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Mass Effect DRM Still Causing Issues 593

Posted by kdawson
from the three-strikes-and-you're-out dept.
An anonymous reader writes "There was some discussion last month about the proposed DRM for Mass Effect and Spore that required the game to phone home every ten days. They backed down from that, but have left in that a user is only allowed 3 activations per license key. A license key is burned up when the O/S is reinstalled, when certain hardware is upgraded (EA refuses to disclose specifics of what), and possibly when a new user is set up in Windows. Only in its first month, some users are already locked out of their games from trying troubleshooting techniques to get the game running."
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Mass Effect DRM Still Causing Issues

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  • by RenHoek (101570) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @05:04PM (#23830135) Homepage
    I warned people about the same BS with Bioshock. You don't want to pay $50 to just hire a game, because anything that stops you from using what you buy is hiring.
  • Spore... (Score:4, Informative)

    by JediLow (831100) * on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @05:04PM (#23830151)
    Well, I was looking forward to getting Spore when it came out - if this DRM remains though there's no chance that I'm going to buy it.
  • A solution? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Tarindel (107177) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @05:06PM (#23830209)
    if 3 activations isn't enough for a particular user, it is possible to call EA and request more. A hassle, yeah, but better than not playing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @05:18PM (#23830491)
    I picked this up from Target Sunday night after a buddy of mine told me that it was out for the PC. I came home and installed it...

    I think it took 4 hours to decompress 9GB off of the DVD. I'm not sure, I ended up falling asleep before it completed.

    So, Monday night, I came home from work to play it. What a pain in the ass.

    a. needs new drivers, but
    b. looks as good as BF 2142 (which worked on my older drivers and ran faster)
    c. we're talkin' "high seas" choppy (12-16 fps) even on 800x600 with linear aliasing and no music.
    d. OTOH BF2142 can run in 1600:900 widescreen at 60 fps.

    Did I mention that it failed to load after (I kid you not) 10 minutes on the splash screen? Apparently, the SecuROM DRM blacklists SysInternal's Process Explorer. Yeah, major hacking tool. Whatever.

    Ok, so, I upgraded drivers, turned off PE and rebooted (!), and fired it up again. Like I mentioned, choppy sound fx and graphics and crazy load times (we're talking no UI response for upwards of 10 minutes).

    Eventually, I did get to "play" for about an hour or so before an uninterruptable cutsceen black-screened-of-death my computer. Why oh why aren't they using industry-standard works-forever Bink video? Or if they are, they've seriously misimplemented it.

    It should go without saying that this game appears to have undergone the most lazy subcontracted porting job from the xbox to the PC.

    Against my better judgement, I'm putting it on the shelf until they release a patch rather than returning it. (Mainly because I don't think Target accepts software returns...)

    Bottom line: I got what I deserved for buying this game without doing any research beforehand. (Surely, this is 2008, and Big-Name games aren't released in a broken state, right? wrong.)
  • by Surye (580125) <.surye80. .at. .gmail.com.> on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @05:19PM (#23830507) Homepage

    Honestly, if Bioware never 'needed' DRM (outside of a license key) for earlier games such as the Baldur's Gate Series, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, etc, and made millions upon millions of dollars of revenue, why do they suddenly need such restrictive DRM?
    I'll give you a hint [slashdot.org].
  • by Winckle (870180) <[ku.oc.elkcniw] [ta] [kram]> on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @05:20PM (#23830525) Homepage
    Yep, I get that with Civ 4, which doesn't have cd keys for the game or the expansions, it has the old fashioned "disk in drive" copy protection.

    5 minutes and 3 no CD exes later my game runs even better.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @05:40PM (#23830897)
    Mass Effect is far from a finished product. While the run up to the resolution of the main plot line is compelling everything else is more or less a tacked on grind that in many cases detracts from the setting of the universe. (The most elite human special forces members really run around with the junk equipment of not only the human alliance, but the entire galaxy? Maybe next time build in a better level up system for items or don't start with the protagonist as at the top of the human food chain.) AI problems, all kinds of balance garbage, the interface for a number of tasts.

    The Customers of commercial DRM solutions aren't end users, they're middle management at software developers. Charts printed on a color laser printers are pretty and compelling. DRM made for end users might well be less onerous.

