How 2K Games And Bioshock Took Back The West

Anyone who minds about piracy is full of sh*t. Anyone who pirates your game wasn't going to buy it anyway! - Warren Spector

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/activation_0.jpg)

The same pirates who unleashed Tiger Woods 2008 on the illegal torrent scene before the game hit shelves have failed to do the same for one of the strongest contenders for 2007 game of the year. After over a week to hammer away at the copy protection, the PC version of Bioshock has yet to be cracked. The reasons why have stirred up old controversies and revealed what may be the beginning of the end for casual online piracy.

You may recall when Starforce, a copy protection scheme detested by paying customers and pirates alike, enjoyed a brief period in where it seemed like every PC game coming out of Europe was saddled with the invasive, unstable copy protection. The aptly named "Boycott Starforce" website cataloged problems caused by the software which primarily stemmed from the fact that Starforce installed a device driver on the customer's computer that slowly degraded system performance until it rendered the CD drive functionally useless. This also prevented games from loading and according to the site, caused catastrophic system crashes.

Even members of the Starforce team admitted the system was far from perfect. "The purpose of copy protection is not making the game uncrackable – it is impossible. The main purpose is to delay the release of the cracked version," said JM, a Starforce admin on the official forums. "After several months of sales even we recommend the publishers to release patches that remove the copy protection just to make the game play more comfortable to the customers."

If the choice is either copy protection that is so invasive legitimate customers spark online revolts, or so easy anyone can snatch your game with a few clicks on their favorite torrent site, what is a publisher to do?

2K Games has set a new precedent by requiring the user to activate their game online before allowing them to play. Unlike a Windows Vista or XP install, you can't pick up the phone to activate your key. Never have we seen a publisher require this extra step for a single-player only title. It's assumed in multiplayer games like Battlefield 2 or World of Warcraft that you aren't going to get around needing to login to a central server and verify legitimate CD key before you can play. Until now, we were also safe in assuming we could skip that step for a game that wouldn't otherwise require a net connection at all.

This added activation step has seemingly frozen game-cracking pirates in their tracks. But before the corks cleared the Champaign bottles at 2K Games, user complaints began flooding in regarding the two activations limit. Customers who had to reinstall the game after issues or upgrades were angry at the prospect of being locked out from a game they own. While uninstalling was supposed to add one activation back, it wasn't working. 2K has since come forward and increased the activations to five per copy, and promised a "revoke activation" tool to remove a computer's clearance to play the game so it can be transferred to another.

The publisher seems to have taken a "better to ask for forgiveness" approach and gradually given the user back some measure of control over their own software. The precedent will remain, however. A big budget, single-player PC game has required activation and by all accounts, it's working. The game is flying off shelves, the reviews are stellar and reports of Starforce levels of computer issues have been minimal so far.

This may be the first real strike against pirates in some time that actually slows them down without completely alienating paying customers. Even if they were to crack the game today, the damage has already been done. The lure of getting the game first has come and gone, leaving casual pirates who enjoy downloading games from their favorite sites left choosing between patience and spending their money. Even the most hardcore, savvy game pirates have little recourse short of buying the game or, oddly enough, modifying their Xbox 360. In an interesting switch, the Xbox 360 version of Bioshock was hacked and made available for download on major torrent sites on release day.

What's significant here is that a console version has been cracked while the PC version remains elusive. The more examples we see of PC games slowing down piracy efforts significantly, the more likely publishers are to take a second look at the PC as a safe, viable platform to sell to. Even though adding complexity to the install and game launching process increases the chance of problems, ensuring that a majority of players paid for the privilege is probably worth the extra trouble.

On the other hand, requiring more hoops to jump through always runs the risk of alienating customers and causing the sort of coding arms race that brought us "solutions" like Starforce. History would suggest that this will eventually be the case; few schemes can withstand the onslaught of hundreds of programmers fighting to crack your game for fun and profit. Once that happens we're right back to square one and legitimate customers will pay the price in money spent and time wasted trying to make things work.

The question remains the same for gamers. How much control are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of a healthy gaming market? Even console makers are forcing users to consider this with their handling of digital downloads. Sony has already made a move to prevent users from downloading Warhawk to multiple machines as a way of sharing the game by locking it to the PSN account that made the purchase. The collateral damage in this case are friends and family who share the same console and want to play on their own account. The Xbox 360 also has issues with DRM, replacements and multiple users accessing content.

