DRM… meh

Gamers everywhere are pissed over EA’s announcement that they will be protecting future games like Mass Effect with an internet-based digital rights management (DRM) system known as SecuROM. Some of you might have no idea what SecurROM or DRM are so let me quote Derek French, Bioware’s Tech Producer.

Mass Effect uses SecuROM and requires an online activation for the first time that you play it. Each copy of Mass Effect comes with a CD Key which is used for this activation and for registration here at the BioWare Community. Mass Effect does not require the DVD to be in the drive in order to play, it is only for installation.

After the first activation, SecuROM requires that it re-check with the server within ten days (in case the CD Key has become public/warez’d and gets banned). Just so that the 10 day thing doesn’t become abrupt, SecuROM tries its first re-check with 5 days remaining in the 10 day window. If it can’t contact the server before the 10 days are up, nothing bad happens and the game still runs. After 10 days a re-check is required before the game can run.

That doesn’t sound too bad to me. I support the protection of digital rights and I fully understand what pirating does to this industry. Companies like Iron Lore, creators of Titan Quest, blame piracy for playing a large part in their demise. It’s a horrible problem and few will argue that. However, after reading more about SecuROM and EA’s plans for DRM I discovered that the games can only be installed up to three times. Now that’s when I start having a problem. I like to uninstall games that I’m not playing and come back months later and reinstall them. Graev is notorious for uninstalling games. Just last month he uninstalled WC3 four or five times. With this DRM that might not be possible. (I’m not sure if the game releases the key upon uninstalling).

It’s undue hardships on the customer that bother me. I’m not pirating the game. I’m not planning to do anything illegal with it. Why must I be worried that my game might suddenly lock me out of playing because my internet is down for a week or I have to uninstall it one too many times? One bad apple spoils the bunch. But what’s even more annoying in this whole situation is that those who want to pirate the game still will. SecuROM has been cracked before and it will be cracked again. The only ones who will suffer here are the legitimate consumers. The last thing a company worried about losing profits should do is alienate their customers.

What interests me most in all of this DRM talk though is whether or not we will see something similar in MMORPGs here soon. Subscription based games really don’t have to worry that much about piracy but there are other aspects of these games that could benefit from more protection. In December of last year I wrote about my thoughts on a Punkbuster for MMOs. Blizzard already uses Warden to catch cheaters, exploiters, hackers, and the like. I think programs like that are excellent. Since EA is now behind WAR maybe we will see a more aggressive approach toward protecting intellectual property. I would fully support a monitoring program that would more aggressively seek out the gold farmers and buyers. I think constant checks for such behavior would be a great way to protect the rights of the company and those playing legitimately. It’s reaching to hope for something like this in a mmo, I know, but I think the overall good it could do far outweighs any foreseeable negatives; if you are following the rules. (Maybe they are already using something like this and we don’t even know it!.. /paranoia)

Overall I think EA is going a little too far with the DRM and alienating too many people. Yeah, it’s a pain and very annoying. Yeah, it’s putting undue hardship on the innocent and it’s probably going to cause hell for EA in the end. But does this really bother you that much? Are you not going to buy the games now because of it? I remain dubious.

  • I believe, if it’s like Bioshock, that you can “retrieve” your install credits through some application/online registration (I don’t know, I’ve not actually done it). It’s still annoying, though. It also makes buying used games much more precarious, although that might be part of the point.

  • Most consumers will remain blissfully oblivious. I only buy EA games when they are either extremely revolutionary (so almost never) or when they are made by my cousin’s studio cuz I want to support him 😛

  • Its foolish and i can see a man in a suit going man this is a great idea!
    It will be cracked within a week more likely less as some will see it as a challenge. Not that it was going to get great sales anyway with people having it for 360.

    It won’t hurt this game or the first game you buy it with but the next one will be like, “ahh crap its got that annoying drm thing ill grab this instead.”

    I buy about half my games but even for thos i still get the crack i don’t like cd swapping and im sure as hell not going to like registration checks.

    What about people that don’t have internet loss of consumers as stupid as not having internet is.

    The most interesting part is the game they are starting with this why mass effect?

