Rootkit DRM Methods Fuel Piracy

I talked to several people lately who expressed interest in BioShock. I told them straight up: no matter what you do, don’t buy that shit. If you do, you will just get brutally fucked up the ass by SecuRom, online activation and the 57 million of other DRM features that 2kgames decided to put in it. If you download it on the other hand you get a safe copy that includes no rootkit, and will still work 20 years from now when 2kgames no longer exist, and you for some reason are in a mood to play the old abandonware shit.

I usually don’t advocate copyright infringement here but I can’t in good conscience recommend to anyone paying money for software that will fuck up their system. We live in a seriously fucked up day and age where the legal software contains very shady, very dangerous mallware.

Especially since the DRM has no effect on the file sharing at all. BioShock was cracked in 11 days. Was the revenue gained during these 11 days worth the bad PR, alienating thousands of customers who paid for the game but were not able to play it without uninstalling crucial tools like debuggers and process monitor they use for their real life work every day?

I’m not playing BioShock – I’m boycotting that game because of the DRM. But I got fucked by this kind of DRM some time ago when my brother bought me Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood which contains Starforce – an evil piece of shit that destroys your optical drives. So I have that game – it’s a legal copy, I have the box and set of CD’s but I can’t fucking play it. Or rather I can, but not without risking damage to my optical drives and rendering my system unstable.

But, if I downloaded the game, it comes with a crack that removes Starforce. Same goes for BioShock and SecuRom – if you download it, you get the game without the dangerous components. Anyone who is passionate about the game, and has half a brain will opt to download rather than buy games that are protected this way. The only people who buy them are those who don’t know about the rootkits, or are to clueless to understand what they do.

If you are a game publisher, do the math – implementing DRM the rootkit way will:

  1. possibly increase sales in first week or two (not guaranteed though – people who were planning to download it will just hold off and wait anyway)
  2. cause massive backlash from loyal fans
  3. cause loss of customers who will never buy your products again
  4. very, very bad PR in independent online forums
  5. mainstream gaming media may pick up the story after the massive outrage in independent media
  6. you become infamous in security industry. IT people across the globe hate you giving you more bad PR outside the gaming circles
  7. possible class action lawsuits
  8. sharp decline in sales caused by the rootkit news reaching more and more people
  9. loyal fans who were backbone of your customer base boycot your products or turn to illegal downloads

Is it worth it? Personally I don’t think any DRM is worth the diminished customer experience. There is just no trade off here. You shit on your customers as if they were thieves and in exchange you get… 11 days – if you are lucky. It makes no sense.

No matter what kind of business you run, the golden rule always was “customer is always right”. Somehow music, movie and PC gaming companies decided that “customer is a filthy thief that must be punished” is a reasonable alternative. How long can you run your business the Soup Natzi style?

Soup Natzi

This extends beyond gaming. Every time you put a piece of DRM on your product you are essentially making it less marketable and less valuable than the cracked copy available on just about every torrent site out there. People want to rip their CD’s to mp3 files. If you prohibit this via DRM they will just download the mp3′s they want. And next time they will remember that you sell crippled CD’s so they will just hit up P2P instead of the record store.

The same argument is now becoming more and more valid for video as well. More and more people own video ipods, smart phones or other hand-held devices which have massive storage space and are capable of displaying video. Why should we be forced to buy movies in 5 different formats to be able to play them on all the different devices that you own? You download once, and then you just use the same copy on all the different portable players – this is what consumers want. And yet, movie studios consider such behavior reprehensible.

All these people lock down their products in ways that makes them either unusable, or actually dangerous to use and then complain that people prefer the unlocked, un-encumbered and inherently safer copies, that also incidentally can be downloaded for free. You have to remember that some people will never pay for your products. If they can’t download it, they will simply ignore it. When you use DRM you are simply alienating the rest of the people – those who were willing to give you money, but now they don’t because they can get a a copy that is of much better quality for free online.

I’m amazed how few people understand this simple dynamic.

[tags]drm, rootkit, securom, bioshock, starforce, brothers in arms, earned in blood, games, gaming, movies, music[/tags]

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10 Responses to Rootkit DRM Methods Fuel Piracy

  1. Ricardo INDIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Excellent post Luke!

    I share the same opinion and the only reason I can think of why these people from RIAA et al. try to create so many barriers is because they are cave men who can’t understand what a fast Internet connection + mobile gadgets are all about.

    Right now they seem to be trying to stop a flood with sand bags instead of understand the flood and adapt to it.

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  2. Geoff CANADA Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Too right eh! And don’t forget online activation – the practice of forcing law-abiding purchasers of software to ask for permission to use the software they’ve already payed for. They bought the software already!!!

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Yup, you are totally right about online activation. And it has a much sadder, unexpected side effect.

    Say you purchased an online activated game. You loved it, you beat it 50 times, you were active in the community and etc. Fast forward 20-30 years, and your son asks you what was your favorite game. So you run up to the attic, you find the dusty box and you decide to show your kid what gaming was all about back when “you were his age” while chuckling at how crappy the graphics look now.

    You install the game, time comes to activate and all of a sudden it fails. You try and try and try again, and it’s just not working. You go online, and you realize their website is no longer there. Then you remember slashdot reporting that this company was taken over or went under in like 2025 but you didn’t really connect the dots.

    Then your son shakes his head at your ineptitude, and charming old-timer regard for copyright and downloads a rip of the game from his favorite torrent site (or whatever we will be using then).

    I played a lot of old games that were essentially abandonware, or technical abandonware (where the company that made them still existed, but they were no longer selling or supporting the game in any shape or form). If they were activated online, I would not be able to do so. At least not legally.

