DRM, Copy Protection Schemes and the Evils of Business

This is a topic that has had me a bit upset for awhile due to several different major issues that have cropped up. However, recently reading about the “two install” scheme from 2K Games regarding Bioshock and the recently changed scheme of “5 by 5”, I have to throw my arms in the air and ask, “WTF?”

For those not in the know, the shipping version of Bioshock for the PC will allow the game to be installed on up to two PCs. This alone isn’t a horrible thing, however these schemes generally work using a hash from various parts of your computer. When you upgrade components, a lot of these schemes break, thinking you are installing on a new PC. As a geek, I upgrade my computer fairly regularly. I’ve been burned by this in the past, personally, and know other who have as well. Perhaps 2K Games does not care if you play Bioshock in two years, but that alone seems rather short-sighted.

The new “5 by 5” scheme allows installation to 5 PCs, and a reinstall up to 5 times on those PCs. That’ll kick my ass immediately! I tend to reinstall my OS and games about every three months. Why? Well, because thee’s nothing quite like a freshly installed OS, clean desktop and better running PC. It’s the gamer-geek equivalent to rolling around in sheets fresh out of the dryer with the Snuggle sheets just having been removed. It’s wonderful. But much less so if at some point you can no longer install games you paid for even on the same damned computer.

My only possible assumption is that someone on the business side felt that money could be made or lost by restricting use of a game. While this is perhaps partially true, it also brings with it the plague of unhappy users, feeling the bane of protection schemes.

Though I have not yet been able to try it first hand, I wonder if the 360 version of the game can only be played on a single 360, or two, or five? Legitimate reselling of console games has to account for as much profit loss to the developers and publishers as does copying and such. Besides, in the end, anyone that is a gamer or is in the gaming business knows that there has yet to be a type of DRM or protection scheme that some vigilant cracker has not overcome. In the long run, it’s the people who KNOW such things exist and where to get them that are more likely to download and play pirated games. The people who don’t understand such things are the ones who ultimately buy their own copy anyhow, and often get burned by such schemes. Does this really seem good for business to anyone who thinks about it for more than a few minutes?

What was the last game that had a single-disc multiplayer offering? I thought that was a fair compromise. You install the game on one PC and install a game clone on a second. You put the CD in the first machine and as long as it hosts the game, the second machine may play along. I don’t recall seeing it anytime recently, but it was a novel approach to copy-controlling.

Of course, there are always copy protection schemes that are outright horrible, such as Starforce. I don’t recall even Sony’s Rootkit/Unlawful Redistribution DRM getting quite as much bad press as Starforce has. Starforce, in at least some iterations, has been known to compromise Windows security to make sure you don’t copy and play pirated games. Except it still doesn’t work (or rather there are still workaround). That sounds like a great customer service move. Of course Ubisoft has dumped them twice. The aforementioned Sony Rootkit on certain BMG label music CDs caused quite a commotion, not ONLY for installing a rootkit on your PC to prevent copying the music, but also because they used licensed code improperly in doing so.

“Hey, I know, we can use this code, unlawfully, to protect people from listening to our music, unlawfully”… I wish I could say it was only at Sony that such thoughts occur.

In the end, I tend to watch for such things. Games and music CDs that use copy protection such as this that can actively affect my systems are not purchased by me, EVER! When I hear of a game that does not have any copy protection or DRM at all, I almost always buy it, even if I’m not terribly interested, to financially support my cause. DRM isn’t really all that great for the content producer, but it is all too often problematic for the end user. How many CD copy protection schemes have made music CDs unplayable in certain CD players? Ugh! I just don’t understand why business types think potentially alienating the consumer is ever a good option.

If you’re reading this and you are one of those business types, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t.

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1 Comment

  1. I read with great interest above blog. The blog and various articles regarding BioShock mentions that the users are not happy with the fact that they cannot install the software on multiple machines. There is a new software copy-protection and anti-piracy solution from Byteshield http://www.byteshield.net that allow any number of installations, but limit how many activations are on at the same time.

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