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Digital Rights Management Or Why Pc Gaming Is Screwed

Now, before I go on a tirade against DRM, I'm going to say a few words. I'm 100% for the game companies profiting off their games. After all, that's why they're a company. If someone managed to code a DRM that punished only pirates and did not even activate for a legit purchaser, I'd be 100% behind it. However, that is not the case....so here I am, ranting about it. O, and just in case you're looking for a reason to flame me or report me: This is my opinion on DRM. It has nothing to do with piracy itself, nor is it condoning or condemning piracy. It's merely lambasting the software publishers tend to use to prevent such.

Ahem...now for the normally scheduled tirade. Sit back, crack open a beer and enjoy

DRM is not a new invention. It's been around for only about a week or two less than commercial software. In days gone by, it used to be a simple matter of a disk check. Back then, the internet sucked too much to download a program, so the only real way to get it was to copy a buddy's disk. Simple code to check for an original disk = pirate foiled, only a hardcore programmer could actually pirate a game. Or a brave soul buying it from a vendor that also offers crack cocaine and handguns with no serials...

But as time went by and the ease of downloading increased, software companies, and in paticular game publishers, had to get a bit creative. No longer is a CD check ample protection, as a cracked .exe is usually under 20 megs. Even on my pretty low-end highspeed, with a peak download speed of 350KB/s, it's a 20 second download. They started embedding programs, such as Tages, SecuROM and GFWL, to protect their software. Each revision is more 'difficult' to crack than the last, and each one is cracked in about a week, at most.

Let's start with GFWL, since it's the easiest to defeat and is only more or less annoying. GFWL is what would happen if Microsoft raped Steam in a back alley, then got Steam hooked on meth and crack cocaine. It's horribly bloated, like all Microsoft software, it barely works, is highly intrusive, and basically tries to turn your PC games into 360 games.

It's not all bad news, tho. A game that is released with GFWL must support alt-tab and the xBox 360 controller, which in some cases(Mostly with Alt-tab), these are good things. Especially after GFWL is removed.

Speaking of removal, GFWL is painlessly easy to disable. A hacked xlive.dll is all you need. I found this out with both GTA IV and Fallout 3, installing a cracked xlive.dll completely disables GFWL. It's no different than snipping the fuel line on a car. Getting it uninstalled is also marginally easier than SecuROM because it doesn't run in Ring 0 and all that nonsense. This means it's the lesser of the two evils I shall discuss in this blog.

Now, onto SecuROM. EA is in love with SecuROM, much in the same way Keith Richards is with Cocaine. Can't get enough, must have moar, MOAR MAORMOAT HNITEKHNIY. EVERY PC game they publish has it, it seems. They've even gotten a few other publishers in on it, first two on my mind are 2K and Rockstar(Tho they're quite buddybuddy anyways, both logos appear on GTA games...). And indeed, Bioshock 2 is the title that spawned this rant...but I digress.

Anyways, SecuROM is a rootkit. It runs with Ring 0 access(Nothing but vital Windows services and emulated disc drives should run up here), interferes with virtual DVD software and has, in past iterations, actually caused physical harm to optical drives. I will admit that it hasn't done this since back when it was used to protect music CDs, not software, but it's still valid evidence against SecuROM. Current implementations still corrupt the odd OS or so if they go badly enough haywire, and they love to wreak havoc with actually playing the game they 'protect'. This also tends to make it's removal difficult, often you need to format your Windows drive to uninstall it. This, as I will demonstrate later, is completely unacceptable.

Another annoying thing SecuROM typically does is install limits. How many varies, a few(GTA IV) technically allow infinite installs as long as you revoke a previous one. Others, Crysis is the first one to come to my mind, and Spore is a more recent offender which generated a ton of bad press, offered only 5 installs verbatim. Any more and you had to pester EA's support line and hope to dear God the operator wasn't an ass. Of course, they've since patched it to allow user revocation, but that's only a half-assed copout. They should have given those users a patch that removes the offending DRM entirely....well, technically it should have never been there in the first place. But I digress again...

SecuROM also loves to get in the way of modding. To SecuROM, changing the model of a car from a Dillet to a Chevelle SS454(lol GTA IV reference) is no different than trying to remove it. This can get right annoying, especially when it protects a game such as GTA IV. Tho, technically, GFWL and Tages also have this effect as well. GFWL moreso on GTA IV than SecuROM(MP is handled by GFWL, and in order to mod the game you have to disable GFWL, which disables MP. Don't disable it and, well, it still disables MP. ), and Tages-protected Direct-2-Drive copies of Fallout 3 are completely unmoddable. But SecuROM can get in the way of this as well.

The worst thing about SecuROM is that it doesn't even work. Publishers always brag about this one. You couldn't possibly dangle a nicer incentive infront of sceners than "THIS VERSION OF SECUROM IS UNCRACKABLE!". As a result, within a week of release, a SecuROM title is cracked and uploaded. Most of the time it's within 24 hours, but a few have put up a fight. Now, the whole point of DRM is to prevent piracy, but I don't see how it's accomplishing a damn thing if the game is pwned before the first people even complete it 100%.

The absolute worst part about DRM is some of the people. "I'm not doing anything wrong, so I have nothing to worry about". "It's never caused me any issues." This type of thinking is just as bad as the DRM, as it makes the devs think this software is acceptable for use. It is not.

Now, let's shift gears for a minute. There is a type of DRM software that I like. It has a much better track record of actually stopping pirates, it's unobtrusive, it can be easily removed, it doesn't impose any limits on the legit user, and best of all it's so highly transparent that I didn't even know it was there for over a year.

This would be Steam. Yes, Steam is a DRM system. But most people never notice. I sure didn't. It allows me to easily sort my games, chat with friends, even browse the internet ingame. It's a useful program. And it's DRM! So what did Valve do right that Sony and Microsoft didn't?

Well, here's my opinion on the matter.

1: The DRM itself is transparent. The normal user never even knows it's there.
2: The software is actually useful for something besides protecting Valve's intellectual property.
3: The DRM is easily removed from one's machine. Simply Shift + Delete your Steam directory and bam, DRM gone.
4: The DRM actually encourages installing on multiple machines.

Now, I'm sure you're starting to think: "TestE, come on man, tl;dr. tl;dr man." I'll sum it up in my 10 commandments of PC game DRM.

Thou shall NOT treat thine honest customer as a pirate.

Thou shall ensure all DRM software is transparent.

Thou shall ensure all DRM software is easy to remove from the machine.

Thou shall ensure all DRM software does NOT interfere with any other program.

Thou shall NOT combine more than one form of DRM.

Thou shall NOT place any sort of activation limit on a legitimate customer.

Thou shall make thine DRM software useful to the user.

Thou shall make thine DRM software with a VERY light footprint.

Thou shall NOT give DRM software rootkit-like programming.

Thou shall trust thy honest customer.

Thanks for reading that huge wall of rant. I hate DRM as much as I hate advertising, it just ain't right man.

O, and just for kicks, would someone remind me why you would want to protect a free demo with SecuROM? Because 2K did it with the Steam demo of Bioshock.


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