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EA Loosens Spore, Mass Effect DRM 249

An anonymous reader writes "In response to recent criticism, EA has decided to eliminate the periodic validation of Mass Effect and Spore. 'Specifically, EA's plan to dial in to game owner's computers every ten days to check whether they were running a legitimate version of their software has been scrapped, ShackNews reports. EA had planned to use the validation method for upcoming titles Mass Effect and Spore. EA now says that validation will now only occur when a user attempts to download new content for either game. Chief among the voices in opposition to this measure were members of the armed forces, who pointed out that they could not rely on having an internet connection every ten days.'"
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EA Loosens Spore, Mass Effect DRM

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  • The Horror (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:35PM (#23358168)

    Chief among the voices in opposition to this measure were members of the armed forces, who pointed out that they could not rely on having an internet connection every ten days.
    1914/18... Trenchfoot becomes rife due to lack of access to dry footwear/socks.

    1939/45... Troops freeze through the Battle of the Bulge, across Russia.

    2008... Access to certain videogames sometimes limited in certain situations for a few days until net access can be resecured.

    I know "Won't anybody think of the troops!" is second only to "Won't anybody think of the children!" and can thus never be questioned unless you're a terrorist as well as a paedophile.. but there comes a point where the rallying cry is used for such ludicrously trivial things that it just devalues everyone involved.
  • Re:The Horror (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Free the Cowards ( 1280296 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:39PM (#23358182)
    Um, what? Nobody is comparing it to trench foot or freezing in the winter because you're stuck outdoors and people are shooting at you. However there is a large class of people who go without internet connections for long periods of time, and that class of people doesn't appreciate this kind of DRM scheme. It says nothing about other bad things they may experience.

    Your argument could be used to justify almost any bad treatment.

    "Sarge, this stew tastes like horse meat!"

    "Shut up and eat your stew, Private. Just be glad you don't have trench foot!"

    Or, what the hell, I guess I shouldn't ever complain about anything, because some of my ancestors had to live through famines.
  • by raving griff ( 1157645 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:39PM (#23358184)
    EA now says that validation will now only occur when a user attempts to download new content for either game. Spore is built on downloadable content. Throughout the game, the creatures you encounter, the worlds you visit, the buildings you see--they are all player-created objects and will all be downloaded in the background while the game is running. Spore is a game that only works well with downloadable content, and if I have to enter a validation code every time the game decides to download a creature or a planet, I'm not sure the promising gameplay will be worth the hassle.
  • by Zombie Ryushu ( 803103 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:40PM (#23358190)
    DRM has no right to exist, and anyone who implements it should be severely punished. DRM should be resisted by any and all means necessary. We deserve a DRM free future, but we will have to fight for it. Do everything you can to end DRM today.
  • Re:Phew! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Perseid ( 660451 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:42PM (#23358204)
    I don't know about everyone else, but protection like this makes me MUCH less likely to buy a game.
  • Re:Phew! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Clockwork Apple ( 64497 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:43PM (#23358210) Homepage
    I was more worried I would have to boycott Spore. Checking in when I DL content is ok cause then I am connected, but if the game is going to stop working due to extended lack of access to a connection, well... fuck em.

  • How about? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:44PM (#23358220) Homepage
    You don't like their policies or practices then don't fucking buy it. Thats the loudest thing you can say.
  • Uhhhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:51PM (#23358264)
    I think that the real reason is because military personnel are non-trivial consumers of entertainment products. When you have a bunch of young people, with a good deal of free money on their hands (if you are deployed in a combat zone you get more pay, and generally have few expenses since everything is handled), and a situation that sucks, well that's a good target for entertainment goods. I know when one of my ex roommates graduated and was getting ready to go off he got a nice laptop and plenty of games and movies. The guys who do Red vs Blue said Iraq was one of the top countries ordering their DVDs. Wasn't Iraqis ordering, it was troops.

    Thus it would be dumb for EA to shut out a large market. Especially since both of these games have strong single player components, and thus are of interest when you aren't going to have net access.

