Activation Bomb

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Excellent work as always Shamus.
Don't listen to the naysayers, this is indeed a little different. Yes, DRM features in this discussion, but this is more a review of legacy code and its legitimacy. Short answer, it doesn't solve the problem.

But Online Activation isn't necessarily a bust. Sure it's clunky and unwieldy and not particularly fair, but if a company that insisted on using it goes out of business that doesn't mean Piracy is the only option. Even Legacy code isn't a necessity, although it would be useful. I think I'm on to something here.

I'm no programming expert, but could you not "time-stamp" the requirement for online activation into the game? You could program this sort of "failsafe" during development. For instance, and again everything I know about programming could fill a thimble halfway:

Game A is released on Feb. 5th 2010. Then the game connects to the internet to check the date remotely, shouldn't need a game specific server for that, my computer self-corrects its date and time all the time.

If the date is three years, 4 years, 5 years (whenever the company can safely assume its not actively making them money from new sales) after release date - don't seek online activation.

If it is within the set time frame, seek online activation. At worst, there might be a short window of time a game might not install, if the company has a mega failure and just crashes unexpectedly. But you can be guaranteed your game will come back.

What do you think? Viable?

This already happens on mobile games. If your phone gets wiped when the engineers are working on it, then all your stuff is gone. Forever. No cash-back.

This is why I'm not a PC gamer. MOD communities and the like are pretty cool, but all this anti-piracy stuff (that doesn't work anyway) has turned me definitively onto consoles.

I think that providers like Valve and Stardock (Steam and Impulse respectively) already have measures in place for when/if their service goes out of commission. IIRC, Impulse doesn't need to be run during the game (unlike Steam) but I've really barely used it so I'll not mention it further in case I'm completely wrong about what I'll say.

What I'd guess Valve'll do is either a series of patches to drop the requirement of Steam or they'll simply drop a patch that removes the need to "phone home" as it were. Online activation is a relatively recent thing and I suspect that a lot of the major publishers will have a disengage-DRM patch or command for when the time comes.

Who knows, though? Hopefully no big company is going to go bust just yet :)

Rage....building.....

*twitch*

GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!

If you've lived in a dorm, you probably had internet connections that doesn't allow you to log in to an authenticating server before.
My only hope is often to rely on various "fan patches" or pirate a game entirely just to play.

This claim that keeping a games server running forever costs infinity dollars is so annoying.
make it at least slightly sane and put the cost of keeping a games server running for 50 years, because 50 years down the line you won't want to play any games because we'll all either be dead or playing space football.

ironically, by the time the company goes out of business the pirated versions will still be working perfectly as a game the way it was intended. This is ten years in the future when I suspect we will all be traveling by means of jetpack and coders will be pirating games with their iPC handheld on the fly. Maybe the companies should just give their customers a link to the piratebay of the future which I imagine will have servers run from some sort of untouchable Battleship in the sky outside international borders.

I was under the impression (not 100% sure on this, but this is the idea i got) that DRM patches and such were added to the EXE after it compiled, through some sort of EXE-modification and packaging system something like SecuRom would provide.

After all, it would make it a ridiculously difficult prospect to release a game on Steam AND D2D AND Impulse AND Retail with all different DRMs, if that wasn't the case.

The simple solution I suppose is to pirate the game after you can't acquire it legally. If you already paid for the game then I don't see any moral issue with it.

Just one more reason why I have a console, not a PC.

I use Direct2Drive. I keep all the installation files on an external hard drive and the passwords in a text file. That might defeat the purpose of digital distribution, but it's one hard drive instead of a shelf full of boxes. And if the company hosting the game goes down, I'll download a crack. Really not a big deal.

webrunner:
I was under the impression (not 100% sure on this, but this is the idea i got) that DRM patches and such were added to the EXE after it compiled, through some sort of EXE-modification and packaging system something like SecuRom would provide.

.dat and some .dll files also contain the anti-piracy code.

These sorts of measures only hurt the legitimate/honest customer. The very ones the industry are trying to keep.

