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Controversial StarForce Copy Protection Creators Quizzed 952

Posted by simoniker
from the force-not-with-you? dept.
Thanks to FiringSquad for its interview with the creators of the StarForce copy protection scheme for PC videogames. The author explains: "In recent months there's been an increasing awareness and alarm over StarForce copy protection. It's actually a driver that installs itself with the [Windows] games that come shipped with it, and originally it didn't uninstall when the game was uninstalled." StarForce's Abbie Sommer argues the advantages of "driver-level copy protection", explaining: "The drivers are what prevents the use of kernel debugger utilities such as SoftICE, Cool Debugger, Soft Snoop etc. Also the drivers prevent emulators from spoofing a drive, and thwart burning tools such as Alcohol 120%." The author concludes by injecting a little personal opinion into the mix, arguing: "PC games will never go away, but if the market keeps shrinking due to the increasing ease of piracy... then the number and quality of games will almost certainly decrease."
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Controversial StarForce Copy Protection Creators Quizzed

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  • by Devar (312672) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:32AM (#10010209) Homepage Journal
    Thanks for nothing! If I want to use these tools then I shouldn't have to put up with this kind of crap from software companies. It's almost like them installing a virus. They wouldn't like it if I installed software on their machines that denied access to certain things, would they.

    • by Stripe7 (571267) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:42AM (#10010263)
      That is really a pain. I image all my game CD's and use daemon tools to mount them. I play upto 4 different games a night. Currently playing Fallout Tactics, Rise of Nations, NWN and Shattered Galaxy. I hate having to switch CD's. This driver will make it so even games that are not protected by it cannot no longer be mounted virtually. If I have to reformat my HD to get rid of it if I install a game that has it, I am going to have a serious talk to the game company using it if it costs me 3-8 hours to wipe my HD and reinstall all my games and utilites from scratch. I used to bill my time at US$200/hour. I should send a bill to the gaming company for putting a virus on my system that just cost me a day's work.
      • I used to bill my time at US$200/hour. I should send a bill to the gaming company for putting a virus on my system that just cost me a day's work.

        Yeah! Cos we all know how well that worked for stopping junk faxes/email/whatever!!
      • by leeroybrown (624767) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @06:31AM (#10010698)
        Perhaps you should try the the 'removal tool':

        sfdrvrem.zip [star-force.com]
      • by illumin8 (148082) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @08:10AM (#10011104) Journal
        That is really a pain. I image all my game CD's and use daemon tools to mount them.

        Me too. Load times are much faster and there's no worrying about scratching your original CDs. Just copy them to the hard drive when you buy the game and put the original CDs back in the box. This article is written by some major shills for the game industry... Check out this quote:

        Now copy protection is disabling games if you have utilities that simply might help pirate a game - like Alcohol 120%, Nero or CloneCD... Of course, if we honestly ask ourselves how many purely legitimate users of those utilities there are, odds are probably that deep down inside we have to admit "not many".

        Wha????? Not many legitimate users of Nero? Nero is one of the best CD/DVD burning software out there. This article is clearly written by a BSA shill. Not every utility that can copy a CD is used for infringing purposes. In fact, most of us use these utilities for non-infringing fair-use purposes like backing up the games we purchased.
        • by Casualposter (572489) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @08:57AM (#10011382) Journal
          If you've got small children in the house, then it is absolutely necessary to make a copy of your software and keep the originals in a VERY safe place, otherwise you'll be at the store buying a replacement for those horribly scratched discs that the munchkins "played" with; left in the laundry basket, let the dog chew on, used to make sand castles in the back yard. So anyone that wants to disable me ability to make a "working" copy of software I purchases, is about to get a nasty letter and a return for refund. If they cost me money by deliberately imparing the functionality of my computer, I would send them a bill, and maybe, (depending upon just how mad I got) take 'em to small claims court for it.
        • by Viewsonic (584922) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @09:17AM (#10011539)
          Already installed. What's next? Booting directly from the game CD into a custom anti-piracy OS and disabling any access to Windows?
        • by FauxReal (653820) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @09:50AM (#10011830) Homepage
          Wha????? Not many legitimate users of Nero? Nero is one of the best CD/DVD burning software out there. This article is clearly written by a BSA shill. Not every utility that can copy a CD is used for infringing purposes. In fact, most of us use these utilities for non-infringing fair-use purposes like backing up the games we purchased.

          Or to transport the latest graphics layout I put together for print. When they're 8 1/2" x 11" @ 300ppi each they're not gonna fit on a floppy disk, disposable CDs are the best thing. There's no way I'm mailing out USB key drives and I doubt many print houses accept them. Oh yeah, and then there's the home music production. I can't afford to have seperate boxes for this stuff and games (yet).
      • by LordLucless (582312) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @08:19AM (#10011145)
        It just goes to show you - the only safe software to install is pirated software. If you care at all for the security of your machine, you should not install legitimate software - use the ISO you downloaded off Kazaa.

        Seriously, in the not-too-distant future, I imagine the first thing I do after I buy a new game is to go download the pirated version.
        • by Erwos (553607) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @09:14AM (#10011508)
          Yes, because there's no way the crackers could have altered the ISO to contain a virus. Nope, no way.

          -Erwos
          • by EvilIdler (21087) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @10:06AM (#10011987)
            There's no way the crackers could get away with it - nobody would
            spread it.
          • by LordLucless (582312) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @10:50AM (#10012457)
            Well, the crackers *could* have inserted a malicious payload into the game. On the other hand, the manufacturers *certainly* have. Not to mention that cracking groups usually do that sort of stuff for cred, and distributing viruses wouldn't do much for that. Plus the sad fact that I trust the integrity of crackers more than I do the integrity of a publishing house.
            • by maxpublic (450413) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @07:13PM (#10018146) Homepage
              Plus the sad fact that I trust the integrity of crackers more than I do the integrity of a publishing house.

