An App Store’s DRM Dilemma

You’ve probably noticed that WEARVR is a digital rights management (DRM) free app store platform. On occasion this is, quite understandably, a concern for new software developers who are keen to distribute their VR and AR software via our storefront.

This was by no means an arbitrary decision when WEARVR was conceived, so as our army of developer partners continues to grow, and our audience reach expand, we thought the timing was right to offer a few insights into our DRM-free philosophy.

Accessibility

This is the big one, really. For us, and pretty much anyone reading this, it’s easy to forget that virtual reality is still very much in its fledgling state. We live it and breathe it all day, every day, but for the general public it’s still new and uncertain.

As jarring as the initial notion was it became clear at an early stage that access to virtual reality content was, and still is, key to the establishment and growth of this exciting young industry. Reducing friction for newcomers was essential.

The user journey for very similar app store platforms often goes like this, when downloading a new game or app:

Web search → Register → Verification → Client installation → Sign in → Download → Launch → Play

That’s a lot of moving parts and requires no small amount of dedication from the user. When the market is big enough, and the games catalogue full enough, maybe it’s reasonable to expect users to go through this grind. If they don’t, someone else probably will anyway.

But the VR marketplace needs building up before anyone can expect this kind of user commitment, which is why we consciously looked for ways to remove as many barriers to entry as possible.

Therefore, our user journey was adjusted to work more like this:

Web search → Download → Launch → Play

Although we encourage registration, it’s not a prerequisite, and this streamlined approach significantly increases the amount of use you can expect your VR game to enjoy. Moreover, it’s proving to be a big driver for getting users to come right back and download more of your content, because it was all so easy the first time around.

I spoke with DRM activist (and sci-fi novelist, of course!) Cory Doctorow about this subject recently. “No one wants DRM,” he explains. “Some users are indifferent to it, but most are hostile. The only way to get users to pay for products is to entice, rather than coerce them.”

Which brings us to…

Competition

By eliminating DRM, WEARVR is taking the same risk that you, as a developer, faces. Although we much prefer to think of it as showing the same trust, rather than taking the same risk.

“Monopolized sales channels, backed by law, do not benefit sellers.” ~ Cory Doctorow.

We’re platform agnostic; about the only independent multi-platform VR store out there and again, that’s entirely by design. We aim to encourage competition because it’s what the VR industry needs to grow. Would it be better for us to be the gatekeeper to all your game sales? Maybe, for a short while.

But we’re much more comfortable encouraging lots of outlets to distribute lots of VR content, relying instead on a belief in our own product to bring the users (and developers) back, time and again.

https://twitter.com/doctorow

I asked Doctorow what he believed the advantages of a DRM-free app store are for developers wanting to distribute their content as widely as possible. “Credibility,” he says, with no small amount of confidence.

“The fact that it’s a literal crime to set up a rival app store for the iPhone meant that when iOS attained dominance, Apple was able to unilaterally change the deal for its software vendors, grabbing 30% of their lifetime in-app revenues. The vendors had to suck it up because they couldn’t sell to iOS owners through a rival store. Monopolized sales channels, backed by law, do not benefit sellers.”

So being DRM-free means WEARVR could potentially suffer the exact same consequences as the developers. But we believe it’s an opportunity, and not a risk. Growing competition within the VR marketplace is good for everyone, and shedding fruitless DRM commitments is proving to be highly instrumental in that respect.

Because, as Doctorow points out, DRM doesn’t work anyway…

Piracy

We do monitor for pirated content, but what we see doesn’t worry us. Not in regard to our DRM-less business model, anyway. What we tend to see is software that was once protected but has since had its DRM stripped away.

“Good products on fair terms at a fair price,” Doctorow continues, “is literally the only thing that’s been shown to increase conversions from pirate markets to paying ones. It’s happened over and over again, and been documented
in exquisite depth by neutral academics and economists.”

“DRM will only chase [customers] into the pirate markets.” ~ Cory Doctorow.

It’s entirely true that engineers spend millions of dollars and a huge amount of time developing DRM that’s broken within hours by hobbyists. It must be soul crushing for the people who’ve had to put that work and devotion in.

That money and effort is better used in improving your game and investing in your marketing, so those same users make a conscious decision to buy your products rather than break, and then steal them.

That’s a big part of why we pour a lot of WEARVR’s resources into working closely with developers to help spread the word about their VR games and apps; resources that could be put into wasted piracy prevention efforts that are doomed to fail.

Honestly, we aren’t pioneers in this area of digital product distribution. Humble Bundle and GOG are shining beacons of successful, customer-trusting storefronts, and it’s a philosophy that’s spilling over into all walks of life, for good reason.

“You don’t have to like it, but your feelings about the badness of piracy won’t make payroll,” Doctorow concludes. “Convince your users to pay with good offers, because DRM will only chase them into the pirate markets. And moral outrage won’t feed your kids.”

And so, we ultimately arrived at the decision of being a DRM-free VR app store because we believe it’s in everyone’s — and primarily the burgeoning VR industry’s — best interests. We want to focus on delivering a great product while working hand-in-hand with our developer partners to encourage as many people as possible to download their titles through the storefront.

Instead of trying to control our tens of thousands of users, we prefer to make it easy for them to enjoy your games and apps, and that’s building a very loyal user base that we’re then able to give our devs easy (and free) access to.

It was not a small decision by any means, but the benefits are outweighing the difficulties significantly and we’re confident it was the right path to choose. We hope you agree or, at the very least, understand.

So come join us! Oh, and don’t forget to find out more about novelist and campaigner Cory Doctorow right here! Little Brother is awesome!

 

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