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BioShock, SecuROM, DRM - and you.
Post by trog @ 01:29pm 25/08/07 | Comments
2K Games BioShock is now out - and kicking ass, by all reports. But it has some teething problems - notably, with DRM. Read on for some of trog's thoughts.

2K Games' BioShock is now available around the globe, and jillions of gamers have already picked it up - be it in a boxed copy from their local retailer for PC or Xbox or online via Steam, everyone seems to be pretty happy with the game - it's getting excellent reviews and from all community reports it's pretty much awesome.

Unfortunately for 2K, it's taking a bit of a pounding in the press - at least, the PC version. The first issue was of course the widescreen problem, but from the sound of things there's workarounds already and hopefully we'll see an official fix.

The bigger, nastier problem is to do with the Digital Rights Management (DRM) system that BioShock has. It uses something called SecuROM for its copyright protection - and the problems that it is causing consumers are many - for example, having to call SecuROM to get a key if you need to reinstall the game. Several AusGamers members have reported the same problem and are quite unhappy they've been unable to play the game that they've bought.

2K and Irrational Mobilize and Respond:

In response to what I guess we could call "community outrage" about this copyright protection system, 2K and developer Irrational have been in serious damage control mode - bad press will hurt PC sales. There's an entire technical FAQ around it which addresses the main questions people have with the game. Staff have been hitting the forums in an attempt to respond to customers and offer.

All in all, you can't fault their response - they're not putting their head in the sand and pretending the problem doesn't exist while they swim in the pools of money that you gave them. They're out there amongst us common folk, try hard to help us get our games working.

All props to them so far for their response; it is gratifying to see publishers clearly acknowledge the issue, take it seriously, and offer some good workarounds - increasing the number of activations, for example - to help you get going.

Chances are though that you've already spent your hard-earned dollars, so you're either:

a) already happily playing BioShock and enjoying the crap out of it
or
b) beating your keyboard waiting for activation to take place.

If you're in b)-world, and a veteran gamer, you've probably at least tried the usual gamer practice in this situation - Google "bioshock crack", remove copy protection, and play. However, the copy protection in this case appears to be actually working - for now - so this isn't even an option for you.

(It should be noted that this is not an activity that is exclusive to pirates - indeed, the very reason I mention it here is to show how legitimate consumers might want to use a crack so they can legitimately access the game that they've just bought. Another example includes removing annoying CD/DVD checks so you don't have to keep putting the disc in the drive every time you want to play a game.)

If you're like AusGamers members dais and Reverend, you're now basically stuck waiting for the activation process before you can play the game. It sounds like the activation servers are just overloaded, and no doubt it'll calm down soon after the storm of the release settles, but in the meantime, you can't play your juicy game (not always a bad thing for PC games, where often you want to wait until the first patch is out anyway).

But what of tomorrow?

Everyone hates DRM. Everyone that has been on the wrong end of it knows that it's just going to cause you problems at some point - problems that, quite possibly, will result in your expensive $90 investment in entertainment becoming a useless coaster.

Fortunately, Irrational at least realise this. Irrational's Ken Levine has said in an interview with Joystick:
We will unset the online activation at some point in the future -- we're not talking about when. If people have concern about that they shouldn't be worried about that. This activation is for the early period of the game when it's really hot and there are people really trying to find ways to play the game without buying it. Of course, there are a lot of people who are legitimately trying to play it. We're not trying to be Draconian, we're trying to find a balance.
(Emphasis mine.)

Ken no doubt means this to be reassuring. And I guess it is - he's now on record saying that no matter what, you'll be able to play your game years down the track without having to worry about activation or copy protection or whatever.

What isn't reassuring though is the fact that, at the moment, it's just words. At the moment, there's no technical measure in place that means that - in one, or two, or five or ten years - you'll be able to pull out your BioShock box, wipe whatever dust may have accumulated off the DVD, stuff it in the player, and have it work. You are 100% dependent on the activation process being in place and working - or it being removed.

SO WHAT THE HELL SHOULD YOU DO?

The silver lining is that now more people are aware of the problem. It took a while, but eventually enough people got stung by StarForce for publishers to realise that it posed a real, commercial threat to their enterprises, with heavyweight (and long-term StarForce customer) Ubisoft deciding to drop it completely for future games.

2K are taking this extremely seriously, and I'm sure they have some big decisions ahead of them for their next releases. The risk for them is very real - this community backlash might translate directly into less sales for their next game if it includes SecuROM.

Fortunately, you probably don't need to do anything. This incident has been pretty big and has been getting a lot of coverage on many sites - it's affected a lot of people. The noise it has made has no doubt reverberated all the way up to the top of the chain already, and as I said, I suspect 2K will be thinking about this pretty seriously - I certainly hope they are.

If you want to become more activist about it, you've got the following options:
  • Get on their forums and state your displeasure
  • Write directly to 2K Games and Irrational
  • Or the ultra-extreme - take your game back to the store and ask for a refund. I can't see why you wouldn't get it if the game isn't playable.
I suspect almost no-one will do the last one - and I don't advise it either; from all reports the game is truly excellent and it sounds like it's definitely worth playing.

But the reality is that DRM is probably here to stay unless it becomes commercially inviable for companies to include it. To make a difference, you'll need to vote with your feet.

Of course, there's one more option...

Uh oh, where is this going...