    At the minimallist level it might be something more like just census taking, and using the data when looking at how to make money on future titles or hunt down the big fish involved in commercial piracy. Something inbetween might involve the ability to revoke some elements of the software (which used to be far more common) as keys are discovered in warez online. (Older games would occasionally have superhard difficulty settings if it detected it was pirated. Where the game could be explored, but it was essentially impossible to progress.) With downloadable content, there's another option. You can provide valid keys when someone pays for content. Essentially, getting blood from what was previously a stone.

    A DRM solution that doesn't account for people wanting to use the software perhaps a decade or two later (I still play Bandit Kings of Ancient China 1989 KOEI) isn't a solution. Accountants that don't see the value in producing a durable good for their consumers, well ... they're hiring at Wal*Mart. But the bad ideas don't define the successes, even in fields that occasionally find themselves mired in an embarrassing richness of bad ideas.
  • by Digital_Quartz (75366) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @05:42PM (#23830913) Homepage
    Erm... I hate to tell you this. The Stardock games all "have no copy protection" for the V1.0, but as soon as you install an update, it asks you for the key, and then it does product activation [stardock.com], much like BioShock and Mass Effect.

    The Stardock product activation is much nicer than BioShock or ME; instead of a hard install limit, the install limit is rate based. In other words, you're only allowed [unspecified number] of installs per [unspecified time period]. There's also none of the "can't be running any debugging tools" nonsense that SecuROM comes with.

    The "unspecified"s in there make me a bit uncomfortable, but it's a bit better than SecuROM.
  • by JSBiff (87824) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @06:00PM (#23831107) Journal
    "concerning the DoFS - That's why you don't actually *buy* software any more. You actually lease the right to use it."

    If you follow that Wikipedia link in my earlier post, and read the section on case law, specifically the last paragraph about Vernor vs Autodesk, you'll see that at least one Federal Judge has made a ruling that calls "Bullshit" on that argument. That was a very recent ruling, though, so there is still the possibility that could be appealed, I think, but it's at least encouraging that the courts might be willing to overrule bogus licenses.
  • by vux984 (928602) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @06:03PM (#23831157)
    (it's not stealing unless you pick a box off a shelf in a store)

    And its not piracy either. (Unless you take a ship at sea.)

    What you evidently meant to say is that "There will always be those that choose to infringe copyrights."

    If you are going to be pedantic about definitions then be pedantic about definitions ;)
  • by Gnavpot (708731) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @06:25PM (#23831403)

    I have a question about steam... how does it work if you have two computers (or more)? I mean if I buy Bejeweled, on my steam account, can my wife play it while I'm playing Civ?

    Only one PC can be logged in to a Steam account at a time.

    Most singleplayer games under Steam can be played in offline mode, which somewhat resolves this.

    The safest way around the problem is probably creating one Steam account per game, but that also removes a lot of the convenience in Steam - and convenience is our reason for accepting their Digital Restrictions Management.

  • by damiangerous (218679) <1ndt7174ekq80001@sneakemail.com> on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @06:32PM (#23831521)
    the only thing I worry about is whether I'll be able to fire up my old games and go for a trip down nostalgia lane 20 years from now when the good folks at Valve have gone on to other things.

    You will. Steam runs in offline mode now, no reason it won't in the future. Just back up the games.

  • Foot in the door (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rekolitus (899752) * on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @06:57PM (#23831793)

    On the whole, it's a pretty disgusting press technique EA's gotten away with here.

    EA: Mass Effect and Spore will have invasive DRM that re-checks with a central server every 10 days!

    Bad press happens

    EA: We learned our lesson. Mass Effect and Spore won't use that invasive system we were thinking of using. We decided we had to listen to our customers, so we decided we'd use this less invasive method (which is still invasive, and is the same system used on Bioshock)

    Good press happens, despite the fact that EA has just said it would use the same protection system as Bioshock, which got bad press for... having an invasive protection system that locked legitimate consumers out of their own games.

    This is called the foot in the door technique [wikipedia.org], and at least up to this article, EA pulled it off masterfully.

  • by ady1 (873490) * on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @07:08PM (#23831947)
    Nice theory.

