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Inside The Game Copy Protection Racket 112

Posted by Zonk
from the scratch-and-sniff-for-the-win dept.
simoniker writes "German game company and Accordion Hero creator Schadenfreude Interactive have been carefully considering what copy protection to use for their next game, and have documented their process in detail in a new Gamasutra article. After rejecting scratch and sniff cards, dongles, and musclebound Russian copy protection outfit NovaHammer ('You would not want any of your computer games to get hurt, would you?'), they come to the (fictional but agreeable!) conclusion: 'We decided against using any sort of copy protection on our games. After all, you shouldn't feel you are being forced to buy our games. You should want to. And if you do not want to, that is really our failure — not yours.'"
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Inside The Game Copy Protection Racket

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  • I disagree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by davevt5 (30696) * on Thursday August 31, 2006 @06:52PM (#16020065) Homepage Journal
    While the gamer in me rejoices when reading this, the practicality of things are such that copy protection is needed. I agree all attempts to thwart the pirating of games never succeed 100%. But what about the vast majority of people that don't know the intricacies of bitsettings and book types and after toasting a few CDs they give up. Sure, they can get a torrent of the packaged release that circumvents these measures.

    But in the end stopping /some/ piracy will result in more money in their pockets.

    How many more roubles would they get if just 1% of people intending to pirate the game bought it instead?

    ----
    This writing may not necessarily reflect my thoughts and beliefs -- but it probably does.
  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Chosen Reject (842143) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @08:27PM (#16020640)
    People with money to burn will continue to buy games, people without will continue to pirate. People with money to burn that pirate for anything other than a trial deserve a special place in hell

    Are you suggesting that if you don't have money then you should be able to pirate without consequence? I really hope not. I am 100% against DRM (except for in rental situations), and I think the RIAA/MPAAs tactics have been really lame and stupid, but that's just stupid to say people who can't afford certain items shouldn't have to pay for them. Yes I realize that it's not stealing, yes I realize that if they do pirate it the companies have not lost anything. Nevertheless, these are not necessary items. This isn't food and shelter and clothing we are talking about here. This isn't medical care and the like. These are games, movies, music, books, etc. Luxuries. Things people can live without. There are many more avenues of entertainment than these. Radio is free, provided you have a radio. Broadcast TV is free, provided you have a TV. Plenty of stuff on the internet is free, provided you have a computer and internet connection. And if you don't have those things, you aren't pirating anyway. Books, DVDs, CDs, and even some games are now at libraries where they can be checked out for free without pirating. Here again is a way to be entertained, informed, or whatever without the need for advocating piracy among the poor.

    Anyway, I hope I didn't misread what you said.
  • by gsn (989808) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @08:55PM (#16020768)
    Funniest damn article I've read in a long time - seriously get to page 3 it gets good.

    The guy has a great point - I've bought a lot of games in recent times, sometimes long time after they were released so that the price goes down (Valve episode 1 price down you bastards - its been out long enough) and they are games I'm rather devoted to. Half-life anything, Jedi Knight and Dark Forces, Quake, C&C, AoE, Duke, Legacy of Kain, Mechwarriors, Wing Commander anything (I want more of the last three and I still hold out hope for DNF!)... its a long list. I'll probably cae on Galactic Civilizations 2 in a bit because I've been told its the games Masters 3 ought to have been.

    There are games I've pirated and deleted, the latest being Prey. Meh. Make your game worthwhile to me and I will buy a copy. I remember when I was in the midst of LoK each game cost more than the last and I still bought them - fricking Defiance was 50 bucks when it came out. It was worth it and I wanted it. The prices have gone up a fair bit so I'm not surprised that piracy has. Especially when a large chunk of your target audience is under 25s and a lot of that is still in school and college earning 6.25 an hour.

