Experienced Points: Activation Bomb

By Shamus Posted Friday Feb 5, 2010

Filed under: Column 54 comments

Remember, if the activation servers ever go down, they’ll release a patch so we can still play the game.

I mean, of course they would. They’d have to.

Wouldn’t they?


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54 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Activation Bomb

  1. Mechtroid says:

    While I agree with your argument on a whole, I believe you’re forgetting the human element. Not only are there pirates trying to crack the game, people who love circumventing DRM so much they take any program that resists their attempts as a personal insult, there is one simple fact:
    Humans created this game. No DRM is perfect. The low-level coder(s) who implemented it probably know its weakness. Even if they’re too lazy to create a patch, they know the activation system inside and out. They can probably make a fake server that pretends to be official.

    I just genuinely think there’s people who want to play who are smarter than the people who want to lock down games. If I’m wrong, god help us all.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I was mad with glee when spore hit the torrents a few days before its world-wide release,yet twilight of the arnor,protected with nothing,hasnt appeared there for 6 months after its release.So DRMs are actually counterproductive.

      But Shamus,didnt you already do this on the escapist some time ago?I was expecting this article to be about something that happened recently,and you going “Told you so!”

      1. Adeon says:

        I believe you are thinking of this article he wrote a while back:

        1. Demecles says:

          OK, I thought I was just having a weird case of deja vu.

      2. Jabor says:

        The people who crack games do so because it’s challenging.

        If you don’t put DRM on them, it’s no challenge it all, so no self-respecting pirate bothers.

        1. Volatar says:

          Exactly. Plus, some of them (not all, far from it) actually do believe in the principals of good, DRM free games and refrain from putting them up to be pirated. (only takes one though…)

      3. Samuel Erikson says:

        “I was mad with glee when spore hit the torrents a few days before its world-wide release,yet twilight of the arnor,protected with nothing,hasnt appeared there for 6 months after its release.So DRMs are actually counterproductive.”

        Pirate Bay says you’re wrong. Twilight of the Arnor was uploaded exactly two months after initial release. Time to find this out: 10 seconds.

        1. Jabor says:

          Two months.

          IIRC, the currently most-successful DRM didn’t even last two weeks.

  2. pkt-zer0 says:

    Patches to play games without activation are already around for practically any game.

  3. PowerofGeorge says:


    Yes indeed. Unofficial that is.

    And they will definitely release a patch because they love us so much. You know, us, not our money or something.

    1. scragar says:

      No need to do the @someone thing any-more, comments support direct replies.

    2. Shamus says:

      Imagine if Steam shut down and all the people who have never pirated a game suddenly found out they needed to do so in order to play their games.

      All those newbie “pirates”. A lot of people would learn how to do it. Some of them might keep doing it.

      And if I was some Malware / Spyware bastard, I would LOVE it when all of those clueless people surged out looking for help with their games. People who have no idea how to tell a trojan from the real deal. I’d own more boxes than UPS.

      1. pkt-zer0 says:

        Given the numbers people pull out when estimating piracy rates, those clueless, newbie pirates would likely be a tiny minority. Statistically speaking, everyone’s already a pirate.

        (Also, yay for threaded replies!)

        1. Veloxyll says:

          The question is how many pirates also own legitimate copies and are just downloading pirated versions to beat international release dates (seriously, the game is out in America 2 days sooner than here, for my version that I bought ON THE INTERNET?!), or to beat crazy DRM. Unlike piracy rates the pirate+paid for rate is much harder to judge.

          Even if you assume they don’t exist, you want to keep that last 10% of paying customers, not show them that they can have MORE fun for LESS money.

          1. Tobias says:

            It seems high piracy pirates on huge blockbuster titles that come with DRM help – at least EA stopped this inane shenanigans. And I wonder if it had anything to do with the extremely high piracy rates of Spore (which came with 3-activations-SecuROM). Yeah, it might have topped them off that something about their strategy wasn’t working…

      2. Monkeyboy says:

        Interesting enough I do that with music. Online purchases I made have “expired”, and since I don’t belong to those stores anymore, I would have to pay a membership fee to hear all my music again.

        Hello piracy.

  4. Tobias says:

    Valid points. As a matter of fact, I do happen to have a crack for every activation game I buy, and my backup mechanisms are solid.

    In other news… Shamus, I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ve read this article somewhere, sometime… if only I knew where…

  5. midget0nstilts says:

    All good points, but good luck getting software companies to put that in their crack pipe they are evidently habitual users of and smoke it.

  6. S.Richmond says:

    I downloaded and cracked Mass Effect 2 5 days before its release. I had it pre-ordered on Steam months before, but I wanted it now (Specially since I had the week off work!). Not only was the illegal version quicker to download (Thanks Newsgroups), but the patched executable, due to the lack of DRM I’m sure, fixed a rather annoying bug in the released game where many PCs took 60+ seconds to load for example the captains cabin where it usually takes 1-2 seconds.

