Creative Balance and DRM in Video Games

There's an interesting interview in The Escapist with Cliff Bleszinski (who worked on the Unreal games and the Gears of War games). As Ars Technica notes, one of the strange things about the interview is that Bleszinski seems to be saying that the less gaming he does, the better he becomes at his job.
I'm at the point now where I want to make sure I have a good work/life balance. I'll play Call of Duty 4, but I might not necessarily get all the achievements; I might not get to the next level as far as leveling up in the online experience. I might not beat Army of Two. I'll give it a good five or six hours and be like, "OK, I get the experience. Now I want to check out the latest movie." Or I want to be outside taking my dog out or just experiencing life in general and meeting new people.

One thing I've learned throughout my life ... being tasked with creating new characters and new IP is, you have to have that pool in your head of experience in life to draw from. ...

I love this medium; I think it's the most compelling medium to ever exist in the history of entertainment. To be a good creative, you need to be a well-rounded person. You need to have life experience. You need to have your heart broken. You need to experience loss. You need to raise puppies and have a family eventually and know what it's like to put the top down and drive 120 mph on a beautiful day with the leaves kicking up behind you, with the music playing. Because if you don't know what that's like, how are you going to have a real-life frame of reference to compare it to when you try to bring that level of excitement into your games? I think it's definitely good to live life and be a well-rounded designer.
Interesting stuff. Of course there's nothing particularly new about this. When you limit your creative influences, your creativity is sure to become limited as well. The fact that most game designers get into the industry because they love gaming is a good thing, but when they continue to eat, breath, and sleep gaming, a few things happen.

As Bleszinski mentions, creativity tends to suffer in such situations, and thus the industry ends up doing the same old thing over and over again. As a casual gamer, this part isn't as noticeable to me... however, I do tend to notice that games have gotten harder to pick up and more difficult to complete (not all games, of course). I don't mind a challenge, but I think there are some games out there that really attempt to push the boundries of difficulty, and this is done because hardcore gamers demand this sort of thing, especially if the game is a simple rehash of old concepts. But casual gamers get burnt out on this type of thing pretty quickly. Many of these games are very rich and detailed... so much so that I simply don't have the time to parse all the details and get to a point where I'm actually doing well.

None of which is to suggest that game designers shouldn't play games. In the computer industry, using one's own product is known as eating your own dog food, and it's an important part of software development. Of course, similar to with games, this can also lead to incredibly powerful and flexible software that is overly complicated for a casual user (i.e. linux).

This made me wonder about DRM. Pretty much any gamer who legitimately purchases their games hates DRM. It can be incredibly frustrating; even the simple systems that only require the CD to be in the drive to play the game can get annoying. I look at some of the draconian systems being put in place on high profile games today, and I wonder how anyone could possibly think it's a good idea to implement something like this. I guarantee that the people who are pushing for these systems are not eating their own dog food.

Interestingly, there is one small but successful gaming company that doesn't use any form of DRM at all. The company is called Stardock, and I think part of the reason they don't use DRM is because the founder and head of Stardock, Brad Wardell, is a gamer himself. He's often written about his dislike for copy protection, so it shouldn't be that surprising that he knows his dogfood. He also has a keen business mind in that he doesn't believe in inconveniencing his best customers and treating them like criminals. Go figure. That's why I'll gladly shell out money for the latest Stardock game, even if it kicks my ass.