    It isn't being used as a rallying cry, it is that the soldiers were honestly concerned they wouldn't be able to get their game on.
  • Re:Phew! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kingrames ( 858416 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:55PM (#23358296)
    I was worried I'd have to pirate it.
  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @12:06AM (#23358336)
    Except that by definition, if you're downloading new content, you have an active net connection. The 10 day thing was arbitrary. A user might be without net connection at that time, at which point they wouldn't be accessing such content but would still be barred from playing the single player game.
  • by sweatyboatman ( 457800 ) <> on Saturday May 10, 2008 @12:10AM (#23358360) Homepage Journal

    The only thing that you could really complain about is the necessity of an internet connection to validate on install.
    As with any complicated software system (especially one acting over the internet), there's a lot that can go wrong. If it doesn't work for any reason, they'll have spent a lot of money turning happy customers into angry returners.

    A wise decision would be to forgo the DRM altogether, and apply the savings to reducing the retail price of the games. I guarantee that will have a far greater effect on sales than any DRM scheme ever would.
  • Re:Phew! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @12:11AM (#23358368)
    I'm not sure I undestand why you're less likely to buy it after the changes. There's no regularily set phone-home-and-authenticate functionality so after the intial install an online registration you never have to bother validating your copy of the game if you don't want to get new patches or play online (both of which require you to have an internet connection in order to accomplish.) so I fail to see what the fuss is about.

    I suppose it sucks if you don't have internet access (but then how are you posting to Slashdot?) to begin with, but considering they dropped the overly silly requirement of having the CD/DVD in the drive while playing the game, they've more than made concessions. I'll also mention that this allows you to easily install and enjoy the game on multiple systems since you don't have to haul the stupid CD/DVD around.

    Either I've completely misunderstood you or I can't even comprehend what you're objections to the new scheme that they've developed are.
  • by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @12:29AM (#23358434)
    No, more like reacting to bad publicity. Sort of like what our elected officials do. Float a trial balloon and then act according to the poll results.
  • by rob1980 ( 941751 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @12:49AM (#23358514)
    - Announce heavy-handed DRM
    - "Listen" to backlash from fans
    - Announce less heavy-handed DRM
    - Pat yourself on the back when the fans lavish praise on you, knowing you still got your foot in the door anyway

    Sudden outbreak of common sense, my foot!
  • by Mark McGann ( 570684 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @12:51AM (#23358526)
    One of the things about being god awful bad at something is you can improve a lot and still stink.

    The DRM still only allows three total installs for the lifetime of the game (although you can call EA tech support and ask for more, no guarantee though). I have many games that have existed on more than three of my personal computers. Just glancing at my shelf I see 1830, Star Fleet Command, Transport Tycoon, Starcraft, Rome Total War and the list goes on. I don't want to have to beg tech support every time I upgrade my game machine, many of these companies don't even exist anymore.

    The fact of the matter is that DRM that limits the total number of times you can install the game is unacceptable. They may have fixed other problems with the DRM, but this issue remains.
  • by sweatyboatman ( 457800 ) <> on Saturday May 10, 2008 @01:53AM (#23358732) Homepage Journal

    Assuming that you both want to play this game and don't want to deal with the DRM, would you pirate it?
    The DRM is meant to prevent people from pirating the game, but he's going to pirate the game to avoid the DRM, which justifies EA's use of DRM, even though without the DRM he would buy the game.

    Actually, you know, that's probably exactly how the execs over at EA think.
  • by totally bogus dude ( 1040246 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:14AM (#23358822)

    Honestly, I think you have it a bit backwards. This might be how The Industry thinks, but the lessening of DRM suggests that they've actually realised it's not quite so simple as that.

    You state it yourself: Assuming that you both want to play this game and don't want to deal with the DRM, would you pirate it?

    The answer to that is clearly "yes", which means "I would have bought if it weren't for the DRM". Publishers are realising that not only do most copy protection schemes not hugely inconvenience pirates, but it actively inconveniences your paying customers.

    if you pirate this game simply to spite the paid version which has DRM you're probably not doing the cause any help.

    If you buy it regardless of the DRM, what incentive does that give the publishers to stop using it?