A well argued piece, I completely agree.

I am certainly concerned about the way companies are going digital. They sell us things like WiiWare and Xbox Arcade so we'll get used to buying things digitally. I have to be logged on to Xbox Live to play Braid!? Well it was only a couple of quid. Before you know it, this will happen with full retail priced games and indeed, is already.

I installed Dragon Age Origins complete with the Shale expansion, every time I log in to the system (I figured it would be nice to provide gameplay info to Bioware) I get told my content is not authorised! I f*cking bought it! STFU and GTFO. Sadly some publishers still think that poor sales are related to piracy rather than them making poor games. The fact is I WON'T buy Bioshock 2 on my PC because of the DRM, until you free up MY games that I BOUGHT I'm not going to buy any more from you!.

Shamus Young:
Experienced Points: Activation Bomb

How long you're allowed to enjoy a game is sometimes completely out of your hands.

Read Full Article

Not to mention the number of 'anti-cheat' (spyware) they come with. I bought Battlefield Bad Company 2 and dispite clicking the "I DISAGREE" button to punkbuster it installed the files anyway!

As a result I demanded a refund from Steam and have complained to the makers of Punk Buster. Have you seen how crap their website is!? They try and make you sign a EULA before you can complain, the scum.

The fact is, I don't care about this kind of thing on my console. But on my PC, where I keep important documents and access my bank accounts, well, it's not a price worth paying to stop cheaters in my opinion.

This is why I love tabletop games. Gimme the damn book or don't even bother selling me the game, no one likes DRM's on PDFs.

The Bioshock issue has actually been run into by me this week. I wanted to play it again on my PC again before Bioshock 2 was released, but my gaming computer is at University where I spend 4.5-5.5 days of the week. As I'm sure you may guess, universities and other networks like that have restrictions on the ports that are open.

I can't. Install. The game. I can't contact the activation servers so the installation never completes, and it is a complete load of bullshit.

The need for online activation causes problems even long before the company in question goes out of business. It's utterly ridiculous.

Knowing my luck I won't get to play Bioshock 2 until easter, if it needs online activation too!

Well, I've always suspected that companies just give people the "We will make a patch available in the event of complete company existence failure" line just to keep us quiet, and it seems to be working, mostly because we can't actually prove they're lying until they're gone.

I hadn't heard that Bioshock still required online activation. You'd really think that they would just release the patch, since they can't be making enough money out of the game to justify the cost of running the activation servers. You could argue that they are doing it because the franchise is still active, but I seriously doubt that it would make any difference to their profits or the piracy of their game at this point.

I'm with you Shamus, the game companies should give us a the promise of a patch by a definite date.

All the more reason for people who buy PC games to download cracks

Crunchy English:

I'm no programming expert, but could you not "time-stamp" the requirement for online activation into the game? You could program this sort of "failsafe" during development. For instance, and again everything I know about programming could fill a thimble halfway:

Game A is released on Feb. 5th 2010. Then the game connects to the internet to check the date remotely, shouldn't need a game specific server for that, my computer self-corrects its date and time all the time.

If the date is three years, 4 years, 5 years (whenever the company can safely assume its not actively making them money from new sales) after release date - don't seek online activation.

If it is within the set time frame, seek online activation. At worst, there might be a short window of time a game might not install, if the company has a mega failure and just crashes unexpectedly. But you can be guaranteed your game will come back.

What do you think? Viable?

Oddly, no. It fails for the same reason any DRM fails, because the program only knows what the computer tells it. The computer can lie and say the website said some other date when it didn't really check at all. Or else the date to check against can be hacked, and the program will think that the year has to be after 1015 instead of 2015.

Flying Dagger:
This claim that keeping a games server running forever costs infinity dollars is so annoying.

The "infinity dollars" is there to make a point to the bean-counting types. Servers cost money. The machine itself. The Rack space. Bandwidth. Salary to the tech who keeps the box secure, up-to-date, and running smoothly. The cost of the tech support overhead from people who have trouble activating their game. Keeping the server software updated costs a little. (Might have to update the authentication servers to run on Windows 10 or whatever.)

