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Piracy Games Your Rights Online

The Awful Anti-Pirate System That Will Probably Work 1027

Posted by Soulskill
from the an-opposing-arrrrrgument dept.
spidweb writes "Much virtual ink has been spilled over Ubisoft's new, harsh DRM system for Assassin's Creed 2. You must have a constant internet connection, and, if your connection breaks, the game exits. While this has angered many (and justifiably so), most writers on the topic have made an error. They think that this system, like all DRM systems in the past, will be easily broken. This article explains why, as dreadful as the system is, it does have a chance of holding hackers off long enough for the game to make its money. As such it is, if nothing else, a fascinating experiment. From the article: 'Assassin's Creed 2 is different in a key way. Remember, all of its code for saving and loading games (a significant feature, I'm sure you would agree) is tied into logging into a distant server and sending data back and forth. This vital and complex bit of code has been written from the ground up to require having the saved games live on a machine far away, with said machine being programmed to accept, save, and return the game data. This is a far more difficult problem for a hacker to circumvent.'"
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The Awful Anti-Pirate System That Will Probably Work

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  • Down (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ktappe (747125) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @12:25PM (#31297556)
    My DSL goes down (for just a minute or two) daily. It's usually no big deal, but here it apparently would be. Thus this is a game I could never purchase. Let's let our dollars send the message to the publisher that they're living in a dreamworld with such an unfeasible technical requirement.
  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @12:34PM (#31297666)
    I for one, if I can't download it from a torrent site, then I won't buy it. First, because gaming reviews are mostly useless, second because I don't want DRM.

    Assassin's Creed 2 can be the best "game" of the decade, but it's not if it has intrusive DRM. Then it's just a waste of money.
  • Save States (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HalAtWork (926717) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @12:37PM (#31297706)

    You don't really need some special code for save games when you can easily write a program that will save the state of any game and let you resume right at that spot. It's been done with emulated games, it will be done with these games, and will avoid the whole mess of picking apart the mechanism used by the game's DRM. If you update the game, however, it will cause problems, but it's certainly doable.

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pluvius (734915) <pluvius3@gmail.WELTYcom minus author> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @12:39PM (#31297736) Journal

    Which DRM has slowed down copying more than it's pissed off consumers? I don't consider CD keys DRM, BTW. DRM in my mind is screwing up a game's code for no reason other than to obstruct pirates.

    Rob

  • by ZorbaTHut (126196) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @12:40PM (#31297746) Homepage

    This isn't really accurate. Patching a game with access to its source code is an entire different beast from patching a game from assembly (or, even worse, DRM-mangled bytecode or hooked assembly or whatever wacky techniques they're using.)

    Presumably, all they'd have to do would be to take the server savegame code and build it into the client.

    Your argument is like saying "well, if it's so hard for people to write perfectly-compatible WoW servers, then obviously Blizzard has to go through the same amount of work every time they modify their game!" Duh. No.

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pluvius (734915) <pluvius3@gmail.WELTYcom minus author> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @12:43PM (#31297796) Journal

    This whole story is about how and why the DRM will work.

    Yes, and I don't agree with Vogel's premise. It's not going to be more difficult to crack this than it was to crack, say, StarForce; it's just going to be different. And once it's been cracked, how much can Ubisoft possibly change the method for all of their future games? This new DRM is just a complete non-starter.

    I'm just waiting them to take this one little step further - stream parts of the game code, textures or other data from server (something not used often).

    Yes, I'm waiting for them to finally come out and admit that they don't want any of the PC market as well.

    Rob

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kral_Blbec (1201285) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @12:53PM (#31297884)
    Except you are still giving complete control over your games to a third party. I used to love steam. Then one day they decided that they wanted to change the censored version of a game I bought into the uncensored version. I was annoyed, but more importantly the women folk didn't like it when they saw it. Contacted support to ask for it to be rolled back or for a refund. Was treated like an absolute idiot and was pretty much told to piss off. This after years of being a loyal customer have having spent hundreds of dollars on games. Just completely out of the blue and without permission changed the fundamental character of the game. Had they even tried to apologize I might have been okay with it. Instead I got couple idiots lying to me how they are contacting the developers to try to fix it and other BS. Not just poor support, but down right insulting. When I tried to get another associate thinking I got a bad apple the first time, it was the same thing. They hold every game I ever bought on there for ransom and there is nothing I can do about it.
    No matter how good it may seem now, it will come back to screw you. It is still DRM, it just has a happy face painted on it.
  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BrokenHalo (565198) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @12:53PM (#31297892)
    I don't pirate either, and that's one of the reasons. But I also don't buy things that come with DRM.

