DRM and Offline Gaming PC

I had this neat idea once of setting up a PC that I would use exclusively for gaming. I would make sure it had good hardware, and it would run WinXP without an anti-virus suite, firewall or any sort of security software making the performance that much better. No, no – I’m not crazy or suicidal. You didn’t let me finish. I would not connect that thing to the internet – ever. Yes, I would not be able to play online but most of the games I play are single player games so it would not be a total loss. I figured that without a network connection would be as secure as possible. In addition I figured that if I ever had kids, this would be a perfect way to set up a gaming and experimentation machine for them without worrying that they’d get into some online shenanigans.

This would actually be a good educational device for all parents. Teach your kids that Windows is that silly toy OS daddy uses for playing games, and Linux is what you use when you want to do serious work or just screw around on the interwebs. It was a great concept on paper.

It only took me about 30 seconds to realize that it would be horribly inconvenient if not impossible in practice. This is why:

  1. Patches – these days most of games end up on the store shelves in a half finished state. Usually to get playable experience you ought to wait around 6 months and then download and install all 6 or 7 patches just so that you can avoid random game crashes, interface bugs, broken quests and missions and graphical oddities. Of course I could download all these patches on another computer, burn them on CD’s and transfer them to the gaming PC but that’s a chore.
  2. Online Activation – this inconvenience is not easy to circumvent. I can’t tell you how many recent games use online activation of some sort. This totally wrecks my idea of an offline gaming PC because I would have to connect it to a network for the activation to take place. But hell, the machine would be behind NAT, and plugging it for few minutes every once in a while probably wouldn’t compromise it.
  3. Call Home to Play – naturally crafty game makers figured that online activation is not enough of a proof you are not a pirate so many games now require to call home each time you try to play. This would make them unusable on an offline PC that I envisioned.

Funny thing is that if I really wanted to implement this I could simply by pirating games. Some scene groups (not all) will ship games that are actually already patched up making #1 a non problem. They would of course be cracked solving problems #2 and #3. I’d still have to burn the game on a CD to transfer it to the gaming PC but it would be no different from circumventing #1. The only renaming concern would be potential malicious code contained in the crack that ships with the game. But again, if you stick to known scene groups and watch out for fakes and impostors you would usually be fine.

Here is an added bit of irony: honest customers have to activate the game online, and have it periodically call home in order to prove they are not pirates. Pirates on the other hand don’t have to do anything because the game has been cracked and the online activation/call home code was circumvented. I talked about this before but I will say it once again. Each layer is just like adding another lock on your front door. It doesn’t matter how many lock you have if the burglar is armed with a bump key. Besides, most burglars will probably use the open window in your living room rather than try to pick all the locks on your door anyway.

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8 Responses to DRM and Offline Gaming PC

  1. Steve CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Spore is a perfect example of a game I would love to play, but won’t because of the DRM. Too bad, really. I hate being made to feel that I am a pirate, and I refuse to install SecuROM on my PC…period.

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  2. gp ARGENTINA Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Of course I could download all these patches on another computer, burn them on CD’s and transfer them to the gaming PC but that’s a chore.

    there are some thingys called usb pendrives, you know :P

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

    @Steve: Truth! I actually considered putting some money down for an original copy of the spore, but now it is out of question.

    @gp: Yeah! Or external usb/firewire drive. Slipped my mind – but it’s pretty much the same thing. You save it, disconnect it, walk over to the other computer and connect it. Faster, but only slightly more convenient.

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  4. feeshy Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    I stopped with PC gaming a couple of years back. Spending money on upgrades, fighting with DRM and online activation all left me a little jaded. I’m also a single-player game fan in an increasingly online market.

    That said, even though it isn’t DRM free, my Xbox360 has been good to me. It has the most PC-like games catalog and games “just work”. And now that microsoft has fixed the license migration issue, everything works just fine offline.

    In some ways I miss PC gaming because you’ll never get certain games e.g. RTS to work properly on a console without a mouse and keyboard. But I’m gone from retail PC gaming forever. I still play roguelikes and the odd DOSBox game, but nothing new.

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  5. Tino GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    How about online games? And when you need to search for troubleshooting? Or game hints? etc, etc. Honestly, a ‘no network’ setup seems like going backwards, with or without evil DRM. We could just as well go back and play farm animals with sticks and rocks, and that would also solve the virus and DRM issue.

    Since when do people who know what they are doing need software firewalls and antivirus? Just place the box behind a well-configured consumer NAT router, don’t read spam email on it, use some sense with Firefox (stay away from warez and teh P0rns, even `ok’ sites may be compromised e.g. by unclean advertisments), install all Win XP updates, and if you can manage, skip the bonzai buddy installation. This will surely be fine enough for a gaming machine.

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  6. It is things like this that really show a negative side to gaming. I agree that the DRM is just was to “involved”, and tends to ruin the gaming experience with games that take it too far.

    Companies need to realize that there is a contingent of people who are going to pirate a game no matter what you do. I think more of the thrill for them is defeating the copy protection schemes more than getting a free game.

    Putting standard features in place that will protect the software from 90% of the people out there is fine, but a perpetual security check on a game is ridiculous imo.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @CPU Solutions: No, no, no. You are wrong about the 90% thing. Here is the truth:

    The “standard protection features” protect the software from exactly 0% of people. If the game is available on a torrent site on the release day, and anyone can download it for free then all the protection features built into it are basically useless.

    There are people who don’t know how to use torrents – that’s true. But these are the people who would buy the game anyway so forcing them to deal with the copy protection features is pointless. The only thing prevented by DRM is casual sharing of the game between the small group of people who don’t know how, or refuse to download.

    I will give you an example. I own a legal copy of Half Life 2. My brother one day asked me if he can borrow it. I said sure, but then I remembered that it uses Steam and I was trying to figure out if I can do this without giving him my Steam password, or relinquishing the control of my game. So I stood there explaining this to him, and he was like:

    “Dude, that just sounds like too much effort. I’m just gonna download it.”

    So there you go – Steam prevented me from giving the game to my brother, but he downloaded a cracked version anyway. It’s probably worth noting that my brother is relatively clueless when it comes to computers. Valve gained nothing in this exchange. Hell they might have lost a client.

    Last time I borrowed a game to my brother it was Morrowind. Few months later he came home with his own copy of the game and all the expansions because he was to lazy to burn himself a copy of my CD and he got a good deal for the collectors boxed set.

    DRM is a joke because it only inconveniences legitimate customers. Pirates are unaffected by it. So instead of preventing piracy, it drives it.

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Tino: That’s pretty much what I’m doing right now. But you are right – more and more games these days need to have network connection for something. No sense fighting it – that’s why my idea was silly. The gaming industry is heading the other way.

    I don’t usually have major spyware issues on my machines so having a gaming machine connected to the internet is not such a big deal. It was just a theoretical idea for a foolproof Gaming PC for your living room. You know – one that you could set up for a younger sibling, cousin or your offspring.

    The fact that I know how to avoid the bonzi, does not change the fact that someone I would be sharing that machine with would find the damn thing mesmerizing and wouldn’t resist clicking on it. :P

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