It's a mess. All we can say for sure right now is that online activation is working for Bioshock and it's only the beginning.

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

I never really give that much weight to the 1000 or so forum nerds that scream bloody murder about these things.. since to them EVERYTHING is a disaster.. take the official WoW forums.. you'd think the game was a broken horrible mess with 1000 subscribers if you read those forums.

In one fell swoop you manage to insult everyone who offered intelligent counter-points in this thread and shut down any further intelligent discussion with you. Well done.

rabbit wrote:
I think this always comes down to degrees. Do you think that if they released bioshock literally into the wild -- just bits on a DVD, no copy protection whatseover, that not a single person who bought the game last week would have just borrowed and copied their friends instead?

This is a point well taken rabbit but think of it this way: How many people are going to lend their copy of BioShock for 360 to their friends? Sure, their friends can't copy it without a massive headache but they are still playing the game and not paying for it. The activation system on the PC side is theoretically supposed to stop this kind of thing (and it doesn't because whoever you lend the game to just has to uninstall it to get the activation back) but nothing about how any console functions prevents this. What about multiple people renting and playing the game from a video store that only bought that copy once? What about the people who will buy it used in a month? That used sale doesn't net Take-Two any more money. This is why I have a problem with this kind of activation, especially when the game is multi-platform. There's still a plethora of ways you can play it without paying for it or at least, without paying the publisher for it. Anyone who is determined to play this game without paying for it will find a way. Meanwhile, those who happily opened their wallets for BioShock met with the issues mentioned above. When console game distribution goes fully digital, I'm really curious to see how things will work then.

As far as releasing the title "into the wild", how did Oblivion do? What about Company of Heroes or Dark Crusade or Supreme Commander? All these were either released with no protection whatsoever (Oblivion had a disc check yes but you could copy the DVD and it would work) and in Supreme Commander's case, the protection was stripped out in less than a month because it was causing user headaches. All of these games were profitable as far as I've read and in the case of Oblivion, a runaway hit. If people like the game, they'll buy it. If they don't want to buy it, they'll never buy it.

Pretty much like they work now, no second hand market.

I know a lot of people say 'If it's worth the money then I'll go out and buy it' when they pirate a game, but in my experience about 90% of those people never do, even if they get 50+ hours of entertainment out of it. It's way too easy to justify it to yourself and others with vagaries like that, but in reality hardly anyone holds to them.

rabbit wrote:
I think this always comes down to degrees. Do you think that if they released bioshock literally into the wild -- just bits on a DVD, no copy protection whatseover, that not a single person who bought the game last week would have just borrowed and copied their friends instead?

Because unless you truly believe that, then this all comes down to edge cases -- how much is enough to keep my buddies from copying something and ponying up money they do have, and will spend on games. But how much is so much that they actually LOSE sales because people read some rant on the net and then choose not to buy.

So which is it? Do you believe 2K would make as much or more money with NO protection whatsoever?

As I said above it's an arms race, you have to have enough to compete but too much risks annihilation (screwing legit customers out of playing the game). What I take exception to is the idea that this time the latest escalation in the arms race will truly make us safe. This time we're safe.

I remember way back in the day, I bought EA's Seven Cities of Gold. I booted it up in the 5 1/4 inch floppy on my IBM PC (not a clone like Compaq), and it wouldn't work. The EA logo would show up, and then it would go into an infinite loop. I ended up taking the game and my computer back to the computer store I bought the game. We tried it there over and over again with no success. We booted the floppy on 2-3 other PC's they had on the floor, and it worked each time on them. They even went so far as opening another copy of the game for me to try. It did not work either.

They eventually gave me my money back.

Problems with copy protection have been around since the beginning. Some people have problems, most don't. Those that don't enjoy the game, those that do (or hate the fact that copy protection schemes are even attempted) are the vocal group.

Certis wrote:
I never really give that much weight to the 1000 or so forum nerds that scream bloody murder about these things.. since to them EVERYTHING is a disaster.. take the official WoW forums.. you'd think the game was a broken horrible mess with 1000 subscribers if you read those forums.

In one fell swoop you manage to insult everyone who offered intelligent counter-points in this thread and shut down any further intelligent discussion with you. Well done.

But Certis, everything is a disaster!

That might just be the cynicism and depression talking, though.

Sorry posted in wrong thread by accident. So many Bioshock threads, getting confused.

Oh and to support both sides... "I hate Bioshock!" and "I LOVE Bioshock!"

There giving both sides support.

