Command & Conquer Misprin

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 11, 2008

Filed under: Video Games 41 comments

By now many of you will have seen the latest DRM debacle from EA. Command & Conquer shipped with a misprint in some manuals, so that only 19 of the required 20 digits were printed in the manual. The solution offered by EA? Simply guess at the last digit. After all, there are “only” 36 possible characters.

That gem of advice was given here, although at some point since the story broke they actually changed the answer and told you to call support for a new CD key. Which is faster: Trying to guess the correct code or waiting on hold to talk to a human being at EA?

People keep suggesting that the ongoing DRM blunders are simply part of an overarching scheme on the part of EA to push gamers over to consoles where they can be more effectively bilked. Others think that this is all a simple pattern of idiocy and incompetence. I do not see any alternate explanations. They are either pernicious saboteurs or keepers of a stupidity so virulent they pose a danger to themselves and the industry they depend on.

But let’s not be narrow minded. They could be both!


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41 thoughts on “Command & Conquer Misprin

  1. Strangeite says:

    Now Shamus, you aren’t trying very hard. Of course there are more than two possibilities.

    For instance, EA could be a front for the Rothschild faction and the DRM schemes are merely the testing ground for different strategies to bring about the enslavement of the entire planet using consumerism. Of course if this is the case, then the Bilderberg group is fighting back by seeding the torrents with pirated games in order to bring about anarchy and the subsequent death of 90% of the population.

    I think this is as likely as EA executives really being THAT stupid.

  2. JoeTortuga says:

    “Never assign to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

    Just selecting DRM in the light of the real world seems to point to stupidity.

  3. Loneduck3 says:

    You know, when the Russians built the Trans-Siberian railroad, they initially built only one line of tracks, meaning only one train could go to and from each end. Never underestimate people’s capacity for thoughtless action. I doubt EA is interested in pushing people toward consoles. After all, console market profits are fragmented by the used game market. PC games are only sold new. That’s not ruling out a poorly thought conspiracy. Either way, thoughtless action is nothing new in this world. It’s only an issue because it bothers US. (Us as in you and me, not the United States.)

  4. gahazakul says:

    “People keep suggesting that the ongoing DRM blunders are simply part of an overarching scheme on the part of EA to push gamers over to consoles where they can be more effectively bilked.”

    How am I getting bilked on the console? Seems my console titles are free of DRM, my games can be lent to friends, I can resell them, and I don’t have to preform voodoo for them to work on the hardware.

    Who is getting bilked here?

  5. BarGamer says:

    Oh, I dunno, thoughtless action bothers the US, too… (Yeah, I voted. :-p)

    Great article, Shamus. I LOLed hard. Is EA only going to give us 3 installations for this game too, or what? XD

    I found it amusing that 400-plus of 2300-plus who ‘found this helpful’ might NOT be lying about their response…

  6. MintSkittle says:

    As much as we like hating on EA’s stupidity, I’d chalk this one up to simple printer malfunction. I had a similar problem with the CD key in Empire at War. I had to borrow my friend’s key to make it work.

    EDIT: Holy crap, Shamus. That Slashdot article is scary, since I refuse to allow my X-Box to touch the internet.

  7. Cipher says:

    Don’t forget that pirates have the convenient option of using a key generator. That is, for sure, faster than both guessing digits and calling EA…

  8. Shamus says:

    I seriously can’t keep up with them. I can’t write articles and make comics fast enough to detail each new manifestation of their idiocy.

  9. Jeremiah says:

    I seriously can't keep up with them. I can't write articles and make comics fast enough to detail each new manifestation of their idiocy.

    Call it job security :)

  10. Factoid says:

    @BarGamer: Last I heard they were upping the limit to 5 on this one, and including the system that BioShock has, where if you uninstall the game while connected to the internet, and everything works JUST RIGHT…you’ll get your license back.

    Regarding the issue of that slashdot post…I’ve come to the conclusion that developers are whiny cry-babies in addition to publishers being blithering idiots.

    How do they think the movie industry feels about rentals? I bet they hate it that people rent a movie and then invite their friends over to watch it. I resent the idea that every person who enjoys something should have to pay for it.

  11. Illiterate says:

    Please EA, destroy the existing PC game market!

    Let’s see an end to the game-driven hardware treadmill. Indie designers will write games to run on the machines that *they can afford themselves* which means the rest of us can play too.

    It could be a beautiful thing.