    Not only that, but the steam copy took 15 minutes to decrypt and it had like 5 serial keys (pre-order, retail, DLC1, DLC2, EA network key, etc) and it took me 20 minutes to work out how to sign up to the EA network and then attach that account to my bioware network account, and than add the correct key. What a mess!

    All-in-all I actually had a better experience with my illegal copy than I did the real one. And I’ll continue to do this in future without a second thought. Thanks DRM.

  7. Zaxares says:

    Just wanted to say, Shamus… As an Australian, I totally cracked up at your “And the special Australian versions that replace the aliens with kittens and the blood with lowfat strawberry yogurt.” comment. XD

    Stupid, oversensitive Australian Censorship Board…

    1. Shamus says:

      I almost left that out. I know it sometimes rubs people the wrong way to hear their country criticized by crazy foreigners. I wanted to show solidarity with Australian gamers, not make fun of them. I’m glad it wasn’t taken the wrong way.

      Insane prices. Censorship. Missing titles. Pointless delays in releases. It’s tough to be a gamer down there.

      1. Zaxares says:

        Nah. If there’s one thing we Australians are good at, it’s laughing at ourselves. We reckon that’s why everybody in the world loves us. ;)

        Plus, we’re pretty irreverant when it comes to authority figures. We lampoon our prime minister, opposition leader and other political and celebrity leaders MERCILESSLY.

        You’re right though. It’s pretty tough being a gamer down under. The only real reason I still buy from brick and mortar shops is because I just like having the actual box in my hands.

      2. Avatar says:

        You have no idea the furore every Australian gamer has with the Australian governments over the gaming censorship issue. What you said is funny because it’s absolutely true, and it’s actually cool of you to give the issue the shoutout.

  8. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Precisely, I actually gave a similar, if less developed, line of reasoning in a comment to one of your earlier DRM/activation rants.

    The thing here is that while the players may be oblivious the developer/publisher should know the harsh realities of the market, while we can go through our games without actually realising that the company changed ownership or that there’s a sever out there somewhere they are painfully aware of recessions, competition, server costs… The fact that a company still serves us activation in such a form really shows that they care very little about people who want to play their game. Sure, I personally believe that if there’s a will there’s a way, the concept of abandonware generally stands strong and many people who fight piracy with a passion are willing to turn a blind eye on this kind of software (or, very often, there’s simply no entity holding the legal rights) but I can’t help but sense a bit of hypocrisy in ultimately leaving the only hope for the game to the phenomenon those companies claim they want to put a stop to.

  9. Liz says:

    Okay, confess, Shamus. You wrote that whole article just so you could work in that Shoot Guy 2: The Shootening joke, didn’t you?

    At the very least, it put ME on the floor.

  10. GeneralBob says:

    If I paid for the game and then I can’t play it, isn’t that…illegal?

    Well the CEO and creators of Runescape promised to run the servers privately if the company went under so there is some good in the world.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Aaaaand that’s where the convoluted, occult and generally Lovecraftian nature of the EULA comes in (I remember someone doing a rant on this, not sure if it was Shamus, if not than he probably should). If you sit down to it and seriously try to work it out you’ll discover that the company has virtually no obligations to you. Much in the same vein that it cannot be held responsible for damage that their software does to your PC it also cannot be required to make sure that said software will continue to run. That’s right, the EULA as a rule strips the company of the responsibility to provide you with a running software in the first place not to mention maintaining it.

      In fact you’ll often either pay for the use of the data (within the restriction of the EULA, like no copying) with no guarantee that said service will be maintained indefinitely or for the limited (again by the restriction of the EULA) ownership of the copy of that data in case of retail. In both cases you get precisely what you agreed on, and there is no option of “taking your business elsewhere” if you want to play a given title (other than piracy of course, but I mean legal).

      Also, the Runescape scenario is nice (and it was done with, for example, Dreamlords, when Lockpick bought a farm) but it’s assuming at least two thing: first, they have the resources to run it and second, they keep the rights to it.

      1. krellen says:

        Not that EULAs are commonly held up in court, mind you.

      2. Deoxy says:

        The EULA? Oh, you mean that agreement they add to the sale AFTER they have already taken your money and refuse a refund? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

        I’m sure you wouldn’t mind buying a car, then AFTER they’ve got your money, they tell you that you can only drive it when they say you can. You’d put up with that and think it’s legal, right?

        Snarf. Snort. Chortle.

    2. Steve C says:

      Yes it is illegal. You could sue the now bankrupt company. Or you could report them to the police for fraud. Though the police will have trouble finding them.

      You could challenge the EULA, and good news! You’d be guaranteed to win. If defendants don’t show up to court, they automatically lose.

      The company won’t exist. That’s the point, and why everything else is moot.

  11. darth joe says:

    The comment about drm “forcing people into piracy” really rang true with me. ME1, Crysis, and several others with apocolyptic drm made me figure out piracy for real. And the mess steam has turned into is really inexcusable. Also: are you saying shoot guy 2 the shootening isn’t worth replaying? I’ve been playing it for weeks!