    I think it's more accurate to say that this is the ONLY thing* you can do to help, but it only helps if you make sure they know that they are losing sales specifically because of the DRM measures. Mentioning it on forums is a good and semi-anonymous way to get the point across. If they're reading "yeah I love the game, the copy protection is annoying but it's worth the hassle" then they'll get the message that ... their paying customers think it's worth the hassle, and they'll keep using it so long as they think it helps reduce piracy*. If they're constantly reading "I would've bought it, but the protection was too invasive" then their attitude toward it will change.

    What it comes down to is that they make a list of pros and cons for and against their protection schemes. In the pros list, they have "might reduce piracy, for a little while". In the cons list they have "increases development and support costs, inconveniences users".

    So, make sure they add "reduces sales" to the cons list, and it starts looking like a very poor return on investment.

    * - since nobody knows how many people have pirated a game, not buying it is effectively the same as pirating it. The fact that any piracy figures are (by necessity) made up means that it gets the blame any time sales are lower than hoped.

  • by IKnwThePiecesFt ( 693955 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:19AM (#23358844) Homepage
    I think a good compromise for this would be if they limited installs within a given period of time. Like three within a month. That would massively curb a cd key being shared online in a large pirate ring but would effect very few customers.
  • by Skylinux ( 942824 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @02:53AM (#23358940) Homepage
    Nice, if I had a mod points I would give one to you. [] is very funny ... still laughing

    The DRM still only allows three total installs for the lifetime of the game
    How is this better then constant validation? So if I install it on my Desktop, Laptop and maybe at work ... I would only play it on one computer at a time.
    Now if one of the machines crashes, I am thinking about my Gaming (win XP) Desktop here, it has become unstable and needs a reload soon .... I would have to beg to get one more install.... keep your game!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 10, 2008 @03:18AM (#23359022)
    There have actually been some studies done at publishers. It's not hard for them to monitor torrent/warez/crack sites.

    The presence of a zero-day or first-week torrent release and crack has been shown to have a notable impact on first week sales of a title. When the cracked torrent release hits within the first couple weeks after a launch, sales have a detectable sudden drop.

    Unfortunately I can't link to or cite these sources as they aren't exactly posted on the web to read, but if you think about it, it's fairly logical.
  • Re:How about? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rasit ( 967850 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @03:58AM (#23359152)

    You don't like their policies or practices then don't fucking buy it.

    You need to start thinking like a Suit guy.

    Most of them seems to think they have a God given right to sell as many games as their marketing department projected, if they don't meet the projections then it s clearly due to Piracy and weak DRM.

    If we don't make sure to tell them why we are boycoting them then we will eventually end up with something like this [].

  • Re:How about? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 88NoSoup4U88 ( 721233 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @04:03AM (#23359172)
    Well, apparently there seems to be some sort of middleground here too.

    Whereas I agree that boycotting a certain product can be a very good tactic, I also think that if it's possible (with minimal effort) to let the producer know beforehand that you have problems with some aspects of their product, it can accomplish the same thing where you still get to play their product, and them realising that this time, they took it a bit too far.

    I'd pretty much call that a win-win situation.

    I was btw in the camp of boycotting Spore if this DRM would have shipped with it; But I'm also forgiving enough in this instance that I see they realised that it would have been costing them a lot of customers, and I'll happily buy their game now.
  • I don't know what the GP does for a living, but I'm active duty Navy in the submarine force. We go underwater in a nice enclosed space for months at a time, away and largely out of contact with our families (I'm married), something you might consider a bit on the arduous side compared to most civilian employment.

    I also know a lot of people from other service branches, from various backgrounds with varying perspectives on the war. Of course most of those soliders would "rather be home with their families" as opposed to dealing with a hostile combat environment every day. That said, those same soldiers are proud to be serving their nation (the "government" you speak of in your post), and have a job where they voluntarily agreed to accept and execute whatever orders are deemed necessary by those in command. That includes the Commander in Chief.

    Just some perspective from a Sailor.
  • by TeXMaster ( 593524 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @04:35AM (#23359336)

    The US soldiers are only dealing with the shit job they were assigned, nothing more, nothing less. Most would rather be home with their families, not sent into a hostile environment to further our Gov't.'s goals.