  12. Bryan says:

    It’s been a long time since I bought an EA game. For more reasons than this one.

  13. Sempiternity says:

    My brother’s game was a misprinted one, and so he tells me (case i’m the one who owns a camera) to take a picture of the manual so he can send it in to EA.

    So i do – but before i have even uploaded the pic he has already guessed the missing digit… 36 numbers isn’t all that many when it comes to cracking a password.

    But even so, EA maintains their place as the exemplars of everything that is wrong with computer gaming…

  14. Illiterate says:

    Factoid —

    If multiple people enjoy one thing at the same time by being in the same space — I agree, the content provider shouldn’t complain. Part of what makes their sales is people buying things to watch together, as a social experience.

    If multiple people enjoy one thing, but not at the same time because the sold media or user license is being traded back and forth, again, that should be expected as a right when purchasing an entertainment product.

    If multiple people enjoy the same product at the same time in different locations because they made a copy, well then they’re violating the creator’s intellectual rights to determine who distributes a product. Even if the creator assigned those rights to someone else, that someone else is now in position to determine how the IP is distributed. This is where I disagree with piracy (even though I’ve been guilty of this from time to time — temptation is a bitch).

  15. r4byde says:

    Please EA, destroy the existing PC game market!

    Let's see an end to the game-driven hardware treadmill. Indie designers will write games to run on the machines that *they can afford themselves* which means the rest of us can play too.

    It could be a beautiful thing.

    Illiterate, I find that thought strangely appealing. Why not just let the whole AAA PC game market go straight to hell? All we’re getting these days are console ports anyway.

  16. gahazakul says:


    Hey, one guy blowing smoke means very little.

    I think the reseller store equation is something that publishers are starting to really notice and think around.

    I think the more logical step is that soon in the future they will stop supporting these places that are proactively trying to defeat new title sales.

    Besides Sony/Micro/Nin won’t allow it. Almost all three have an identical block of text in their license agreement to allow a game to be on the system that requires the game to be a complete product, extra content non withstanding. Special cases have been put through for “Online Only” titles

    They would not be allowed, in any case, to force people that are holding a legitimate copy in their hands to pay extra to beat the core experience.

    The distribution channels are changing, online purchases are gaining more popularity and what not. The part that holds back these odd changes in the console market is the inability to guarantee all your sales are on consoles that are online capable. I do believe the last census showed that only 58% OF Xbox users are online regularly. Lower for Sony, and much lower for Nin.

  17. Tesh says:


    As a game dev myself, I’ve got to point out, I make my living on people being willing to pay for my hard work. That said, I absolutely do not feel that I “deserve” residuals on anything but initial sales. If anything, the secondary market is vital in getting games to more people, which can build brand loyalty and interest in future games. Also, I design games that I think would be fun for people to play, not calculated to be the next breakout sequel factory. That sort of soulless design runs contrary to my design instincts. I don’t think that I’m unique among devs in that.

    As a gamer, this sort of nonsense bothers me deeply. I’ve purchased many games used; more than I’ve purchased new, actually. Game companies that kill the used market will not get my patronage. (I have a similar stance against subscription games, actually.)

    I lay a lot of the blame for this sort of nonsense on the shareholders, board members and beancounters. Few are on the dev side; it’s mostly the publishers. Public companies are slaves to the insane mentality of Wall Street, which will mathematically drive any company into insolvency. Players don’t like it, and I really don’t think that many devs like it either. No, it’s the business people that are the problem here, as well as anyone “investing” in these companies via direct stock or 401ks, demanding perpetually increasing returns. “Follow the money”, as it were.

  18. Sitte says:

    I think Mirror’s Edge might push me over the, um, edge.

    I’ll have to do the thing I’ve avoided for so many games, even Fallout 3: Buy a copy, then pirate it. It just looks so amazing.

    Any console players had a chance to try the demo?

  19. Tesh says:

    Funny, I mentioned Mirror’s Edge in another post I made today on another site. It’s a fascinating piece of work, and I wish there was a way to show the devs that I appreciate their efforts… without giving a dime to EA. I can’t buy the game anyways, since I don’t have a system to play it on, but I want to support the devs that come up with these sort of quality efforts.

