Top Ten Most Annoying DRM Methods Of All Time

Top Ten Most Annoying DRM Methods Of All Time

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Starforce, SecuROM, Steam: With all the recent uproar over increasingly intrusive copy protection schemes, it's a great time to check out a list of the Ten Most Annoying DRM Methods of All Time.

Edge Online has assembled a look at some of the most irritating, aggravating and enraging ideas dreamed up by software companies to keep people from copying their games, from old school methods like manual checks and "Lenslok" to the more familiar and intensely hated methods of today, like the infamous SecuROM software used in games like BioShock, Mass Effect and Spore. Specific episodes of DRM-created headaches are also cited, such as the failure of Steam during the launch of Half-Life 2, an intensely frustrating experience for thousands of gamers.

And while PC games are far and away the most common source of DRM headaches, it's a console-based system that's probably the most cruelly creative of them all. "Perhaps the most prominent example of cartridge-based DRM was in the SNES classic Earthbound," the article says. "Those that had Super Nintendo disc copiers would find that their illegal copy of Earthbound seemed to play fine. What they didn't know was that the game was spawning way more enemies than normal, making the entire game an endless annoyance. And to those intrepid pirates who slogged their way through anyway, Earthbound had a special treat for them - the game would freeze in the middle of the battle with the final boss, taking the time to instead delete whatever saved games it could find."

My personal choice for best copy protection of all time is found in the EA classic Starflight, which used a rotating code wheel to verify ownership of the game. You were given two chances to enter a correct answer; if you got both chances wrong, after a few days of game time the Interstel Police would show up to give you a third and final chance, and if you screwed it up they blew up your ship. Check the Top Ten Most Annoying DRM Methods to see if your own favorite made the list, then tell us about it.

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Never had the StarForce one, fuck, if I ever had something like that done to me I'd probably have quit gaming.

Nice to see Steam close to where it belongs, more than CD Keys, more than even that lame lens thingy, Steam is IMHO the worst DRM to date. Online activation requires the company's continued support of a product. When Steam goes down, it will as nothing lives forever, but when it does all of your games be they digital download or store-bought will cease to function as it cannot connect to the verification server.

I have games that predate some of the members here (birth date, not join date). I have one or two games that pre-date CD technology (yes I have a 3.5" floppy drive on my PC). All these games can still be made to run, and there are people like me who DO continue to play retro titles. If my copy of Solar Winds decided one day that I couldn't play because it couldn't find a verification server I'd track down the remnants of Epic Megagames and do things to them that Cthulhu would consider unspeakable.

Piracy is a problem for PC gaming, but the practice of it is heavily exagerated. They have to find a better alternative to stopping piracy or it's going to backfire if it hasn't already.

Oh, and that rotating code thing reminds me of a chasity belt.

I don't like Steam primarily because I think it's completely unreasonable that a single-player game should require an internet connection in order to play. It's ridiculous.

On the other hand, I've purchased and played numerous Starforce games, including TOCA 2, various Trackmania titles, UFO: Aftershock and Beyond Divinity, and I've never had a single problem with it. Nor have I had any issues with SecuROM, although with the increasingly strict way it's being employed by companies like EA and Take-Two I can see where I will at some point.

Malygris:
I don't like Steam primarily because I think it's completely unreasonable that a single-player game should require an internet connection in order to play. It's ridiculous.

EXACTLY.

What happened to CD-Keys... I don't think they're that bad.

Though, I'm of the belief the best DRM would be physical extras with the games, incentives to get wiling customers (which are most people) to buy the game. I'm not sure who said this, but it's better to have a person buy 2 copies and pirate a third, then just buy one copy.

For multiplayer-emphasis games CD-keys are sufficient. For single player games you need something more.

A fun example of weird DRM's is Operation Flashpoint's "FADE" technology which would cause bugs and weird behavior during play but still let you play it. You'd get shot out of no where or turn into a seagull or have no ammo. The funny thing is pirates cracked the game well enough that few if any illegal holders experienced this, however plenty of paid customers were on the receiving end of the technology. Countless more lived in constant paranoia that any unusual behavior was FADE when usually it was a bug or the game being normal.

stompy:
What happened to CD-Keys... I don't think they're that bad.