              Unfortunately I have to agree with this. Crackers do what they do for reputation, and bundling a cracked game with a virus or trojan will destroy their reputation in no time flat. Not only that, it'll invite reprisals from other crackers who don't want the stain of that bad decision to spread to their own efforts.

              If game companies make the move to deliberately installing malware on my computer along with the game then I, too, might download the cracked version of that game and put the purchased CD away, untouched. Although I'm more likely just to not purchase the game at all - after all, I'm older, and unlike the kiddies I don't think I just HAVE to have the latest and greatest game to be uber-leet.

              Game companies should take note: the vast majority of computer game dollars come from the over-25 crowd. If most of these gamers have the same view I do (i.e., screw the game, I'll spend my money elsewhere) then this is a perfect way to fuck yourself into the bankruptcy hole. They can bitch, whine and moan about 'piracy' all they like, but in the end it'll be their own bad decisions which run the company into the ground.

              Max
        • It's not "back to the future", it's "forward to the past".

          Back in the early '80s I bought a game for the Apple ][ called "Wizardry". This game had an extremely delicate copy protection mechanism that depended on matching the speed of the disk to a timer. I used to play it on three or four different Apples at different times, and there were slight variations in the speed of the disks. After a while, I could no longer play the game except on one particular machine... the drive speed on that machine had apparently been changing slightly over time and the copy protection had adapted the floppy to it.

          Eventually I went to one of the local pirates and did something I'd never done before... begged a cracked game off him. I actually had him copy a cracked version of Wizardry on top of my original diskette. It was the only way I could depend on being able to run it.

          Seriously, in the not-too-distant future, I imagine the first thing I do after I buy a new game is to go download the pirated version.

          "You're safe and sound now, back in good old 1982."
        • by LiberalApplication (570878) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @09:41AM (#10011758)
          Seriously, in the not-too-distant future, I imagine the first thing I do after I buy a new game is to go download the pirated version.
          It's kinda sad, and it really annoyed me. Being not too much of a gamer but a bit of a WWII buff, I went and purchased Call of Duty [callofduty.com] the day it came out. Now, I have a homebrew system with no internal optical drive (I'm a bit of a pc-modder too), and so I installed it from an external firewire DVDR drive. I'm not sure what form of copy protection CoD has, but get this: It installed, but refused to run. Upon further investigation, I learned that it wouldn't run from external drives. In fact, it won't even run if you have any virtual drives set up on your system either. In order to play the game, I would have to uninstall Nero, get an IDE CD-device, and perform some frustrating driver juggling tasks because I also have an NVidia NForce2 chipset based motherboard.

          That was just unacceptable, so I did the only thing I could do to play the game I purchased: pirate it.

      • by harrkev (623093) <kfmsdNO@SPAMharrelsonfamily.org> on Thursday August 19, 2004 @08:27AM (#10011184) Homepage
        My favorite quote:

        Of course, if we honestly ask ourselves how many purely legitimate users of those utilities (Alcohol, etc.) there are, odds are probably that deep down inside we have to admit "not many"

        This is a complete load of bull. Here is my story:

        I have a "server" case with a LOCKED DOOR in front of the drive bays. I have two toddlers running around the house, so I HAVE to have my computer locked down from little hands. So it is a PAIN to swap discs. So I use Alcohol 120%. This also allows me to keep all discs locked away in the garage so that I do not have to have a stack of discs (or a disc case) sitting on my desk. It helps keep the clutter down.

        I also have my old computer set aside for running educational games. So, I use Alcohol 120% on that one so that my three-year-old son does not have to come to mommy asking to change a disc or (even worse) try to change the disc himself.

        Anot note that I am NOT into warez at all. If I want a game, I buy it. I still have not even played all of the games that came bundled with my sound and video cards (quite a lot of games, too).

        I would also like to throw out one more secnario: A traveler who wants to play games on the go. First, carrying discs means more weight, and second, spinning up a disc uses more battery power than reading an ISO off of a hard drive.

        I have absolutely NO problems with copy protection which checks the disc upon install, but why does it have to check EVERY TIME the game loads. As a legitimate user, I find it annoying that these companies are almost begging me to go to warez sites so that I can play the game that I PAID FOR the way that I want to.

        As for me, I will NEVER buy a StarForce game. Yup, that's right. I hope that the game producers are reading this. I am a professional engineer -- the type of guy with enough money to buy the games that tickle my fancy -- and I am incredibly honest. And in your quest to stop the people who probably would not buy your games in the first place, you are driving legitimate customers away. Smart business plan.

        Note that it is one thing to design a game that will not work with Alcohol. I can accept that. But to have your game cripple Alcohol even when your game is not even running is unacceptable. Have fun in the wellfare lines, boys...
    • by halowolf (692775) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:04AM (#10010379)
      The only problem that I have with copy protection schemes at the moment is that I have to put CD's into my DVD/CD drive to play the games that I purchase. I find it very annoying. Having 2 drives, one burner and one DVD/CD drive aleviates this problem somewhat, but still its annoying.

      I look after my disks so I don't need to make backups of them. Some of the people complaining about how this software disables their burning applications and such, should probably read the end of the article where it states that those types of applications are only disabled when the game is being played [firingsquad.com].

      Personally I buy all my games, whether I have the ability to copy them or not, because I want to reward those publishes that make good games. The reason because "we" the consumers are being treated as criminals, is because some of the "we" are acting like criminals, so the fact that I have to put up with these ridiculous methods is because of those that are pirating this software. As ineffective as it is, I cant find fault with PC games publishers wanting to do something to protect their investments.