The moment the game is no longer for sale, all of that is just red ink. Suddenly you've got this stupid, useless expense, hassle, and upkeep for no benefit, and there is no end to it. It drives home the point: You WILL need to shut this server off sooner or later. Why piss away money in the meantime?

Flying Dagger:
[...] at least slightly sane and put the cost of keeping a games server running for 50 years, because 50 years down the line[...]

Don't ask ME to put the limit at 50 years. Ask THEM. They are the ones claiming it will be up forever. :)

If Activision-Blizzard eats up Cryptic, can we call them "ABC?" XD

Gethsemani:
Now, I could blame this on the evil corporations who enforce harsh DRMs and anti-piracy measures against me, the paying customer. I could say that EA, UbiSoft, Activision and every other game publisher out there is evil for wanting to protect their investment.

But really, I'd rather blame it on the people who downloaded the game illegaly instead of paying for it. I find this situation not at all unsimilar to how alcohol is handled during certain sport events and similar activities. At first it was cool to serve alcohol, because everyone kept it within resonable levels. But then some guys started getting way too drunk, vomiting on others and picking fights with anyone they could. Before long, there was no more alcohol during that particular event because it got out of hand.

All these DRMs are the same way. They are not free (just as the loss of profit from selling alochol) and I am pretty sure that the publishers would rather do away with them, even if it only is to save money. But they feel the need to include them in the software to protect their investment. Sure, there are ways around the verifications, just as there are ways to smuggle your own alcohol to the game if you can't buy it at the arena.

This is one of those cases where it is obvious that the ones who lose out due to illegal game distribution, in the end, are the gamers themselves.

Your argument is inherently flawed, pirates are a red herring, the assumption always goes "if they didnt pirate it they would buy it" but thats a flawed argument since in all likely hood they wouldnt have unless its a special case like spore when pirating it was also a form of protest against the heavy handed tactics. Pirates are just a way for a company to say "look this is why our game had low sales, its not our fault the game sucked/was too system intensive/no body knew about it" altho piracy would probably help that last one.

Your argument with alcohol is flawed also, it didnt matter what the outcome of drinking was to the moral crusaders, they viewed it as the cause of many of sociaties ills and would not be disuaded untill it because obvious that banning it created bigger problems then allowing it did, its one of the few times in history you can see someone blaiming all of sociaties ills on something and literaly watch it blow up in their face. Other things that have been blamed include gays, women, cathlics, athiests, commies, black people, irish, mexicans, chinese, japanese, eastern europeans and many more. Some spelling may have shifted during the course of this rant.

Shamus Young:

Flying Dagger:
This claim that keeping a games server running forever costs infinity dollars is so annoying.

The "infinity dollars" is there to make a point to the bean-counting types. Servers cost money. The machine itself. The Rack space. Bandwidth. Salary to the tech who keeps the box secure, up-to-date, and running smoothly. The cost of the tech support overhead from people who have trouble activating their game. Keeping the server software updated costs a little. (Might have to update the authentication servers to run on Windows 10 or whatever.)

The moment the game is no longer for sale, all of that is just red ink. Suddenly you've got this stupid, useless expense, hassle, and upkeep for no benefit, and there is no end to it. It drives home the point: You WILL need to shut this server off sooner or later. Why piss away money in the meantime?

Flying Dagger:
[...] at least slightly sane and put the cost of keeping a games server running for 50 years, because 50 years down the line[...]

Don't ask ME to put the limit at 50 years. Ask THEM. They are the ones claiming it will be up forever. :)

I'm now more curious as to the type of games you are thinking of the limits being in place for...
You can't start an MMO without being aware of the long term issues involved, so everyone is aware of that, and most steam bought single player games work when you cannot connect to steam, internet is down or steam is offline or something. Also if you go to where your steam games are kept, you can load a few of them up straight from there, without even starting steam.
Of course there will be limits on how long multiplayer games are around for, but generally a game loses it's popularity long before the server running becomes an issue.
I understand that this isn't really what this particular article is about, but more concerned with the last time you claimed to keep steam running forver would cost infinite dollars.