  20. JKjoker says:

    EA leaving the pc market might be for the greater good, right now there are a lot of really talented indie game devs that have no chance at all at releasing a game because of megapublishers like EA, just look at the games holding the best “ratings” of the last few months, castle crashers ? braid ? world of goo ?, best of all they release games that work on old computers and specially laptops and even the crappiest of netbooks, they would quickly flood the market with them and give us something actually fun to play

    EA, ubisoft and friends can whine all they want, the fact is ppl have pcs, and they are not going to throw them away because anything they do, if fact they will increase even more as everyone and their grandmother buy cheap laptops or netbooks or whatever they come out with, and there is no way that huuuuuuuge market will be ignored.

    on the other hand, consoles get old fast, the new generation didnt sell well enough to justify a new generation any time soon and devs will still masturbate themselves with top of the line graphics and stuff, if they want to use all those new fancy bling mapping features in the new vidcards eventually theyll have to return to pc

  21. Tom says:

    I can’t help but feel that in the distant future, archaeologists, historians, archivists and the like are going to bitterly curse all the paranoid, jealously guarded copy protection and encryption mechanisms of today as support departments cease to exist, codes are lost and protected data cannot be rescued from oblivion by copying from decaying to fresh media. Bit-rot’s a bitch.

    The most infuriating thing of all is that I’ve actually encountered end user licenses of copy protected games that do allow you the right to make a copy for personal backup purposes, in case the original media is damaged; certainly a lot of the older games used to do that – but how the hell can you backup your precious game when it’s copy protected? Surely, in those cases, the publishers themselves should be held to be in violation of the license.

  22. Ciennas says:

    Tom: I can see both sides of the argument, and by and large I’m on the side of the gamer.

    Explaining this to my father however, he pointed this out:

    ‘What would you have them do?’

    I tried to explain using Shamus’ Article, but he does have a point. This is a darned if you do, darned if you don’t situation.

    (And yes, I know about sins of a solar empire.)

    Of course, I also know, deep down, that part of the reason copy protection started in the first place is because a massive number of players were abusing this right to copy their game in the first place.

    If I am wrong, please correct my understanding.

  23. snail says:

    hmmmm… is it me, or you misprinted “misprint” in the title? :P

  24. Justin says:

    Hey, if EA can leave off the last letter in their activatio ke, then Shamus can leave off the last letters of things too!

  25. Jack V. says:

    “But let's not be narrow minded. They could be both!”

    I think this is actually common. An organisation notices that the default, badly-implemented behaviour works to their benefit, and so no-one really has an incentive to try to fix it… Like, you have to be REALLY cynical to say “let’s create a confusopily”, but if you just keep making special exceptions and offers to try to segment the market, eventually you end up with something almost completely incomprehensible, and if you don’t do anything to MAKE it comprehensible, you win…

  26. Evlkritter says:

    The system is broke
    Those is charge should be stopped from doing things this stupi

  27. Puffinstuff says:

    I’m definitely looking forward to getting games like Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge, but I refuse to give EA any money. I’ll have to eBay them or something. You know, the best way to combat EA’s practices isn’t necessarily to just boycott DRM, but to support games that have no or little DRM *points finger at Stardock*

  28. General Karthos says:

    Obviously the misprint is intentional. :D I’m very glad that I read these posts completely before posting comments, because from time to time, when I have the urge to comment on something immediately (usually in protest or disagreement), I find out that you’re actually kidding/being sarcastic. :p

    Note: I’m not saying that snail didn’t read the post before commenting. Just noting the number of times that if I didn’t read the entire post, I’d feel pretty foolish after the fact….

  29. Lochiel says:

    Isn’t guessing the final character an attempt to break the encryption, thus a violation of the DMCA?

    Remember kids, if you legitimately use something you’ve bought, your a felon.

    Edit: Its bad enough that DRM treats you like a criminal, but now its actually making you a criminal.

  30. vdgmprgrmr says:

    The idea that the computer game market goes to shambles and then we get to see an increase in indie PC games is nice, and it could be really good, but that would leave those of us who play PC games exclusively would be left without any of the high-profile games, unless we manage to borrow an entire kit to play through the game, which I don’t like the idea of.

    Other than that, if that’s what’s going to happen, I’m all for EA layin’ the beat-down on the AAA PC market. Even if I’m stuck without the high-profile titles. If I don’t need to worry so much about hardware in the long run, surely I can pick up a 360 or PS3 along the way, eh?

    I still think we should be boycotting EA, and DRM, though. It was said here before that we need to do more than just not buy these games, we need to tell people we’re not buying them. Tell the game stores. When they see that people refuse to buy these games, they’ll stock less and less. And it will either destroy the PC market, or make it better, the way I see it.