      However publishers and consumers alike should both get off of their soap boxes and do something constructive about the problem instead of both sides making ridiculous arguments and counterclaims.

    • by marcovje (205102) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:59AM (#10010594)

      Indeed. I hate this, and not even out of privacy/control grounds. The main problems are simple practicality.

      Such schemes means you can throw away your games when you move to a new (Major) windows version, are far more likely to cause problems in Windows etc etc.

      Forget about running your legitimately bought games running on an emulator in 10 years.

      It is the same problem I have with DRM and mangled CDs. The copyright enforcing stuff limits the time that it can be used (because of equipment being only in vogue for a few years) and practical use too much.

      Tying in media with the OS is a no-no.
  • Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JamesKPolk (13313) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:36AM (#10010227) Homepage
    I hope the big publishers all get run off of the computer game industry, and all the people who like "gaming" instead of computer games go with them.

    Then those of us who prefer good games to good graphics will have computer games to ourselves again.

    Bring back the games on floppies in little plastic bags!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:36AM (#10010229)
    and you can be sure that I'll start to behave like one.
    • This is the total truth. I so wanted to buy Far Cry. It sounded like an awesome game... and then I found out that it won't run if you have Daemon Tools on your system. That's absolute bullshit that they should be able to dictate what other software I am allowed to have on my PC. I use Daemon Tools for legitimate purposes. The only .isos on my computer are either linux .isos or legitimate software that I have purchased. I have never once ran a cracked game from Daemon tools. But you know what? Far Cry's copy protection made me want to do just that. I never bought the game because of this copy protection and the only reason that I didn't find a pirated copy was becuase I'm too lazy to search the warez sites for it. I make enough money to buy all of my games these days, and I always do just to try to support the developers that make good games. Now, if only there were some way that I could let Far Cry's publishers know that I didn't buy their game and why. Oh, and make them care.
  • missed something (Score:5, Insightful)

    by prockcore (543967) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:38AM (#10010239)
    The guy is missing something. They're trying so hard to beat softice.. but they forget that pros don't need to use breakpoints, thus they don't need to actually run the app to disassemble it.

    http://hte.sf.net would work just peachy.
    • Re:missed something (Score:5, Informative)

      by JamesKPolk (13313) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:00AM (#10010351) Homepage
      They missed nothing.

      Read the StarForce webpage. Their goal isn't to stop determined experts, since that's impossible to do when the code runs on the adversary's computer. Their goals are to stop "industrial software piracy" (read: businesses buying one CD for all the computers in the office) and "casual copying" (read: Joe Teenager giving a copy to his friend Fred Teenager).

      If these people are thwarted then their mission is accomplished.
      • by eofpi (743493)
        Their goal breaks down when someone with the skills of the pros posts an .iso somewhere.
  • Right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:38AM (#10010241)
    "if the market keeps shrinking due to the increasing ease of piracy... then the number and quality of games will almost certainly decrease."

    Yeah, I've been hearing that since my Amiga gaming days, back when I had to travel to the capital city just to find a place that sold legitimate game copies, back when piracy was as just a blank floppy away. Look how much the number and quality has shrunk in the gaming market since then...
    • Re:Right. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Oddly_Drac (625066) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:02AM (#10010365)
      "I've been hearing that since my Amiga gaming days,"

      I've been hearing it since my ZX Spectrum days, so that means ooohhhh twenty-four years?

      I wonder whether they pass this on in a gilt envelope marked with 'the piracy excuse'.

      One thing that I have noticed is that the PC Games Market is shrinking with relation to the console market. Do you think anyone's realised that you have a finite number of games that can be sold, and people rarely buy for more then one platform?

    • Re:Right. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by VeryProfessional (805174) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:23AM (#10010463)

      Look how much the number and quality has shrunk in the gaming market since then...

      Well actually, the quality at least probably has shrunk since those days. I really do think it's more than just nostalgia that makes so many people prefer old games to the lastest cookie-cutter FPS/RTS/racing sim. I know this is going to make me sound old, but so many of those old games had an element of utter originality that is totally absent from the current crop of games.

      It's not piracy-induced poverty that has stifled originality of games, however; rather the opposite. As the maket has grown and game studio budgets have grown commensurately, the opportunity to take risks has been shrinking. Studios simply can't afford to release a total flop anymore. Thus, gaming has followed the track of Hollywood. Sequels sequels sequels.

      A lot of the problem is also brought on by consumer expectations and the distribution format. People pay a lot of money for games, and thus they want 20-50 hours of non-repetitive gameplay and the latest super-whizz-bang graphics or they complain. How can you fit a game like Tetris into a market like that? Better just make it another FPS...

      People can struggle with the copy-protection on their copy of Doom 14... or they can play Frozen-Bubble and Micro Machines 2 (my current favourites). Gaming companies better face up to the stiff competition they face from their own past and start treating consumers with some respect.

  • Piracy, right.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NarrMaster (760073) <dfordyce&mix,wvu,edu> on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:38AM (#10010244)
    .... cause we all know how much damage piracy does to the music [com.com] industry. Ba-zing!
  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:43AM (#10010270) Homepage
    I thought everytime a new device was installed or driver, windows would ask you if you want to have it installed regardless of the fact it is WHQL signed. Please, is there a group policy I can change to not alow ANY drivers be it real or virtual to be installed without my explicit permission?
    • by baadfood (690464) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:10AM (#10010403)
      Unfortunately yes. Drivers dont HAVE to be installed using the official driver INF parser. Idiots can bypass that process and simply inject the necessary entries in the registry. All you have to do on 2K/XP is fuck around with HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Servic es And then tell the user they need to reboot as, bypassing the official APIs that would do the WHQL checking means you dont get Plug and Play driver installation. All the more reason to look with great suspicion on ANY windows app that needs a restart after installation. If the proper APIs are used the only time a Windows box really *needs* to be restarted is after youve downloaded a kernel security update.
      • If the proper APIs are used the only time a Windows box really *needs* to be restarted is after youve downloaded a kernel security update.