    The cd protection is just annoying - fricking cd-keys are such a pain to keep and I hate that I cant legally back up so many of my cds now. I tried reinstalling Diablo last year and was heart broken when the disc had a CRC error all of sudden. I bought the damn game and now I can't play it because some money grubbing bastards at Blizzard were more bothered about their profits than my fair use. Bought it used again but I really ought not to have had to. If they have to have copy protection it'd be nice if game companies just made their games FOSS after a few years because they aren't going to sell it anymore really. Abandonware is a great idea guys!
  • by shoor (33382) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @08:56PM (#16020772)
    I remember getting some games from Loki Software, and they were not copy protected. I dutifully purchased
    my copies and requested others to purchase also, rather than just burn copies for them (though I made
    backup copies for myself.) But Loki went out of business. I was under the impression that it was
    because too many linux users were pirating their games, but maybe it was just that the linux market
    was too small.
  • by dfloyd888 (672421) * on Thursday August 31, 2006 @09:32PM (#16020918)
    Right now, NWN 1 has piracy protection done right. After patch 1.66, NWN doesn't need the CD. However if you want to play multiplayer online (and possibly automatic update, not sure), you need to have a valid CD key stored on Bioware/Gamespy's servers. Pirated CD key? It gets disabled in their database. Keygens? Yes, they fool the client, but because Bioware's servers have a list of genuine keys, it won't get far when going online.

    This is enough protection to keep 95% of the people from pirating the game. The last 5% will end up finding a crack from somewhere and bypassing it, even if it entails yanking hardware cables to disable physical drives.

    Thumbs up, Bioware.
  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FLEB (312391) on Thursday August 31, 2006 @10:00PM (#16021100) Homepage Journal
    Nope, but restricted online play has helped a LOT.

    The problem with that? Try getting a game secondhand. Actually, I've even had enough problems getting games with just serial keys second-hand from yard sales. Perfectly usable disc, but if it's not in the right case... well, there's a five-dollar coaster. I'd look for a keygen, but there's little chance of finding one that isn't just a shameless Trojan.
  • Re:Wow! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Goldberg's Pants (139800) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:40AM (#16021857) Journal
    No other industry gets away with selling broken products, so why the fuck should the software industry? Treat them like they treat us. We're all thieves in their eyes. If we weren't, shit like Starforce would never exist. Pirate away folks!

    Copy protection is why I've largely stopped bothering with the PC gaming industry. Neverwinter Nights was the worst. There was a two month period where, thanks to Securom, I couldn't run the game. Then there's Warcraft 3. I had to use a no-cd crack as the protection wouldn't work on my drive... But there's a CRC check when you log on to Battle Net, which meant I could no longer play the game I paid for online. (Same with Nascar Racing 2003.)

    Starforce was the straw that broke the camels back. I installed a demo, and Starforce was installed. (Before someone starts yelling "Idiot, why would it be on a demo?" as has happened before on here, they put it on the demo as well so crackers can't use the demo executable to help them figure out how to get around it.) What followed was 18 months of being unable to read CD's I burnt after that shit was installed on my system. (CD's that worked just fine in every other system.) I eventually found a fix (Use the Starforce removal tools then go into the device manager and choose UNINSTALL for all IDE drives on your system, then reboot).

    I bought Galactic Civilizations purely because Stardock treat their customers decently, and not like thieves. I'm happy to support a developer who has a clue. As for companies like Ubisoft and Codemasters who, when people complain about Starforce, call them pirates and hackers... Fuck them. All companies that use damaging and invasive copy protection deserve to go bankrupt. All they need to do is fire up Emule or a Torrent site and find out just how great the protection they're choosing use is. (Toca Race Driver 3, which used Starforce, was cracked and on the net before it was even released.) They're screwing the genuine consumer and, in some cases, causing damage to these peoples systems.

    They're just as immoral as the pirates.
  • Re:Wow! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Goldberg's Pants (139800) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:45AM (#16021880) Journal
    Reminds me of the dongle protection used in Robocop 3 on the Amiga. The head of the company proclaimed that the title would be impossible to pirate. (You can read all about it in an issue of the Amiga diskmag "Grapevine". Somewhere between issue 8 and 17. Sorry, can't be more accurate than that... I know I read it recently.)

    The game called the dongle regularly. It wasn't a protection laid on top, it was woven into the game code. The head guy was saying how damn hard it'd be to crack, and while it may be cracked, it'd take months. You couldn't just remove the calls to the routine to bypass as it was all part of the game itself...

