Following up on yesterday’s tirade against the decision to require repeated activation in Mass Effect and Spore, I’m looking at the fan reactions on various forums and websites. There is the list of cancellations at Amazon, the usual blather at Slashdot, the thread at The Inquirer (who?), and the discussion over at Shacknews. Okay, I didn’t read all of that, but I’ve taken as big a bite out of the list as I have time for and I feel like I have a good sense of what people are saying.
What I’m seeing this time is a little different than the BioShock controversy. The news broke before release this time around, with enough time for people to cancel their pre-orders or change their mind about the game. I’ve seen many, many messages from people claiming to have done so. (Yes, many people are doubtless claiming to have canceled when they never pre-ordered in the first place, but I’m sure lots of people have also just canceled without saying anything. The numbers behind this are difficult to guess at.) Enough people were burned – or at the very least annoyed – by the BioShock launch that they are going to be shy about buying a game similarly encumbered.
I’m also seeing a much lower percentage of the users supporting the DRM. Allow me to pull out some very vague
numbers wild guesses as a starting point: Having read a lot of comments during both events I’d say that with BioShock, it seemed like perhaps 25% or 33% of the users stood by 2kGames. This time around it looks to be well under 10%. Judging by the official thread on BioWare’s site – where you’re likely to have the highest concentration of pro-BioWare fans – I might put support for the DRM scheme at something like 5%. This scheme is obviously worse than the one used in BioShock, but also these users aren’t trying to rationalize a purchase they’ve already made.
With numbers like that, and given the number of pre-order cancellations, it might actually be possible for the EA bean counters to perceive the dollar value backlash amidst the noise. Pre-orders do not get canceled en masse very often, and someone should be able to put this thing on a spreadsheet and see a visible dent in projected sales, beginning at the point when the announcement was made.
Assuming this is true, what will they do next? The most likely outcome is that nothing will happen. Monoliths like EA do not change direction quickly. Money has been spent. Activation servers have been set up, SecuROM has been licensed, support personnel have been (nominally) trained, and this is obviously the beginning of a company-wide initiative to combat piracy, like the building of high fortified walls to protect against aerial bombing. For them to change direction now would require that lots of highly paid and magnificently ignorant people admit that they have just made a huge mistake and wasted a great deal of money. This is generally a very dangerous thing for a publicly owned company to do.
Even if the pre-order cancellations are manifestly hurting the bottom line and even if it’s clear that this system was a bad move, in all likelihood EA won’t be nimble enough to change their behavior in time for it to matter for this game, and in the grand scheme of things Mass Effect is nothing to them.
Systems like this don’t seem to effect the sales of the game it’s in. This system won’t hurt the sales of Mass Effect so much as the sales of the next game the customer thinks of buying. But even if by some miracle the SecuROM system causes Mass Effect sales to tank, and even if they accept that those lost sales are the result of the system instead of blaming piracy, they will likely assume that this is just a public relations problem and that they need to do a better job of “educating the consumer” by painting a smiley face on the thing.
But having EA go forward with this plan is not the worst outcome in my book. For me, the worst possible move would be for them to relent on the ten-day checkup system and just keep the initial activation. Right now the public is firmly aligned against them, and a small concession* like this would likely divide the fans again. Some (like me) wouldn’t budge, but some would be glad that “EA listened to us!”, and run out to buy the thing. EA would learn the wrong lesson. Doing this would mean EA would change their mind on the implementation details but utterly fail to grasp the principles of the thing. I’m very much hoping they stick to their guns, and that fan reaction is large enough to be visible, in some meaningful way, to the people at EA.
I don’t have much hope that they are even capable of being educated. The truth of DRM in games has been appallingly obvious for the past several years to anyone familiar with the word “torrent”, and if they haven’t figured it out by now – despite that being their job – then there is no forum thread long enough or passionate enough to drive home the facts of the thing. But if they can at least see a negative impact on the bottom line, they might slowly grasp how the thing works, even if the why eludes them. If they can err on a large enough scale and lose enough money doing so, then maybe we can be rid of this absurd rot five years from now.
It’s a long shot, but it’s what I hope for.
* A small concession for us, but a major concession for them, which just shows how far apart the two sides are.