    It is a fact that they are there, and if you would talk to some of them, you would understand that most do not want to be there, but they are doing their job, and some of it is appreciated by the Iraq people. (not all, but some)

    It is a fact that they are there, and if you would talk to some of them, you would understand that most do not want to be there, but they are doing their job, and some of it is appreciated by the Iraq people. (not all, but some)

    A solider can refuse to go to combat. It's called desertion and punished by military law, and it takes much more courage than just obeying order, but it shows consistency in hir ethics, assuming (s)he refuses to serve because (s)he disagree with the motives of the war and not just because to chicken out of danger.

    "Obeying orders" is never a valid excuse for doing something unethical or illegal. It doesn't relieve the wrongdoer of responsibility.

    BTW, what do YOU do for a living? Is your job totally without fault or negative repercussions for the whole world? Do you live in a glass house without fear of thrown rocks?
    I'm not the OP and FWIW: I'm a mathematician and I worked in my last two years for a company that produces prostheses. My work for the next couple of years will be used to predict eruptions and reduce their threat. Also, this has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the message.
  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday May 10, 2008 @04:45AM (#23359368) Journal
    Not if they want to sell copies of their games. The fact that so many are making jokes about it like Penny Arcade shows that it is building a nice groundswell of negative publicity. And with the recession tightening everyones belts, pretty much the LAST thing you want is for your new product to be looked at as a ripoff that is so bad it's a joke.

    That said, the three install BS is the dealbreaker for me. Hell, I reinstall Windows from a prisitne disc image at least once a year on my gaming rig if not more. Have they never heard of Windows rot? And after watching folks get burned first with DRM and then MSN Musicstore DRM I'm leary of any kind of copy protection that phones home, but to find out I would only get three installs of a game I PAID FOR? Without even bothering to see whether I was installing to the same machine or not? Sorry,but you can keep your broken games EA. luckily they don't own every game house on the planet,at least not yet. Those titles might look nice and be fun,but I could not support any company who was royally screwing their customers with DRM that draconian. But that is my 02c,YMMV.

  • by Mascot ( 120795 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @06:23AM (#23359710)
    Until they turn off the activation server. And eventually, they will.

    This has bitten consumers in the ass when it comes to music, don't let it get a foothold in gaming.
  • by stupidflanders ( 1230894 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @06:38AM (#23359754)
    That's a strange justification for theft:

    I think it's more accurate to say that this is the ONLY thing* you can do to help

    Have you ever thought of... just NOT playing the game. As in, at all? I understand I'll probably be modded troll because I'm talking crazy talk, but seriously. If there is something that you don't like, you could always:
    * Complain to the company. (Obviously, in this case it worked! Shock!)
    * Boycott it. Don't buy it. Don't play it. Don't buy their other games, even used. Even if corporate won't listen to you, they will listen to retailers. Find other creative ways to protest. Here's a site [] with 198 ways to have a non-violent protest. (Although I'm not sure in this case #22, "Protest disrobings" - aka, mooning the company - would work :-p)
    * If you own stock in that company, dump it.
    * Mail peanuts to the company [] (or in this case, lots of mushrooms -- get it, spores? :-p)

    Oblig. Office Space ref:

    JOANNA: So you're stealing.
    PETER: Ah, no. No. You don't understand. It's, uh, very complicated. It's, uh, it's, it's aggregate so I'm talking about fractions of a cent that, uh, over time, they add up to a lot.
    JOANNA: Ok. So you're gonna make a lot of money, right?
    JOANNA:Ok. That's not yours?
    PETER:Well, it, it becomes ours.
    JOANNA:How's that not stealing?
    PETER:I don't think, I don't think I'm explaining this very well.
  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @08:35AM (#23360166) Homepage Journal
    I understand your sentiment, but then again a company has a right to do whatever they want with regards to DRM, just as I have every right to choose not to purchase any of their products if they do.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday May 10, 2008 @09:39AM (#23360466) Homepage Journal

    You may be a mathematician, but you need to go back and learn some spelling and grammar if you want to get whatever it is you are trying to say out. WTF is 'hir'?

