BioShock: DRM Forever

By Shamus Posted Monday Jun 23, 2008

Filed under: Rants 34 comments

Ok, I need to straighten this out. I keep hearing about how 2kGames “removed the DRM from BioShock”. Kotaku, and others keep repeating this. Just to be clear: 2kGames has not removed the DRM at all. SecuROM is still there. The need for online activation is still there. All they have done is allow you to install as many times as you want. Big deal.

Ken Levine promised – on behalf of 2kGames, sort of, that online activation would be removed. I was looking forward to that. But our old friend 2kElizabeth delivers the awful truth:

As I promised that the activation limits would go away, I can promise that if we ever stop supporting BioShock in the ways you speak of, we will release a patch so that the game is still playable. I believe, as you seem to, that BioShock will be the kind of game we will want to revisit 5, 10, 15 or more years from now. I want my copy to be playable, just as you do, and so does 2K.

No you won’t, you clueless mouthpiece.

This is not something to cheer about. What they have announced here is that they aren’t going to remove the DRM. They have, in fact, announced that they are keeping this septic idiocy, forever.

There is a version of the game available that doesn’t have SecuROM or online activation. It’s the version the pirates put out, months ago. I was really hoping they would keep their word and remove the need for online activation, because I really wanted to pay them money and play the game.


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34 thoughts on “BioShock: DRM Forever

  1. quadir says:

    I really respect your stance on this, and yet I’m torn between the good things about steam, which in the past you’ve grudgingly accepted, and it’s online activation policy.

    Steam is in fact worse, as theoretically if valve screws up your account, you loose ALL your games.

    The install limit removed, the contentious issue is now online activation, something anything on steam needs. Even though there’s an offline mode, I don’t think you can install steam, install a game, and start playing all offline, even if you make use of their backup feature.

  2. folo4 says:

    …..I see.

    it wasn’t a complete removal of DRM, just a minor restriction, removed then hyped up by god-knows-who.

    Steam’s still good, quadir; 15 million users had said so, and trusted their god-knows-how-many-dollars to steam. To valve.

    It won’t go down anytime soon.

    Next, I want insight on Steam’s new rival, Impulse.

  3. Zukhramm says:

    What I dislike about steam I that I can’t just buy the games from there and be done with it, no, I have to play them through Steam. Unless I’ve misunderstood it. DX

  4. Deoxy says:

    “I’m shocked, SHOCKED to discover gambling going on here!”
    “Your winnings, sir.”
    “Thank you.”

  5. Frogbeard says:

    Ok, here’s something that has been bugging me about this whole issue. I keep hearing the claim that “Once I buy the game, I want to be able to play it forever – now, in 10 years, in 20 years, whenever. And if you have DRM, there’s no guarantee I will be able to, if your company goes under.”
    Aren’t we basically talking shelf life? Doesn’t everything have a shelf life? I don’t even expect 20 years from now for PCs to have a drive that’s compatible with CDs, necessarily.

    I just think it’s an unreasonable complaint to emphasize that – horror of horrors – something you paid $50 for might only last a few years.

    Also, one thing I find ironic – why is it heinous for a game to require online activation at every install, but perfectly ok, acceptable, and a good business model for a game to REQUIRE MONEY every month to work?

  6. Shamus says:

    Frogbeard: Because the limit we’re talking about here is perfectly artificial.

    Also, I CAN play games from 18 years ago. Worrying about changing media and emulation is MY problem. Keeping the authentication servers running is THEIRS. I trust myself to take an interest in what I own. I don’t trust THEM to take an interest in what I own. The physical media is a lot more durable than game companies, anyway.

    For an MMO, I’m not paying for the game, I’m paying for a service. In many cases, the game itself is “free”.

    I’m not interested in their attempts to re-define playing single-player games as a “service” – which is what online activation is – because after the initial transaction they no longer have anything of value to me.

  7. Veylon says:

    Well put. Buying a game is like buying a piece of exercise equipment. It’s mine to use, modify, or whatever. It’s mine. It doesn’t belong to the company that made it, or the the retailer that sold it, and if I wreck it or whatever, it’s my responsibility.

    MMO’s are like going to a gym and using their equipment. They have a right to expect me to follow their policies and pay the fee. What I’m using is theirs. Not mine.