    Same here. I'm not so much into the game market, but I do buy a lot of music, and the same principles apply. But when it comes to the point where a game manufacturer is spending more resources on preventing someone digitally ripping off his product than he appears to be on the product itself, then everybody would be better off if the game was simply produced as a physical board game.
  • The Free Market (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bmo (77928) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @12:59PM (#31297948)

    If you don't like it, don't buy it. Copy protection goes through cycles. Companies think it's a great thing, start implementing it, and then customers stay away in droves. If anyone here remembers the copy protections of the 1980's involving induced bad sectors and other things, you'll remember that it pissed off customers and it died by the time the 1990's showed up, because they simply wouldn't buy the games.

    Then the industry largely forgot about it and here we are with another round. Do the same thing - don't buy DRMed media and it will die the same death.

    Don't break the DRM. Don't pirate, either. Pirating the game/software/media only skews the market in favor of the incumbents and locks out alternatives. Give your money and market share to the alternatives if you don't like DRM/copy protection. That part of the market will grow and favor companies that don't treat their customers like potential thieves. Indeed, Bill Gates said as much 12 years ago when he said that Microsoft will get the Chinese "sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade."

    Strong copy protection and DRM in a free market always fails eventually, if you let it.

    --
    BMO

  • by eht (8912) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:00PM (#31297958)

    Sure they can modify it easier with the source code, the real question is, why would they bother? It doesn't really gain them anything.

    They would much rather sell you Assassin's Creed 4, than to take a programmer for even five minutes to patch an old game that doesn't make them money anymore.

    Unless of course they charge for this unlocking service...

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by moonbender (547943) <moonbender@@@gmail...com> on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:08PM (#31298062)

    I had to read that a couple of times before I understood/believed it: they uncensored a game and you were unhappy with that? You wanted the censored version of the game back?

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:12PM (#31298104)

    No matter how good it may seem now, it will come back to screw you. It is still DRM, it just has a happy face painted on it.

    Yes, I agree with you about Steam, and Valve Corporation in general. What you are describing here is the difference between copy protection (which is the avowed reason that companies employ this crap) and Digital Rights Management. Game publishers that want complete, unquestioned real-time control of purchased content resident on your computer have gone way too far in my opinion, and it's just wrong. That applies to everything, not just games. Remember how Amazon removed access to an e-book on the Kindle, after the customers had paid for it? This is a level of control over the customer that sets the MPAA/RIAA drooling on their respective bibs.

    Now, having said that, it would feel differently if I were renting a game product (i.e., software as a service) by paying a small monthly fee. I'm just paying for access. I get thoroughly torqued off, however, when I spend fifty or a hundred bucks on a disc, and then get told that a. I have to have an Internet connection to activate or use it and b. find that my use of the product can be revoked or modified at any time, and for that matter that the content can be swapped out at their whim. That's just ridiculous, but that's what they want. I say don't give it to them.

