Unbranding the Sheep: The Beatings Will Continue Until Our Stock Price Improves

In my last article, I gave a hypothetical situation of what could happen if the providers of DRM for today’s downloadable games and content just all of a sudden stopped supporting their system. This was insipired by what’s going to happen to customers of MSN Music on August – something MSN announced without even the faintest hint of an apology.

Literally the DAY I went live with that article, it was announced that the dreaded SecuROM, most famous for it’s Draconian installation rules on the otherwise stellar Bioshock, was making a comeback and tightening things even more. Now, once you install Mass Effect or Spore for the PC, you will have to authenticate once every ten days to external servers. Should you fail to do that, or should your CD key come up on a warez list, you will be unable to play your game at all. Wasted hard drive space for the most part.

By now, the news has made the rounds, in addition to commentary about why this is the worst thing to hit our world since the Bubonic Plague. Personally I understand that game makers have to do something to protect themselves against piracy in the Bittorrent Era, but the way modern DRM’s are run by large corporations, everything from SecuROM to PlaysForSure to FairPlay automatically assumes that every paying customer is a criminal or would be if given half the chance. Nowadays, whenever I install something that requires DRM, I feel like I’m buying something from a prison commissary. SecuROM is a Sony product, and we all should remember just what kind of record THEY have in this field. It’s needlessly limiting, virtually impossible to get rid of (I could write a book on the stories I’ve heard and read about the problems the Sims community have had), and as an adult that legally purchases his games, it’s fairly insulting. “OMG, piracy!” is often used as a bugbear for just about everything having to do with loss of profit; from lack of continued support for games to killing franchises altogether. Anyone who thinks piracy didn’t have anything to do with Madden being cancelled on PC (and being terribly sub-par for years prior due to lack of effort) is a fool.

We’re giving large corporations money so that they can take it and screw us from behind. The last time I checked, the prostitute is the one that’s supposed to get paid, not vice versa. There’s only one way to stop it, and it’s something that is often talked about but never done.

Ignore the games. Don’t touch them.

Gamers always say the same thing when something like this happens. They are cancelling pre-orders, torching displays of the games, burning effigies of Peter Moore, and so on. This time is no different. Discussion threads around the internet are loaded with people swearing off the games forever. Yet, the games come out, unchanged, and they break sales records. How come? The companies know we’re weak. Give us a shiny object, turn the hype up to 11, and we, like the loyal and stupid dogs we are, go for our treat. We even bring our masters their slippers! Ooh! Is that an expansion pack? Here’s my $30, Mr. Riccitiello! The indignation of being called a criminal by default is either forgotten or ignored by the time the game goes to market. Once the game is installed, the bad PR that comes with something like can’t make a dent in the bottom line of a company that has a revenue of $3.1b USD. Said companies are always looking for a bigger chunk of the pie, and the cycle repeats itself. To put it bluntly, the majority of gamers out there are at best, ignorant, or worse, pussies.

Even if readers and commenters to sites like ours, Kotaku, Slashdot and Ars Technica all do what they say they’re going to do. Even if they don’t buy or support the game in any way, game is no longer a niche industry. The casual gamers have taken over. They outnumber us, and they are very glad to vote with their wallets for whatever they’re told to. It’s our job as informed gamers to stop cussing out the “n00bs” and let them know what they’re getting into if they put this malware (Yes it’s malware, don’t fool yourselves) onto their computers. They’re not going to get this support from Googling the name of the game. Google searches are whitewashed by dedicated corporate spinsters to the point where anything negative about the game is taken off of popular sources (Notice how sterile the DRM section of Spore’s Wikipedia entry is), or they are knocked back to page 4 of the search area. By then, the game’s long been sold. If we dedicated gamers want to be able to play a PC game without turning our PCs over as hostages, then we have to get enough of the casual crowd to at least make an informed buying decision about what they’re buying. They’re certainly not going to get it from an underpaid, under-informed, pre-order obsessed retard behind the counter of a Gamestop, unless they happen to get very lucky and go to an exceptional store.