    1. Shamus says:

      Clearly you’ve gotten the expansion pack: MOAR SHOOT!

      1. omicron says:

        Nah. I bet he just got the ‘Body Armor’ dlc pack. I hear it packs a ton of value for the cost.

  12. Sheer_Falacy says:

    There was a thing on slashdot where some game designers said that DRM had no effect on piracy. On the one hand, that means DRM is pointless, since it’s cheaper not to include it and you get the same result. On the other hand, it means that all those people who say they pirate because of the DRM are totally full of shit.

    1. acronix says:

      I guess they meant it in the way that it hadn´t any effect in lowering the pirate rates. Or maybe the pirates that go into it for the DRM don´t really make any difference in the numbers.

      1. Jabor says:

        Perhaps it’s because the people-who-pirate-because-of-DRM and the people who don’t pirate because of DRM (you know, the casual disk-swappers that don’t download cracks or anything, just share the disks) balance each other out?

    2. Ramsus says:

      Yeah, I’m sure “some game designers” can accurately judge what every single pirate is thinking when they decide to pirate. The only thing they really get to know is that the DRM doesn’t seem to effect the piracy rates. Maybe some people who would pirate a game with crazy DRM don’t bother because they’re busy doing something else when they could be downloading it before it officially came out and then have the game on their hands by the time they care meanwhile others are bothered by the DRM and decide to pirate that one game. The result could have the same amount of people pirating the game with no real clues left to why people did what they did.

      Then again I’m sure people make lots of bs excuses for many things they do, pirating isn’t really any different. Most of the people I know tend to only pirate games they never intended on paying for in the first place.

  13. Jed says:

    I just wanted to point out that there ARE companies (well, at least one) that made of official policy of removing copy protection a few months after release. (Egosoft did that with their last 2 games, X³: Reunion and Terran Conflict)

    1. Yep they did! And unless I remember incorrectly, the boxed v2.0 for example was shipped without copy protection. (v2.0 was also a downloadable patch for v1.x owners) So EgoSoft is keeping their word at least.

    2. tech_priest says:

      Yes! I’m a big fan of X3 partly for this reason, and partly because it is awesome. But… it IS only one company

  14. Varil says:

    So wait, let me get this straight.

    You’re saying that activation servers are…the bomb? Ba-dum-tsh.

  15. Nyaz says:

    Oh crap, and I just got ME2 from Steam. Waaahhh! Panic! Anarchy!

  16. Gary says:

    I just finished reading the article and came across this.


    No more Xbox Live for Xbox original games! In other words the main reason why these games are still being played on a regular basis (Multi-player) is to be no more after April 15th. Talk about being screwed without a reach around! Thank you loyal fan base now switch to Xbox 360 only or F**K OFF!

    1. eri says:

      Not to mention that they have to pay for their online play as well. You’d think the least they could do is keep the servers up. I don’t buy “technical limitations” as a reason to get rid of them… there’s more than likely a pretty easy work-around to avoid new features breaking old games, like introducing an “Xbox Classic” version of your profile that lacks those new features.

    1. Somebody in the comments there mentioned “Microsoft TOOK DOWN all the DLC for Original Xbox games. That means, if you need to re-download the maps (And a ton of people do.) you are SOL”


  17. guy says:

    Fact check: Blizzard and Activision were both subsidaries of Vivendi universal for a very long time before being merged.

  18. Corruptor says:

    I totally agree with you Shamus. There is only one exception I know of: Anachronox.

    The company making it ran out of money about… well, near the end of the project. they wrapped it up, put it out, and closed the doors and somesuch. The developers behind it, at least some of them, then took money out of their own pocket, fixed all the major bugs, and put up a new website to host it.

    I wish there were more people like that. In the gaming industry or otherwise. I also wish the company stayed alive to make a sequel. The game was pretty good, but it ended on such a goddamn cliff hanger…

    1. Since Eidos Interactive was gobled up into Square Enix Europe it’s Square Enix that owns that IP, I guess upper management was to lazy to legally pursue the devs. (or where they lucky enough to get permission?)

  19. wererogue says:

    The best part is that “we’ll put out patches if we take down the servers” also means “it is possible to patch this game to circumvent the DRM.” So, this helps fight piracy… how?

  20. Sean says:

    Buy, or do not buy, but always be aware of what you’re getting into. Because sooner or later the publisher is going to die, and when they go they will take your collection with them.

    Very well put.

  21. pwiggi says:

    While everything in your article is true (for all values of true), I’d like to share a counter-example that makes me happy:

    When Valkyrie Studios went under, one developer managed to hang on to the source code for Septerra Core (released 1999). Years after the game’s release, he released a new patch, fixing all of the outstanding known bugs and updating the game to work on modern versions of Windows (and it works under Wine, too!).

    Now, this game didn’t have any online activation; it was from a different era. But it’s an awesome success story: the company disappeared, but there’s still a tiny web presence, with a patch released 7 years after the game was created.

    1. I guess it’s just luck that the creditors didn’t sue his ass off though…

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