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47 thoughts on “Mass Effect and Spore:
What Happens Next”
I know the market is small, but the people I really feel bad for are the dial-up customers, or those that don’t access the net frequently.
Now, I understand the reasoning behind saying this won’t change what they’re doing with Mass Effect, but do you think tanking sales could change what they do with Spore? Or will they just sugar coat it, as you say, by claiming piracy is at fault, and just keep on doing what they’re doing?
Thanks for the update. This IS important issue, not just because of games but because of the increasing importance of software in our lives.
I will keep you posted on the possibility of lawsuits against EA in small claims court.
Will the box say “Internet Connection Required” if the DRM phones home every week and a half?? ‘Cuase if it didn’t, EA could get into some serious legal trouble for misleading the public.
I wasn’t going to buy Mass Effect on PC, I have very little in the way of a gaming budget and since I already own it on 360 I can’t justify the expense.
However I was definitely ready to buy Spore as soon as it came out, my wife and I love games where you build civilizations (CIV1-4) and the entire premise of the game intriqued us greatly. Unfortunately I have to hope that it will also be released on 360 so I can spend an extra $10 for a game that I can’t play with my wife.
And people wonder why sales of games are shrinking on PC and growing on consoles. Don’t have to deal with any of this aggravation for a console game (just have to deal with the aggravating kids on Live and the watered down gameplay).
i don’t get involved in these conversations very much because I am a casual gamer, but I just have to say that all of this DRM shit is pissing me off. I’ve been on of the guys would will buy the game if I like it (very infrequently as I have limited time to budget for gaming), normally jump through whatever hoops just so I can play something that I like. But this phone home crap has finally pissed me off. I’ve read a few thread from people debating how evil this is (from kicking puppies to eating babies), and one of the arguements was something along the lines of, well everyone has access to the internet at least acouple times within that period, even if the game is loaded on a laptop and traveling. To that I say, I don’t. I’m a submariner in a US nuclear submarine and I install games on my laptop so I can destress while being underwater for up to 6 months at a shot. I know plenty of guys that are in the Gulf right now that have little or no access right now. That makes these games totally out of the question for me. Sometimes protecting someones freedom to treat me like a criminal leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
O.K. rant over I feel much better now. Thanks for listening.
What I think will happen is:
Sales of EA’s PC games will drop so low that they give up on the PC platform altogether in a couple years, the direct result of this fiasco. Future Mass Effect style games are released exclusively on console. EA never goes back to the PC, except possibly when all the executives are replaced by people who actually know what the heck they’re doing.
Seriously: we’re almost at the point of no return here. Not just for EA, but for ALL big publishers. The selection of PC games at retail is withering while Indy and small publishers/developers are flourishing. Forces completely aside from the DRM issue are forcing a paradigm shift of massive proportions. Of course this fiasco isn’t enough to kill EA games on the PC by itself, but combined with the current trends, it may well be.
While I am disappointed that I won’t have access to Mass Effect on my PC (and I mean exactly that because it is effectively that), on the bright side this could result in Valve becoming the true unrivaled king of the PC games market. At least in the short term, according to my humble opinion, that could only be a good thing. (And if EA sees Valve succeeding where they failed post-fiasco, they might reconsider getting rid of or severely reducing DRM and retake their place as provider of PC game content.)
I just want to know whether EA knows that any of this is happening. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in their next board meeting….
Listen, Shamus. I’m not principled. I can be sympathetic to EA’s position and not take offense where no offense is intended. I just want to play Spore. The only reason I’m not going to put up with it is because I’ve heard that SecuROM does not play nicely with some of the legitimate software that I use daily.
That puts me in the same boat as you, though, because even if they eliminate the phoning home, they’ll still be enforcing it with SecuROM.
However, I was wondering if, in the course of your research on this and on Bioshock, you’ve encountered a comprehensive and marginally authoritative view at what sorts of thing generate false positives in that regard?
To add to MadTinkerer’s analysis, I think a drop in sales could also hurt the long leash they’ve given BioWare. They might push BW toward solely console production for all their CRPGs, and only allow MMO projects by the Austin studio to hit the PC.