Well, I have this copy of Ground Control II. I also liked reading the game manual, especially since this one is from a time where manuals still had lore and artwork, instead of just technical information and maybe a quick how-to-play-the-game. Unfortunately for me, I lost the game manual when I moved to my own place (it wasn't inside the game box). So I have this game that I like a lot, but I'm unable to play it because I lost the manual and with it, the CD-key.

This is what's wrong with cd-keys. Manuals get lost, strings of paper get lost, game boxes get lost, the cd-key may "wash out" and become unreadable.

stompy:
Though, I'm of the belief the best DRM would be physical extras with the games, incentives to get wiling customers (which are most people) to buy the game. I'm not sure who said this, but it's better to have a person buy 2 copies and pirate a third, then just buy one copy.

Agreed. I was going to compare the game boxes of Warcraft 3 and Battlefield 2 (they were both within arms reach), but that would be ranting about something completely off-topic.

stompy:
Though, I'm of the belief the best DRM would be physical extras with the games, incentives to get wiling customers (which are most people) to buy the game. I'm not sure who said this, but it's better to have a person buy 2 copies and pirate a third, then just buy one copy.

Physical incentives as in what? Figurines? Strategy guides? If I'm shopping for games, neither of those are going to weigh in that purchase. Well, unless their package costs more in which case I'll ignore it entirely.

No so big on box-art either since the case will spend most of its time on a shelf. I do however love the little art books some games include, but since a lot of these can be found on PDF it loses its charm.

I also seem to be one of the few people who doesn't mind Steam.

fyrh56:

stompy:
What happened to CD-Keys... I don't think they're that bad.

Well, I have this copy of Ground Control II. I also liked reading the game manual, especially since this one is from a time where manuals still had lore and artwork, instead of just technical information and maybe a quick how-to-play-the-game. Unfortunately for me, I lost the game manual when I moved to my own place (it wasn't inside the game box). So I have this game that I like a lot, but I'm unable to play it because I lost the manual and with it, the CD-key.

Maybe in a .pdf or in an electronic form. It's still one of a kind, but this way, it doesn't wash out. Pack it as part of the game.

DeadlyYellow:

Physical incentives as in what? Figurines? Strategy guides? If I'm shopping for games, neither of those are going to weigh in that purchase. Well, unless their package costs more in which case I'll ignore it entirely.

No so big on box-art either since the case will spend most of its time on a shelf. I do however love the little art books some games include, but since a lot of these can be found on PDF it loses its charm.

I also seem to be one of the few people who doesn't mind Steam.

I don't mind Steam either, but I'm just offering other solutions.

As for incentives, I'm thinking in the vein of, well, what you don't like: box-art, art books, manuals. It may not stop you from pirating, but it will stop others.

The thing with pirates are that there are those who don't have an interest in buying a game, ever. The games industry is trying to stop these people, but it's a wasted effort; if they do invent an unbreakable DRM, then these people probably won't bother buying the game. What the games industry should be doing in rewarding those that purchase the game, instead of punishing them as collateral.

stompy:
As for incentives, I'm thinking in the vein of, well, what you don't like: box-art, art books, manuals. It may not stop you from pirating, but it will stop others.

This kind of thing is huge for me. I don't pirate anyway, but if I was ever tempted it would be immediately extinguished by the presence of cool stuff in the game box. I buy collector's editions just about whenever possible, I'm going to re-buy The Witcher in the form of the Enhanced Edition so I can get all the really great extra crap in the box and I've actually purchased stuff over eBay that was normally included in game boxes just to have backups. (Paid a couple bucks for a Baldur's Gate 2 cloth map, for instance, which I now have hanging on my wall.) It wouldn't mean anything to some people, but I really think you're onto something here - it's an incentive for buyers that's impossible to translate in a pirated copy.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the trend toward minimal packaging and contents has encouraged piracy. Look at what we get these days, even from triple-A releases: Cheap, shitty boxes, paper-thin manuals that give you just the barest overview of how to play the game, and if you're lucky, maybe a quick reference card. That's it. There's so little care put into it, it's almost no wonder a lot of people don't see any value in retail videogame purchases. Contrast that with the classic Infocom releases of 20-25 years ago; just standard releases, but they came with some incredible stuff.