    It's a gender-neutral pronoun. How can you be unaware of such things in this day and age? You might think anyone who uses them is a wanker (I do) but you should at least be aware that they exist. I mean, what year is this? How long have you been living under a rock? How long have you had internet access?

    Also, it is only YOUR judgment that something unethical or illegal is happening with ALL of our soldiers.

    The military is made up of its members, the military is executing illegal actions, every member of the military has a responsibility not to support illegal actions, therefore every member of the military is involved in illegal actions.

    The very structure of the military is such that you are not supposed to know (unless you need to know) what you are doing, which makes it that much more difficult. But that does not detract from my point, only from the soldier's ability to exercise judgment.

    That's the price you pay by using HUMAN BEINGS for soldiers. It has been a known factor that people will be people for many centuries.

    Actually, it's the price you pay for having human beings in charge. Orders come from above.

    Since we actively brainwash inductees to make them more likely to follow orders, it's hard to blame this on human nature.

  • Re:Phew! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @10:37AM (#23360778) Homepage
    Either I've completely misunderstood you or I can't even comprehend what you're objections to the new scheme that they've developed are.

    I think you misunderstood him.
    He said "protection like this makes me MUCH less likely to buy a game", I believe "protection like" referred to the DRM malware itself. I believe his position is that the "new and improved" malware is absolutely no different than the the original malware that the company just got publicly spanked for.

    The one and only change announced here is nothing more than an announcement that it won't phone home as much. That's it. It's still exactly the identical malware, the code is still just as hostile, it merely hides that hostility slightly better merely by trimming back the most obvious attacks on running on a ten-day-timer.

    Among many other issues, if the company closes up shop or if their server gets hit by lightning or anything else, this malware still attacks your system. It is still actively hostile and it still actively prevents you from using the software you bought and it still wages an active war against any attempt to get your computer and your software working properly.

    Yes, their motivation for it is an attempt to reduce piracy. However that does not change the fact that it is hostile code, does not change the fact that it is maleware.

    I suppose it sucks if you don't have internet access (but then how are you posting to Slashdot?)

    Just because I'm posting to Slashdot from this computer, and doing so today, does not mean that the computer I install it on to play is connected to the internet, or even that I will have any handy access to the internet at all at that time. Which is aside from the point that by computer shouldn't be "phone home" to them at all unless I ask it to, and that it is entirely illegitimate for the software to interfere with my usage of my computer and usage of the game I bought if their DRM server goes down or even I merely *don't* have my computer call them over the internet.

    the overly silly requirement of having the CD/DVD in the drive while playing the game,

    Right, MALWARE.
    It's malware, in contrast to legitimate valuable software such as a CD emulator utilities. Such utilities are valuable for playing old games that assume data is on the CD for the mere reason that hard drives weren't big enough to fully install the game back then... and which as also legitimate and valuable for working around stupid DRM CD-check type malware.
    And hypothetically, a equivalent legitimate valuable utility to enable me to install and run the game I bought even when I have no internet access, or to install and run the game I bought even if the company goes out of business or their DRM servers otherwise go offline, or even to do so when I do have access and merely decline to notify the company over the internet.

    So while removing the ten-day timer is a "good thing", I'm still just as pissed off today as I was yesterday.

    If one day story comes out that a company plans to actively add lead and mercury to the milk you buy, and the next day a story comes out that that the company has decided to stick with the lead but not add the mercury, is that supposed to be good news? Are we supposed to be happy about that? Are we supposed to say 'ok, I'm not pissed at them anymore"? Are be supposed to be GRATEFUL that they decided not to add the mercury?


    Either I am not skip the milk entirely...
    or I will get the milk from some Good Samaritan who volunteers to do some work to filter the lead out. And if that Good Samaritan also happens to offer me that clean milk for free, well gee, that's a seriously tough call there...... I can pay for poisoned milk, or I can get nice clean milk for free.... oooooo that's a real toughie.

  • by Asmor ( 775910 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @11:14AM (#23361072) Homepage
    Yeah, I know, this is Slashdot and that's to be expected, but still.