Of course then there is always the "well i have bought the game so i can just pirate it" approach. Abandonware stops becoming a grey issue if you already paid for the game.

I'm also unaware of how steam handles the install limits... if anyone knows i'd be interested, whilst you can say "well i've irrefutably bought the game" if you sign on to steam once then install, then sign off, and always pick "start in offline mode" you can "give" access to the game on a friends pc.
So does steam use an install limit and just not tell you?

Dogmeat T Dingo:
The simple solution I suppose is to pirate the game after you can't acquire it legally. If you already paid for the game then I don't see any moral issue with it.

My thoughts exactly, I don't want to pirate stuff but if they did pull down the online activation servers as Shamus is warning us about that's what i would do seeing I'd already paid for the game. Granted I still dislike online activation but there are so many other things that also annoy me about most of the new games these days that I wouldn't buy anything at all if they were deal-breakers. It is defintiely, however, an influencing factor if I'm on the fence about buying something.

I do like the analogy of the dead man switch. It's incredibly selfish of publishers, as you said, to ensure their own survival and, failing that, take everyone with them when they go down.

I think now, people should really start thinking about the dollar-vote. If you're against online activation, don't buy the games. I stick to consoles, and it's quite satisfying to have a tangible copy of the game you paid for and not have to rely on the publisher to let you play it.

Eventually, if games that require activation sell badly enough, publishers will get the clue and start making the games for the consumer instead of for themselves.

All I got from this article was "don't buy PC games period." I'm sure that wasn't the intent but given that half the things mentioned in this article will happen anyway regardless of outcry (companies will still go out of business, servers will still go down, etc.), it seems that you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Since I've already done this, and have quite the Steam library, worrying about this is pointless for me. I can't undo what I've already done and by the time Steam dies out I'll probably be beyond worrying.

Actually I take that back, I got one other thing out of this article. The further confirmation of my belief that complaining about every little change isn't going to solve anything because again, things will still always happen regardless. You can at least stop a lot of the online activation stuff but beyond that you can't save a corporation by yourself, nor can you stop them from doing things you don't like by not talking to them directly or at least putting in the effort, and even then some things just have to happen. Just like people bitching about original Xbox titles not having live support anymore soon is pointless because it's been 5 years since the first Xbox was done. It's time to let it go and move on.

XKCD says it best:

image

(image links to original page, used in accordance with their license, blah blah)

I don't eat games like chips, but I do play on consoles mostly. The games that I do have for PC I can live without, so this doesn't affect me much. However, I totally agree with Shamus on this point. Gotta' give this online activation thing a rest.

Worgen:

Your argument is inherently flawed, pirates are a red herring, the assumption always goes "if they didnt pirate it they would buy it" but thats a flawed argument since in all likely hood they wouldnt have unless its a special case like spore when pirating it was also a form of protest against the heavy handed tactics. Pirates are just a way for a company to say "look this is why our game had low sales, its not our fault the game sucked/was too system intensive/no body knew about it" altho piracy would probably help that last one.

Your argument with alcohol is flawed also, it didnt matter what the outcome of drinking was to the moral crusaders, they viewed it as the cause of many of sociaties ills and would not be disuaded untill it because obvious that banning it created bigger problems then allowing it did, its one of the few times in history you can see someone blaiming all of sociaties ills on something and literaly watch it blow up in their face. Other things that have been blamed include gays, women, cathlics, athiests, commies, black people, irish, mexicans, chinese, japanese, eastern europeans and many more. Some spelling may have shifted during the course of this rant.

Actually, my argument isn't as flawed as you might think (at least I don't think so, heh). I am not coming at this from a moral viewpoint, but rather from a purely economical.
Let me give you another example, Titanic would never sink right? So why invest in enough life boats to save everyone in case she sank? The smart economic move is to only buy the minimal necessary amount of life boats, because you won't need them anyway and they cost money.
The alcohol argument is kind of the same, because it wasn't a moral choice. The people holding these events sure wanted to sell that alcohol, it was a great profit. But in the end, they faced the prospect of losing money because a certain demographic of attenders got drunk and disorderly and that threatened to scare away other paying event goers. So, the profit form the alcohol had to go in favor of keeping the event goers coming.