    One flaw, you can't bypass copyright protection without violating EULA (and DMCA in the US)

    Regardless of how fuzzy and warm you feel, software makers (microsoft being a prime example) mention in their EULAs that if you bypass the protection, your right to use the software is revoked (no money returns) and if you keep using it, you are no different from a person who didn't pay for it in the first place (maybe ethically or morally you are) but not according to the law.
  • by Xelios (822510) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @07:23PM (#23832133)
    ... by calling EA's technical support line. Of course, if you actually get through to someone compatent enough to help you you deserve a medal. And a refund for the phone call (no, it's not free...)
  • by Aaul (695153) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @07:49PM (#23832487)

    Just a quick note about the backup feature Steam uses: it seems to be impossible to do a restore from a Steam backup while in Offline mode. I've recently tried doing a restore of a bunch of games I backed up a few weeks ago before I upgraded some major components and I've been unable to do it in Offline mode. For those interested, the failure occurs right after you select the games to restore and the progress window says it's creating local game cache files for each game. The error says "This operation cannot be completed in Offline Mode" and then "The Steam servers are too busy, try your request again later." I don't know if this is just something that was overlooked by Valve or they just don't want people restoring in Offline mode.

    The restore works just fine if I do it in Online Mode (though I find it pretty stupid that even before I restore my games I have to download data to do so). Technically I should be able to restore the games in Offline, set them to "Never update automatically" and go back Online without them auto updating (and thus preventing me from playing until they fully update).

    -James
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @12:29AM (#23834789)

    Did I mention that it failed to load after (I kid you not) 10 minutes on the splash screen? Apparently, the SecuROM DRM blacklists SysInternal's Process Explorer. Yeah, major hacking tool. Whatever.
    Yeah I ran into this same damn thing with Neverwinter Nights 2. If I'd had Process Explorer open before trying to run the game it'd fail.

    After some googling I found a fix on the Sysinternals Forums. It hides the Process Explorer driver so SecuROM doesn't freak out. I compiled it and ran it and it works like a charm. Run the fix EXE before the game, start the game, then close the fix EXE.

    Not going to post a direct link here but search the Sysinternals Process Explorer forum for "Fix for SecuROM bug" in the post topics from "any time" (post is over a year old).
  • by karmatic (776420) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @02:23AM (#23835371)
    DRM isn't REALLY about software piracy. I haven't known one person that has said "Hey! It is difficult to pirate this. I may as well just go buy it!".

    Well, now you do. Over the years, there have been a number of applications that fell into this category for me, from Windows to MorphVox, Trillian (wanted some of the addons) to (once upon a time) C&Cheat.

    The problem with DRM is that (if done poorly), the pirate copy is easier to get and more functional than the legitimate copy. This encourages users (through consequences) not to buy. This is bad.

    OTOH, some copy protection systems aren't overly invasive, and because of add-on content, multiplayer (games), etc., the paid version is more functional than a pirate copy. This gives people a reason to buy it.

    I sell software. I've sold software for years. Nagware and minimally invasive copy protection have (in my tests) brought in more sales, time and time and time again.

    The funny thing is that piracy can often increase sales. The added exposure can help bring in business, and the reduced risk (I'm not paying $X for software I've never used) makes for an easier sale. Someone who would never buy my customer costs me nothing if he pirates it.

    Greedy Corp X will still throw DRM at it because now they want you to pay for it for every machine you want to run it on

    Some companies do - some don't. We charge for different platforms, because (for example) the PalmOS and Symbian platforms are different players, and required separate development efforts. You can switch devices as much as you want - we certainly don't care.

    On the other hand, we're going to be rolling out widgets, and integrate application for over 600 different devices. If you've got widgets, paid apps, whatever, we're not going to charge you extra to use it on any device it's compatible with. We only charge you for two programs if we had to write two programs.
  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @04:08AM (#23835853)
    All of that is irrelevant. It would only matter if someone could come up with DRM that actually works. And by "works" I don't mean seeking some perfect balance between annoying the fuck out of your paying customers and delaying the crack by a few days as in 99% of DRM so far. I mean no cracks at all Not even partially playable cracks.

    The problem is not even that this task is literally impossible, although it may in fact be. The problem is that the man-hours and cost per shipped unit involved in a scheme that even has the tiniest chance of holding off the crackers for more than a week is non-trivial. We're talking about things like hardware dongles and parts of the code that are not even included with the game but which would have to run on servers that you are paying for. Maybe each customer would have their own unique sections of the game which have to be accessed online before the game could continue.