Quoth SubHuman, using a suddenly-revealed-to-be-brilliant handle: “… one of the arguments was something along the lines of, well everyone has access to the internet at least acouple times within that period, even if the game is loaded on a laptop and traveling. To that I say, I don't. I'm a submariner in a US nuclear submarine …”
Now, *there’s* an argument to try on the suits at EA! If you use this kind of DRM, you aren’t supporting our brave troops. EA, why do you want to give aid and comfort to the enemies of America?
Ok, I have a few questions.
1. Does a game that contains SecuROM actually display this on the box?
2. Does the newest version of SecuROM still install an .exe on a computer other than the game?
3. Does SecuROM uninstall when you uninstall a game?
4. Does it still require “third party” tools to remove SecuROM, as stated in Wikipedia?
5. Does SecuROM do anything other than validate that the DVD in the drive is an authentic DVD? I guess what I am asking is, does SecuROM send any information back to the mothership other than the key associated with a particular DVD? Does it look for other possibly illegal software?
6. Is there any software that a person might have installed on their computer that SecuROM does not play nice with?
Sorry if these are obvious questions, I am only a very casual gamer, but I do take these DRM issues seriously.
I agree with SubHuman. I was ticked to hear that I’ll need Internet access to continually maintain the use of a game that I’ve bought fair and square. What if you don’t have Internet at all? I have moved frequently in the last six years (including another move to Seattle next week!) and setting up net access always takes time. In Japan, I sometimes had to wait up to a month to get some asshole out to my apartment to hook me up. Or what if I’m someone who has no net access at home and only uses the Internet at work or at the library? How f***ing stupid is EA?!
I wish there was some way I could get the best of both worlds… paying the creators, and getting the product without DRM. I don’t want to pay EA anything for this insult, but I’d be willing to pay full price to the people that actually wrote the thing.
The internet access thing is even worse for other parts of the world – there is a significant proportion of the world that still uses dial up, and has poor broadband penetration. What EA is saying to them is that the US and Europe are the only markets that matter (and only those parts with good broadband access!). That may be where the significant bulk of the market is currently, but assuming that everywhere else is unimportant strikes me as a fairly stupid and short sighted thing to do.
Just to be explicit: the obvious EA reaction will be “well, next time we won’t announce anything until after release…”
I’m hopeful that EA loses enough sales this time around to take notice. Since the whole raison d’etre of DRM is to prevent lost sales, this may be enough to make companies take notice. Maybe not behemoth companies like EA, but smaller companies certainly. It might be enough for a smaller developer studio to go to their publisher and advocate for a DRM free product.
This uproar gives a new perspective on the BioShock outrage, as well. It looks like all the wailing and gnashing of teeth wasn’t impotent after all. It got the message out, and this time people had already made up their mind. The internet is a powerful tool for distributing information and influencing minds.
Spore is honestly the only pc game I have been excited for since I was a little kid. I have a mac. I do not get computer games. Not only that, I wanted to be a video game designer in order to eventually make a game like spore as my magnum opus. Why the hell do they have to do this annoying shit? Does anyone know if secuROM goes to work on macs too? I guess it has to, in order to be effective… I just can’t believe that this has to happen to the only pc game I’ll be excited about for years. I hope I can get a hacked copy…
Shamus, you asked, what could happen next.
Most customers don’t think about that or don’t care. It could be, that most of them are only dumb. When I see the German side, that is so.
Here in Germany are quite a lot of telekommunication companies. Not so much people change their systems, because all of them have a totally crapped customer service. “Why change? They are all like the Telekom.”
More dumber are managers. At first, they don’t want to see their failure. Else they kicked Securom before. Second, they will try to force success, because of all the money and effort they invested. Additionally they prefer to see Securom not as the MAIN problem. (Who cares about the few(!) people who bought a product and can’t play. They are so or so pirates and / or can’t get their money back.)
Also they seem to be jealous, that their precious product can be USED by customers. It looks like they want, that the people buy it only for POSSESSING it and LOOKING at the cover.
At the end, I see a highly sold product with a lot of angry customers who DON’T stop to buy their products, because the make a good job with developing good games. You see that at the amount of profit they made before with Securom. And Monkey Island’s jail get e few more traps in the next game…
(I prefer to buy products, when I find them somwewhere cheap and use afterwards the cracks. I never trust a company, which try subtly behind my back with a program to reach internet before / while / after playing without asking me. I don’t want to know, what else informations they get from me with this small “updater”)
1. Not that I’ve seen, but its probably in the EULA. Now if only you could read that before you installed the game.
2. That would make it too easy to remove. Generally there is a .exe, yes, but also a lot of hidden registry keys and suchlike.
