A New, Unpopular Philosophy

Stop me when you’ve heard this before: Gamers are up in arms over the copy protection scheme of a major publisher.

The tumult from the latest skirmish between warring gamers and publishers involves Spore, which limits the number of installs permitted to 3 before the user must contact EA to extend their license. Immediately gamers lined up their rhetorical catapults and fired salvo after salvo of familiar, flaming linguistic ballistics, rolling out all the hits: treating customers like criminals, it doesn’t do anything against piracy, boycott EA and so on.

Call it apathy. Call it selling out. Call it whatever you want, but try as I might, I simply can not find any enthusiasm for bubbling up my once white-hot animus. It’s not just that I don’t necessarily see anything extraordinarily troubling about EA’s security measures; it’s also that I just can’t muster the same gamer-rage that once seemed to come so easily. Feeling victimized by every perceived slight just isn't as appealing to me as it used to be.

Let me stress that I don’t fault those who experience trouble with restrictive DRM for speaking up. I just wonder how many of the people expressing outrage saw fire on the horizon and went running toward it with lighter fluid?

I appreciate the basic sentiment of gamers, misguided as I think it may be. But, when I think about my personal experience with recent anti-piracy efforts, I find it hard to recall it actually causing me any trouble. Oh, it’s not hard to imagine circumstances under which I could be inconvenienced, but when I measure that against the instances in which it actually happened, I come up blank.

I can count on one hand the number of games I’ve actually installed more than three times. So, if I look at how the Spore issue relates to me practically, then I am forced to concede that the likelihood of my having to ever extend my installations is extraordinarily small. And, should I ever have to make that call, I wonder how difficult a process that really is? I once had to do something similar for Windows. The process was painless and lasted a few minutes. So, I ask myself: is this a price I’m willing to pay if EA’s investors feel like the company is making meaningful anti-piracy efforts and by extension is willing to greenlight even more high-budget PC titles?

The more I release myself from the chains of hysterical hypotheticals, the more I find myself not really having a problem with it.

And, I think about the options that EA and other major publishers have. Piracy is a problem that companies can’t choose not to address. Arguments over the number of lost sales any degree of piracy represent or the effectiveness of anti-piracy efforts aren’t really the point. The real issue is that the company would be criminally negligent if it didn't make measurable efforts to protect the multi-million dollar investment they have in Spore.

You’re absolutely right; those who stand the largest likelihood of being inconvenienced are the legitimate consumers — saying nothing of how often that will actually happen or how difficult a problem that is to fix. Just once, though, I wouldn’t mind seeing the hivemind of gamer rage aimed at the people who actually put us in this position, the pirates. How likely that is to happen, I don't know. I suspect that most publishers have lost a good deal of faith on that question, which is perhaps why the PC has become such a diminished platform. Again, I think I’ll choose to not get worked up about things that are beyond my control.

It's not that I’m not trying to flip the blame on the self-labeled victims. I don’t believe that approach is any more productive than bombing EA with negative Amazon.com reviews. Those who want to get in a schoolyard brawl with the publishing giant are welcome to their dirty fights. Maybe they’ll even get the company to back down on Spore, winning a minor skirmish in the losing war against the inevitable. The problem is that gamers don't have much of a track record on the 'being practical about the realities of business' front. Beside the fact that our ability to participate in the industry debate has been completely dilluted as a result of our tacit approval of piracy, there are very few demonstrable instances where concessions to gamers haven't just resulted in further outrage. We aren't known for meeting in the middle.

So, I’m going to reserve what dry fumes of gamer rage I have left for problems that, for me, are actual rather than hypothetical. I’ll save my victimization for when Spore of Mass Effect actually leave me with no access to the content I paid for rather than suffering the many imagined ways such a thing might happen. I suspect that by the time the installation limitation is likely to be an issue, I will have no shortage of options on the table for either extending my license or circumventing EA’s anti-piracy measures.