  • by canajin56 (660655) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:18PM (#31298186)
    It's actually hilarious, Assassins' Creed 1 has the same DRM system, only if it couldn't connect, instead of crashing, it would just let you play. But if the connection was slow, your game would lag just like an online game played via modem. So the game tanked hardcore. The fact that their review copies were designed to crash at the half way point on PURPOSE to fuck pirates who got a copy by a leak from a gaming magazine/website, ensured that the PC version tanked in the reviews. Meanwhile, the pirate version didn't have massive lag issues at launch, while all the legit copies lagged to fuck and made the game unplayable, as their servers melted under the force of every player of AC1 connecting to their servers every 3 seconds. Their official solution was "unplug your internet connection before you launch the game". To this day, Ubisoft cites AC1 as proof that piracy hurts games, as AC1 sold something like 10,000 copies on PC, as opposed to the millions it sold on XBox. (though PS you can pirates XBox games easier than PC games, since they don't have DRM to crack). It appears Ubisoft's point was still lost in their bosses, since they were still being asked to make PC games against their very loud and obnoxious protests. So now they're trying to see if they can't top AC1, and sell under 1000 copies on PC. Thus proving forever that piracy is the cause of PC gaming's woes, somehow. Meanwhile, the pirate version will be up, at the latest, the day before street date. (You see, TFA is wrong according to PC gamer, the games do NOT save online, they save offline, with an option to have the game upload your local games to the server when you quit the game. Thus, any cracking need only fool the game into thinking the server said it's OK to continue, no server emulation required).
  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:18PM (#31298188)

    Legit purchases have been known to come with malware too, there have been various cases of storage devices being shipped out with malware preinstalled for instance.

    Up until the Internet went public, the only major cases of malware release were on commercial software. There was a computer outfit near me back in the early 90's that was selling blank 5 1/4" floppy disks by the hundreds of thousands ... all of which were conveniently pre-infected with a boot-sector virus.

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by feepness (543479) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:34PM (#31298360) Homepage

    Steam works, at least for me. It adds value to the games most closely integrated with it. Integrated out-of-game and in-game server browsing, community features, store, automatic installation and patching.

    I used to like Steam, until I paid $30 for a thirty party game on there which asked for a CD Key which I obviously didn't have. Looked on the forums and everyone was having this problem. I contacted customer service and they wanted me to disable this Windows thing and edit that registry whatever. No thanks.

    But the important thing is they told me the refund they gave me was a one time thing. Even though I asked for it within 48 hours of the purchase I was treated like I tried to download the game, play it, and return it. And if you reverse the charge on your card? Your account is suspended and you lose ALL your games.

    So I'll still Steam... for Valve games. And not much else. It is part of the reason I moved from PC to PS3 gaming.

  • by tempest69 (572798) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:42PM (#31298438) Journal
    This is my gripe, get your own, and git off my lawn.
    There are a bunch of good games out there-- that are filled with DRM.. and I wont touch it. And I kinda wish people had the collective backbone not to buy "hostageware" , even if you can get some awesome convenience factor as a bonus prize.. (steam installs are a tempting draw)
    But I don't want to be treated like a thief.. And I avoid giving money to anyone that treats me as such. If the gas station says prepay only I'll fill up elsewhere -- even when I'm swiping a card to pay for gas.

    Storm

  • Re:Down (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @01:50PM (#31298500) Homepage

    What if a certain group of crackers decides to DOS the servers?

    This could easily happen and make the game unplayable for 48 hours after launch....plenty of time to crack it *AND* piss off all the people who went and paid for it.

  • Re:The Free Market (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bmo (77928) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:30PM (#31298872)

    >it's far from a free market

    ACTA is anti free market. It's kleptocracy enshrined in law, if it get ratified.

    All copyright law is essentially the antithesis of a free market (as are all monopoly grants), and strengthening copyright is even more so. ACTA is a collusion between countries and corporations that can't compete in a truly free market to eliminate the free market.

    --
    BMO

  • Nope (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:51PM (#31299070)

    I don't know about that. I use Ubuntu and some intel chipset with on-board graphics that I never even had to know about. I just slapped a computer together and installed Ubuntu and never had to know anything about the specs except for what would work on that motherboard. I do my gaming on consoles though so I never had to run Windows. I have a MacBook Pro and some games can run on there, and I've never had to worry about drivers either.

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:4, Interesting)

    by khellendros1984 (792761) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @02:54PM (#31299094) Journal
    The game likely knows the public key for the remote server, and any machine trying to contact it without using the appropriate key won't be able to authenticate. The traffic between the game and the Ubisoft server could be completely encrypted, which greatly increases the difficulty of reverse engineering the game's "heartbeat" ping, not to mention that whoever cracks this game will end up writing a server for the game to communicate with, which will have to manage the save game files and such. No matter how you look at this, it's not going to be an easy crack.