        Its been a while since I looked at the relevant APIs, but surely you need to reboot if you've upgraded a DLL that was in use by an application at the time your install program ran... or have they fixed this problem?
  • by Balorn (236398) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:44AM (#10010274) Homepage
    Brad Wardell (Galactic Civilizations, etc) has some thoughts on piracy and the problems with PC games:

    google groups link here [google.com]
    • by Balorn (236398) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:04AM (#10010377) Homepage

      And for the lazy (or those behind an abusive proxy server):

      What concerns me about the PC game market is that I'm seeing publishers blaming everything but the real causes for PC game sales decline. It's not piracy. And it's not that everyone just prefers to play games in front of a TV. It's the games. It's the way people who buy PC games get treated.

      It's not like piracy on consoles doesn't exist either. Yet their sales are doing great.

      For a PC game I'm expected to keep track of a serial number -forever-, keep the CD in the drive despite it using gigs of hard drive space, AND I'm expected to have to download patches all too often just to make the game work correctly. That's assuming your computer works with the CD ROM protection in the first place.

      If your competitor (console games in this case) doesn't put you through that hassle, then some people are going to choose that. And others will simply not purchase games.

      People WILL buy stuff if you give them a reason. If you make it more rewarding to purchase it rather than pirating it then you'll get the sale.

      I'm sure, for example, that Object Desktop gets pirated. The whole thing is probably only 50 megs in size as a file. But it doesn't get pirated that much and we sell millions of dollars worth -one copy at a time- over the Internet. Each year. For years. Why? Because we give users a reason to purchase it. We keep updating it on a regular basis which adds value to it. We provide a way to seamlessly get those updates for verified customers which gives an convenience incentive to be a customer.

      As some of you know, we expanded the Drengin.net gaming network to TotalGaming.net. Basically, we moved the gaming network beyond being just Stardock games and into putting third party games on there. You can imagine the effort convincing some of the publishers of putting games on here that don't have any digital rights management, no time outs, no "renting", etc.

      It's not, however, that we want to do that because we're "nice guys". It's business. Just business. People just want to get the product/service and not be hassled about it. I buy WizBang IV and I expect to be able to install it to my regular machine and if necessary, put it on my laptop. And you know what? If I have it on my laptop I want that drive bay used for an extra battery, not used for a battery sucking CD drive that's in there just because the game checks to see if I have the CD in.

      At the end of the day, I'm just wondering why the industry is so afraid of some 15 year old kid downloading PC games off of Bit Torrent or whatever instead of looking at the demographics of PC gamers (which are older and tend to have more money) and start catering more to them -- people who have money and don't have time to be jerked around with nonsense.

      When I see "piracy" being blamed for sales decline (and I really think that other factors such as lack of mega releases this year and the migration to MMORPGs need to be considered heavily) it worries me. It worries me that publishers aren't really taking these other issues seriously and as a result are making development plans based on faulty data. After all, one can only imagine the justification for the PC port of Spider-Man II (as one example).

      • by Oddly_Drac (625066) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @08:33AM (#10011216)
        "people who have money and don't have time to be jerked around with nonsense."

        High five, low five, catch it on the rebound.

        This is one of the first times that someone 'in the industry' has hit the nail on the head with regards to my personal experience of gaming; it's not that I'm short of the cash, I just really don't want to prop up a copy protection industry that has slimed into place based on the fact that piracy is happening, but the protestations have hit fever pitch because they can be tracked. It's like the figures that get promoted that X activity costs X dollars per year in lost revenues. Figures like that are fictional guesstimates that are intended to cause round-eyed disbelief in people that don't normally deal with _really big numbers_, especially connected with the idea that a downloaded game is a lost sale. It's horribly arrogant to assume that downloaded copy will survive a quick review or that the person downloading it would have bought the game if the download wasn't possible.

        It's the PR spin that annoys me the most, both from the perspective of holding demos until after the release rush (early adopters get raped every which way, and it's mostly a peer issue), releasing buggy software to match a given release date, or buying advertising space and calling it 'reviews'.

        It's gratifying to see someone _actually_ mention these things in relation to their own business, and while I have little use for the object desktop, the sheer display of Mr Wardell's ethics is enough for me to consider supporting his company.

  • The age-old rule (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:44AM (#10010275)
    The stronger you make the copy protection, the more you inconvenience your legitimate users, and the more attractive the "cracked" product becomes. Making the w4rz3d version a more useful product than your original is a bad marketing ploy.
  • by tkrotchko (124118) * on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:44AM (#10010279) Homepage
    The author concludes by injecting a little personal opinion into the mix, arguing: "PC games will never go away, but if the market keeps shrinking due to the increasing ease of piracy... then the number and quality of games will almost certainly decrease."
    This author concludes that the market will shrink even faster if nutty game developers insist on using obnoxious copy protection schemes just to (a) prove they're smarter than the crackers (b) show that if the choice comes down to their customer's aggravation and their own profits, then profits win every time.

    Gee, do you think this attitude might force a lot of people to conclude that PC games are such a pain they might as well buy a console and play there?

