Thursday, March 12, 2009

DRM peddler throws rocks out of glass house.

Most people haven't heard of Aladdin software, and for good reason. The company sells Digital Rights Management software which the vast majority of consumers hate with a passion. Case in point would be the EA's Spore which drove a consumer backlash so large ZDNet ran the opinion it could destroy PC gaming, broke records for being the most pirated game ever, and caused EA to retool the entire system.

One would think then that DRM providers would be very careful about what they say in the public place. Not so for John Gunn of Aladdin software. In a blog post he referred to Gabe Newell of Valve software as being a noob. This was my comment on the HardOCP forums, and what I copied to John's blog, although it appears to have been deleted by Mr. Gunn:
on one hand we have a guy who has built a successful Digital Distribution Platform... is already eying (and programming) that Digital Distribution Platform for other Operating Systems and platforms... who controls development teams that have a successful history of catching and DOING something about the type of people who hack around games...

versus a guy who was VP Channel Sales at 3dfx, a company long deceased due to massive mis-steps in the retail market; director of marketing at STB, a company that I've honestly never heard of, and the top search for STB Systems results in a driver download for video adapters; and worked for VisionTek, a company I have heard of, but during 2001 to 2004 when HardOCP had less than polite things to say, including a near, if not actual, bankruptcy in 2002.

Right off hand, when it comes to selling to the retail market and figuring out what the market wants the most, I think Gabe and company at Valve have a much better handle on things than John Gunn.

Thing is, a quick look at Mr. Gunn's employment record on Linked In should send most prospective employeers running for the hills, if not to the nearest courthouse to get a restraining order. His time at 3DFX as a Vice-President of marketing coincided with the 2000 bankruptcy proceedings, and began with the merger of STB, a former employeer of his, in 1999. Given his official positions in 3DFX and STB, and the massive market mis-steps that saw the demise of 3DFX, John Gunn can easily be pinpointed as one of the disasters that befell both companies. Then there was his tenure at VisionTek. As noted in the HardOCP comment, VisionTek went bankrupt, again, when John Gunn was in a position of authority in the company.

To any outside observer, John Gunn is obviously a financial disaster on par with Timothy M. Roberts.

When it comes to judging what the retail market wants, and what the retail market gets, Mr. Gunn has a dedicated history of getting everything wrong.

Mr. Newell on the other hand. Well, his record hasn't been stellar either, and I've gone after Valve a couple times. However, Valve has been getting better, and the company seems to get it.

To an outside observer though, Steam is a rousing success. Independent game developers that could never get a game on the shelf of Wal-Mart or Gamestop can get their game in front of buyers through Steam. Major publishers can publish their back-catalogs through Steam and rack in profits for compilations that would never fit on a retail shelf. Steam Cloud allows players to store things like key settings on their Steam Account, which is useful for people who may play on a home computer, and a laptop at Taco Bell. Steam wraps digital rights management with update and game matching services that take advantage of having a single consistant log-in.

Okay, there are still improvements that could be made to Steam, my personal desire being the opportunity for a LAN pass, but as a retail product, Steam has proven that DRM can work. Gabe Newell has proven that when it comes to digital rights management, he does know how to make it work FOR buyers, not against them, or that he knows to hire the right people to make it work.

So between the two, I'll listen to what Mr. Newell says on DRM a lot sooner than I'll listen to somebody shilling a product that I already know won't work.

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