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  4. Geoff CANADA Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Still too correct there Luke. However I think with a lot of games, not being able to get the correct version of directx(meaning find it anywhere to download, let alone install it on whatever you’re running) is going to be a bigger issue trying to play currently-current games in 30 years.

    Some games run like a champ on versions of directx newer than the one the game was designed for, others do not. I suspect as time goes on and directx evolves, more and more games will become impossible to play without running a separate platform (multi-boot win2017 and XP for example, or Debian 11 and XP in my case, XP is as new as I’m ever going for Windows). Though I suppose in a few years virtualizing an older OS with 3d support will probably be easy enough for a monkey, and the performance hit will be non-existant when you’ve got mulitple cpu and gpu cores to devote to the task. Anyway, it’s my totally unscientifically formulated opinion that directx is a sure fire way to make sure that at some point in the not-so-distant-future nobody will be able to run your game anymore. OOH I’m so damn confilicted about the PC game industry.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Hmm. Good point. Although I have to say that I never had a problem with a game because my DirectX was newer than the one that it was designed for.

    Also, most games actually ship with the correct DirectX version on the CD which means installing them in an emulator with the “perfect” DirectX setup would probably be really easy.

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  6. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I ran into exactly the problem you describe with Bioshock. I bought it retail, on the promises of System Shock 2. I thought ‘I could wait until it’s cracked, but I actually want to give something to the creators of SS2 in return’. I mix downloading and retail purchases in general, but in particular, I wanted to pay for Bioshock. With dollars, not frustration.

    Turns out you can’t install it without it phoning home for ‘patches’. At which point, SecuROM decides you’re a thief and refuses to install – ‘please use the original disc, not the copy’, it says, with the printed Bioshock CD in the drive taken from the Bioshock DVD case with the Bioshock security key on it (funny that, it still has a security key…)

    Turns out that SecuROM was responding to a simple blacklist. Turning off DaemonTools wasn’t enough. Uninstall DaemonTools… and Bioshock installed. That was it. An unrelated piece of software made them call me a thief (which I am with some games, but not this one) and removing it made it better.

    So, the choices are: download for essentially free, start playing and enjoy OR go to the store, buy it retail plonking down a not-insignificant amount of money, cart it home, get called a thief, figure out why it’s not working, uninstall something else… This little escapade has made me less likely to buy games at retail. Not because of the price – I’m not a student anymore – but simply because of the hassle.

    Not only that, but it does the ‘you’re a thief’ check after installing several gigs of stuff.

    Anyway, Bioshock was fun but… hollow to a SS2 fan. It was pretty, but felt like a skin of SS2. The gameplay is getting repetitive towards the end of the game, so replayability if a bit meh. A good story, but that’s all it ends up being in the end. Zero Punctuation has a hilarious review of Bioshock. I agree with absolutely every word in the review, and it’s worth watching even if you’re not a fan.

    And the irony of it all? When loading between levels, the splash contains a quote. One of those quotes is (as close as I can remember): “Ryan made it unhackable. That doesn’t mean we weren’t going to hack it” – Pablo

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Supposedly you also need to uninstall any debugger, any kind of virtualization software and also sysinternals process explorer. It’s ridiculous.

    Oh, and I lold at that review. I haven’t played the game yet, and it doesn’t seem like I’m really missing out that much.

    Oh, and that hacking bit – when I read about that for the first time I was like WTF? Minigames can be fun, but this plumbing shit looks like a crappy flash game. I mean I played like 50 different version of this plumbing puzzle and it’s not even new or fun anymore.

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  8. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The game does get tedious towards the end as there’s only a couple of types of enemies, and the ‘hacking’ minigame is insanely dull after the first few goes (it’s ‘merely dull’ after the first go). Hacking in SS2 was a bit dull after a while, whereas hacking in SS1 was kind’ve fun and different every time, not to mention also preparing you for the final showdown (and a very cool showdown it was, too)

    I still recommend trying it out – it’s quite immersive and a good story. There’s some seriously freaky stuff in the ‘entertainment district’ level as well – I recommend playing it at least until that point.

    Actually, I recommend playing it until about 10-15 minutes after you confront Ryan, which is a good scene in itself. After that, there’s not much plot and it’s fairly direct-to-end, though there is a pretty level or two.

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  9. Muhammad SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Great post Luke. I totally agree with you on this. Long time reader, first time poster! :)

    I remembered a situation the company who produced or published (can’t remember) Galactic Civilizations 2. They refused to include any form of copyright protection on the CD. So much so that the game is install-able, even without the CD key. However, if one has the CD key, one can download a full working copy of GalCiv2 anytime at the publisher’s website, if it is lost.

    I absolutely LOVE this concept! Probably I’ve lost a few of my game CDs already, one of which is Oblivion. :(

    If I remember correctly, a StarForce employee actually posted online a working link to download the game illegally, just to prove that without copy protection, the game can be easily pirated.

    Anyway, just found the links for the story:
    http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3148721
    http://www.joeuser.com/index.asp?c=1&AID=106741

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @vacri – nah, I’m boycotting it. And by boycotting I mean – I don’t have the hardware for it. But making it an ideological thing sounds much better ;)

    @Muhammad – welcome! I remember that story. It’s laughable since making a game available for download is hardly a proof of anything. I mean, I could download BioShock without the DRM if I wanted to right now – courtesy of Darkcoder and his 11th-day crack.

    Oh, and I actually found a functional rip of Brothers in Arms by DOPEMAN without any Starforce in it. So it’s not like it made any difference. Starfoce has exactly zero effect on availability of the protected titles on p2p networks. The only people who are inconvenienced by these things are the paying customers.

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