  • by r6144 (544027) <r6k.sohu@com> on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:45AM (#10010281) Homepage Journal
    Regardless of the usefulness of copy protection, such behaviors of installing things without users' knowledge just cannot be allowed, especially if it is a driver that runs with much privilege. Just imagine if one disgruntled developer in the company put some time-bomb in the code... When ordinary user-level code is used, or when kernel-level stuff is used in something like anti-virus programs, at least a moderately clueful user can know what they are installing, so they can be more careful before installing such things and not blame Microsoft if things go wrong; but in this case, people are not expected to be as careful when installing a video game as when installing some anti-virus software, at least until such practice become even more widespread than it is now.

    In my opinion, such things should be categorized as malware, and should only be allowed if adequate warning is given to the user before installation.

    Anyway, even when installed as a driver, it can't be fully crack-proof --- the driver can be removed, and the game code can be changed to skip the accesses to the driver. If the game is popular enough, a crack will soon be produced (probably unusable for Internet games though), and even legit users may use them so that they can get rid of the driver that is possibly destabilizing the system.

  • by bishiraver (707931) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:45AM (#10010286) Homepage
    PC games will never go away, but if the market keeps shrinking due to the increasing ease of piracy... then the number and quality of games will almost certainly decrease.
    Not being able to play a game because my CD drive isn't on the "approved" list, and then being thwarted when I try to mount an ISO of the game... that drives me away from buying computer games. More and more people are turning to piracy because copy-protection schemes turn them off to buying a legitimate copy of the game.

    For gamers with CD-ROMs that are incompatible with SecuROM (and other copy protection measures), it is currently more convenient to download and crack pirated versions, than to buy a legitimate copy.

    This is a dangerous discrepancy, and is running the game industry into the ground.
  • Terrible piece... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dmayle (200765) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:46AM (#10010291) Homepage Journal

    This is such an apologist piece. From author's viewpoint, this is a done deal, copy protection is a necessity, and he doesn't address the issue of fair use at all. When I buy my videogames, I rarely install them, instead preferring to find a cracked version first, so I don't have to deal with all of the crap, like unwanted driver installations, that I don't know if I'm getting. The guys at Penny Arcade [penny-arcade.com] have said the same as well.

    I don't play games without purchasing them (though I did as a student, because I was poor then. If I hadn't then, I probably wouldn't have the gaming drive now that causes me to purchase all of the games I do.), and I'm starting to buy less and less PC games because of the crap I have to deal with. Do you hear that, developers? That is the sound of lost sales.

    I bought XIII, which had some protection that caused the graphics and performance to slowly degrade if the CD is not in the drive. Normally, I would have kept that game to play again in the future, but instead I found someone who was looking to buy it, and gave it to them instead. One more lost sale.

    Could you imagine if a PS2 game you bought installed updated CD/DVD drivers on the memory card, and it caused problems with reading other discs? How about if you couldn't play games on your PS2 just becaused you owned an Action Replay disc? They can be used to play copied games too, you know. This sort of crap is unacceptable, and developers who realize that are in a unique position to capture extra market share. Sure, writing a crappy game won't get you sales, but with two equally good games, there are definitely people who will choose the one that doesn't treat them like a criminal if they know there is a difference.

  • by Eskarel (565631) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:52AM (#10010319)
    Ok, so we've now got a driver being installed(hope they get the Microsoft Hardware Lab to certify this thing or else Windows XP is going to bitch about this and it won't go smoothly), that'll solve the piracy problem, no one can get around a driver.

    I seem to recall some software a few years back which came with a dongle, I also seem to recall that someone managed to fake that dongle so you can pirate the software anyway. Take a lesson here people, if you can't stop piracy with hardware you sure as hell can't do it will software, in all reality Paladium(assuming it ever shows up) probably won't stop piracy. This is for a simple reason, for every guy out there trying to come up with ways to prevent piracy there are at least 100 attempting to circumvent it, and these guys are really really good. There's a lesson here, a lesson we should all have learned a long, long, long time ago, because it's been true since the first copy protection ever implemented. ALL COPY PROTECTION DOES IS INCONVENIENCE THE LEGITIMATE USER. Sorry to have shouted that, but I wouldn't want someone to miss that one. No method of copy protection every created has stopped people from pirating software and the only way I can see that changing any time in the forseeable future.

  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by John Courtland (585609) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:52AM (#10010320)
    First off, you most can certainly debug driver modules. SoftICE runs Ring 0. Even if their driver runs Ring 0, you can still see it. It's also on your hard disk. Even if it somehow disables the machine if SoftICE is detected, you have the data. It will be disassembled and it will be cracked.

    And this brings up a point about copy protection. It really only fucks with the people who actually buy the CD. I bought The Sims after, admittedly, not paying for it for a while. But I did go out and buy it after about a month, and lo and behold my CD Key was already registered. Ah well, an email took care of that. But, next I buy Neverwinter Nights. Damn CD Protection goes so far as to not work in my DVD drive. This happens with a TON of protected games. Flight Simulator 2002 would continuously corrupt on install, SimCity 4, Baldurs Gates both 1 AND 2... Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure the SecuROM/SafeDisc methods do *not* produce valid Redbook CDROM standard CD's. Doesn't happen on non-secured discs like Streets and Trips, Windows XP, etc... Either way, I paid for these games and they don't work. Yet I can steal them and they work, no hassle. Hmm, not too hard of a debate. I actually sometimes will buy the game then download the crack because I'm tired of dealing with shitty copy protection. /rant
    • Safedisk (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:10AM (#10010405)
      Yeah - I'll correct that.

