Product Key Game

Here is a fun little game we play around here. This is ideal for IT shops or generally places where you have bunch of geeks installing crappy software on windows boxen. It’s called the PK Master. The goal of the game is to type in the product key/CD key perfectly the first time around. A perfect game is worth certain number of point’s. We use 3 because of the old saying “3rd time’s a charm”. You can use 1 if you are all or nothing type of a person, or 5 if you want nice round numbers. Each time you mess up, you lose a point. This means that with our setup you are allowed 2 typos to score the minimal amount of points.

Product Keys

You can optionally subtract points for style. For example hitting tab in a system that automatically moves the cursor into the next box (in other words effectively skipping a box) can be penalized. Backspacing is another optional penalty. And of course if you are nasty you can take away points for squinting or picking up and re-reading the key.

At the end of the week/month you tally up the score and the person with the highest scoring average wins. It’s only fair to use averages because people do not always get equal number of attempts even if you all take turns. This someone only got to go once this week can still win, if he scored 3 points.

What does the winner get? It’s up to you – for example, the lowest scoring player may have to buy a lunch for the highest scoring one. This makes reinstalling windows on a box that is not imaged a little bit less of a chore because at least you get an opportunity to score 6-9 points and significantly improve your average.

Before you say this is easy, please think back to the last time you had to do enter a product key. If I give you a MS Office CD right now do you think you can score 3 points? Personally I can’t even remember the last time I got a perfect score. I always mess up and type 8 instead of B, G instead of 6 or O instead of 0. And if the product key is lower case I always fuck up 1 and l.

Office Product Key (Not Mine)

Then there is that tricky “are the dashes/spaces part of this key?” problem. Sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. Do they tell you this on the sticker? Of course not. Does the system complain when you type a dash when you don’t need it? Silly idea – that would just be to easy. This uncertainty adds element of chance to this game. When you are installing a new or unfamiliar piece of software it’s always a gamble. Do you risk plunging your average into oblivion, or do you let your co-worker type it? It’s a tough choice!

I really love how the software makers keep finding innovative ways to keep this game challenging. In most cases they print the keys in very small, non-distinct sans-serif font on some crazy colorful background. Most normal people would put a long alphanumeric key like that on contrasting background in a large font with big serifs and other features that clearly distinguish letters and numbers (such as crossed zeros). But not these guys – they literally go out of their way to make it fun for us!

Sometimes I wonder how normal people deal with this whole product key thing. I only see it in the game terms these days. I pick up a CD and go “oh boy, this one has too many B’s and 8’s… I better drop it on someone’s desk and hope they fall for it”. I actually find it hilarious to find a sequence like 8B8B6G6B within a key. It’s funny even if it causes you to score poorly because you can then show people the damn key and talk about Microsoft conspiring against you and your free lunch. But normal people… Hell, they must be mighty annoyed with these damn things. I would be if I didn’t see these stickers as free lunch opportunities.

Then again, if you think about it, the CD key is the least annoying and obtrusive form of copy protection. Much more convenient and harder to lose than a hardware dongle, and way better than some crazy DRM rootkit that makes your optical drive explode after detecting a blank CD.

Naturally they don’t work – even if you combine them with an online activation. All the copies circulating on torrent and warez sites are cracked and have the key/activation parts removed. Then again no DRM really works anyway. Digital copy protection is just a pipe dream of the software industry. But until the proprietary software moguls figure this out we might as well stick with the lesser evil.

Seriously, try this game people! Let me know if it catches up! I would love to see it spread into the wild. ;)

[tags]product key, cd key, pk master, product key game, pk master game[/tags]

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6 Responses to Product Key Game

  1. Craig Betts UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    I have a better game . . .

    See how many computers you can load an OS on without entering a product key!

    I am ten for ten today!

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I was kinda going for the satirical angle here – you know, poking fun at the really silly Product Key concept here… I hate these damn things. :mrgreen:

    Besides, your game is not really a game – it contains no element of challenge and you can’t really lose at it. You see a computer, you install Linux or BSD flavor on it and move to the next one, no?

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  3. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    A slightly larger challenge would be to do as much as possible in your computing life, all without ever entering a product key.

    Although for that, just load up on open source software and it’ll be plain sailing.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Nope – not a challenge at all. There are two solutions here and both are trivial:

    1. install linux and give up on games and proprietary software


    2. use only cracked software


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  5. Muhammad SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I was re-installing Neverwinter Nights 2 and I remembered this post of yours Luke.

    CD keys are a huge b*tch! NWN2 has 7 sets of 5 letters, printed on the inside of the manual. If you lose the manual, that’s it. I had to dig it out from the dusty box. And i STILL have to put in the DVD in the drive each time I play (but hooray for daemon tools and cracked images!). Feels like I’m getting punished for buying and supporting the game.

    Why can’t all games run like Gal Civ 2?

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  6. trajce THE FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA Google Chrome Windows says:

    if anyone can tell me the product key for street fighter 4 for online gaming,i have the game but its a piracy product and i didnt have any key …

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