    I'll end up having to reinstall it at least 3 times the first year due to Windows unreliability.
    Really, man? My last computer had Windows XP pre-installed on it, and that same install of XP lasted me for around 5 years, and that includes lots of monkeying around (such as changing the partition size with GPartEd, installing various Linux distros and Vista side-by-side, daily use with a reboot only when necessary, installing anything that seemed remotely interesting to me).

    Complaining about Windows's stability is like complaining that Linux is hard to install and has poor hardware support. Get with the times.
  • by Doppleganger ( 66109 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @12:14PM (#23361508) Journal

    The DRM still only allows three total installs for the lifetime of the game
    This is exactly why I'm not going to buy the PC version of Mass Effect right away, even though I was previously thinking of getting it as soon as it came out. I'll be holding out until my future use of the game is no longer dependent on the whims of EA/Bioware. Whether that is due to an official patch or piracy, I really don't care.

    I have tons of games that came from companies that are no longer around, or companies that have completely changed since those games came out. I've reinstalled my OS or upgraded my computer countless times since those games came out. They still work fine for me, and I don't have to jump through hoops every time I need to reinstall the software I paid money for.

    I seriously doubt EA/Bioware will be quick to release a patch to fix this once the game is out. So, even though I fully intend to buy the game, I'm stuck with cheering for the pirates.
  • Just an illusion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dupont54 ( 857462 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @01:31PM (#23362048)
    This "loosening" is just to make people accept, even praised, "online activation/harware tying", which is in my mind the worst kind of DRM for purchased content (though it is a perfect fit for renting).
    By accepting this DRM, you agree to have you ability to play a single player offline game controlled by an online server. There is no such thing as a one time only activation, as each time the system detect your computer has changed (which can be triggered by simply using a different windows account with crappy DRM), it will ask for activation again, eating your previous activation credit.
    Nothing guarantee the auth server will be there when you want to play. Even if it is there, nothing guarantee it will give you the right to play because of some "normal usage" rules implemented on it (and which can change over time). And don't expect too much competence and generosity from a consumer service, especially a few months after launch.
    The software, music and video industries are full of horror histories about activation servers going down or being simply dumb and rigid.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 10, 2008 @01:46PM (#23362162)
    Exactly. Fuck ANY form of DRM on my games. I've bought a few things through Steam, but I've been reconsidering the wisdom of that decision lately. I don't want to PAY somebody for a product that I then have to ask them for permission to install it when I get home, then have to ask for permission every 4th time I install it.

    I paid for it, it's mine. Nowhere in copyright law does it say what I do after the sale is any of your fucking business.
  • by Digital_Quartz ( 75366 ) on Saturday May 10, 2008 @05:37PM (#23364174) Homepage
    The 10-day thing is required. Here's where it comes from.

    BioShock released with an earlier version of this system; SecuROM with Product Activation. After outcry from people then, publisher 2K Games promised a "deactivation" tool (which isn't enough for me to rent their game, but I guess it was enough for some). The problem with this tool goes a little something like this:

    Step 1: Install BioShock
    Step 2: Activate BioShock. SecuROM server now thinks you have "n-1" activations left. Your game is activated, and BioShock will never phone home again.
    Step 3: Ghost/clone your hard drive image.
    Step 4: Deactivate BioShock. SecuROM server goes back up to "n" activations left. Your game is deactivated.
    Step 5: Restore your harddrive from the image you created in step 3. Now your game is activated again, but the server doesn't know that, and still thinks you have "n" activations left.

    This is obviously a bit of an onerous process to go through, but it isn't hard to imagine someone automating this process (or even just automating the important part; finding where the activation is stored on your drive, backing it up, and then restoring it after the deactivation process is finished updating the server).

    I strongly suspect the "phone home every 10 days" was an attempt to "fix" this. If 30 different machines are all phoning home every few days with the same key, then you know people are using this (or a similar technique) to pirate the game, so you can ban the key and kill all those installs. Without the phone home part, this activation scheme is essentially worthless.

    The CORRECT fix, of course, is to get rid of product activation, because it's stupid, invasive, and is pushing your formerly paying customers into circumventing your copy protection.

The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.