      Safedisk is a PAIN to implement.
      It works by changing the geometry of the disc - the tracks are actally spread out more (it makes it look a bit like the gaps between songs on old vinyl disks)

      Then it measures the TIME it takes the drive to seek across these areas compared to the time it takes to seek across normal areas.

      Their driver is very flaky, due to the large numbers of strange drives it has to cope with. This in turn makes it very difficult to build a drive which co-operates with it reliably.

      Most disks produced with safedisk are within the spec - the spec just says that the track density must lie within such and such limits (I'd have to look them up) - they are expected to vary due to quality of disk and so forth. They AREN'T expected to vary on a single disk (much) - but nothing says that they can't. So they are in the CD/DVD spec.

      The audio protections usually used fall into two camps. The polite camp simply has an audio session and a data session, and relies upon windows preferring to show the user the data session. These are within the redbook spec, and easy to break.

      The slightly dodgier protection issues the same track number to tracks in both sessions, and relies upon data drives mounting the last session first and audio drives mounting the first session first. This DOES break the redbook spec. Quite horribly.
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:54AM (#10010327) Journal
    "PC games will never go away, but if the market keeps shrinking due to the increasing ease of piracy... then the number and quality of games will almost certainly decrease."

    Almost a perfect quote from computer mags 10 years ago, yet World of Warcraft, Neverwinter Nights 2, Half-Life 2, etc are under development. How can that be? Games constantly rise in technical quality and complexity, and it's not uncommon these days to have games in development for 4 years or more. It's BIG business.

    In contrast, if predictions like that were true, we'd probably play something like Alien Invaders 2000 by now. :-P

    Personally, I think -- yes, piracy is bad if you don't buy the games you actually like. In other cases, I find it to be very useful. That games have demo versions isn't a given, especially not demo versions you can try out before a game hits the store to decide if you should get it. A perfect way to boycott junk game publishers very conveniently without having to go back to stores and returning games.
  • by tod_miller (792541) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @04:56AM (#10010334) Journal
    Nobody wants DRM or Malware type software destroying their freedom to use PC's.

    No software company wants to invest 30 million into a (small?) project where sales are predicted by a declining history and diminishing market, or perhaps could disappear given the alarming ability to download gigs of data in a day.

    In a perfect world, they would produce X, you want X, you buy X.

    In a semi-perfect world. People Copy X, like it, Buy X

    In todays world, a bit more perfect: People who copy and don't buy X, wouldn't have bought it anyway. (so does this mean copying impacts software?)

    What does happen. People want games, if copying didnt exist, they would buy them, prices would drop. However, peope who say they wouldn't have bought the game anyway, shouldn't have needed to copy it.

    OK, that bit over: If you purchase games, do you put up with measures that, in the end, are there for your benefit, as a games consumer (i.e., if they did stop copying)

    Perhaps the issue is not so clear cut as music (which has always been way overpriced and overcontrolled)

    Computer games used to be 1.99 casettes, 4.99 etc... not they are 49.99 at tops. Considering lower costs of marketting, vast market size, limitless and cheap distribution (electronically) and cheaper CD/DVD case distribution, the companies hsould be able to create games which sell for less, and meets a price that brings more consumers.

    Sometimes it is easier to copy a game than physically walk out and buy it. This is the mentality they are dealing with.

    At the end of the day - don't steal from people, no matter how rich they are.
  • by Myuu (529245) <myuu@pojo.com> on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:00AM (#10010356) Homepage
    "PC games will never go away, but if the market keeps shrinking due to the increasing ease of piracy... then the number and quality of games will almost certainly decrease."

    I can see the the logic of this, but couldn't a capitalist argue that Piracy creates a new market force vaguely resembling competition. One could argue if that statement is true, that Piracy actually forces the Games makers not to put out wasteful crap like they all to often do (come on more than 50% are crap with no audience) and force them to make stuff live up to competition. IE, if the game sucks I'd probably pirate it, if its good then I'll drive to Software Etc and pick it up.

    Of course one can urge that now the companies have to waste time and money on anti piracy software in the process and that there are games that would appear to have no audience but they create one. (Pokemon, Conker, etc, etc)

    I hope the above is coherent, too late in the night to post, I just wanted to see what my thoughts would crop up.
  • by 2TecTom (311314) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:02AM (#10010363) Homepage Journal
    "copy protection is a necessary part of the publishing process"

    Yah, and remember the dark ages, when only the church could copy? Well if corporations get their way, it'll be dark again soon. Thanks Abbie!

    "We have to live with it, and I don't think it is going away."

    No Abbie, I don't have to live with it because I never buy copy protected software. Period. Sorry, but it's a religious thing with me.

    "but let's face it, publishers aren't stupid"

    Yes, yes they are, and evil and greedy too. First off, they corrupt copyright so that it no longer does what the founding fathers intended. Then they use it to abuse the market in order to force consumers to pay excessive prices for poor quality games.

    In my humble opinion, piracy is a direct and inevitable outcome strictly due to the lack of fairness in the intellectual property issue.

    Corporations have perverted the process and most people are simply taking the most economical route to get what they want

    From where I sit, all of this is because companies will not produce products as inexpensively as possible. Indeed, these companies would earn more if they simply lowered the price to a point were far more people could easily afford to buy their products. As it is, most software is simply not affordable unless you are fairly affluent. So yes, they, the software publishers, are stupid, and what's worse, they're incompetent and abusive.
  • by S3D (745318) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:04AM (#10010375)
    if the market keeps shrinking due to the increasing ease of piracy ... then the number and quality of games will almost certainly decrease. Without a big market there can be no big budgets. No Doom 4, no Far Cry 2 and no Half-Life 3.


