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

If activation servers go down permanently assuming that the IP never gets picked up and assuming there is actually a respectable number of people still logging into the game then I'm pretty certain that a patch will be release that removes all activation requirements and it then becomes a stand alone game. If multiplayer like the BF series then people have private servers still running the last server version. It will still exist but no online login will be needed and stats won't be kept on some central database.

Of course the other alternative would be just close up shop and tell everyone who owns the game sorry but you're sh*t outta luck. Not like you can complain to a company that is dissolved.

TheGameguru wrote:
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?

An independent named .... (Let's not give credit for this sort of thing - Certis)

Dysplastic wrote:
TheGameguru wrote:
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?

An independent named ....

Its been defeated.. but its interesting to note that this isnt really a "crack" he managed to bypass the activation.

As everyone here should know by now, I'm one of those anti-DRM crusaders, so bear that in mind.

One of several reasons I did not buy BioShock was the DRM. I also did not buy Combat Mission: Shock Force because of its DRM. There is a certain segment of gamers (very small, granted, it might even be just me) that refuse to purchase or play DRM-encumbered games. Also note that I (and most other anti-DRM people) do not condone copying games, music, or movies in violation of their license.

We've recently seen how DRM ends. It's nothing but ugly. In short, when you use Steam or buy games that enforce DRM, that is what you are signing up for. Eventually, it will come. Promises that a company will eventually patch out the DRM? They are just that, promises. What if the company goes under? You think they are going to put development effort into a two year old game when they are bankrupt? Good luck.

There is simply no excuse for continuing the charade. DRM is nothing but counterproductive to the consumer, as witnessed by several people in this thread and the world over with the Sony rootkit debacle, the X-Box 360 issues with replacements, loss of iTunes files when a computer crashes, and other DRM nightmares that have been surfacing. It increases prices (how much did the Bioshock developers/producers/distributors pay for Securom?). No customer should ever tolerate it, and those that do are just asking for trouble.

In short, when you use Steam or buy games that enforce DRM, that is what you are signing up for. Eventually, it will come

Woot! so whats the good news again?

Sony rootkit debacle

It was bad.. but debacle? heh..

the X-Box 360 issues with replacements

Fixed.

loss of iTunes files when a computer crashes

You can usually get these back.. it takes a phone call or two but I'm not sure how DRM affects this aspect.. say for instance you purchased DRM free songs from Itunes and your PC crashed.. you'd still lose the files... or for that matter.. ANY file.

It increases prices (how much did the Bioshock developers/producers/distributors pay for Securom?).

$49 for the PC and $59 for the Xbox 360 seems about avg. price these days.

TheGameguru wrote:
In short, when you use Steam or buy games that enforce DRM, that is what you are signing up for. Eventually, it will come

Woot! so whats the good news again?

There isn't any for the people who buy and play games.

Sony rootkit debacle

It was bad.. but debacle? heh..

A Google search for "sony rootkit" + debacle returns 17,000 hits. Other choice words include "fiasco" and "scandal". Sony lost millions of dollars recalling CDs, dealing with fallout, a lawsuit, and tons of bad press. Yeah, I think debacle is the right word.

the X-Box 360 issues with replacements

Fixed.

For now. How about playing the game you purchased on another platform if you decide the Xbox 720 isn't for you? Oh, sorry. What about the next Xbox release? The one after that?

loss of iTunes files when a computer crashes

You can usually get these back.. it takes a phone call or two but I'm not sure how DRM affects this aspect.. say for instance you purchased DRM free songs from Itunes and your PC crashed.. you'd still lose the files... or for that matter.. ANY file.

Yes, but I can back up regular files, restore them, and they work again. You can't get back lost iTunes files unless you call them, though backups will theoretically work ... for a while, until you hit the copying limit.

It increases prices (how much did the Bioshock developers/producers/distributors pay for Securom?).

$49 for the PC and $59 for the Xbox 360 seems about avg. price these days.

Yes, that's a standard price. How much of it goes to SecuROM? Their site has no pricing, of course, but their FAQ says that the break-even point is a piracy rate of 1%. This seems to imply that SecuROM is priced on a per-unit basis, so a portion of the sale price (or of the profit?) on every box is going to SecuROM. I sure wish that money was going to the developers who made the game, instead of making their users angry.

Lets do some math. Lets say BioShock sells ten million copies at $50 each. Gross income of $500 million. That means the break-even point would be lost sales of ... five million dollars. Plus support costs. Plus the bad press and lost sales due to DRM. Do they really think they are losing 1% of their gross income to pirates? Apparently so.

And that leads us to the crux of the question - how do you estimate lost sales to piracy? That's a hard question, and one fraught with all kinds of FUD and partisan "research". Well, the only answer I can give them is that they lost at least one sale, due in part to DRM - me.

Wow.

I need a new witty gif image..

brb

TheGameguru 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?

1. Hell yes. I keep 99% of my games as resale value is virtually nil for pc games and I always have that lingering feeling that I will want to go back and play them one day. 50% of the time I probably do years later. Some a lot more than others. SS2, Fallout, Baldur's, Planescape etc etc. I keep all my music CDs, records etc. I have a great collection that I will never get rid of. Books, same thing. I do come back to these things quite a lot.

