Off-Topic: That’s the way online video should work: Indie Game – The Movie

I don’t really buy any movies online… rather, I buy them on DVD or BluRay and save them to my external hard-drive from there. It’s inconvenient and not how I would like things to work, but it’s the best I can get. Movie studios are paranoid and constantly require newer and stricter copy-protections for online services or they won’t allow them to sell their movies, but disk-based formats are released with a certain copy-protection which is usually quickly broken and cannot be easily upgraded. This way, I can watch my movies when I want to watch them: on the bus with my cellphone (MoboPlayer/Android), streamed via VLC (server) / browser(client) during my lunch break, on my projector/PS3 (PS3 Media Server) with friends or on my net-book (Samba / Mplayer) when I’m in bed. I also get the best quality available with (at least) German and English audio tracks and I can order anywhere. If it’s not available yet in Germany, I can get it from the UK or the US, no problem.

Compare that to the on-line situation. First, I need to find a service that’s available in my country… which means reading about all the better and cheaper services that I can’t get in Germany because, well: I’m in Germany. Then I have to see which one has the movie I want, which usually means not finding one, because the movie/series isn’t released in Germany yet (and may never be). Fast forward 6 to 8 months (if I’m lucky and haven’t forgotten about it and it’s not just available as part of a package). I can find the movie, but there is no audio track besides the German one (which usually is frighteningly bad) and it’s only available in Stereo. If I’m lucky, I can get a HD version in 720p and at a bitrate that’s well below the one for a typical DVD, but usually that “HD” version isn’t available due to licensing issues.

If I should still decide to buy it I get my choice of streaming via either some arcane browser-plugin (Silverlight comes to mind) or a proprietary one which does nothing besides adding security holes to an otherwise secure browser, duplicating its own streaming functionality and making sure that I’m not running a screen-capture program while I’m watching the movie, inevitably using up much of my CPU power and introducing stuttering into the movie. If they feel generous I may get a dedicated client software which does the same thing, but may allow me to buffer more than 3 minutes of the movie so that I don’t have to pause in the middle of the movie.

Of course, if I want to watch it off-line or on anything but a Windows-PC that’s still my problem.

To sum it up: The studios are not making the amount of money from me that they could be making, because they do not offer me the quality of service that would make it easy for me to buy something. I have to order it on DVD/BluRay, wait for it to arrive, copy it and create converted versions for mobile devices. You can imagine that’s not something I do as often as I would, for example, click the buy/download button if it would produce the same result (which is not just a theory, I can actually watch the effect of such an offering by comparing my buyer’s history on Amazon with the one on GOG, which offers DRM-free games). Plus, they have to pay for the disc, shipping, Amazon’s cut and so on and so forth, which all comes out of their margins, so even the little that I do order doesn’t make them as much money as they could be making from a download. It just seems so stupid.

Enter Indie Game – The Movie. This is probably the first time that I bought from somebody who got it right (besides Kookie in the Humble Bundle, but it wouldn’t be fair to count that that, because it was part of a bundle). VHX is handling the distribution and in short, everything is as it should be: I get a streaming version for right away and the most common formats for playback on non-connected devices, with no DRM preventing me from making additional copies in other formats. I bought it as soon as I saw it.

I respect the studio’s desire to protect their work. In fact, I rely on copyright for my work as much as anybody else, but it’s depressing to see an industry self-destruct because of paranoia and a misplaced sense of entitlement. Sure, the people pirating your product are an annoyance and you do not owe them anything, but making your regular customers pay for it is not the way to go if you want to fix it. There are a thousand and one methods that they could employe that would protect them from piracy as much as what they’re doing now (which isn’t working terribly well, as it’s currently easier to pirate than to buy) without alienating their customers. They could add signatures to files (either as metadata or, even better, via Steganography) which would identify the origin of a file if it started showing up on P2P networks, or they could provide a unified DRM as open-source with a free certification program, refusing to license to anybody who wants to sell the movies with an incompatible DRM solution. That would address pretty much any single issue that I have with current DRM systems. And that’s just the stuff on top of my head, but one thing is certain: A licensing jungle combined with proprietary DRM systems that are not compatible between any two services are not the way to go.

I just hope offers like the ones from VHX catch on, so that I don’t continue to get strange looks when I say that I want to pay for my movies and TV series…