In fact, let's have a look! Spellbreaker: A full-colour, glossy Frobozz Magic Magic Equipment Catalog, a pack of character cards or playing cards or something and a rather nice lapel pin from the Circle of Enchanters. Then there's A Mind Forever Voyaging, featuring another glossy catalog with a story about Queen Di At 70 (oops) and a Quad Mutual Insurance Pen - "From seafarms to spacelabs, you're covered by QUAD." And a third I just had to bring out, Plundered Hearts, which comes with a nice embroidered drawstring bag, a 50 guinea note from the Bank of St. Sinistra and a full-length fountain pen-style letter written on parchment paper. And these were standard releases, not CEs or special pre-order bonuses or anything like that. You bought the game, you got this stuff.

You just don't see that kind of thing anymore, but I think publishers would go a long way toward curtailing piracy, as opposed to just fucking a football, by adding real value to their game releases in ways that can't be broken and copied. Isn't it at least worth a try?

fyrh56:
Ground Control II

Major Tom. Take your protein pills and put your helmet on...

Sorry, impulse reply...

fyrh56:
This is what's wrong with cd-keys. Manuals get lost, strings of paper get lost, game boxes get lost, the cd-key may "wash out" and become unreadable.

CD Keys would be a better thing if it became standardized.

-Pick a preset string size, be it old EA's 4-6-6-4 method, Windows's 5-5-5-5-5-5-5 keys, or EA's newer 4-4-4-4-4 system. Once it's picked how keys are laid out, everyone must use that style.
-Set specific rules, make the rules well known, and again all companies must follow this style.
--Rules being things like whether or not keys are case sensitive (my vote is no), Alphanumeric (probably good) the Lucas Arts way of no similar characters in use (They have 1 and 0, no I l or O), and whether or not the hyphen (-) is part of the string or just a visual aid (again I vote not part).

Now to make things even better, have all CD Keys come on standard size business cards so they can be kept in 3-ring binder inserts, card files, or rolodexes. If not business card shape/size, some other compact standard and make available storage devices so people can keep everything in a nice and organized little case instead of having to fill shelves and boxes with a hodge-podge of damned boxes, papers, jewel cases, manuals, etc...

Just my thoughts on it.

Malygris:

stompy:
As for incentives, I'm thinking in the vein of, well, what you don't like: box-art, art books, manuals. It may not stop you from pirating, but it will stop others.

This kind of thing is huge for me. I don't pirate anyway, but if I was ever tempted it would be immediately extinguished by the presence of cool stuff in the game box. I buy collector's editions just about whenever possible, I'm going to re-buy The Witcher in the form of the Enhanced Edition so I can get all the really great extra crap in the box and I've actually purchased stuff over eBay that was normally included in game boxes just to have backups. (Paid a couple bucks for a Baldur's Gate 2 cloth map, for instance, which I now have hanging on my wall.) It wouldn't mean anything to some people, but I really think you're onto something here - it's an incentive for buyers that's impossible to translate in a pirated copy.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the trend toward minimal packaging and contents has encouraged piracy. Look at what we get these days, even from triple-A releases: Cheap, shitty boxes, paper-thin manuals that give you just the barest overview of how to play the game, and if you're lucky, maybe a quick reference card. That's it. There's so little care put into it, it's almost no wonder a lot of people don't see any value in retail videogame purchases. Contrast that with the classic Infocom releases of 20-25 years ago; just standard releases, but they came with some incredible stuff.

In fact, let's have a look! Spellbreaker: A full-colour, glossy Frobozz Magic Magic Equipment Catalog, a pack of character cards or playing cards or something and a rather nice lapel pin from the Circle of Enchanters. Then there's A Mind Forever Voyaging, featuring another glossy catalog with a story about Queen Di At 70 (oops) and a Quad Mutual Insurance Pen - "From seafarms to spacelabs, you're covered by QUAD." And a third I just had to bring out, Plundered Hearts, which comes with a nice embroidered drawstring bag, a 50 guinea note from the Bank of St. Sinistra and a full-length fountain pen-style letter written on parchment paper. And these were standard releases, not CEs or special pre-order bonuses or anything like that. You bought the game, you got this stuff.