  • Personally it makes me ill. I refused to buy Bioshock because of this crap and I won’t be buying Mass Effect either. OTOH, I have bought GalCiv I & II and Sins of a Solar Empire because Stardock doesn’t treat their customers like criminals. It’s not like this stuff actually helps, anyway- it’s not hard to find a torrent for Bioshock and within the first week there will inevitably be one for Mass Effect.

  • I think one major point is left out here though. I know piracy hurts the industry, but the industry is a mad cash craving machine that puts 90% garbage out with very few games worth spending money on.

    I gladly pay for great games that are going to give me replay value. That being said a lot of games are 4 – 6 hours long with little to no incentive to pick it up again. Not to mention the droves of games that are utter garbage.

    Lets take Assassin’s Creed for example. One of the best marketed and overhyped games of 2007, imo. Everyone was so excited to buy it. What does it turn out to be? A 4 hour long game of exactly the same thing, over and over again with 1 level to play in. Anyone who saw the TV commerical for it basically experienced all of the games content.

    If publishers released games worth playing more often then they would be paid for, more often. People are willing to dole out the money for the online play which generally requires a key. Think about it as far as console gamers are concerned. Console games aren’t nearly as readily piratable, mod chips + downloading + burning just isn’t as readily available for most people who buy consoles. With that in mind the games sell like crazy, and they sell “back” like crazy or they sit on peoples shelves collecting dust.

    As much as I would like to see some proper piracy protection for the really solid companies out there, I have no pity for an industry that is now more profitable then the box office releasing 90% garbage to their customers.

    /rant off

  • I bought Bioshock and Assassin’s Creed both via Steam and I’m pretty happy avoiding the other 3-install DRM crap. I know technically Steam is a DRM system itself, but it feels more enabled through Steam than crippled.

    Oh and I completely disagree with kmxs’ summation of Assassin’s Creed. Sure, it’s got repetition, but then so does any shooter, it’s not a nagging problem if you actually enjoy it. It’s not everyone’s game but I still have a hoot jumping in and messing with the city guards long after completing the game. The improved AI on the PC version helps a lot though, I don’t think I’d have kept playing it on the 360 version. I’ll gladly buy any sequels they come up with.

    Though, as noted, I’ll be buying them via Steam.

  • I really dislike PunkBuster though. When it first caught on, it was coming up with a lot of false positives (including Fraps, geez c’mon) and the attitude at Even Balance has been if you don’t like PunkBuster then you must be a cheat. It goes right up there with the DRM methods that assume you’re a thief for running any drive virtualization.

    I for one, do not appreciate being locked out games I’m legitimately playing, either DRM or anti-cheating software.

    I was very glad when Valve developed their own VAC system and dumped PunkBuster. Valve has a vested interest in their games & customers, not becoming the Homeland Security of the games industry.

    IMHO, the answer to less cheating / exploiting within MMOs is in server-side control and encrypted network protocols. Unfortunately there’s a lot of overhead and less can be offloaded on clients, so that really limits mob AI for instance. But as long as the client is trusted, there will be cheats.

    Ultima Online was supposed to start using PunkBuster, but I think they changed their mind after Mythic took over UO.

  • Here’s a couple questions: You can only install the PC version 3 times, but I assume the Xbox version can’t only be played 3 times. Is this a move against PC gaming? Will Xbox players have to buy a “play credit” in a microtransaction every time past 3 that they want to play if they remove the CD from their box?

    Does Bioware even have the legal right to deprive me of my property after I use it 3 times? If so, are they lowering the price since I’m in effect only renting the game? Maybe I only want to buy the 1 install version and save $40…

  • As noted above Steam is a superb system that allows players to play their own games anytime on any computer and still protects the game developers against piracy. Unfortunately Steam’s prices are often dearer than buying a boxed copy of a game through retail. I don’t really understand why this. However there is a little known feature of steam that allows you to install boxed copies of games through steam even if you didn’t buy the game from them. I don’t know if they provide this service for all Steam supported games but I have done it for Prey and Dark Messiah. I got a discounted copy of the games from my local retailer and used the serial number to install them through Steam. I never had to take the dvd out of the box.