    One of the more succesful attempts I have heard of was from Cubase. It had so many dongle hooks that for a while it seemed the sheer tedium of finding and removing them all would be too daunting, but eventually it was cracked. No more need for the dongle after all the references have been removed from the code.

    A first step may be to try to design and build your own dongle. Don't use an established vendor since their techniques are already widely known by the cracking community. Probably the simplest idea would be to just assign a unique digital key to each customer in the form of a USB dongle and but tens of thousands of dongle lookups in the code. In fact at least half the executable size should be attributable to the lookups.

    Another option is to sell your software with its own computer. Preferably something that the crackers aren't using very much or even would have a hard time getting their hands on. Maybe a Sun or a DEC Alpha or an SGI Indigo (although I do have one of those here). Other options may be an Amiga 500 or TRS80 Model III or Apple IIc. Except that some hackers may own some of those or could buy them cheaply. Probably the most practical option for this would be to just design/build your own custom computers. An entirely custom designed CPU and GPU with no published specs and which no one has ever heard of.

    I am old enough that I can remember a time when there were no home computer games at all. Before the Atari 2600. During that time I used to play little handheld electronic games. I remember there was a car racing game that had a little steering wheel and a very basic black and white screen where you steered the car. I bought a game AND a piece of hardware. That definitely makes it harder to crack.

    You could also try coding the whole thing in extremely obfuscated spaghetti assembly code. Don't use a compiled language because the compiler will clean up the code for you. Make the code so crazy with all kinds of blind alleys that lead nowhere. Hell say 50% of the code would be a blind alley that just ends up doing yet another dongle or other hardware check.

    Yet another possibility is releasing the game initially as a sort of ruse. Yes, people would pay for it, but it wouldn't actually do anything except check for its dongle. Then you issue a new patch from your server that makes the first 10 minutes of the game playable after trying to search for valid dongles across the internet on the remote machine that is requesting the additional game material. Then you go to the next customer and repeat until everyone has the first 10 minutes of the game to keep themselves amused. And of course you don't release to the public any information about this system ever. As far as they are concerned they really do have the "game". Hehe. Even though they really only have a bunch of dongle lookup code written in insanely obfuscated assembly code. After everyone has their first 10 minutes (the intro or whatever) the server will then send some random but connected other part of the game to make it playable in some limited way for another ten minutes. Keep repeating that checking
  • I'm saying that modern 3D game development has much higher (sufficiantly high that few developers are likely to be able to pay them out of thier own pocket) upfront costs than music production. Someone has to take the risk of paying that upfront cost in the hope that the game can be sold profitablly. With many games it is the publisher who does this.
  • by arkhan_jg (618674) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @05:29AM (#23836233)
    You can log in to the same steam account concurrently on different pc's but only the last one logged in is 'online' - the others are effective in offline mode, though you still appear to be logged in until you try to use online stuff.

    You should be able to play any single player offline or lan games ok, but going into online games will likely fail on steam auth; so you could play tf2 while your brother plays portal, but you won't both be able to play tf2 and hl2 deathmatch online at the same time, for example.

    As you say, lending or gifting games from one account to another isn't possible - that's steam's biggest weakness in my book.

    The IP tracking scheme is not that aggressive; if you shared it out with a LOT of different people who use it at the same time, you run the risk of getting banned.

    Steam does restrict a lot of the rights you're used to with cd-based games, like the right of resale; on the other hand you can install as many times as you like, on as many machines as you like, anywhere in the world without needing any of the original discs, codes or other paraphenalia, nor disc to play. The number of times I've reinstalled windows, and relinked into my steam folder and all my games 'just work' without having to do anything - it's a real convenience compared to digging out all the discs and reinstalling just to get the right registry keys installed with the licence code. Plus, steam games priced in dollars are WAY cheaper than normal UK retail price for me personally. I hated steam for years when it first came out, but it has grown on me (like fungus), and now i can live with it even if I don't love it.

    Basically, you're getting poked in the ass by steam, but at least they're gracious enough to give you a reach-around to compensate. Whether the ease of use is enough to compensate or not, is up to you.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:27AM (#23837097)
    Also, AFAIK

    Original Mass Effect executable ~= 48MB
    Cracked Mass Effect executable ~= 5MB.

    Nearly 90% of the original exe is bloat. Way to go EA.

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