    Ironically, auther was not able to come up with even one example wich is not sequel. Indsutry really have problem with creativity, piracy notwithstanding.
    • if the market keeps shrinking due to the increasing ease of piracy ... then the number and quality of games will almost certainly decrease. Without a big market there can be no big budgets. No Doom 4, no Far Cry 2 and no Half-Life 3.
      Ironically, auther was not able to come up with even one example wich is not sequel. Indsutry really have problem with creativity, piracy notwithstanding.
      Well, duh... you won't recongnize any of them games he mentions if they're not sequels and not almost released (insert D
  • by bo0ork (698470) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:07AM (#10010394)
    The fastest way to get hold of a new game is always to download the cracked copy. It'll usually be a week or more before the game can actually be bought in the shop. This should clue developers in that wasting money, goodwill and time on those commercial anti-piracy packages is good for nothing. If a game is good, it'll sell. If it's not, it won't.

    Either way, it'll be cracked and available for immediate download faster than they can get it to stores. The only protection worth having is online key checking for online play.

  • WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Graymalkin (13732) * on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:14AM (#10010424)
    Man at Computer: Hey...what the hell? [star-force.com]
    Dork Behind Him: What is the matter with you?
    Chick: Looks like he ran afoul of Star Force's copyright protection!
    Dork: Ha ha!
    Chick: *snicker*
    Man: Shut the hell up you two!
    Dork: OMG YOUR MEGAHURTZ HAS BEEN STOL3D!!
    Chick: All your CD-ROM belong to Star Force.
  • by jonwil (467024) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:26AM (#10010471)
    1.make the games better so people are more inclined to pay for them
    2.stop charging a fortune, the cheaper they are the more likely someone will buy them
    3.include better stuff in the box (e.g. a printed manual, mabie a poster of the main character or something)
    4.use CD keys for online access to play multiplayer games
    5.make valid CD keys a requirement to access extra stuff (like how you need a vaid CD key to get onto the official Neverwinter Nights forums or how you need a valid CD key to install patches for some versions of Borland Delphi)
    6.make it easier to get replacement disks if yours are damaged/scratched/unreadable (i.e. send us the broken disks and some small amount to cover postage and we will send you a new copy of the game). Obviously it wouldnt apply for older stuff that they dont have anymore...
    7.in addition to a paper manual, how about a PDF manual straight on the CD so that when the paper manual goes missing, you have a replacement.
    • 1. Any good suggestions on what you'd like to see done better? Do you actually buy games which focus on elements that interest you? These companies will make more games in the same style of whatever sells well. Magazine or website reviews are a very good way of finding out if you'll like a game, before you buy it...

      2. I hear this one a lot. I don't have any statistics on cost of making a game to hand, so I'll have to put my point another way. If you go out and buy a film on DVD, you'll watch it what, 3-4 t
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:38AM (#10010530)
    I used to have Sim City on the Amiga, it was a great game which had its own form of copy protection. It was a dark red/brown peice of paper with a series of numbers (in black) in a chart. It was designed this way so you couldn't photocopy it and there were too many numbers on the chart to practically write them all down. (Thank god i'm not colour blind)

    My friend also had Sim City for the Amiga, but he got a copied/cracked version without the 'code check' process. Now I ended up getting a copy of his game since it didn't mean I had to deal with the annoying hard to read chart just to get into the game I had bought.

    Summary: Pirate user no problems, Paying customer annoyed.

    I reguraly crack the games I buy simply to save the CDs getting scratched, or even having to bother finding them, when I first heard of this type of copy protection I knew it was a vary bad thing.

    It was a Raven Sheild patch that introduced a CD emulation check and stopped the game loading if it found anything.

    Now imo that's very bad, software being designed pourposely to not work if other software is present. Imagine if MS added in a 'function' to stop Office working if you installed Mozilla for example, a lot of people would be pissed.

    Acidentaly incompatability is one thing, but when it's by design, it is wrong on so man levels.

    In the end people will be forced to pirate if they want to play a game regardless of their intentions to buy it or not.
  • by Gary Destruction (683101) * on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:43AM (#10010545) Journal
    Since drivers run at Ring 0, the driver could crash the OS kernel. And this could open the door for malicious code that crashes machines with games that have that driver.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @05:48AM (#10010559)
    So, without having direct experience with this new copy-prevention mechanism (I don't even play games anymore, damn, I'm getting old) it seems to me that putting the copy-pevention in a driver could make it easier to hack. Why, well drivers are pretty isolated from user-space with only limited, well-defined entry-points (you know 'em, open, close, read, write, seek, etc).

    Seems like a good first pass at reverse-engineering this driver would be to do the windows equivalent of strace/truss/tusc on it and see how the game communicates with the driver and what the driver says back.

    I'm sure it wouldn't be as simple as that, they probably aren't "well-behaved" (which should me no WHQL for them). But if it were that simple, writing your own dummy driver that spoofs the game into thinking everything is hunky-dory would be trivial.
    open("/dev/starforce", O_RDWR, 0600) = 5
    write(5, "Hey Super Copy Prevention Driver, is this ramdisk properly secured?",56) = 56
    read(5, "Yes, yes it is.", 64) = 15
  • by MaestroSartori (146297) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @06:04AM (#10010608) Homepage
    Worth pointing out (Disclaimer: I work as a game programmer) that it is often PUBLISHERS who add this sort of shit once the game is finished and has left the developers' control.
  • by jdonnis (115371) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @06:26AM (#10010679)
    Persistent rumours in the copy protection industry tells that the technology used in StarForce3 is actually reverse engineered from CD-Cops http://www.linkdata.com/index.htm#cdcops [linkdata.com], by StarForce's russian team.