  8. Ian says:

    When the story first broke my first thought was, “oh hey, now I can buy BioShock without signing my computer away,” but after I read the actual thread I was disappointed.

    What’s worse is the number of yes men in the 2KGames thread where Elizabeth broke the news. “OH YAY I RETURNED BIOSHOCK WHEN I HEARD ABOUT THE DRM BUT NOW I THINK I’LL BUY IT AGAIN.” Ugh. On the bright side, there’s a lot more dissenters than there used to be. I think the anti-DRM stance is getting a bit more widespread now that the issues with it are proving to not be as hypothetical as the DRM apologists claimed that they would be.

    Another case of a failed activation scheme occurred with Intuit’s TurboTax 2003 software. The systems failure was nothing short of explosive, preventing legitimate customers from using it and causing them to lose customers in droves. Needless to say, when TurboTax 2004 was released it was activation-free. All the gaming world needs is a TurboTax — something that fails so spectacularly that it’s completely turns everyone off from restrictive DRM.

  9. Takkelmaggot says:

    And here we have the fundamental problem. I spend considerable amounts of time (4 to 6 months) in a rather austere environment with no ‘net access for my laptop and precious little to do in the off hours but play single-player games on it. (Well, yeah, I could go lift weights or play bingo or something, but- come on.) I would love to play BioShock or Mass Effect, but certain as the sunrise I’ll need to reinstall and be out of luck. So… I guess I’ll be sticking to XCOM and Baldur’s Gate and so on.

  10. Kevin says:

    Grrr… Shamus SMASH!

  11. Irdak says:

    Maybe if you just bought the version of the game and then download the pirated one? The you could just play the game all you want, while giving the producing company the money they deserve :)

  12. McGlu says:

    Actually, you are not buying the game and “owning” it. You are “licensing” the game from the developer/publisher. It does belong to the company and not you. You agree to this when you open the box. Not that I think this is the way it should be, but that’s how it is.

    I find it interesting that the games industry is going down the exact same road that the record industry has gone down over the last 5 years. The record companies spent a ton of time and money implementing DRM in music and are now realizing how big of a mistake it was. Doesn’t the games industry have enough brains to not make the same mistake?

    It wouldn’t surprise me if 10 years from now copy-protection is all but gone from games.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Frankly Im not surprised by this.Its just how the companies work.

    X-com is 15 years old,yet I still play it from time to time.Starcraft,baldurs gate,planescape torment and fallout are all around 10 years old,yet I still am playing those from time to time.And the only one I have issues with is fallout 1,but even it can be made to run flawlessly under XP.

  14. John Lopez says:

    Actually, McGlu’s comment about not having rights to the software is a commonly held idea, but has been weakened by this:

    This guy was reselling Autocad, a very pricey computer aided design package. This resale is forbidden by the EULA, but the judge ruled that the actual implementation of the sale determines if the doctrine of first sale applies or not. In this case, even though Autocad claimed it was a license, the fact it came in a box, came with media and was not required to be returned to Autodesk at the completion of a license period meant that it was *sold* not *licensed* and thus could be resold.

    If multi-thousand dollar packages with extensive contractual steps to aquire are interpreted this way, I find it hard to believe that a game is going to be interpreted differently.

  15. MadTinkerer says:

    Actually, the announcement is good news for me.

    I have the Steam version of Bioshock, so anytime I want to install it I need internet access anyway. Getting rid of the limited installs effectively reduces the inconvenience to exactly the same as all the other Steam games I have.

    Now maybe keeping SecuRom on there will eventually result in Fail somewhere down the line when the activation servers are gone, but surely Shamus, you must realize that part of what you describe as a problem is actually the perfect solution.

    Abandonware is essentially piracy a decade or so removed from the date of publication. But it’s piracy that doesn’t hurt publishers because all of the games are long out of circulation. (Of course, there is the occasional site that claims to be abandonware but offers pirate version of current software. HotU is good about not doing that ever so that’s why I linked them.)

    A lot of games are not available except through abandonware sites. Even Ebay can’t help you with games that were originally on floppies and never on CD because floppies degrade. It’s effectively the same thing with online activation. Once you can no longer play a legit copy of Bioshock, the abandonware sites will consider it abandoned (because it is) and put it up on their sites for free.

