Thursday, 30 July 2009

Castrating copy protection, again

I have now come to the definitive conclusion that copy protection is not designed by people who plays games, but instead by people who simply do not fit in to social circles because they drown new born puppies in raw sewage.

The case that has finally threw me completely over the edge was an experience that my girlfriend’s dad has just had. He is a fan of EA and Maxis’ game Spore and so has bought the full game, Creepy and Cute parts pack and the latest expansion, Galactic Adventures. He has given them money to enjoy the game as and when he pleases, completing the widely accepted concept of trading money for goods and services.

Unfortunately a hard drive on his machine half melted in between gaming sessions, but luckily it had nothing critical or more importantly Spore related on there. It of course came as a very odd surprise that the Galactic Adventures expansion stopped working after he had removed the faulty device. Being particularly computer savvy, he checked every possible solution and decided he was stumped until he tried putting the duff hard drive back in. Miraculously the game worked again, and all he needs to do to keep it functioning is to keep a broken device hooked up to his machine, taking up valuable space and power. Alternatively, he could just download a crack carefree and be done with the hassle.

The problem was that because he altered the hardware on his machine, Spore decided it was trying to be played on another computer, and so rather rationally decided to swallow its brain and never work again. Of course this won’t happen to most people because not many computers are designed to be modular, with the idea in mind to upgrade and replace hardware every so often. Oh wait…

Limited installs have been used as copy protection in a few instances now and are never popular. It really doesn’t help that the software can not tell the difference between a new computer and a modified one. They do clearly work as an effective means of digital rights management however, and the fact that Spore became the most pirated game in the history of everything is purely coincidence.

The sad truth is that piracy can never actually be beaten, as there are always people willing to dedicate themselves to cracking the toughest codes. It is now becoming a war of principles more than anything as games companies need to be shown that legitimate customers will not be pushed around. Why should paying customers have to jump through ever more ridiculous hoops that the pirates can simply work around?

Such hardware scanning digital rights management software will only really stops people sharing individual copies of the game rather than fighting the mass distributors on the internet that seems to be turning in to the 21st century Wild West.

I am in no way condoning piracy here, but I am condemning the anti-piracy measures which cause more problems to paying customers than to the bandwidth bandits. Piracy is harming the game industry, but turning on the consumers surely hurts it even more. Games like Sins of a Solar Empire, which carried no protection on it at all certainly did not make headlines for being mass pirated.

At this stage, finding a viable solution to stop software piracy is about as easy as teaching a snail construction and carpentry skills, and so we all just need to learn to live with it for now.

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