Certis wrote:
I never really give that much weight to the 1000 or so forum nerds that scream bloody murder about these things.. since to them EVERYTHING is a disaster.. take the official WoW forums.. you'd think the game was a broken horrible mess with 1000 subscribers if you read those forums.

In one fell swoop you manage to insult everyone who offered intelligent counter-points in this thread and shut down any further intelligent discussion with you. Well done.

not this place goofball.. official forums.

Edwin wrote:
Activation server died and those who got the game early were locked out of their game that they purchased till someone said it was ok to play it. Even those who bought it on steam had the activation issue.

Ahh gotcha.. yeah that would suck.. I pretty much knew that this would happen.. but just figured it would be isolated to STEAM.. these people simple never know how to load balance.. even the biggest and the best still cant figure it out.

I mean look at Amazon.. their site goes down all the time from people hammering it when there is some deal or something.

It goes back to network topology.. I've looked at so many companies and they'll have redundancy everywhere.. but for whatever reasons theres always one point of single failure in every design I look at.

So, what happens in a few years when the activation server is no longer there? Or if the company goes bankrupt? Should all of us gamers stand by and watch a company just cut off the ability for you to install the software that you pruchased legally?

Hopefully in a year or two they will drop all of the DRM so that someone can use the software ten years from now.

Mayfield wrote:
So, what happens in a few years when the activation server is no longer there? Or if the company goes bankrupt? Should all of us gamers stand by and watch a company just cut off the ability for you to install the software that you pruchased legally?

Hopefully in a year or two they will drop all of the DRM so that someone can use the software ten years from now.

You play it on Gametap?? I'm not sure what to say about this argument that people bring up lots of times.. couple things..

1. Do people really keep their software for 10 years?! I'm lucky to keep a CD of anysort for 2 years.. let alone 10!
2. I never buy something today worrying about it 10 years from now.. 10 years!! man I wonder what next week will bring.. or hell tommorow. 10 years??"
3. Is there a precident to worry about this? Has this happened in the past to create this issue?

TheGameguru wrote:
You play it on Gametap??

QFT

TheGameguru wrote:
Mayfield wrote:
So, what happens in a few years when the activation server is no longer there? Or if the company goes bankrupt? Should all of us gamers stand by and watch a company just cut off the ability for you to install the software that you pruchased legally?

Hopefully in a year or two they will drop all of the DRM so that someone can use the software ten years from now.

You play it on Gametap?? I'm not sure what to say about this argument that people bring up lots of times.. couple things..

1. Do people really keep their software for 10 years?! I'm lucky to keep a CD of anysort for 2 years.. let alone 10!
2. I never buy something today worrying about it 10 years from now.. 10 years!! man I wonder what next week will bring.. or hell tommorow. 10 years??"
3. Is there a precident to worry about this? Has this happened in the past to create this issue?

Every once in awhile i'll loan out or even load up an old game from my box-o-games. which has boxes back to at least Doom and some old disks of games i tried to design.

Do i think about it when purchase a game? No.

I do worry about not being able to do an install over a certain number of times since i have multiple systems and there's been times when i've shuffled around the hardware on them.

Mayfield wrote:
So, what happens in a few years when the activation server is no longer there? Or if the company goes bankrupt? Should all of us gamers stand by and watch a company just cut off the ability for you to install the software that you pruchased legally?

In regards to Bioshock, Levine has stated several times that the activation will be eventually patched out.

Guru wrote:
1. Do people really keep their software for 10 years?! I'm lucky to keep a CD of anysort for 2 years.. let alone 10!
2. I never buy something today worrying about it 10 years from now.. 10 years!! man I wonder what next week will bring.. or hell tommorow. 10 years??"
3. Is there a precident to worry about this? Has this happened in the past to create this issue?

I actually fired up Starflight 2 a couple of years back from my box o' games. Had to tweak like hell (like disabling the L2 cache) to get it to even work, but it was possible. System Shock 2 is 8 years old now, and you have to jump through some hoops to get it to run on XP, but it can be done. How many people on this site ran through Shock 2 again over the summer in anticipation for Bioshock? Quite a few.

You'd have a point with, "Nobody plays old games," if we were talking about Barbie Horse Adventures or something similarly crappy, but I could easily see wanting to take another run through Rapture in 2012 after it'd sat on a shelf for a few years. Currently, my only hope is that there will be a cracked/fixed exe out there that will enable me to sidestep the activation. I have no doubt there will be.