  • I HATE DRM and SecuRom crap. Not because of what I hear or what I fear but because of an experience I have had with it. Hellgate:London, and installation nightmare. First I got problems reading from the disc, then I got stuck on loading, then problems with going online. There were hundreds of the same complaints and they all rooted back to this crap. The solution is not is not to do this to existing customers game but check accounts!

  • @mbp:

    Yeah the feature of installing boxed games under Steam is limited, it doesn’t work with all games and only a small handful actually support a proper Steam install that would avoid any nasty additional DRM that comes from the discs.

    As for Steam’s prices being the same as retail… The retailers control the list price. EB / Gamestop & Walmart retain the ability to negotiate it with the publishers. Even Valve themselves, if they want their game sold through brick & mortar retail chains, have to give into this system.

    EB / Gamestop & Walmart would cry foul if digitally-distributed prices dipped lower than the boxed copies. They don’t have to even sue over the contractual list price, they can just pull the game from shelves early. Occasionally some publishers thumb their noses up at the retailers, but that’s pretty rare for new releases of big name games.

    The answer to getting the prices down lower on Steam, Direct2Drive or any other digital distribution is to support them more. As long as Pawnstop, er I mean Gamestop and Walmart are the top sellers for games, they will continue to control the prices.

    Price manipulations and leveraging shelf-space are not-so-closely-guarded dirty secrets within the games industry.

    Like a lot of things, speak with your dollars. =)

  • Hmm its why I use gamestop and metaboli and once in awhile steam for those really great games that the other two dont have or when steam gives out discounted prices. Must give it up to metaboli though still in misbelief that they have the witcher and both company of heroes games to play.

  • @Damen: Eww… that does sound like a nightmare. Hmm. Maybe if I hear about more people’s back experiences then I’ll skip the games with DRM.

  • The only thing I like about this is that it removes the need to have the disk in the drive. I absolutely hate having to swap out disks every time I want to play a game, and it’s part of why I play MMOs and other games that don’t require disks more than those that do. I have (literally) hundreds of disks cluttering up my office, I don’t want to have to go looking for one specific disk every time I want to play something.

    On the other hand, I would like to see them use an either/or system of DRM. Either ‘no disk and check the internet’ or ‘disk and valid key’. Although those without a reliable internet connection are few and far between in this day and age, they do still exist. What is the poor person who buys a SINGLE PLAYER game supposed to do when the game won’t validate their installation due to lack of internet?

    Finally, the limited installations thing is bullcrap. If the system is validating the key online there can only be one copy active at a time. Do they really need more than that? A hardcore, tech-savvy gamer probably reformats his/her hard drive every 6 months (most people are recommended to do it once per year). With a 3 installation limit that means after 1 year that person can no longer re-install the game. Essentially, this means the consumer is no longer buying software, they’re leasing it. And after a while the lease runs out and you have to re-lease it if you want to keep playing.

    I have games on my computer that have been re-installed 5-6 times, easy. But if after the 3rd installation I had to buy a new copy do you know what I’d do? I’d start looking for a cracked version.

    In the end, anti-pirating measures don’t work. Most people don’t pirate games, there’s no need and they want to support the games they like. Pirates tend to be unaffected by DRM, as they’re the hacker types that can get around anything developers can come up with anyway. DRM only hurts the hardcore customers, the ones who actually spend the most money in the first place. Sigh.

  • @Graktar

    I agree with using on or the other and although I hate CD swapping I hate SecuRom more. I also agree with the limited installations, even though you can supposably “renew” or “release” these keys online after the installation it is complete shit. If they were to do this with any game I play it would quickly become scrap.


    Here is thread related to Hellgate: London SecuRom problems, this may relate to other problems in general with games that use it. Very very buggy system.


  • Another issue I have is What Happens When They Turn Off Their Servers?

    Your game stops working when they no longer want you to play it. New version comes out, they can turn off the old validation servers. Company decides not keep that division around, they turn off the validation servers. Company just doesn’t care any more… Servers go off.

    Even if they *say* they won’t turn off the validation servers, you’re having to count on EA’s sense of fair play and integrity to let you play a game you ‘bought’. For years.

  • Well I’ll be…

    Good to see that people’s voices can be heard. Looks like Spore was saved from death’s grasp as well.