    The game was cracked within days. Rather than strip out the checks, they managed to hack the routine it called so it basically said "The dongle isn't there, but don't worry, just keep running" and that was it... The game was cracked, and yet another failed protection bit the dust.

    And yet the industry appears to have learned nothing. They always say about preventing "casual copying". Does anyone even do that anymore? With broadband and torrents etc... There's not even a need to copy an actual disk anymore. The copies flooding the net show protection does absolutely nothing to stem the flow of warez, so why in the hell do they still bother? I firmly believe that if a game is good, it'll sell. Protection or no protection.
  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Goldberg's Pants (139800) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:50AM (#16021901) Journal
    Slipped and posted before I was finished...

    Anyway, to add a final line to the above, if a game is good, it'll sell. Protection is there just to protect shitty games.

    The game companies can't have it both ways.

    If you're that convinced copy protection works, then you obviously believe I can't copy the game... So why the fuck can't I return it to the store if it's a pile of shit?

    If they KNOW it doesn't work, then why continue to include. As far as I'm concerned, if a game has copy protection on it, I should be able to return it to wherever I bought it if it doesn't work, sucks etc... But I can't, because I may have copied it...

    Fuck the PC gaming industry. All the doomsayers who say it's dying... God knows it fucking deserves too for the way the majority of it treats all of us.
  • by Sage Gaspar (688563) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:19AM (#16022020)
    Right now, NWN 1 has piracy protection done right. After patch 1.66, NWN doesn't need the CD. However if you want to play multiplayer online (and possibly automatic update, not sure), you need to have a valid CD key stored on Bioware/Gamespy's servers. Pirated CD key? It gets disabled in their database. Keygens? Yes, they fool the client, but because Bioware's servers have a list of genuine keys, it won't get far when going online.

    That's actually a model more and more companies are using, partially because of the move towards downloadable games instead of retail boxes for convenience on both sides with less distribution overhead. You get a lot more impulse buys that way as well.

    Also, with episodic gaming and subscription models, someone losing their CD means less money for you. I know that back in the day, one of my NWN disks got scratched beyond repair, a new expansion came out, my PW upgraded to the new expansion... if I had my NWN install I would've bought the expansion, but as it was I just let it go and moved on.
  • Windows X64 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TheThiefMaster (992038) on Friday September 01, 2006 @07:42AM (#16023074)
    By far the most annoying thing I've found about driver-based copy protection is that not one of them works on windows 64-bit. There are many games that I -have- to crack because otherwise they won't run on my pc at all. A friend of mine mentioned that he has a game that is like this (can't remember the name), but the company making the copy-protection HAS released a 64-bit version that works with 32-bit games, but atari (I think) won't release a patch for the game that includes it, forcing him to crack it anyway.

    Just don't copy-protect games, ok? Microsoft don't stop people copying their disks, in fact the tools for ripping the image to iso, integrating a new service pack and burning it back to disk still bootable are freely available (Microsoft even make disk images downloadable, especially for the MSDNAA).

    Instead make the game either need activating online or only restrict the online play to stop people who are using the same serial key. Don't do anything aggressive either, requiring a reinstall which nukes saves to change to a legally bought key will not encourage people to buy your game.

    All in all, the best games for working on 64 bit edition (imo) are UT2004 (doesn't require the cd after a particular patch and there's a 64-bit version now too), any steam game (hl2 or cs:s etc) again, don't need a cd to play and are 64-bit, any number of mmo games (none that I know of need a cd to play, most don't even need a cd to install).

    Or, I have a suggestion if you really want copy protection: put it in the installer on the cd. Make the installer validate your key and check the authenticity of the disk, then let the installed game run without it. Combine with the "can't play multiplayer with the same key" protection and you'll have a relatively effective protection system that fewer people will complain about. Sure, people will crack the installer eventually, but it will take them longer to crack than the game exe (at least I think so, you'd have to ask a cracker really).
  • by eison (56778) <pkteison@ho[ ]il.com ['tma' in gap]> on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:55PM (#16025412) Homepage
    One day, your legitimate key will be disabled, and you'll wonder why you used to argue that it was a good thing for a company to treat their legitimate customers with even less rights than thieves, who are at least innocent until proven guilty.

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