“Oh Chris, if they’re going to do that, then we’ll just pirate the game! Fuck them! FUCK THE MAN!” No, fuck YOU, because you’re only justifying their actions. PC game piracy isn’t just something for the technological elite anymore, stoppable with secret phrases inside the manual or exceptionally poor rap videos. Today, the tools and technology are so good that cracking even the hardest games is a snap. Don’t believe me? Let’s check my results for seeders and leechers on a prominent torrent repository. These are statistics from the first page ONLY, and ONLY links of the games themselves, or confirmed copies of the cracks. Therefore, no soundtracks, no fakes, and no other stuff (sorted from top to bottom by number of seeders).

BIOSHOCK
Seeders: 1,592
Leechers: 2,542
Total peers: 4,134

That’s as of 9:02PM, EST on May 8, and that’s the game that last got SecuROM into the national spotlight. Still not enough?

THE SIMS 2 (expansions counted in results)
Seeders: 2,789
Leechers: 4,793
Total peers: 7,582

Ouch. That’s a lot of connections at 8:56 at night, especially for another SecuROM title! Finally, let’s look at a game that didn’t use the DRM equivalent of an overaggressive bouncer on it’s PC game, the first search I did, at 8:52:

CALL OF DUTY 4
Seeders: 6,142
Leechers: 7,577
Total peers: 13,719(!!!)

Fuckin’ meow! No wonder these companies are tightening the grip: they seem to be justified!

The fact is, thanks to numbers like these, they ARE justified. It doesn’t matter why gamers pirate their games. It doesn’t matter if they’re turned off by the DRM and are making a statement, they don’t have the spending money, they only download the crack so the system doesn’t call home to it’s corporate servers, or they just want free shit: a pirated game is a pirated game. No matter how noble your intentions, if you pirate a game for any reason, you are giving the monkeys guns, and they are going to shoot everyone with them and ask questions later. If a few paying customers happen to get caught by the backscatter, fuck ’em. They already paid, so the money’s already changed hands. If the music industry and the failed experiments by Radiohead and Trent Reznor are any indication, the good companies out there can’t afford to take risks for the sake of good PR.

America is based on a Capitalist economic system, and in such, money talks. Make it talk: don’t even look at the game. I know that’s like asking a crackhead to quit cold turkey, but if we want this situation to improve, we’re going to have to speak with our wallets. Try to educate others so that if they do decide to buy the games that use Draconian measures, they are at the very least educated about it. There is no other way around it. The ongoing war between piracy and content providers who are looking to stretch every dollar possible out of their product has left good paying customers as collateral damage. If we want that to change, we are going to have to become non-customers, or the situation will get worse before it gets better.

UPDATE @ 8:33 EST, MAY 9 – According to Kotaku, both Spore and Mass Effect have ditched the 10 day authentication scheme. On the subject of Spore, Electronic Arts explains:

“” We authenticate your game online when you install and launch it the first time.
“” We’ll re-authenticate when a player uses online features, downloads new content or a patch for their game.
“” The new system means you don’t have to play with the disc in your computer. And if you are like me, always losing discs, this will be a huge benefit.
“” You’ll still be able to install and play on multiple computers.
“” You can play offline.

It’s a start. This puts it on par with similar games that offer similar services.

However, only part of the problem is how often it authenticates. The big problem in my eyes is what is doing the authentication. The fact is they’re still using SecuROM, which is a programme that is notorious for having the following issues (all selectively, but reported too often to ignore):

– Disables/interferes with DVD Burners.
– Disables/causes issues with CD/DVD emulation programmes, such as DaemonTools, Alcohol 120% and PowerISO.
– Sometimes gets reported by Anti-Virus software as a trojan.
– Is extremely hard to get rid of, especially on Windows Vista.

Furthermore, it’s still a Sony product, and Sony are the kings of the silent rootkit. That, in itself, is a security risk due to the hole it opens.

I cannot condone the purchase of any game that uses SecuROM technology of any kind, due to the known side effects of it being on your machine. However, if that’s not a concern for people who are only worried about the consistent authentication, then there’s nothing stopping you from purchasing either game.

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