their software for free download anywhere – even Bittorrent – so long as there was a central place for users to apply licenses to their account.

Of course this won’t work for offline titles. Gamers hate having to log in to an online service to play games that have no online components – just look at the reaction to GTA IV. Even so, there are few games released these days that don’t have some sort of multiplayer component, and many that are multiplayer-only.

Other benefits of this approach could be to put settings and savegames in the cloud, too. Gamers needn’t worry about adjusting mouse sensitivity, controls or other info in on several PCs – they just do it once and the game will adjust on any computer. Similarly, with save games you could theoretically go to a friends house and continue exactly where you left off.

All this raises the spectre of Steam, which is a competing distribution and gaming social network created by Valve. Its DRM is mostly accepted as a kind of ‘benevolent dictator’ system by gamers – they trust Valve not to screw them over, and Valve hasn’t. So far.

It seems unlikely that gamers will offer the same trust to Microsoft, due to the company’s reputation. It’ll be difficult for Microsoft to make things any easier, either – a suggestion that it could be tied into Windows 7 was met with a quick “Say hello to my friend, the Department of Justice.” response from the company, referring to the much-publicised spats with US government regulators.

What I’d like most from Games for Windows is interoperability with Steam. I want to be able to do everything I can do in Steam, including all the games I’ve bought on the platform, via Windows. That way, my choice of platform relies solely on the quality of the interface, not which publishers have done deals with which provider.

But I suspect that’s an idyllic goal. In reality, the chances of Steam jumping into bed with Microsoft, or anyone else for that matter, are near zero. They have the goodwill of the users and the big-name publishers. They don’t need anyone else. I’d argue that Games for Windows is simply a waste of Microsoft’s time.

What do you think? Are there any redeeming features to Games for Windows that Steam doesn’t offer? Perhaps the Xbox 360 matchup, but I’m not convinced that’s enough. Let us know what you think on Twitter by messaging @techdigest.

Nokia wants to ditch DRM from Comes With Music


Nokia’s “Comes With Music” service, which offers unlimited music for a small amount bundled into the price of the of your phone, is unfortunately hobbled with DRM.

The ways things are set up means that any tracks you download are locked to one handset and one PC and if you want to do anything else, then…. well, you can’t do anything else.

However, Nokia doesn’t want it that way. Nokia understands that music should, in its very nature, be sharable with people you love. That’s why it wants to get rid of the DRM. Nokia’s director of global digital music retail, Adam Mirabella says:

“We have dialogues going with all of our partners and Digital Rights Management-free is also on the roadmap for the future integration of Comes With Music.”

Don’t hold your breath – I doubt we’ll see this for at least a year – but it’d certainly be nice, and would certainly make me retract most of my criticism of the service.

(via Music Ally)

Epic Fail: DRM expiry date makes Gears of War unplayable


Yesterday, anyone attempting to play the PC version of Gears of War will have run into problems. The digital signature on the DRM that certifies the game as ‘legal’ expired on the 28th January, meaning that anyone trying to play runs into a message saying:

“You cannot run the game with modified executable code. Please reinstall the game.”

Currently, the only fix is to turn your system clock back. An administrator has posted a message on Epic’s forum to the effect of “We have been notified of the issue and are working with Microsoft to get it resolved”, but in the meantime, it’s another example of DRM only punishing legitimate customers. Anyone who pirated the game won’t have run up against this problem.

Forum thread (via Ars Technica)

Related posts: Apple releases the chains on iTunes DRM | EA gets more DRM lawsuits over its use of SecuROM

Comes with Music hits the bargain bins


Well, if we needed further confirmation that Nokia’s all-you-can-eat digital music service wasn’t selling too well, then this is it. Despite a massive advertising campaign, Carphone Warehouse has discounted the service by £45, over a third of the price, so you can now get “Comes with Music” on a Nokia 5310 XpressMusic for just £82.18.

It might sound good – that works out at 23p a day for a year of unlimited music – but the catch is that you can only listen to the songs on that phone, and on one Windows PC. For most people, who transfer music between a multitude of devices, that’s useless.

If you need a new phone, you’re happy to listen to a mostly mainstream selection of music on bad earbuds (no 3.5mm jack, so you’re stuck with the included earbuds), and you don’t mind paying £80 for the privelege, then this is a good deal. Otherwise, steer clear.

Comes with Music (via ITProPortal)

Related posts: Nokia’s “Comes with Music” DRM cracked | The lowdown on Comes with Music – not unlimited, comes with DRM

Spore DRM finally eased


Call it a victory for pester power if you like, but EA has just released a deauthorisation tool for their DRM system in Spore. As previously reported, Spore would only let players install the game five times before forcing you to buy a new copy. This patch allows you to ‘de-authorize’ a computer, meaning that you get one of your credits back.

Interestingly, the de-authorization process doesn’t involve uninstallation, so you can leave it sat on your hard drive, and just de- and re-authorize as necessary. Of course, if your hard drive corrupts, then you’re not going to be able to get that installation back, but do you know anyone who’s lost five hard drives that way, ever?

Spore Deauthorisation Patch (via RPS)

Related posts: Spore becomes most pirated game ever | SPORESUIT: EA sued over Spore DRM

Nokia's "Comes with Music" DRM cracked


Rejoice, those of you with a “Comes with Music” subscription. You’ll now be able to strip the DRM off the tracks that, remember, you’ve paid for – and use them whenever and wherever you like. In all honesty, I’m surprised it took this long.

The software you’ll need is Tunebite. It costs £17.50 (or free, see below), and works by playing back the song at a very high speed, and then copying the data that comes out onto an MP3 file. It’s a bit like holding up a tape recorder next to your speakers, but retaining all the quality of the original file.

Spore becomes most pirated game ever


Largely thanks to the draconian DRM bundled with Will Wright’s ‘Spore’, the life-simulation game has been downloaded an epic 1.7 million times since its release at the start of September. If my maths is right, that means that one copy is downloaded every five seconds or so. If that rate had been maintained over the whole year, then people would have snagged 6.5 million copies.

Interestingly, second place in this year’s top ten most pirated games, published by Torrentfreak, was the Sims 2, showing that piracy isn’t limited to hardcore gamers (who generally hate the Sims), it’s become a perfectly mainstream pastime among ordinary people. It’s impressive that despite being released in 2004, it’s still right up at the top of the list, though it’s unclear how The Sims 2’s multiple add-on packs are counted.

(via MCVUK)

Related posts: SPORESUIT: EA sued over Spore DRM | Spore fans threatened with game ban over DRM discussion

EA gets more DRM lawsuits over its use of SecuROM


Electronic Arts, the company responsible for the Spore DRM fiasco earlier this year, has been hit by two new lawsuits over the hated SecuROM ‘copy protection’ system that installs itself if you so much as look at an EA product, and can only be uninstalled by chucking your PC into a black hole.

Both suits have been filed in Northern California, one references the free ‘Spore Creature Creator’ demo/software toy, and the other names The Sims 2: Bon Voyage as the culprit. These follow another class-action suit earlier this year. In the suits EA are branded as “immoral, unethical, oppressive [and] unscrupulous”. Crikey.