You just don't see that kind of thing anymore, but I think publishers would go a long way toward curtailing piracy, as opposed to just fucking a football, by adding real value to their game releases in ways that can't be broken and copied. Isn't it at least worth a try?

Yeah, Infocom really knew how to treat their customers. The games are still fun today, even though they don't have fancy graphics or havok physics. They were clever, and original, that's all that really matters.

I got the Zork anothology collectors pack and it came with some neat extras too.

I'm shocked that the EA protection didn't make top of the list. I'm not saying that the Starforce fiasco wasn't bad, but even so, worst case scenario, you still could reformat and fix your issues. With EA limited installs, you wont get to play your game after you upgrade your PC a few times. I'm on my 3rd PC, and I'm playing games that I had installed on the first. Not counting the hardware revisions and re-installations of Windows, I would be on my last PC before having to buy another copy. Just. Not. Fair.

Signa:
I'm shocked that the EA protection didn't make top of the list. I'm not saying that the Starforce fiasco wasn't bad, but even so, worst case scenario, you still could reformat and fix your issues. With EA limited installs, you wont get to play your game after you upgrade your PC a few times. I'm on my 3rd PC, and I'm playing games that I had installed on the first. Not counting the hardware revisions and re-installations of Windows, I would be on my last PC before having to buy another copy. Just. Not. Fair.

I'm pretty sure that No. 5 was about EA's SecuRom DRM.

And Malygris, I'm glad to see you support the idea. I think it's pretty nice to get incentives like art books and extra information on the game world, and that's why I got the Halo 3 Limited Edition. It would be really nice if they did the same thing as standard, and that way, they could also combat piracy. Everyone's happy.

Khell_Sennet:
Never had the StarForce one, fuck, if I ever had something like that done to me I'd probably have quit gaming.

Nice to see Steam close to where it belongs, more than CD Keys, more than even that lame lens thingy, Steam is IMHO the worst DRM to date. Online activation requires the company's continued support of a product. When Steam goes down, it will as nothing lives forever, but when it does all of your games be they digital download or store-bought will cease to function as it cannot connect to the verification server.

Yeah but they have FULL responsibility, if they fuck everything up then they are going to be neck deep in lawsuits and angry people. You act like they just don't give a shit if everything breaks.

Not long before Half-Life shifted to Steam, and even for a short period after as people registered their old physical copies, CD-keys (and the WON/Steam database of them) were a real problem for online players, as the key "generators" tended to produce keys that already existed. This meant legit players would try to go online for a game of Counterstrike or Team Fortress, and find themselves blocked.
When joining Steam, I knew of people who went as far as mailing Valve their discs (with return-paid envelopes) to try and prove they were the legitimate owner. Now, this wasn't the fault of Steam in any way shape or form- it was the fault of the low-security keys.

I remember the fun of the various manual based methods on my Amiga- as I did occasionally buy games for it(!). If I remember correctly, Worms used a black-on-black code book. PGA Golf had four codes on every page. The Settlers asked for a word from somewhere within its badly translated manual.

And code wheels were ace until the rivet fell out...

Khell_Sennet:

fyrh56:
Ground Control II

Major Tom. Take your protein pills and put your helmet on...

Sorry, impulse reply...

I laughed out loud at that.

All praise to the dongle though for sheer idiocy of DRM

Since I have to be the voice of dissent, Steam actually works well with some people. For some some of us we can play WITHOUT an internet connection. It does a good job on controlling who has their games by associating a game key code with an account. This prevents others from doing so, but people can share accounts which defeats its. Now I don't approve of the other anti-piracy methods for they don't work well with people and are just rediculous.

Did they fix the xbox live store yet? I really want to get Braid and Castle Crashers.

Starforce is nothing compared to code wheels.

Anyone else think Earthbound and the space game have the genius idea for copy protection? IF it's detected that you're playing a pirate version of the game, the game becomes steadily more frustrating, and then randomly crashes / wipes saves / uninstalls itself after a few hours into the game, while making sure it doesn't offer too many clues early on, so pirates have to play thru the early game over and over trying to find a working copy.

