Posted by Ben Zeigler on August 4, 2010
I’ve been pretty critical of game companies using DRM before, but today’s article from Gamasutra points out another reason to stop trying. Uniloc, who is a DRM provider, is suing Activision, Sony, and Aspyr for patent infringement. The patent in question, “System for Software Registration” was filed in 1993 and has been the focus of a large amount of previous litigation. A jury awarded Uniloc $388 million in a suit against Microsoft (currently in appeal) over the exact kind of infringement being discussed. Macromedia (another DRM provider) settled with Uniloc over the same patent. As far as patent law goes, that’s a pretty strong case for it being valid. And considering Uniloc is a company built around intellectual property protection I would not expect them to stop enforcing this patent any time soon.
So, what is actually patented by Uniloc? I’m no patent lawyer so the following should under no circumstances be treated as anything vaguely resembling legal advice. The key seems to be the ability to generate a “digital fingerprint” of a particular machine and use that to authorize a limited number of product activations. It also heavily mentions demo vs. authorized mode (a concept I’m sure I saw in hundreds of shareware products prior to 1993). In broad terms it can be interpreted to apply to any form of DRM/copy protection that provides a unique license unlock that is only valid for one physical machine.
Not only is DRM that ties a purchased product to a specific machine actively user hostile (I’ve played my steam games on multiple computers over the years legitimately), it is legally risky. When you add to it how pointless it is, it’s hard to see how a responsible game publisher would consider such DRM to be a good investment.
Posted in Game Development | Tagged: drm, patent | 1 Comment »
Posted by Ben Zeigler on March 5, 2010
It’s been more than a year since the last time I bitched about DRM, but things sure haven’t gotten better. The latest, and worst to date, offender is now Ubisoft. For the forseeable future, all Ubisoft PC games will come complete with the most restrictive DRM to date: internet connectivity is required 100% of the time for a strictly single player game with no multiplayer, or even stat tracking, abilities. Personally, this means there is 0 chance of me buying Assassin’s Creed 2 PC, Settlers 7 (last 2 sucked anyway) or other PC Ubisoft games. My internet just went down for about an hour tonight (thanks Comcast), and during that time period I played several single player PC games, because that’s EXACTLY what I want to do when my internet is down. When it’s up I tend to play games with online features.
Ubisoft lost the war on piracy at the exact point they called this an anti-piracy measure. Compare Ubisoft’s approach to what EA is trying with Command and Conquer 4. EA has gone on the record as saying that C&C 4 requires a constant internet connection, but they’ve been very consistent in stating that this is explicitly to add extensive player progression and stat tracking abilities. It also “so happens” to have the exact same anti-piracy effect as Ubisoft’s system, but in a much less insulting package. Players pick up on the increased respect shown by this attitude, and as a consequence I haven’t seen any press or fan uproar over C&C 4. We’ll see if that changes when it launches in a few days.
Oh, and how successful has Ubisoft been at stopping piracy? Early indications are pretty poorly. I haven’t confirmed the crack personally (I refuse to buy them, and I haven’t pirated anything since being a poor college student), but I’ve heard multiple personal reports of Silent Hunter 5 being cracked within a day of release. Apparently they didn’t even need to use a server emulator, which will almost certainly be required to crack C&C 4. My guess is that the online activation stuff was tacked on to Silent Hunter at a late stage of production and against the wishes of the developers. No developer wants to deal with an external system that is only designed to make their lives harder, so there is almost certainly some code hanging around in the Silent Hunter binary to do local disk saves. The pirates probably just found it and hooked it up.
Ubisoft’s anti-piracy scheme is explicitly an add on, and is also said to use “extremely limited bandwidth”. Together that means that the server can’t really be doing anything interesting. It’s going to be hackable. Guaranteed. Much like the last 8 times companies tried, Ubisoft has irritated casual users, enflamed the hardcore who spread word of mouth, and taunted the pirates. That tends to not end well.
Posted in Game Development | Tagged: assassin's creed 2, Command and Conquer 4, drm, ea, piracy, settleres 7, ubisoft | 3 Comments »
Posted by Ben Zeigler on September 11, 2008
I posted earlier this year about EA’s DRM schemes for Mass Effect and Spore. Originally, it featured a limit of 3 activations and constant online checks. Later, the constant online checks were removed, but the 3 activation limit was left in. At the time, I thought EA was doing a good job of responding to customer/press demands, and that the issue would die down.
I was apparently completely wrong. A lot of PC gamers are apparently still very upset about the 3 activation limit, and have made themselves clear on the Amazon page. Many people have skeptically said that this is a campaign by software pirates, or some sort of stunt started by SA goons or 4chan. I haven’t been able to find any evidence of this (please post if you know what started the protest), and it’s clearly taken on a life of it’s own. The last time I looked there were about 500 1 star reviews, but there are now around 2000 one-star reviews on Amazon that are complaining about the DRM, and 5000 people have positively voted on the highest-ranked one-star review. This is a lot of customers and potential customers that care about the issue, and I don’t think EA should really be ignoring them. This is also a fairly effective method of online protest, and must be having some sort of effect on Spore’s Amazon sales (although it is still selling well).
I can see why the DRM in Spore is getting more of a public outcry than the DRM in Mass Effect was. Mass Effect is a single player, linear experience, with a max of 20-30 hours of gameplay. Once you finish it, there’s no really compelling reason to go back to it a few years later. On the other hand, Spore is designed as a very replayable experience with deep customization. It’s exactly the kind of game you may want to break out in a few years to play through again. With a 3-activation limit, you basically won’t be able to without begging EA. Many players, including me, don’t like the thought of begging a company to let them play a game they paid $50 for. EA’s recent reaction hasn’t been too heartening, but we’ll see if this public protest makes them rethink things.
Posted in Game Culture, Game Development | Tagged: business, drm, ea, masseffect, spore | 3 Comments »