Games, Pirates and DRM Schemes

I’m a PC gamer. I love RTS games and the keyboard/mouse input. I have an Xbox 360 with Xbox Live but I rarely to never use it and I will be canceling my subscription after it runs out at the end of the year.

For the most part I game on Windows. I pay for all of my games. Generally I purchase my games via Impulse from Stardock, but I do use Steam occasionally too. I like Impulse better for many reasons, but I’ll talk more about that in a later post. For now, as the title indicates, I would like to talk about DRM schemes that infest many games that are out there and that I play.

There are some DRM schemes that I really don’t mind. CD keys are one method. This doesn’t really apply to games purchased off of digital distribution platforms, but it deserves a mention. This method doesn’t install unwanted software and therefore will not disrupt my system. CD checks are annoying, but I can look past it. What I mean by a CD check is that the game will check the CDROM for the original game CD and refuse to start the game if the CD is not there. I have been guilty of using NOCD hacks to get past this.

Of course the meat of this post is going to revolve around the more intrusive DRM schemes like Securom. For the uninitiated, Securom is a program that runs completely separate from the game that can check for things like if you are online, how many times you’ve activated the game, and store whatever information about your computer it wants offsite.

Many users have complained about unwanted Securom side-effects including, but not limited to disabling applications like Nero Burning Rom and Daemon Tools, and disabling the write capabilities of some DVD drives. Later versions of Securom actually installs itself at the kernel level of Windows and in some cases has caused system instabilities or even rendered systems completely unbootable, necessitating a reformat.

At best, a program like Securom does what it’s supposed to do, and say, will only let you play a game while online, or will stop you from activating the game after 5 installs (the number of current installs would in this case be stored offsite in a database somewhere else. Which is kind of humorous if it was Securom that necessitated the reformat/reinstall in the first place).

The 5 (or what ever number) install limit I can forgive to an extent. EA Games is famous for using this one. But if you do need to go past this limit a call to customer service will reactivate it for you, and I think EA did actually release a small app that will also reactivate it for you.

A game that will only let you play while online, such as Ubisoft’s Assasin’s Creed 2 is particularly maddening to me, especially since this game is single player only! It’s insane to me that Ubisoft can’t imagine a scenario where someone might want to play this game offline! No one there has brought a laptop with them on a flight?

The real crazy thing about this is that it hasn’t stopped the piracy of the game. And of course the pirated copies of the game have Securom removed and it plays fine without an internet connection. It’s this sort of thing that puts us honest people in a bit of a predicament. If I shell out my hard-earned money for the game, I have to play a crippled version of it, and feel like a chump. I could download the game using a file-sharing network and play it where I want when I want (for free), but have to live with that nagging feeling inside telling me that I shouldn’t be playing.

So what is an honest person to do? I could buy the game and just use the cracked copy to play it. But that is just as maddening to me. If I’ve shelled out my money, I shouldn’t have to waste my bandwidth on getting it a second time. The other choice (the one I opted for in the case of Assasin’s Creed) is to just not buy the game, and forget about playing it.

I can’t help but wonder how long these DRM schemes can possibly continue to live as a successful business model. In my above example, it hasn’t stopped the theft of the game, and lost a paying customer–the exact opposite of the model’s intent.

On the upside, there are companies cropping up that will not use any DRM in their software and make really good games. Ironclad is one, who’s Sins of a Solar Empire won awards. Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock (publisher of SoaSE) has spoken at length of the fallacy of DRM schemes, how they really only hurt the paying customer and do nothing to actually prevent piracy.

I actually bought SoaSE purely on those merits and ended up with one of the best RTS games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing!


About Alan Stryder

Just an opinionated cable guy.
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