on May 7, 2008
SecuROM has been a part of every BioWare release since Neverwinter Nights, but the product activation is something new for them. Worse, this “product activation” isn’t a one-time event, but an ongoing process. I’ve been willing to tolerate SecuROM, DVD checks, and lengthy product keys, (not without complaining, though) but as with BioShock, asking for permission to use a product I allegedly own is where I draw the line.
This is the work of reprehensible vermin. My purchase was certain. I have loved everything Bioware ever made. I would have bought the special edition and filled this blog with articles discussing it until people begged me to stop, just like I did for Jade Empire. As I’m finding out, this is a process which sells games. Conversely, I saw many people avoid BioShock after my writing about the arduous, abusive, and subversive DRM system it contained. My point is not about this particular blog or whatever trivial effect it may have in the PC Gaming world, my point is that real people with real, actual money are walking away from the deal over this futile attempt to get the pirates to pony up.
This game will hit the torrents like all of the games before it. It’s part of the natural order, and there are no exceptions. This new scheme doesn’t even warrant a mention among the great, defeated schemes of the past. SecuROM has been savagely and repeatedly beaten already. This scheme is nothing more than reheated SecuROM with added hassles for (legit) users to endure.
The system as described in Mass Effect is actually substantially worse than the system I lambasted in BioShock last year. The details:
- As with BioShock, you only get to activate the game three times. If you reinstall, change some hardware on your PC, upgrade your OS, or move to another computer, you will “consume” one of these installations.
- Mass Effect puts every user on a system of permanent probation, where the program needs to “phone home” every ten days or it will refuse to run. That is, not only is there online activation when you install it, but it also requires a silent reauthorization every five to ten days, forever and ever. Just in case, you know, your legit copy ever… what? Becomes pirated?
- There is concern over what happens if you run out of activations, or your copy is flagged as a false-positive “pirate” copy. The BioWare guys say you can just “call EA” and they will be happy to resolve your issue. Here is the EA support site. I do not see a phone number. Testimonials in the BioWare forums suggest that EA email support has a turnaround time measured in days. I do not think they would behave that way if anyone could just pick up a phone and demand help, right now.
- They have not been forthcoming about what is sent to the mothership during the re-authentication.
- Nobody – BioWare guys included – seems to have any idea what sorts of hardware changes will trigger the need for a new registration. (Remember you only get three.) A new disk drive? A windows service pack? New graphics card? Plugging in a USB device? Cleaning the glass on your monitor?
Derek French is manning the forums over at Bioware’s site. He’s certainly nicer and better informed than 2kElizabeth was, but that does not change the fact that the man is a harbinger of the coming idiocy and outrage. The forums look identical to the ones I read during the BioShock debacle: Page after page of fans forswearing the game, cancelling preorders, and asking difficult questions about how this system is supposed to not screw them. Once in a while there is a post from some well-meaning but clueless fanboy suggesting that the publisher has “no choice” but to do this to fight piracy. (Actually, their other choice is this.)
When asked about how long this “phone home” process takes, Derek responded:
I’ve hammered away at this so often in the past that it now causes physical pain to reiterate – people playing on pirated copies won’t have to endure this check, because the hacker will have removed or disabled it. Every “moment” spent waiting for the game to re-authenticate is a moment senselessly squandered. It is something which will be endured by every single honest paying customer and not one pirate, anywhere, ever. How can anyone attain a place at the helm of EA – where this decision was certainly made – and still wield such septic stupidity? To repeatedly attempt that which is manifestly impotent, and to do so at the expense of one’s own customers, requires a very optimistic yet callous brand of madness.
The game, and your supposed ownership of it, is now a thing which must be maintained. If you find yourself without connectivity when you choose to play your game, your only hope is that you’ve played the game in the last ten days, or you will find out the hard way who really owns the thing.
In any case, the idea that it will take “moments” to re-authenticate ignores the fact that everything on the internet is subject to the pitfalls of latency, routing problems, and downtime. (Derek is all happy at how quick it is, right now, when the only people using the system are the developers and beta testers. This is undoubtedly going to change when the doors open on launch day. This is to say nothing of the classic “everyone tries to register at once and kills the server” problem that BioShock and Half-Life 2 had during launch, a problem that will likely be exacerbated or prolonged by the auto re-authentication every five days.) Despite what Derek says, the fact that there is no dialog or progress bar during the process isn’t a plus, it’s insidious. It means that when it takes the game forever to start you won’t know why. It means if your ‘net connection is down you’ll have to wait until the attempt times out before it will give up and run the game… assuming you’re in the five-to-ten day window. Naturally after day ten you can’t play at all. You thief.
I also read that this new DRM system being rolled out is planned for use in later games as well. Like (wait for it) Spore. A chorus of lamentations. I loved these games, or at least the idea of these games, but I still have too much dignity to pay to be treated like a criminal. I’m determined to abstain from both Mass Effect and Spore. EA and 2kGames can pollute PC gaming with their corrosive nonsense, but I am in no way obliged to fund it. This isn’t a “boycott” or a “protest” or a “message”. This is simply the direct application of principles and reason to my purchasing decisions.
To the senseless captains of Electronic Arts: Fall under a bus and die, you rotten offspring of ignorance and folly. You’ll never get my money. Good luck trying to get some out of the pirates.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.