3. No. Clearly the only reason you would want to do that is you are a dirty, filthy pirate.
4. With varying success, personally I find ‘format c:’ the most effective 3rd party tool for this purpose. I have certainly never seen one from securom.
5. I dont know what it sends back, but I do know that if it detects things like daemon tools running it packs a sad and wont let your games run. So you generally need a version of daemon tools that was released after your version of securom (which avoids detection).
6. See #5 for an example
Thanks Kobyov, exactly what I needed to clarify the argument. I have three more queries if anyone can answer them.
In order to further understand point 4, does Sony offer any Sony authorized tools for uninstalling SecuROM?
Second, is it not known what SecuROM sends back to the mothership because the information is somehow obscured or because no one has looked?
Last, what would be some lawful AND practical reasons why a person would need to possess “daemon tools”? (Sorry, don’t know what they are, not a part of my skill set)
The more I look into this, the more I am shocked that no one has pushed back using the courts. I know of no judge that would buy the argument that a contract is valid after the point of purchase and then upon refusal of said contract, said consumer can’t get a refund from the retailer. Goes against 500 years of legal precedent.
Actually, Bioshock’s version of SecurROM appeared to actually uninstall the program bits when I uninstalled Bioshock on my recently-formatted computer after finishing.
It left that goddamn registry key, though. Y’know, the one which is carefully designed to not be removable with Windows’ built-in registry editor. And from what I understand if you have any other games which use any version of securom, it leaves everything, even if they use an older version which doesn’t need any of the stuff that came with Bioshock.
(First time posting, so I don’t know how to do the quoting thing.)
For your #3 and #4, when I installed Oblivion on my old computer (which, sadly enough, couldn’t play it), the uninstall process did not remove SecuROM. I had to find and remove the hidden registry keys they put on there with Rootkit Revealer and some other Microsoft tool. I doubt I completely uninstalled it, but that level of effort is more than I had done when I’ve had to remove malware from my uncle’s computer (who used IE6 for all his browsing, even to likely infected sites).
For your #6, SecuROM also has a hissy fit if it sees Process Explorer, which is a “task manager alternative” which is provided for download and managed by Microsoft.
I can understand their hissy fit over Daemon Tools (which emulates CD/DVD drives), and slightly over Process Explorer because it shows you all your running tasks and can display other information about those processes (like how much memory they are using themselves, their I/O, what DLLs they are referencing, etc.), but it is a legitimate development tool.
I need to jump in here. According to the official thread at BioWare, the incarnation of SecuROM shipping with Mass Effect isn’t as bad about Process Explorer. I think it won’t run if PE is running, but if you close PE the game should run fine. This is in contrast to BioShock, where you were forced to REBOOT if you’d used process explorer and you wanted to play your game.
Either way: Ugh.
Supposedly, Sysinternals released a new version of Process Explorer which no longer triggers whatever it is that makes SecuROM barf – so that has nothing to do with anything Sony did or did not do.
I’m more concerned about rumors that SecuROM doesn’t like the debugger in Visual Studio, or debuggers in general. As a programmer, I kind of need those. Does anybody know for sure?
Correct me if I am wrong, but couldn’t Daemon Tools be used to rip film DVDs to your computer, so that you could store them on your hard drive and watch them at your leisure without having to load the individual disc? For example, if you wanted to use your computer as a media center.
On the Process Explorer thingamajig, so SecuROM does not allow you to run this program while you run the game? And this utility is provided and supported by Microsoft?
Strangeite: Daemon Tools is not a DVD-ripping utility to the best of my knowledge. Even if it is, I know it can neither decrypt nor transcode. You could use it to play back ripped DVD images, but only if they’re already decrypted. It’s just used for a virtual CD or DVD drive.
SecuROM’s problem with Process Explorer happens if you’ve ever run Process Explorer since your last boot.