I guess I'm trying to say, it's a valid concern, but I don't think we'll have anything to worry about.

buzzvang wrote:
Guru wrote:
1. Do people really keep their software for 10 years?! I'm lucky to keep a CD of anysort for 2 years.. let alone 10!
2. I never buy something today worrying about it 10 years from now.. 10 years!! man I wonder what next week will bring.. or hell tommorow. 10 years??"
3. Is there a precident to worry about this? Has this happened in the past to create this issue?

I actually fired up Starflight 2 a couple of years back from my box o' games. Had to tweak like hell (like disabling the L2 cache) to get it to even work, but it was possible. System Shock 2 is 8 years old now, and you have to jump through some hoops to get it to run on XP, but it can be done. How many people on this site ran through Shock 2 again over the summer in anticipation for Bioshock? Quite a few.

You'd have a point with, "Nobody plays old games," if we were talking about Barbie Horse Adventures or something similarly crappy, but I could easily see wanting to take another run through Rapture in 2012 after it'd sat on a shelf for a few years. Currently, my only hope is that there will be a cracked/fixed exe out there that will enable me to sidestep the activation. I have no doubt there will be.

I guess I'm trying to say, it's a valid concern, but I don't think we'll have anything to worry about.

Hmm.. but you just stated you had success playing old games.. so why the concern?? Sounds like it wasnt a problem.. so why do you believe it will be in 10 years with Bioshock?

buzzvang wrote:
Currently, my only hope is that there will be a cracked/fixed exe out there that will enable me to sidestep the activation. I have no doubt there will be.

Podunk wrote:
In regards to Bioshock, Levine has stated several times that the activation will be eventually patched out.

Just to prove I'm not making it up.

Ken F*cking Levine wrote:
We will unset the online activation at some point in the future – we're not talking about when. This activation is for the early period of the game when it's really hot and there are people really trying to find ways to play the game without buying it.

So everyone can just stop worrying about 10 years from now, okay?

Guys, I was just playing Devil's Advocate. Right now all we have is a promise from Levine that it will be patched out, and/or faith that the pirates will eventually get around it. I feel confident that one or both will happen, so I don't personally think there is anything to worry about, but as it stands at this moment, if the status of the game after install were to never change from here on out, then it will not be playable after a few years. I'm just saying that Mayfield has a point, if Levine doesn't deliver on his promise or a "fixed" exe is never released. That's all I'm saying. No need to f*cking curse at me Podunk.

Hmm.. but you just stated you had success playing old games.. so why the concern?? Sounds like it wasnt a problem.. so why do you believe it will be in 10 years with Bioshock?

Way to miss the point. Those old games didn't require an activation server to run in perpetuity in order to install and run them. Hopefully, as Podunk has pointed out, neither will Bioshock. Again, just for the record, I have no doubt that I will be able to play Bioshock on my aging desktop with my teenage brat of a son in 2020. Because for god's sake, I hope they've made a co-op mod by then.

rabbit wrote:
TheGameguru wrote:
You play it on Gametap??

QFT

And for people not in North America?

[edit]
Actually this issue is getting to be more of a problem aside from all the other issues. With the laws of America being applied outside of America on purchases through steam and other online systems even though we pay extra tax for our copies of games through those services (the steam version of Bioshock ended up costing me £10 more than if i'd bought it in the shops here).... or us being denied content due to restrictions (eg. Xbox live).... The entertainment industry is dividing into a have and have-not split with America always having, Japan having a lot too (because that's where the providers are located) and the rest of the world being left out in the cold because of archaic licensing techniques.

I read somewhere that gametap was supposedly coming to europe before the end of 2008 but what will be on there?

With regards to the 10 year issue, i still play through games that are 6+ years old: Jedi knight or Half Life... etc. Why do you think that VC and XBLA have had such good sales values? Surely everyone should have these games by now? - several times over.... People will always want to play good games...and why should they pay more than once to do so?

TheGameguru wrote:
Edwin wrote:
Activation server died and those who got the game early were locked out of their game that they purchased till someone said it was ok to play it. Even those who bought it on steam had the activation issue.

Ahh gotcha.. yeah that would suck.. I pretty much knew that this would happen.. but just figured it would be isolated to STEAM.. these people simple never know how to load balance.. even the biggest and the best still cant figure it out.

I mean look at Amazon.. their site goes down all the time from people hammering it when there is some deal or something.