    I got a torrent of old Apogee games the other day, many of them I had originally registered but lost the legit copy of, and I can’t buy any of them now. (Most of them were officially released for free by 3D Realms anyway.) If I could pay for an “Apogee Collection”, I would be more than willing to. I have plenty of legit arcade ROMs on my HD thanks to the Taito Legends collections, as well as Atari, Midway and Tecmo collections for various consoles. I have the Steam version of Commander Keen. But not being able to buy certain old games will not keep me from enjoying them.

    When the Bioshock authentication servers die, it will be freely available regardless. One way or the other.

  16. @MadTinkerer
    Commander Keen is on Steam for something like US$5…

    When I saw that I was so thrilled :)

  17. Strangeite says:

    John Lopez: Great Find!!!

  18. MechaCrash says:

    Have you seen this article about Spore’s DRM? Allegedly, it’ll verify on install and first-run, and again if it uses online features, and that’s that. No disc required, you can install it on multiple computers, all that stuff.

    The problem is that this is what Maxis is going to do. It doesn’t say anything about what Electronic Arts wants us to do, and on that front I’m still a little wary.

    For what it may be worth, while I dislike the online activation stuff, I find it tolerable in that there are only two times I have to do it when I wouldn’t be online anyway…although there’s still the “okay, you went under, what about my game” scenario.

  19. guy says:


    actually, i think that that is what EA wants us to do, as they now run maxis.

  20. guy says:


    actually, i think that that is what EA wants us to do, as they now run maxis.

    also, it should be pretty easy to turn off steam’s requirements for activation. they can just release a patch on steam to have it always run in the offline mode of which i have heard, though not witnessed

  21. evilmrhenry says:

    “I can promise that if we ever stop supporting BioShock in the ways you speak of, we will release a patch so that the game is still playable.”

    Fine with me. Once the patch is out, I’ll buy the game. Otherwise, the same problem exists; you can decide to kill the game at any time (whether by choice or circumstance), keep anyone from playing it, and nobody can stop you or offer any (legal) recourse.

  22. Josh says:

    Actually, you are not buying the game and “owning” it. You are “licensing” the game from the developer/publisher. It does belong to the company and not you. You agree to this when you open the box. Not that I think this is the way it should be, but that's how it is.

    Blindly accepting the pronouncements of perceived authority figures is a serious shortcoming – one that can derive from fear or ignorance, but I think the most common motivating factor is laziness.

    Please, folks, don’t let your children grow up to be like McGlu. They don’t deserve to be prey in this competitive world.

  23. Deoxy says:

    Actually, you are not buying the game and “owning” it. You are “licensing” the game from the developer/publisher. It does belong to the company and not you. You agree to this when you open the box. Not that I think this is the way it should be, but that's how it is.

    As has been extensively covered on this very site (and many otehrs), that’s NOT how it is. That’s how the companies in question CLAIM it is, but they are, to put it bluntly, wrong.

    If you take my money and in return for a product, and then, AFTER THE FACT, demand a whole bunch of stuff that we didn’t agree to before the exchange, well… I tell you what, go try that at retail, and see how it works out for you. Cars, groceries, clothes, whatever. Good luck (you’ll need it).

  24. TickledBlue says:

    Its funny, but the main thing DRM has done for me is influence my purchasing decisions.

    I originally avoided Mass Effect for the XBox 360 because of some negative review aspects (such as an unworkable inventory system and long elevator load times) so decided to wait for the inevitable PC version which should fix some of these issues. When I heard about the DRM I flip flopped and am now aiming for the 360 version again. Similarly I bought Bioshock for the 360 rather than the PC for exactly the same reason.

    I bought Sins of a Solar Empire the moment I found out about it being DRMless, I wanted to voice my support in the best way I now how about what I saw as a mature and considered approach to the gaming community. Thank you Stardock for treating my like a valued customer. Plus it is a great game!

    I crack most of my purchased PC games, mainly because I hate having to rifle through my shelves to find the appropriate disk and put it in the machine. An activity whose only purpose it to provide verification since everything else is stored on the hard drive. I truely appreciate those games that don’t make me have to do this and in a lot of cases find myself almost unreasonably well disposed to them. I was almost tearfully greatful when the original neverwinter nights released a patch disabling the need for the CD to be in the drive. Previously I’d go through these hideous periods of not updating the game till I knew a NoCD patch for the current version was out.