Eventually it might be easier to just go out and BUY the game.

On another note...

Did I miss a meeting, people are getting on the internet to complain that they need the internet to play games?

It's like Steam are demanding you have air available when you want to install a new game.

You've got it, therefore there's no problem, unless you're just desperately trying to find something to complain about.

Also, remember, once installed, you DON'T need to be online to play single player games, just make sure it's updated and patched, then set steam to offline mode. No problem, no need to be online.

SenseOfTumour:
-snip-

No offense, but why the hell are you necro-ing old posts such as these? The news in the OP is kind of outdated and there's not that much to add to the topic, other than the usual (anti)piracy things.

Anyway:

SenseOfTumour:

Did I miss a meeting, people are getting on the internet to complain that they need the internet to play games?

Keep in mind that we may have an internet connection right now but not in places like trains, airplanes, your grandmother's house, et cetera. Internet connections aren't that freely available yet.

AdamAK:

SenseOfTumour:

Did I miss a meeting, people are getting on the internet to complain that they need the internet to play games?

Keep in mind that we may have an internet connection right now but not in places like trains, airplanes, your grandmother's house, et cetera. Internet connections aren't that freely available yet.

Doesn't many air companies forbid the use of Laptop during flight these days anyway? Also you could have given better examples and not silly places. You could have just said "What happens when your internet is down during sometime and its not your fault?"

oliveira8:

AdamAK:

SenseOfTumour:

Did I miss a meeting, people are getting on the internet to complain that they need the internet to play games?

Keep in mind that we may have an internet connection right now but not in places like trains, airplanes, your grandmother's house, et cetera. Internet connections aren't that freely available yet.

Doesn't many air companies forbid the use of Laptop during flight these days anyway? Also you could have given better examples and not silly places. You could have just said "What happens when your internet is down during sometime and its not your fault?"

Those aren't silly places at all. I travel by train for nearly an hour every day, and I know others who spend several hours in the train every day, so I could be playing something in the mean time. Furthermore, it's nice to have access to video games during long and boring flights. I'm also going on vacation ( by airplane ) to Warsaw, and I'll be staying at my grandmother's house. None of these places have direct internet access, and I spend a lot of time in those places.

And Air companies don't prohibit the use of laptops. They even have a power plug in the Business class seats, which you can use so that your laptop doesn't run out of power.

Steams fine as DRM if steam dies there are plenty of steam hacks and cracks

Having grown up with dongles, code wheels, and those horrible see thru plastic lenses, the Lenslok, half the time you having to guess the code anyway, maybe that's partly why I'm happy with Steam. I think most people mad at Steam never had to look up words in instruction manuals or read a dark blue code printed on a slightly darker blue code sheet, or had tried to use the Lenslok to read a blur on a screen, when they hadn't taken into account the fact you might be playing on a 12" or a 40" tv.

As for necroing the thread, I just noticed it at the bottom of the Escapist site, I'm guessing it can't have been under latest content, maybe it was under another heading, but I certainly just followed a link from the front page.

As I said in my original post, once you've installed a single player game, you can set it to offline mode and play it with no internet connection. I'm not saying Steam is perfect, just that the idea that you can't play games without needing a constant connection is flatly not true, and its compounded by the fact anyone I offend with this post enough to reply to me has enough internet to reply, and therefore enough to use steam and set their single player games to offline mode.

I argue that, unless the original publisher decides to shoehorn them in anyway, Steam games come with no cd key, no registration, no need to keep a cd in the drive, hell, no cd, and most of the reasons people dislike Steam are 'what if' reasons rather than actual valid ones. Tho I'm fully accepting of people who had a bad time in the early days when Steam was finding it feet and making mistakes, it's a pretty good,reliable system now.

I just wish they'd reduce prices, to take into consideration that there's no production costs, no mailing physical items, no faulty goods to return etc. They should also look into reducing prices to reflect that you cannot resale things you have bought, which is a fair negative of Steam.

Malygris:
I don't like Steam primarily because I think it's completely unreasonable that a single-player game should require an internet connection in order to play. It's ridiculous.

Only Mass Effect, which is a completely different kind of DRM. I've played single player Steam games offline before.

 

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