  31. Christian Groff says:

    “The games they didn’t cancel? Spyro.”

    I like Spyro! However, thanks to the company who took the rights and turned Spyro into a Prince of Persia game, Spyro the Dragon prostituted himself. *sob* I loved the original PS triology because of all the collection of gems and stuff. This new series is not Spyro, it’s Prince of Persia in a dragon suit. :(

    I understand how unfair it is that Vivendi and those guys dropped Brutal Legend, made by the same guy who made Psychonauts, and Tim Schafer is getting raped in the ***, but I would have forgiven them if Spyro’s new agent hadn’t made him do stuff like Prince of Persia. BOOOOO!! Give us the obtainng of loot and Moneybags, not this ****!

  32. Studoku says:

    I’m glad I pirated RA3 to avoid this. Or at least I would be if I could get it to work.

    Once I can get the pirate copy to work, I’m donating the full cost of a copy of RA3 to meningitis research.

  33. Gary says:

    The stupid thing is that if they ARE attempting to drive everyone to consoles, even console games can and will be cracked/hacked/emulated. And in a world without PC games, hackers will inevitably move on to console game hacking.

    Which means that the gaming companies will earn LESS money because not only will they have less game sales, but less equipment sales.

  34. JKjoker says:

    Gary wrote : “The stupid thing is that if they ARE attempting to drive everyone to consoles, even console games can and will be cracked/hacked/emulated. And in a world without PC games, hackers will inevitably move on to console game hacking.”

    They already did, checking a scene release news site (for games) youll see that console releases come faster (sometimes weeks before the official release) and are released by more groups than the pc versions (which usually come a few days before or after the official release, mostly after)

  35. Telas says:

    I had an epiphany yesterday: Are disk production costs low enough that a company could produce unique CDs with unique activation codes, and avoid all of this DRM-phone-home silliness?

    If a game used a unique code for each disk, then there’d be no problem with the user virtualizing or copying the disk. Registering the game could be optional, but would be required for patches and support (including replacement disks).

    Anyone connected enough with the industry to know if this will work? I don’t want any royalties, just the knowledge that I helped put a stake in the onerous DRM schemes we see these days.

  36. Claire says:

    Telas, if there were a unique key for each disc (which would be very expensive because most production lines simply aren’t capable… but friendlier techniques could be developed affordably, I’m sure… maybe even on a purely software-level), how would that prevent virtualization and copying? Sure, keygens would cease to be an issue, but all you need is one good key/game pair, and then every pirate is in the door. All they can do in that case is what they’ve done: gatekeep with patches and online play, and in so doing, inevitably deny some segment of legitimate consumers full use of the product for which they’ve paid, and even those paying customers who CAN jump through the publisher’s hoops still have to jump through the publisher’s hoops, whereas pirates would have full access to patches and use of private servers, all for the cost of somebody spying on the processes with a hex editor and writing a custom patch in his or her den, more or less for the pleasure of doing it.

    *slaps your hand* Bad brainstormer. Bad.

  37. Dave says:

    They no longer off the “guess” advice.. they’ve changed the answer to that question. .. just goes to show the power of Shamus!

  38. LexIcon says:

    Now that consoles are having the noose tightened in the form of restricted DLC, we could very well be looking at the end of gaming as we know it.

    When I can’t even play a console game to the end because I didn’t buy it direct from EA, even if they don’t make the game new anymore, that is a sad day.

    And don’t even get me started on DLC that gives a significant advantage to those who fork over the dough. I don’t want to lose to a guy just because he suckles harder at EA’s bloated teat, dammit!


    Edit: Slightly off topic, I suppose. I was lead from this to a Kotaku post about DLC and consoles, and went off. Sorta related, though. Moderate at will, Shamus.

  39. JKjoker says:

    “They no longer off the “guess” advice.. they've changed the answer to that question. .. just goes to show the power of Shamus!”
    actually it was the power of Slashdot several days before Shamus posted it, just saying…

  40. Robert says:

    You know, when the Russians built the Trans-Siberian railroad, they initially built only one line of tracks, meaning only one train could go to and from each end. Never underestimate people's capacity for thoughtless action.

    Actually, that would mean only one train could be on each section of track at once. This was the standard way to build tracks for ages. There were, of course, sidings along the way, so that one train could be pulled off to let another pass.

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