2. Then you are akin to throwing your money away. Fair enough, you may be in a position to do that, but others are more careful and wary of where their hard-earned ends up. God forbid people like me actually want something we buy to be permanently ours.

3. Yes!!! OK most public is the EA server outages... ok well not quite the same thing but close enough - anyone with half a brain cell knows that the majority of these drops is to make average college jo go out and buy the current episode of Madden 200x. Steam servers going down in the storms somewhat recently is another example.
You want a real example? I've got one which obviously people have forgotten about... Prey and Triton - their piss poor attempt at a steam clone which bit the dust a month or so after release leaving people who bought it NO WAY TO PLAY AT ALL (no patch, nada). Supposedly they ended up receiving boxed copies in the mail, if they wrote in to Triton etc - not really good enough.

Anyway, I'm all for copy protection a few weeks or even a couple of months after release of a game, but once the initial rush is over they SHOULD drop all the protection and let it be. I unfortunately won't go back and install Chaos Theory on my pc again to play it because of starforce and I paid for it. That is a shame, as it is supposed to be the best SC.

I have BioShock through steam, and my housemate uses my account to play it because he ordered a real copy and it hasn't arrived yet (haha the idiot) somehow though I don't think he'll open it and just sell it much to my chagrine. I am worried that steam has limited users, so far I have installed it on my Vista PC, and since then I upgraded my pc to an XP system which formatted the previous Vista installation... as there is no tool yet to uninstall properly I have legitimately lost one of my licenses without a trace and without choice. This I am appalled at. OK they have upped the limit to 5 but really that is still pathetic. Via steam there is no warning for this limited use system, there is no hinting at it going on and there is no way to uninstall. If I wasn't an avid game follower and reader of forums I would have no clue and I would've probably lost my 5 licenses by now across the pc's in my house testing out BioShock.

On a side note, I feel pretty stupid for not separating every game I buy on steam on separate accounts in case I want to sell/transfer them to someone else or something borks up and they kill my access to all my other games. I know a guy who's steam account was banned because he said f*ck in a support ticket email. The mod asked him to apologise and he did, and yet never got reactivated or replied to. Yay for the steam eula. He's done everything he can in recourse with no luck. Sucks to be him yes, but still... that is rediculous.

Hell yes. I keep 99% of my games as resale value is virtually nil for pc games and I always have that lingering feeling that I will want to go back and play them one day.
On a side note, I feel pretty stupid for not separating every game I buy on steam on separate accounts in case I want to sell/transfer them to someone else

Hmmm..

Yep. 99%, the other 1% would be Sin Episodes and Red Front OST. God I wish I didn't buy those. I would have sold them within 30 minutes of them being released if I could. Might've got some cash for it.

The clearest, and most concise explanation of why DRM won't ever work I've ever read.

Generally, I'm probably too understanding about the need for some form of DRM. Where I draw the line though is with companies locking out different family members on the same pc from something purchased.

There is an exchange today that got some press on kotaku between a (slightly immature) poster and 2k Tech that they've written up as Why should your brother play Bioshock for free? LINK

To save you multiple jumps, the summary post on 2k forums goes like this:

I installed Bioshock on my laptop under one admin user, Everything works fine, but I then tried to switch users on my computer and whenever I launch Bioshock it is asking me to enter my serial again for the game.... IS THIS GONNA CHARGE ME TWO OF MY 5 Activations?? IF SO THAT IS GAY.... I need to know this ASAP before I attempt to play this on my pc under the other user... THis is a bug if the case be....so get yo stuff fixed!

To which,

2k Tech JT writes:
The other way to view this, is one USER has purchased the game. Not the whole family. So why should your brother play for free?

Thats just bull. Its the same computer, same room, same family. There are other workarounds, like kid #1 sharing his login with his brother, but its a bit ridiculous.

XBOX DRM is similar, in the sense that there is no problem, until you got a hardware problem and then suddenly family members are segregated access wise to the full content until you work through it with MS.

I just think that its ridiculous to expect a family to buy seperate copies of the same game to register for different family members to be able to play at asynchronous times. If folks need to play simultaneously or together over multiple consoles on a LAN, sure.. everyone needs a copy. But for different accounts on the same pc or console... No way.

A better list of observations is in the original 2k thread

Irongut wrote:
2k Tech JT writes:
The other way to view this, is one USER has purchased the game. Not the whole family. So why should your brother play for free?

Thats just bull. Its the same computer, same room, same family. There are other workarounds, like kid #1 sharing his login with his brother, but its a bit ridiculous.

He didn't even mention that someone other than the purchaser tried to play. After all, it's often advised that you don't normally log in to your computer on an admin account unless you need to, such as for installing things that require it.

Heh.. its against the WoW TOS to even allow your brother or sister to use your account..

Irongut wrote:

A better list of observations is in the original 2k thread

Dude! Now there are two people who didn't buy BioShock at least partially because of the DRM.