DIGITAL RIGHTS MANAGEMENT

CDR-logoDigital Rights Management (DRM) has been associated with PC games starting shortly after the rise of the CD recorder. Early blank disks from Taiyo Yuden of Japan first came to market at around $20 per disk. Over time the cost of blank disks fell to below $1 each.

PC games currently sell for about $30-$40 when they first are released. The price of left over copies falls as sales decline. Over time the game may sell for $5 or less after 2 years. Online prices may be discounted periodically but they tend to not follow the price deflator of the CD/DVD market.

Early DRM started all the way back to the floppy disk. Much work on securing the floppy disk was done before the CD and DVD attracted attention. Most used bad sector techniques.

Disk checks were the most common method used with floppy disks and this carried over to the CD/DVD.

Hackers were able to defeat the checks often with simply modifications to the code. This led to the use of encryption in order to frustrate simple modifications.

Over time the encryption schemes were broken and the disk checks were again defeated. Sometimes the DRM was cracked in under 24 hours following release.

Over time games began to adopt internet activation as a method to stop unlicensed use. Automated phone systems are available for those who do not have access to the internet.

CD CHECKS REJECTED

Securom, Macromedia, Starforce, Tagés and other protection systems are being rejected by Windows 10 for security reasons (KB3086255).  This will affect thousands of games.

MULTIPLE DVD DRIVES

We have many old CD and DVD drives in the shop as they do tend to accumulate. These drives can be installed in the gaming machine and used for game DVDs when disk checks are used. This way the primary DVD drive is open for general use and the game disk is safe in a dedicated drive. Our ATX mid tower chassis has 4 bays for a DVD drive. While DVD checks are less problematic now that internet activations have taken over. Some publishers have even released game patches that remove the DVD checks.

Using multiple DVD drives does stress the PSU somewhat but that is only when they are being used to record disks when the laser needs to run at high power. We recommend using excess capacity PSU so that options like using multiple drives is problem free. A USB DVD drive is another option and these use less power. Older EIDE drives can be used if the motherboard has a header and these can be used for extra drives on boards with only 2 or 4 SATA ports. PCI and PCIe cards are also widely available to expand EIDE and SATA ports.

STAR FORCE

Star Force has been a problematic DRM solution. It has been found to occasionally crash systems as well as put stress on DVD drives. In essence this product uses a proprietary virtual machine in an attempt to protect the product. Older games using Star Force do not work at all with Windows 8. Worse we have seen numerous reports of hardware damage caused by Star Force which is a serious problem especially back when a CD drive was a $200 component. Today a DVD drive is down to around $20+tax+shipping.

VIRTUAL CD-ROM, DVD-ROM & BD-ROM

Many programs that emulate the CD drive along with the DVD and Blu-Ray drives. CD-ROM is actually a layer on top of the audio track. This means a raw audio copy of a CD-ROM can be make and then mounted in a virtual drive. Given the size of game disk images, many titles, it was discovered did not need all of the file to run the product. Many older games can be run without the disk using a mini-image. Eventually DRM publishers developed code to recognize the virtual drive and would refuse to run or install.

ACTIVATION

Microsoft adopted internet based activation of Office 2000 to counter widespread copying of older editions. Windows XP introduced internet activation to the operating system. Windows is now lower in price which will make upgrades more popular.

GAMESPY

EA and others for many years used GameSpy for managing internet gaming. GameSpy also handled cheating to some extent. Unfortunately the demise of the company meant that vast numbers of games all lost their multiplayer capability.

PUNKBUSTER

PunkBuster is a tool used by game publishers to prevent cheating which has been a problem for many titles.

STEAM

Valve created the Steam platform to distribute their games as well as game updates. It eventually became a popular internet store where many purchase games that can be downloaded. Steam uses internet authorization to run a game which was successful for on-line titles. Multiplayer capacity have expanded significantly over the years. Steam has also been cracked as we have seen many of their more popular titles circulating on underground internet sites. Windows has also been hacked demonstrating that internet DRM is imperfect. Steam has also made it clear, should they close for some reason, patches for every game will be released so that games will continue to be playable as a single player tile. Obviously online games are the biggest concern.