    I have a giant pile of games next to my tv. Even for a console, Assassin's Creed 2 isn't going to ever be among them.
  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eiMichael (1526385) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @03:10PM (#31299214)

    if there was an analog to this in the PC world - some hardware DRM you could put on your machine and be done with the various software based disc checked and network activated schemes once and for all - would you install it?

    Absolutely. As long as it doesn't interfere with any other executables I want to run on my general purpose personal computer. And doesn't compromise my personal security through invading my privacy.

  • by LordVader717 (888547) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @03:13PM (#31299228)

    The big publishers aren't really as interested in the PC market compared to the profitability of the console market. That's why they're released months later. Maybe they even decided to keep the PC version out of the holiday season to avert the risk of it being cracked.
    Until the PC offers a secure enough system as consoles, the trend to consoles will probably continue and they probably won't be too concerned about lackluster PC sales.

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by operator_error (1363139) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @04:20PM (#31299726)

    True! I am not a Gamer. Not by any measure. The Only way you're likely to draw me into your game world, is to hook me on a demo I can play over time. I've bought a few cell phone games for my Nokia this way.

    Like Golf, I remember. I'll play the same hole when I'm bored on a train or something, and if I like it enough I'll buy the 'upgrade'. But I gotta figure it out first, and a lot of games don't interest me enough to adopt their learning curve. So a demo is the best way to try.

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tanktalus (794810) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @04:34PM (#31299790) Journal

    I once worked as a student developer for a company whose products were protected by hardware dongle. Near the end of my internship there, one of the larger customers demanded a dongle-less way to run the software, and my then-employer complied. By overwriting the hardware-dongle DLL with one that simply returned back "true".

    I got to implement that DLL. It was entertaining.

    My current employer uses software license keys. They're even funnier. The lawyers get all in a fit about them, when, in reality, they are basically no protection whatsoever.

  • Re:The very worst (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Endo13 (1000782) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @04:38PM (#31299812)

    There's lots of games I've personally boycotted (no buying, no pirating, no using the game in any way) because I didn't agree with their DRM, or other "features". Some recent big names that come to mind include Spore and MW2, and now of course AC2 as well. I've also gone out of my way to buy some games because I DID like the policies of the publisher. (Sins of a Solar Empire is one example). Do you think they care? Do you think they even noticed?

    There's also millions of gamers who boycott subscription-based games. Do you think Blizzard cares?

    The only way a boycott works in the arena of PC games and piracy is if you can get literally every single gamer in the world to boycott it, to the point where a cracked version isn't even attempted. As long as there's a cracked version of it available, OR they still turn a decent profit on it, nothing you (as an individual gamer) can do amounts to jack shit as far as they're concerned. They'll still continue to pull numbers out of their butts to represent the sales they "could have" and "should have" had, and claim anything less than that as piracy.

  • Re:Sweet spot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Coraon (1080675) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @04:38PM (#31299816)
    Actually rumor has it on a lot of black hat bords that a planned DDos attack is planned the first few weeks of release, just to screw over this system and cause problems for everyone, after all if the system becomes unusable then it will make ubisoft think twice about it.
  • Re:Save States (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @04:41PM (#31299830)

    yes it is hard, but VMware and some other tools do this quite nicely, so it shouldn't be a big problem. just get a 64 bit linux box with 16 or so gigs of ram and there is no real problem even when running multiple vmware instances.

  • Re:Keygens (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kill-1 (36256) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @05:02PM (#31299974)

    Most of them are false positives. I think it's mostly because keygens and malware often use similar executable packers. But there are conspiracy theories that the AV vendors get paid for flagging keygens.

  • Let them (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @06:11PM (#31300370)

    Publishers can whine about PC gaming dying all they like, it isn't. So what'll happen is if they leave, they'll just make less money and other companies will get it instead. If all publishers went and exited PC gaming, that'd be a problem for gamers. If one publisher does it, that's just a problem for that publisher.

    PC gaming is still huge. Viewed by revenue, it is the largest platform (considering it to be a platform like the Xbox 360 or Wii or so on). Lot of money being made on PC games of all types. It also helps that there isn't any licensing costs. On a console, you have to pay the company that made the console a license fee for each title sold. That's how they make it work, cheap hardware, make money on the software. No licensing fees on a PC, of course, you get to keep your money.