    Imaging my shock when I went to reinstall dark star one (a so so space sim) and installed the NoCD patch only to find that, even with the patch, the game becomes unplayable without the DVD in the drive as some ‘clever’ code detects that I have a cracked version of the exe and makes the screen shake and go unplayably fuzzy. I’ve since uninstalled an not bothered to play.

    What I want is clear indications on the box that I buy that tells me if the game has DRM, if so what it is (not just the name I want to know what the hell it is going to expect and what it going to do to my PC and which other programs is it going to fowl up). To me selling a boxed game without these details is unforgivable, in the same way as not being able to see the EULA prior to opening the box.

    I check the back of every music CD I buy now and if it mentions copy protection I put it back on the shelf. I’d like to be able to do the same thing with my games.

  25. David V.S. says:

    I’m wondering how you will judge the WoW monthly fee…

    On one hand, you are paying to play a game that receives weekly enhancements (albeit, most of them not very noticeable unless you are a hard-core PvP arena competitor) and continual live moderation and support when requested.

    On the other hand, if you want to take a break from WoW for a year, you have no option to archive your saved game in deep storage. “Take a break” turns into “pay Blizzard to keep my save game on file”. That might be a deal breaker for you, were you actually interested in WoW long-term.

  26. jdelcom says:

    Wow, John. Quite a find… I’d LOVE to see the EULA crashed by the real law…
    Obviously, with the DRM+online check the companies are trying to avoid that. Once they want to terminate your EULA, they just unplug the server. “You want to play our game? Sorry, your license is over. No, we don’t have a patch for you to play solo. But you agreed to this on the EULA, remember?” Now you have a nice box and disc, but useless. No court will give you back your game…

    IMHO, what is needed is a change of mind, from both sides. Companies shouldn’t live to make our lives hell for trying to use their product, and people should stop piracying software. Someone has to take the first step. I’ve decided to go for the free software, and buy what I need if it’s worth. I won’t spend a dime on M$oft Office, I use OOo, but I just bought a really simple countdown clock software for 30 USD. Expensive? Maybe, but I tried it extensively, and it’s exactly what I need (and I tried several). They’ve won my money if my program will keep running.

  27. “Take a break” turns into “pay Blizzard to keep my save game on file”. Not currently.

    I’m taking a break. Current Blizzard policy is that the characters will be there a account reactivation (which my daughter is planning on as soon as the next expansion comes out).

  28. T-Boy says:

    @McGlu: You’re making the assumption that games companies deserve my patronage. I’m sorry, I’m only “renting” games now? Oh, but the price is still the same, huh? I see. I’ll get myself a cheaper hobby, thank you very much.

    @David: Which is fine, you know. MMOG players are, after all, paying for server space and bandwidth.

  29. Zereth says:

    “Take a break” turns into “pay Blizzard to keep my save game on file”. Not currently.

    I'm taking a break. Current Blizzard policy is that the characters will be there a account reactivation (which my daughter is planning on as soon as the next expansion comes out).

    Yeah, I subscribed to WoW for about two months just after release, then for a while last year after being badgered into it by one of my friends. (which went rather better as I was actually playing with friends that time around.) Everything was still there, after about three years.

  30. MechaCrash says:

    Is keeping your stuff around official Blizzard policy, though? Most MMO EULAs say what amounts to “we’re only obligated to keep your stuff for 90 days after your account lapses, after that, meh.” The reason for that is so that if catastrophe strikes, or if they ever have to delete some characters (which to my knowledge has happened all of once; this being in Planetside which sent out a 30 day notice first), their ass is covered. The reason they keep stuff around forever is business sense: storing this crap is cheap, and making people start over is a tremendous barrier to re-entry.

  31. Collar says:


    I’m not sure what the official EULA policy on keeping user data when your account has expired is, but you can normally rely on business doing what makes obvious sense to the Bean Counters and that is, that the cost of keeping ex-player data (which would be very small if the location is moved after a period of inactivity) is exceeded by the revenue brought in by people re-activating accounts they will keep the data. I’d venture that will be true until WoW is in it’s final death throws in which case you probably don’t care anyway, so your data is safe, why would they discard potential revenue?

  32. Mystyk says:

    McGlu @ #12,
    The record companies spent a ton of time and money implementing DRM in music and are now realizing still in denial over how big of a mistake it was.

    There. Fixed that for you.

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