Close, daemon tools does not allow you to rip things, it allows you to mount virtual images. So you can turn any disk into a file (with another program), which you can then mount, just as you said. It would then appear to your computer that you had the disk in the drive, and things would work. I’m not sure about the US, but in NZ copying your games and using them like this is legal, provided that you own the game.
Yes that appears to be a good summary of process explorer. It will work, provided that you are not actively playing the game. The game simply being installed shouldn’t affect it.
The EULA says that you can return the game if you don’t want to put up with the crap, but I dont know how well that would go down with the retailer. But if you took it to small claims I can see two outcomes: 1. They breached their contract and have to give you a refund. 2. they dont have to give a refund, because the contract isn’t valid – and then you dont have to follow it. Either way you seem to win. Unless there is another outcome I haven’t noticed?
I have several SecuROM games here, no problem with the Visual Studio tools. I’ve even had VS running in the background while the game is on. (Particularly when I make my screenshot comics, as the comic software is something I wrote myself.)
However, I’m still using VS 6.0 – which turns ten this year, I think. Maybe the newer version is what upsets SecuROM.
Well, the “express” versions of VS are free of charge. All we need to do is find a SecuROM-infected accomplice and ask him to test it for us.
Well, Oblivion’s SecuROM didn’t seem to have the same problem BioShock’s did with PE. I didn’t have to reboot because I was running PE (which I do all the time, at home and at work), but it didn’t like me running it while the disc was in the drive.
Not sure. I didn’t have any of the newer Visual Studios on my computer when I tried Oblivion (like Shamus, I was using VS 6.0), and even now all I would have at home are just the Express editions, which I don’t believe will jump in to debug everything like the full versions.
It was originally written by another company, Sysinternals, that was acquired by Microsoft. The download for it is provided through Microsoft’s site, and going to http://www.sysinternals.com redirects to their section on Microsoft TechNet.
As far as my experience had been, with just Oblivion, I couldn’t have it running at all when trying to play. I don’t know about other games that use SecuROM, or if a newer version of Process Explorer doesn’t have a problem with it, like Mark says. I was using the newest version at the time, which would’ve been in January, and it didn’t work.
~”My Plan”~, by Alex Hill:
-Step 1-: Obtain employment at EA.
-Step 2-: Become the Head of Security, acquire keys to the front door to the main building.
-Step 3-: Wait inside main building in front of locked front door until fellow employees start arriving in the morning.
-Step 4-: When confused co-workers ask me to let them in through the glass, I will blindfold myself, stand in the opposite direction, and assume they are all burglars attempting to loot the place. If they really want to get in, then I will refer them to a crude sign.
The sign asks them for a random, 40 digit code which must be “activated”(recited from memory) in the next 10 minutes proceeding to prove their virtue, in exchange for $70 dollars.
-Step 5-: After that exchange, ask everyone to recite their codes through a makeshift “phone”(single-file), comprised of two paper cups connected with string(one cup on the outside, two girls-I mean, another cup in the building for me to hear their cries of anguish through).
[NOTE: Their phone-cup is doused in an unknown strain of bacteria. It could be a cold virus. It could be Ebola. I’ll keep it a secret. Everyone loves surprises!]
-Step 6-: Put them “on hold” for no reason and avoid giving solid answers to compensate their justified outrage. If more than 10 people tell me their incomprehensible codes at the same time, I will “freeze” in place for 3 days and resume letting people in one at a time.
-Step 7-: They may only tell me their code once. At which point they must acquire a new code(non refundable).
~FINAL STEP~: After I am fired, tally the number of people who decided not to put up with this degrading BS and just go around to the unlocked back-door.
Wait wait wait. Oblivion had SecuROM?
… I never knew.
Although it would explain the difficulty I’ve had in uninstalling these old Windows 3.1 games.
The Inquirer! The new home of the BOFH! Sassy English IT, humor, and tech news!
Really. Anyone that hasn’t read the entire many year history of the BOFH should take two days off and do so.
What I fear will happen is this:
Sales will be very poor and EA will cite poor sales as a result piracy. EA will attribute the piracy problem to the PC platform, claiming, as many companies already have, that the console space is much healthier because of reduced piracy risk. They will trot out numbers that show many people have pirated but few actually bought. And they will fail to acknowledge that their DRM system is what drove legitimate customers away while the pirates didn’t have to deal with any of that.