These days I’m willing to spend hours re-installing my favorite old games. I’ll waste time scouring the internet for updated texture packs, old patches and homemade mods. If my time and $60 is so precious that I can’t accept that corporations have legal obligations to shareholders and a necessary interest in making efforts to limit the theft of their property, then I am comfortable with my choices of supporting different companies or finding a new past time.

That's the whole point. I have a choice. I can either wash myself in the venomous bath of voluntary outrage for a problem I will likely never have, or I can accept that the circumstances of the industry simply do not permit a major publisher the luxury of being lackadaisical with their investment. I can make the industry the villain for trying to protect its property, or I can make the thieves the villain for massive excesses and creating the combative climate. I can be furious about the vague problems of some unknown number of people, or I can realize that for me I will likely buy Spore, install it and play it without incident.

For me, the choice isn’t particularly complicated. It may make me a patsy, a sellout or an apologist. Fair enough, I can’t control those labels, but I can control the fact that while thousands of outraged gamers have signed petitions, fired off angry emails, posted furiously on message boards and drowned Spore with negative reviews, I was having a fun and hassle free experience playing the actual game.

In the immortal words of Miracle Max, “have fun stormin’ da castle.”

Comments

Oh, I'm sure there is DRM involved - but at least they are beginning to understand that digital media does not become obsolete, and people want to use it on any device they feel like.

Unfortunately, with DRM, they're building in a planned obsolescence. And it will have to be DAMN hard to crack, otherwise no one will go along with it. I think, though, that no matter how hard it is to crack, someone will get it. Hell, look at BD+, supposed to be uncrackable for at least a decade. 2 years later, AnyDVD cracks it wide open. And before the format can even gain a foothold on the market. No, it would have to be more tightly controlled than any DRM scheme to date. Meanwhile, while content is still available to the pirates, their efforts will continue to be undermined to the extreme. It's a useless war. And only one side is fighting.

nsmike wrote:
Oh, I'm sure there is DRM involved - but at least they are beginning to understand that digital media does not become obsolete, and people want to use it on any device they feel like.

Unfortunately, with DRM, they're building in a planned obsolescence. And it will have to be DAMN hard to crack, otherwise no one will go along with it. I think, though, that no matter how hard it is to crack, someone will get it. Hell, look at BD+, supposed to be uncrackable for at least a decade. 2 years later, AnyDVD cracks it wide open. And before the format can even gain a foothold on the market. No, it would have to be more tightly controlled than any DRM scheme to date. Meanwhile, while content is still available to the pirates, their efforts will continue to be undermined to the extreme. It's a useless war. And only one side is fighting.

You're correct - no DRM will ever last past becoming public. It's the perpetual motion machine of software. This is one of the things that really frustrates me about this debate. Very, very few people seem to understand that DRM is fatally flawed as a concept, not just a technology. DRM is based on encryption, and encryption is designed to defend two trusted parties against a third party attacker. When one of the trusted parties is the attacker, the whole system becomes unworkable. Everyone in the security world understands this, but companies like EA just ... don't ... get ... it.

I can not figure out how limiting install for users who paid for a game will stop piracy.

I upgrade my computer at once a year or so, and everyone knows with Windows, sometimes there is an error that just means- wipe and reinstall. Do that several times, and bam- your game does not work anymore- even when the physical media you have is ok.

So, then you have to wrangle with EA about the validity of your game. You know, I can understand Microsoft's chagrin and approach to this because it is an operating system. But at least with them, you can just say, "Yeh, one computer, updating everything..." and there is no issue.

It is totally like what they are saying at PA. Yeh, just turn us all into 'criminals' because we need cracks or keygens to remedy these issues.

That's a great business model! Right...

I upgrade my computer at once a year or so, and everyone knows with Windows, sometimes there is an error that just means- wipe and reinstall. Do that several times, and bam- your game does not work anymore- even when the physical media you have is ok.

You uh, may want to take a look at your hardware purchasing preferences and general security practices because this definitely never happens to me once a year. Hell, I can't think of a time it has happened ever, really. I mainly wipe and reinstall because I'm doing new hardware or whatever. But never arbitrarily, or because of some error.

Chief Wiggum wrote:

I can not figure out how limiting install for users who paid for a game will stop piracy.

