Block Party

Block Party
StarForce Must Die

Allen Varney | 21 Nov 2006 11:00
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I think all responsible should have their heads cut off and sent to their mothers. They are scum and should be accountable for the full worth of anyone's PC who is affected by their DRM BS. Anyone who thinks otherwise deserves death also.
- "ME BIGGD01" commenting on Geek.com post "DRM causes big trouble again," March 22, 2006

Piracy, or filesharing, is computer gaming's West Bank, a bitter cycle of struggle across generations. Even choosing a term, "piracy" or "filesharing," can revive the debate, which began on Usenet in the 1970s, then moved to 1200-baud BBS FidoNet feeds - to roundtables on Compuserve and GEnie - to Slashdot and Digg and a hundred forums. The argument has become ritualized, a pathological fugue state. In every era, in every iteration, combatants unfailingly, compulsively restate the exact same points, often in precisely the same order:

  • It's theft;
  • no it's not, it's copyright infringement;
  • yes it is, pirates take income from the creators;
  • no they don't, the pirates wouldn't have bought the game;
  • without copy protection, the companies would go broke and stop making games;
  • copy protection punishes honest users and doesn't stop pirates;
  • blah blah, yammer yammer, mama mama please make it stop!

Yet in this spastic litany, one topic has finally united both sides: the widely used Windows copy protection software StarForce.

Choke It Down, Gamer Kid
Thirty publishers have used StarForce copy protection on over 150 PC games, including popular titles like Splinter Cell 3, Rainbow Six: Lockdown, King Kong and the TrackMania series. Some publishers even use StarForce on demos intended to be distributed widely and freely, to prevent hackers from using the demo to crack the protected full version. Consumers unwittingly install StarForce's hidden drivers along with the game software. In theory, you need never become aware StarForce is on your hard drive. In theory!

To about the 80th percentile, gamers - or anyway, the gamers who post online - passionately loathe StarForce. In any forum topic about StarForce, embittered players across the spectrum speak in one voice about crippled operating systems and ruined CD drives. Many players report they bought honest, legal copies of StarForce-protected games, could not make them run and finally, in desperation, visited pirate sites to download no-CD cracks or warez versions. A dominant theme in these posts is resentment toward StarForce and game publishers for screwing up their customers' computers without warning. Publisher representatives seldom post to apologize or ask details.

Some complaints mention the system's combative publisher, Moscow-based StarForce Technologies Inc.. Among providers of copy protection, who are usually subdued, StarForce Technologies gained a high profile in January 2006 when public relations manager Denis Zhidkov threatened to sue Cory Doctorow, contributor to mega-popular blog Boing Boing, for calling StarForce "anti-copying malware" and thereby violating "approximately 11 international laws."

In a post on CNet in November 2005, Zhidkov (after threatening to sue another user) claimed, "The percent of users that had compatibility problems with StarForce is 0.3%." (For a million-selling game, this would be 3,000 users. Zhidkov was citing an October 2005 Ubisoft study that called the problems "consistent with any Windows application.") "The drivers are installed with the protected software," Zhidkov said, "and it is up to the software developer how they will be uninstalled. StarForce offers many ways to make the integration of protection flexible and user-friendly. And if some developers choose to select the option of manual driver uninstall, it is their sole right."

Zhidkov was responding to, and implicitly confirming, a point by the user "W0lfe": "StarForce is asserting, on the game's behalf, that the game's owners' rights are more important than the users' right to know, and control, what happens on their system. ... [Users] should be presented with clear notice of what StarForce wants to do to their system and possible side effects - they shouldn't be left to wonder why some of their other software/hardware suddenly doesn't work correctly."

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