Take-Two and 2k Marin have “scaled back” the DRM in BioShock 2, so they say, in response to a PC community outraged by their attempts to once again impose restrictions on the game by way of SecuROM and its attendant installation limits. The pointless cap on the number of times the game can be installed is gone now, replaced by a much more benign and user-friendly disc check. Oh, and installation limits.
See, the SecuROM install limits are out, which is great because we all know how awful SecuROM is. In its place, Take-Two is going to use Games for Windows Live “non-SSA guidelines,” which means, well… install limits. But that’s okay too, because it’s a Microsoft thing rather than a SecuROM thing, and at the end of the day what really matters isn’t whether we’re being bent over but who’s standing behind us when it happens. Right?
But seriously, folks. Am I the only one who sees a problem here? Because unless I’m grossly misreading the situation, it looks to me very much like Take-Two has done absolutely nothing but shifted the responsibility, and thus the blame, for the installation limit onto someone else. Making the maneuver even more brilliant (aside from its laughable transparency) is that the “someone else” in question is none other than Microsoft and its benighted Games for Windows, which everybody hates anyway but which we are resigned to being stuck with for the rest of eternity. It’s like blaming your troubles on God. You wish things were better, but hey, whaddaya gonna do?
The irony of my outrage stems from the fact that I wasn’t outraged at all over the DRM in the original BioShock, which limited users to only five installations instead of the 15 allotted to buyers of BioShock 2. Like the smug kid with the “I told you so” attitude, I was happy at the time to suggest to my fellow gamers that perhaps this sort of thing wouldn’t happen if they weren’t all so busy stealing every damn game they could get their hands on. I was quite content to toe the “party line” and accept this obtrusive new DRM scheme as a necessary evil. “My platform, right of wrong,” or something like that.
Two years later, it’s hard to see the continued reliance on SecuROM and other such failures as anything but inertia. We’re only doing it this way because that’s the way we do it. Except that we’re not talking about SecuROM anymore, and this isn’t inertia; it’s a calculated effort to bamboozle gamers by pouring the same crap into a differently-shaped pile and telling everyone how vastly improved it is. And if it turns out that it’s not really any better after all, there’s always the deniability that comes from being able to point the finger at someone else to fall back on. After all, what’s gone wrong in any given situation is never as important as who can be blamed for it.
This is where I start to get angry. Legitimate attempts to protect intellectual property are one thing, but trying to put one over on people is another matter entirely. And that’s all this is. Even though you can dispute the accuracy of claims by Cevat Yerli that Crysis was pirated 20 times more often than it was purchased or that the industry is losing a furbillion dollars a month to illegal file sharing or whatever the hottest unverifiable statistic of the moment may be, it’s still pretty much universally acknowledged that piracy is to one extent or another taking a toll on the PC game industry. That’s a fair complaint.
But hopping onto the “No SecuROM” bandwagon and pretending that you’re doing gamers a solid while at the same time enjoying exactly the same “benefits” by way of a different system – which, for the record, is a big fat turd in its own right – is disingenuous at best.
For the record, I predicted all this years ago. I don’t want to sound like the crazy old coot who sees aliens and government conspiracies everywhere he looks, but it was around ought-four, I reckon, when I discovered to my dismay that it was no longer enough to just pay for a game and install it on my computer. This new-fangled gadget called Steam demanded its own kind of tribute and if you didn’t pay, you didn’t play. I said back then that this exciting and ridiculously convenient new system of supporting and updating videogames would one day turn around and bite us in the ass, and I’m feeling a mighty powerful urge to start pointing my finger and yelling “I told you so!” at anyone who accidentally makes eye contact with me.
Okay, so that sounds a little paranoid. And I probably shouldn’t be too surprised by Take-Two’s willingness to treat its customers like morons. This is, after all, an industry that seems determined to shoot itself in the foot, or at least the PC, one way or another. Be it with “day one DLC” that punishes not only gamers who dare to buy pre-owned games but also the retail partners who sell them, or the outright abandonment of the PC as a platform, game publishers seem increasingly disdainful of the keyboard and the mouse and the gamers who love them.
Which doesn’t change the fact that this is still one of the boldest, most barefaced switcheroos I’ve ever seen pulled. I don’t even know if “switcheroo” is the right word for this; I honestly don’t know what to call it. But the technical terminology isn’t important. What really matters is whether gamers will see through this ruse and, perhaps more to the point, whether they’ll care – not about the DRM, necessarily, but about the way it’s being sold to us. I hope we’re not as dumb as they think we are, but I have to admit that I’m a little nervous about how that’s going to work out.
Note: This article previously misidentified Irrational Games as the developer of BioShock 2. The Escapist apologizes for the error.
Andy Chalk still hasn’t made up his mind about BioShock 2 but it’s a safe bet he won’t be standing in line for it on release day.