Because it prevents me from handing the disc off to someone else to install.

Yes, instead you can just point them to Pirate Bay to download the game with ease.

Jayhawker wrote:

Because it prevents me from handing the disc off to someone else to install.

Huh. That also means you can't sell the game used after you've decided you don't want to play it any more. It's almost like Spore's DRM is more about shutting down the secondary market rather than piracy.

Al wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

Because it prevents me from handing the disc off to someone else to install.

Huh. That also means you can't sell the game used after you've decided you don't want to play it any more. It's almost like Spore's DRM is more about shutting down the secondary market rather than piracy.

I thought that was already dead.

At GameStop yes, not online by a long shot.

So this outrage is now moot, as EA has promised to patch in the ability to regain an install token, and de-authorize your PC when you uninstall:
http://multiplayerblog.mtv.com/2008/...

Relevant quote:

* Complaint: A legitimately bought copy of “Spore” can’t be activated on more than three different computers — ever.

EA Response: That will be changed, according to the EA spokesperson, who told Multiplayer that the current limit on the number of computers that can be associated with a single copy of “Spore” is “very similar to a solution that iTunes has. The difference is that with iTunes you can de-authorize a computer [that you no longer want associated with your iTunes content]. Right now, with our solution, you can’t. But there is a patch coming for that.” The official timeframe for that patch is “near future.”

Promising to patch out the DRM entirely would render the outrage moot. This is a step in the right direction (albeit one that could have and should have been taken in the first place) but it still doesn't prevent the future problem of what happens when EA decides to take the activation servers offline when Spore 2 nears release. Once again, if this is really about curbing piracy (which this has already epically failed to do) and not killing the used game market, why won't they commit to a time frame to remove the DRM entirely? The day they do that is the day I go straight out and buy Spore (well maybe not Spore given what I'm reading in reviews but definitely Red Alert 3.)

Patching out the DRM if the servers are no longer available is all well and good, but EA is still refusing to address the fact that some people have others in the household who want to play the game and would like to have their own accounts. Granted, they could just play under a different save file, but that nullifies the whole social aspect of Spore in that you're able to show off your creatures, your vehicles, and all of your things under one profile. The whole account information in the manual is certainly an odd thing to "misprint", and something tells me there wasn't full communication inside EA on the subject.

Al wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

Because it prevents me from handing the disc off to someone else to install.

Huh. That also means you can't sell the game used after you've decided you don't want to play it any more. It's almost like Spore's DRM is more about shutting down the secondary market rather than piracy.

Good point. Also, if they were just curious about shutting down piracy there are other, smarter ways to go about it. For one, have an uninstall contact the server so that it frees up another install-- making it a limit of 3 installs at a time, not just 3 installs. The game has to dial back to the game servers as part of it's DRM anyway, so can't see how this would be a major inconvenience to EA. Another method would simply be to only allow 1-3 accounts per copy of Spore. Players have accounts they sign in, so it's not like players are anonymous anyway.

Connecting install limits to active accounts, through either method, would only solve DRM- but would be a more positive PR way to go.

I always feel obligated to pimp Larry Lessig's TED talk whenever people argue about piracy or DRM

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/l...

So all that deauthorizing/authorizing is a bullsh*t minigame of sorts. An added bonus !

If I ever buy a game with this sort of protection, I am getting a crack for it on day one. F*ck that noise.

shihonage wrote:

So all that deauthorizing/authorizing is a bullsh*t minigame of sorts. An added bonus !

If I ever buy a game with this sort of protection, I am getting a crack for it on day one. F*ck that noise.

Getting a crack for it because you uninstall/install your games a lot? There are things you can do to avoid that.

nsmike wrote:
I upgrade my computer at once a year or so, and everyone knows with Windows, sometimes there is an error that just means- wipe and reinstall. Do that several times, and bam- your game does not work anymore- even when the physical media you have is ok.

You uh, may want to take a look at your hardware purchasing preferences and general security practices because this definitely never happens to me once a year. Hell, I can't think of a time it has happened ever, really. I mainly wipe and reinstall because I'm doing new hardware or whatever. But never arbitrarily, or because of some error.