This will help facilitate the death of the PC games market, at least where the large publishers are concerned, allowing publishers to justify further use of handicapping DRM until there really IS no PC market left except for small companies.
Oddly, this result might be a good thing. I’d love to see more small companies return to PC development and start pushing out super-advanced technology in lieu of solid design, interesting gameplay, and real variety.
Oh, and Shamus, are you willing to share your wonderful comic software with others, perchance?
The sad part? There will be a Torrent of Spore up 3 days before it is released to the paying public, with all of the SecuRom that makes our lives miserable removed. The Pirates will be getting a better product, free, earlier than the paying customers do.
And EA will wonder why anyone could be that evil.
I absolutely agree. I will gladly “sacrifice” a good game or a couple if we can get rid of DRM on the long term. Yeah, sucks to be working for Spore, but on the other hand, I’d rather have a painful ending than endless pain.
And Viktor is perfectly right. There will be a torrent, it will not have Securom Bullshit, it will not phone home, and it will release either before the game itself or a couple days later. You know, I’ve waited more than two years for spore at that point. I can wait another 24 hours.
Im a gamer but a poor gamer. I don’t buy a game often and I often never buy a game I want because I don’t have the money at the time. I usually save money for a game I want only to have something better to come out and buy that game instead so I miss alot of good games.
Spore was the game I was waiting for this time and I haven’t bought a game for quite some time so I could get it. In light of this information I have decided not to get Spore because…
I live paycheck to paycheck and I am unsure I will be able to mantain internet connection from month to month. I see no point in buying a game that I may not be able to play because I can’t afford and internet connection one day.
This would make more sense for an online only game like World of Warcraft, but now I am required to have an internet connection for a single player game? I have never bought an online only game because I know I can’t afford to (pay to play)I missed out on World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy sadly.
How long before all single player games require internet access? I pay about $50 a month for internet so one day all games will cost me $600 a year to play! Seems like this would promote piracy to me.
Im not boycotting EA because I think what their doing is wrong, I know if I were in their shoes I would be concerned about someone stealing from me too. I will gladly buy any game for $50 when I know I can afford it, with the peace of mind of knowing I can play it whenever I want from that point on… but now I don’t have that.
Stopping piracy is good for a company but there has to be a better way. I would rather pay a higher retail price for a game than rely on comcast to let me play on a monthly basis, in the long run it would be cheaper for me that way. ($650 for Spore for a year or 10 games at $65 a pop in 1 year) I’ll take 10!
Hopefully the next game I want doesn’t do this too. Yes I will miss Spore but if I learned one thing about missing out on a good thing from time to time is that something better always comes along.
Me before announcement of Spore DRM: AWESOME!!!! Can’t wait to buy
*sets up clock*
Me after announcement of Spore DRM:
*destroys clock, loses faith in EA (again) and goes back outside to play ball*
I wonder how much of the price tag on Spore will be this stupid DRM (and covering the losses they make from piracy because of it)
Today’s penny arcade covers this topic quite nicely.
And Penny Arcade have a big enough fanbase to make a quite visible dent on their own.
Shamus’ comic was better.
It seems EA is going to be doing this with all of their PC games? Looks like I’m done buying anything from EA, then.
And Spore looked so cool, too.
Worst case scenario came true.
I don’t think EA would have backed down even this much if it wasn’t for Bioware, meaning, EA hasn’t learned anything from this, and Bioware has only this much say under EA.
EA will blame the fall in sales on the pirates. Their next logical step will be the ultimate anti-pirate weapon: They won’t distribute the game. Obviously, if nobody has the game, nobody can pirate it. They can’t play it either of course, but that’s what anti-piracy is all about.
Oblivion has SecuROM? Are you sure? I was told all it had was your basic CD check, which was one of the reasons why I bought the game.
I have Daemon Tools.
As someone said, it’s a virtual drive.
Every single CD or DVD I own I rip into an image and mount it, because I can’t be bothered to swap CDs every other day when I want to play a game I can’t find a cracked exe for.
Not to mention I hate the noise of the CD/DVD player spinning up.
I feel it worth it to necro-post in the comments for an old topic I’m reading just now just to note how much I love the use of the words “magnificently ignorant” together =D
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