    Regardless, Ubisoft can keep being stupid, it won't matter. I imagine, as they have more and more problems, they'll wise up and stop it. That has been happening with EA. For awhile they were getting real anti-PC, insisting on bitchy SecuROM protections and releasing PC games long after the console releases. They seem to have wised up, their two first flight RPG recently (Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2) have shipped with no DRM, and at the same time on PC and console. They seem to have realized that screwing over PC gamers is a bad idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 27, 2010 @07:01PM (#31300706)

    Disclaimer: I work for Ubisoft, though I had nothing to do with this DRM stuff. This is my own personal opinion only, I do not speak for my employer.

    I hope those black hats are ready for a visit from the FBI.

    To all those who think Ubisoft should just let the pirates win... you have no idea how frustrating it is to spend many millions of dollars and several years of our life making a game, and then see statistics from our update servers that 15 to 20 people are playing pirated copies for every legitimately purchased copy. PC gamers have $2000+ computers and drop $200-500 on a video card every year. But most of them are too damn cheap to buy their games. They grew up pirating them through high school and university, and don't see any reason they should stop now. Most of them have managed to convince themselves that (somehow) they aren't doing anything wrong.

    People say Ubisoft shouldn't treat them like criminals. But an unfortunately large majority of PC gamers ARE criminals who will steal any game they can, and justify it to themselves however they want. By the way, after the reactions to Spore and Bioshock (and a other heavily DRM-ed titles) we tried shipping the recent Prince of Persia without any DRM. Guess what? It was pirated heavily.. more so than any of the previous Prince of Persia games.

    So rather than give up on the PC market entirely (which is the other possible solution), we're trying the heavy DRM stuff. Some of those pirates (a small fraction probably) would buy a retail copy if they were not able to easily pirate the game. Most of them won't, and we don't care about those guys -- they can go pirate our competitors' games and thats fine. But after we spend 2+ years with hundreds of people working their ASSES off to make something just to entertain people, we would like them to pay us for it. Is it really so much to ask?

  • by tick-tock-atona (1145909) on Saturday February 27, 2010 @09:42PM (#31301816)

    By the way, after the reactions to Spore and Bioshock (and a other heavily DRM-ed titles) we tried shipping the recent Prince of Persia without any DRM. Guess what? It was pirated heavily.. more so than any of the previous Prince of Persia games.

    How did you get accurate numbers on pirated games?

  • Speculation. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Seyren (1079827) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @01:19AM (#31303264)

    I disagree with this method of DRM, but I really want to play this game. Also, I don't pirate games as a matter of principle (though if I made a game and it was pirated widely, I'd take that as a compliment, it just means people liked it).

    So what I'm going to do is borrow a friend's xbox and play his old copy. I get to play the game, I don't have to deal with the ham-fisted DRM, I don't pay a cent, and all without doing anything illegal.

    Still, it makes me kind of sad that I don't get to play on my platform of choice. I don't like where this fight is going either, it seems like publishers are just intending to take piracy as an excuse to leave the PC market for the console market. I like my all in one work and entertainment machine, and the thought of having to purchase additional hardware just to play games is really annoying.

    The worst part of all this is that they did it on a really popular game. Most people will just suck it up and buy the game with the inconvenient DRM because they just want to play the game, and then Ubisoft will claim high sales numbers as proof that the system "reduces piracy rates". This doesn't work because all it means is that more people are playing the game. Once the game is cracked, the ratio of pirated copies to legitimate copies will probably still look the same as for any other game. If this was done on a less popular title, that title's sales numbers would fall because the mentality would be "oh, I wanted to try that game, but the DRM is a pain in the ass so I guess I won't bother". And since the game didn't get a chance to prove itself before the inevitable cracking, less people would be looking to pirate it due to lack of general interest and word-of-mouth advertising, resulting in overall less copies in the wild, but a pretty much similar ratio of pirated copies to legitimate copies.

    Of course, there's no way to tell if the above would actually be the case until the scenario actually happens, so let's wait and see.

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