DRMs are the same. They are usually third party software (such as StarForce, SecuROM etc.) and I can bet that they are rather expensive to buy a license for. These servers that Mr. Young are talking about also cost money to keep up and running. Now, I am not in anyway affiliated to any publisher except for buying the games they offer. But I think that if piracy was percieved as a negligable problem and not as severely affecting the projected income in a negative way then these invasive DRMs, Online Verifications and similar would never be used.
Think of it as this, you wouldn't buy a gun or hire a guard if you didn't feel threatened. Game Publishers aren't putting in DRMs for fun or beacuse they can, they are doing it because they believe the cost of using one will be justified by an increase in profit from denying casual "pirates" the chance to use an illegal copy.

hamster mk 4:
There is one argument you missed:
No body is going to want to play this game X years from now, and if they do there will probably be a strong enough community that a community made hack will be available. There will be classic games in every generation, those games will find a way to be preserved for the ages. The rest is just chaff people buy and throw away.

You need to experience a little more than the tiny little bubble which you live in. I personally still have my old NES games, as well as all my games for every system I've ever purchased from there on up. Do I play them constantly? No. But when I decide I want to play them, nothing is to stop me from hooking-up one of my old systems to play one of my old favorites. When I plug-in my SNES, it doesn't go online to ask Nintendo if it's okay for me to play some Castlevania IV, it just lets me. And why? Because it's my system and my game. Other companies might hold the rights to the content of the game and system, but I own the right to play said content.

I'm all for companies protecting their profits, but not when it comes at the expense of the people who give them said profit.

This kinda reminds me of that Star Force copy protection that was the bane of legit PC gamers until they were stupid enough to post torrent links on an indie company's forum to prove that copy protection is necessary. Never mind the fact that the same torrent site had Star Force protected games from which the copy protection had been removed by nefarious rogues.

Anyway, back to the point. I can't remember what game it was, I think it was one of the Prince of Persias, I'd bought, tried to install, but the thing wouldn't install because of the Star Force activation detecting some driver I had as emulation software that is used to be a filthy pirate pants. So I hit up a torrent site and got a crack for it.

A crack for a brand new game that I'd legitimately purchased.

I just took a look, those cracks are still there if you look hard enough. So don't worry about your old games being unactivatable. This is one of the cases where breaking the copy protection through means nefarious is morally right, if not legal.

Eventually, all the activation and CD key fuckery that I was forced to endure just to play a game got to me, causing me to stop PC gaming altogether.

hhmmmff....tough question.

I was almost going to say I'm a console gamer, and it shouldn't affect me, but last week we were explained that we , in fact, are affected.

Hurray for...piracy?

Nova5:
XKCD says it best:

image

(image links to original page, used in accordance with their license, blah blah)

This is more truthful than most would admit. These companies/publishers are actually encouraging piracy with their lack of foresight.

MurderousToaster:

Booze Zombie:
This is way I like hard copy of games, you don't have to worry about someone else maintaining it for you.

If Steam ever went out of business, I'd be buggered, but if Microsoft went out of business, my Xbox would still run those games.

Kinda an issue for me.

You wouldn't really be buggered if Steam went out of business (Offline mode, anybody?)

This really is a ticking clock for our screwedness. Every 'educated' gamer gets how this will destroy the industry, why doesn't the industry itself see?

I'm afraid it doesn't actually work that way though. I've been in offline mode a number of times, and it always seems to happen that the game won't let me play because it's "updating" or some crap that it can't do offline. I updated everything the night before I left the state, and when I tried to play when I got there, I couldn't without internet.

Personally, I'm fed up with PC games. Freezing, glitching, crashing, upgrading, incompatibility issues... I'm done with it. When I put L4D in my 360, it plays. No ifs ands or buts.

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