QFT.
One of my gaming systems has been running the same Windows install for over 4 years now, through one hard drive failure, one memory upgrade, two video card upgrades, and two sound card changes. With no antivirus or antispyware 'protection' running on the system.

Not that I'm a Windows fanboi, either; I use Linux for most things other than gaming...

anyprophet wrote:

Getting a crack for it because you uninstall/install your games a lot? There are things you can do to avoid that.

That's not what I said, smartass.

shihonage wrote:
anyprophet wrote:

Getting a crack for it because you uninstall/install your games a lot? There are things you can do to avoid that.

That's not what I said, smartass.

You weren't specific enough so I made an assumption!

(sigh)

Q: Do I have to reauthenticate after the first time my game is launched?
A: Reauthentication is required only if you make significant changes to your PC's hardware, reformat your hard drive, or in some cases, upgrade your Operating System. Multiple installations of the game on the same computer do not count against the number of computers the game can be installed on.

Q: Am I able to play my game on more than one computer? Do I need the disc for that?
A: You'll be able to install and play your game on up to three computers without the need of the game disc. Your computer is authorized after installation and the initial launch of the game.

Q: What happens when I’ve reached the maximum number of computers for my game and I need more? (Due to computer upgrades, theft, crashes, etc.)
A: EA Customer Support is on hand to supply any additional authorizations that are warranted. This will be done on a case-by-case basis by contacting Customer Support.

Then:

* Complaint: A legitimately bought copy of “Spore” can’t be activated on more than three different computers — ever.

EA Response: That will be changed, according to the EA spokesperson, who told Multiplayer that the current limit on the number of computers that can be associated with a single copy of “Spore” is “very similar to a solution that iTunes has. The difference is that with iTunes you can de-authorize a computer [that you no longer want associated with your iTunes content]. Right now, with our solution, you can’t. But there is a patch coming for that.” The official timeframe for that patch is “near future.”

Retarded minigame with changing rules. Worrying about install tokens, hardware/OS upgrades, and deauthorization. Calling EA for "babysitting". Not the same as simple installing and uninstalling.

Given the recent context of the thread, my statement was quite clear. Reading is your friend.

I'm think I'm with Monsieur Sands on this one. This may have been said already, but I like the Walmart/airport metal detector analogy. It seems DRM is like those tags you get on games at the store. When they're done well you barely even notice they're there; you walk up to the counter, pay for your game and walk out.

However, if the counter staff aren't on the ball, you'll wind up setting off the alarms and being forced to display your proof of purchase to a burly man who's secretly hoping you've lost your receipt just so he can have the pleasure of throwing you out.

The way I see it, EA (and Ubisoft, and a bunch of other publishers') counter staff are incompetent, their alarms rather loud and obnoxious and their security guards the burliest of the burly men.

Is what they're doing wrong? I don't think so. Is they way they're doing it pretty shoddy? The customers seem pretty vociferous on that front.

Anyhoo, good article, I love a good argument

IMAGE(http://tf-2.fr/ach.php?a=Necromancer&b=Revive%20a%20thread%20that%27s%20been%20quiet%20for%20over%20a%20year.&c=0&d=5&e=1602&f=1)

Jayhawker wrote:

IMAGE(http://tf-2.fr/ach.php?a=Necromancer&b=Revive%20a%20thread%20that%27s%20been%20quiet%20for%20over%20a%20year.&c=0&d=5&e=1602&f=1)

Heh, guess I get:
IMAGE(http://tf-2.fr/ach.php?a=Mr.%20Magoo&b=Be%20unobservent%20enough%20to%20post%20in%20a%202%20year%20old%20thread%20while%20thinking%20you%20are%20posting%20on%20a%20new%20hot%20topic&c=u&e=900&f=2)

Edit: It's two years old, why the hell was this on the front page.

Actually, it's four years old.

Old articles rotate through the top spots. Kind of a greatest hits display.

The feed under them is always in chronological order.