It goes back to network topology.. I've looked at so many companies and they'll have redundancy everywhere.. but for whatever reasons theres always one point of single failure in every design I look at.

The steam version still uses SecureROM. Steam just delivers the files to your hard drive.

TheGameguru wrote:
Mayfield wrote:
So, what happens in a few years when the activation server is no longer there? Or if the company goes bankrupt? Should all of us gamers stand by and watch a company just cut off the ability for you to install the software that you pruchased legally?

Hopefully in a year or two they will drop all of the DRM so that someone can use the software ten years from now.

You play it on Gametap?? I'm not sure what to say about this argument that people bring up lots of times.. couple things..

1. Do people really keep their software for 10 years?! I'm lucky to keep a CD of anysort for 2 years.. let alone 10!

PC games that I still own a CD rom for, and still get to work:

X-Com UFO defence (The windows version); Pub date: 1995
Fallout 2; Pub date: 1999?
Baldurs gate; Pub date: 1997
Planescape:torment; Pub date: 1998?
Starcraft; Pub Date: 1998
Jagged Alliance 2; Pub Date: 1999?

So yes it is a legit question. If these companies had the DRM that Bioshock has I would never be able to install these again.

2. I never buy something today worrying about it 10 years from now.. 10 years!! man I wonder what next week will bring.. or hell tommorow. 10 years??"

If this game is truly as good as everyone is raving about, then why not ask this question?

3. Is there a precident to worry about this? Has this happened in the past to create this issue?

No idea, I know of EA shutting down verification servers, but those are multiplayer games not single player.

Podunk wrote:
In regards to Bioshock, Levine has stated several times that the activation will be eventually patched out.

That is all I needed to hear. Thank you Podunk.

So yes it is a legit question. If these companies had the DRM that Bioshock has I would never be able to install these again.

Hmm.. really? why not? I'm not exactly sure what is it about the DRM on Bioshock that would prevent you from installing them again say in 10 years.

TheGameguru wrote:
So yes it is a legit question. If these companies had the DRM that Bioshock has I would never be able to install these again.

Hmm.. really? why not? I'm not exactly sure what is it about the DRM on Bioshock that would prevent you from installing them again say in 10 years.

He's saying if the activation servers went away (Such as how EA handles their online servers..not DRM related, but still an example.)

Podunk wrote:

Ken F*cking Levine wrote:

You're gonna give the guy a complex, make him think he's William Fng Shatner.

Podunk wrote:

Ken F*cking Levine wrote:
We will unset the online activation at some point in the future – we're not talking about when. This activation is for the early period of the game when it's really hot and there are people really trying to find ways to play the game without buying it.

So everyone can just stop worrying about 10 years from now, okay?

I'd like to know how you can unset the activation on a copy of the game bought today that out-of-the-box requires activation. No matter what they do, if the activation server goes down, you're f*cked unless you bought the game AFTER they remove the activation from the actual disc it installs from.

shihonage wrote:
Podunk wrote:

Ken F*cking Levine wrote:
We will unset the online activation at some point in the future – we're not talking about when. This activation is for the early period of the game when it's really hot and there are people really trying to find ways to play the game without buying it.

So everyone can just stop worrying about 10 years from now, okay?

I'd like to know how you can unset the activation on a copy of the game bought today that out-of-the-box requires activation. No matter what they do, if the activation server goes down, you're f*cked unless you bought the game AFTER they remove the activation from the actual disc it installs from.

You could patch it ahead of time.. run that setup.exe that overrides the existing..

Dr.Ghastly wrote:
TheGameguru wrote:
So yes it is a legit question. If these companies had the DRM that Bioshock has I would never be able to install these again.

Hmm.. really? why not? I'm not exactly sure what is it about the DRM on Bioshock that would prevent you from installing them again say in 10 years.

He's saying if the activation servers went away (Such as how EA handles their online servers..not DRM related, but still an example.)

Ahh gotcha.. true.. one assumes though that in this day and age the company wouldnt just dissolve.. the IP's would be to valuable so they'd get acquired by someone.. who in theory could still run activation servers 10 years from now.

It got cracked today. A private site of Ill repute that I know of from less savory times has it confirmed as working. Still, I think and hope that the copy protection was enough to deter all but the most determined pirates.

Dysplastic wrote:
It got cracked today. A private site of Ill repute that I know of from less savory times has it confirmed as working. Still, I think and hope that the copy protection was enough to deter all but the most determined pirates.

What group cracked it?