GAMES FOR WINDOWS LIVE

GFWL is Microsoft’s rival internet activation rival to Steam. We have a few titles that use the GFWL platform. Microsoft has closed the GFWL store, games will still activate but no DLC is available. Many publishers have moved to Steam. The disk version of BioShock 2 and other titles can now be activated with Steam.

ORIGIN

EA historically used Steam for DRM but EA dislikes the restrictive licensing that Steam imposes. EA does not mind if a group of friends share the game. EA even offers revocation so the game can be given to another person. We have several EA games as they publish FPS titles each year. More recently EA has opened a new internet portal to manage their multiplayer games. Changes in browser security will force EA to make more changes as the NAIPA plug-ins are removed from all browsers.

DENUVO

With the rise of 64-bit games, a new generation of DRM has been added on top of store clients.

COSTS

Games cost a fortune to create. If publishers cannot recover the cost, no more games will be published. Halo: Combat Evolved cost Microsoft close to $200 million to develop along with their new console. The PC version was released about a year later. Many of the games we have use DRM. Internet DRM is less of a nuisance compared to disk checks as disks can be damaged easily. We see the industry using internet activation looking forward as this seems to be the least hostile way to distribute games while protecting intellectual property. Some are abandoning DRM in favor of free to play. Money can be earned in the game with vanity and game enhancements. We have identified several titles recently using the free to play model.

GOOGLE ETC.

Google etc. have been pestered to not link to illegal downloads of copyrighted works generally. In effect it amounts to censorship which may violate constitutional law. Many actions are in the courts and generally few relevant decisions have been noted. Site blocking has been completely circumvented by simply using a proxy. Domain seizures are more aggressive but alternatives keep surfacing to the frustration of industry lawyers. A growing revolt against the industry moves to censor the internet have seen the US SOPA act delayed and others reconsider their actions. The EU recently signed the ACTA which is similar but it needs to be ratified by member states. Poland has widely protested the ACTA.

In the US the RIAA and MPAA are both promoting censorship. Not all of their members are on board though. Look at the right of freedom of expression.

SOLUTIONS

So far, every scheme every developed has been circumvented. Sometimes it takes under 24 hours for a weakly protected game to be found circulating underground. We have often pondered the problem and feel the internet activation with unlimited download replacements like Steam offers is the best approach. This way if a user has to wipe their hard disk and start fresh, all the games can be restored.  Even Steam has been heavily circumvented.

We have DVD copies of games and prefer to use the DVD to install a title to minimize internet bandwidth costs which can get expensive. Steam offers the choice of DVD or download install of games when Windows installed fresh. The Live games also installed from DVD fine. With the current high levels of unemployment, fewer have the $60 for a new game. Games do go down in price so bargain bins are loaded with lots of titles. Saving money is fashionable.

TROUBLESHOOTING

We have a lot of games, and generally they work ok all installed at once. We have noticed installing some games have adversely affected other games.

MERGING ACCOUNTS

Some publishers allow users to merge accounts. Some, like Steam,  do not.

STEAM

Consider the estate of a gamer, the account becomes part of the estate. Following probate the heir(s) have legal ownership of the games.  Steam refuses to allow transfer which contravenes the trust act etc. They want everyone to buy more copies of games, which also is an abuse of the competition act. Its also a violation of consumer protection laws.

So lets assume some person wants to divest of their game collection, its actually not a difficult process to consolidate the assets. Duplicate licenses can be placed in an inventory for gifts etc.

The only alternative that is easy to implement, is to use a separate accounts in Windows, configured with the user name and email account etc. already provisioned. This would also work with a purchased collection, Windows can handle many accounts easily.

ORIGIN

There are some limitations such as some DLC and leaderboards etc. however contacting Origin support with the credentials for both accounts and they can generally help consolidate accounts.