    This is supposed to be one of the reasons the pricing of the StarForce3 systems does not reflect the perceived development costs for the technology.
  • by stephanruby (542433) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @06:30AM (#10010693)
    "PC games will never go away, but if the market keeps shrinking due to the increasing ease of piracy... then the number and quality of games will almost certainly decrease."

    The PC game market is growing, not shrinking. Many companies are losing money, I don't doubt that and I don't question the rest of his assertions, but nevertheless, this doesn't change the fact that the PC market of legitimately purchased PC games is growing, not shrinking.

  • by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @06:36AM (#10010713)
    My attitude is very simple. If some moronic game company is going to install drivers on my PC without even asking, and then try to tell me that I can't use their game on my PC because I have unusual hardware or unusual software running, then they can go fsck themselves. I'm one of the people who do actually buy games, but I'm damned if I'm going to bend over for these morons.

    Seriously, almost every game I own I've ended up downloading a CD crack for because either it's far too much of a pain to have to find a particular CD just to play a game that's already on my hard drive, or their appallingly bad 'copy protection' crap doesn't work with my SCSI DVD drive. These people are fscking over their customers who actually pay for the games, and wondering why we stop buying them.

    No game should ever, ever, ever install a driver on a PC without asking and without making clear on the box that they will be doing so. Some of us use our PCs for real work as well as games, and the last thing I want is some stupid 'copy protection' driver screwing up my system.
  • by MtlDty (711230) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @07:34AM (#10010953)
    Copy/paste from www.theisonews.com [theisonews.com]

    Im by no means a l33t hax0r but I know my way around icing/dumping procedures and messed around with SF3 a bit.

    First of all, whenever someone writes SF3 uses physical fingerprints, STOP READING - it DOES NOT, and yes a lot of wannabe experts will say that. If you wanna know how the SF3 discs are produced I can write another post here, but for now I'll tell you about the protection itself;

    The Devil (=StarForce3) is INSANELY coded to avoid debugging, and by INSANELY I mean NOTHING COMES CLOSE : you can find over 200 RDTSCs on a SINGLE procedure. WTF is a RDTSC? Its an instruction to read the time stamp on the CPU, that is, they use it to MEASURE the amount of time some routine takes to complete: if you debug+trace the operations, stopping them before they are complete, the reply from the CPU will tell the app they are taking a long time to finish - and you get rebooted while the SF3 creators laugh at you.

    The most low-level interrupts cant be traced as well since the SF3 driver replaces them with their own evil, custom, devilish, encrypted drivers - and thats where the problems for LEGIT buyers start, drivers messing around with system resources = always dangerous. Theres even a INT 2E routine used into SF3, thats an undocumented but widely known backdoor to run COMMAND.COM-based programs!! ... Also kind of a cheap trick, it leaves me no doubt the creators themselves were/are hella good crackers.

    What happens then is, one would actually need to recreate the drivers removing all those ( hundreds of ) evil anti-debugging checks - that would take a *LOT* of time/work already, considering the drivers are encrypted as and when executing - to ONLY THEN start working on breaking the games' protection itself. And for every new SF3 version/update/whatever ( = another game) , you would have to do everything again. Of course after ending up with a working crack, you can remove the "custom driver" thing and just emulate everything with an .exe file - but that would take more work again.

    Truth is, it becomes much more of a challenge than a way to play the game for free, since its much (much much) easier - even cheaper considering the hours a cracker would spend starforcing - to simply buy the damn original.
  • Shrinking... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Numen (244707) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @07:45AM (#10010997)
    Yeah because since the days of my Sinclair Spectrum when we copied software from audio tape to tape the computer games industry has really shrunk.

    FFS, How the hell do these people get away with nodding, looking thoughtful and saying these things in an erudite fashion?

    Back in the day, in the UK you sold ONE copy of a game per school, that's it (yeah we were all funding terrorism back then too). Since then no industries have shrunken as a result... not the aerospace industry, not the catering industry and sure as hell not the software industry.

    We could get all melodramatic and start considering papers by Gerring on propoganda and the manipulation of the masses... lets just consider one thing.

    The cornerstone of all propoganda is a kernel of fear. If X is allowed to continue Y will happen.

    If software piracy continues then the quality of computer games will suffer.... I'm 35 and I've been told that exact same line since I was 13. The exact same line. In 22 years I've come to the conclusion it's not true. It's propoganda, it's tapping into an unfounded fear in the audience.

    I was told the same about tape recorders and the music industry. I was told the same about video tape and the movie/cinema industry... all in over 2 decades, untrue. Propoganda.

    If somebody tells you the sky is falling in, don't just take their word for it, look up yourself at the sky and ask yourself if it looks as if the sky is falling in.
  • Star FUD (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Coward Anonymous (110649) on Thursday August 19, 2004 @01:21PM (#10014529)
    Folks, it is only a matter of time before StarForce disappear off the face of the planet.
    Right off from the first question they start spewing garbage from a technical persepctive.
    Drivers cannot stop SoftICE from working, at best they can try to be aware of it and try to malfunction when they detect its presence.
    Drivers can be uninstalled (the easiest method being to simply delete the file). Furthermore any activity of their driver can be spoofed by a replacement driver that just says everything is ok.
    Their driver is a simple Windows IFS driver that filters filesystem calls (so called IRPs), probably based on hardware/process name. The reason they mess up people's USB drives is because they mis-detect them.

    On the surface, it appears it would take only a couple hours for an experienced IFS driver writer to completely bypass their driver (probably along the lines of letting the driver run but ensuring it never gets to see any of the file system calls).

    I'm willing to bet the only reason none of the games shipped with their product have been cracked has to do more with the lack of popularity of the games then with the copy protection.

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