Mass Effect:

By Shamus Posted Friday May 9, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 28 comments

Penny Arcade takes on the Mass Effect DRM issue today. I hope that someone at EA reads it, and that they subsequently, somehow, experience some sort of physical discomfort in the process.

Because most review sites want to review games before you can physically own them – as part of a neverending game of one-upsmanship that only they care about – BioShock’s devilry was revealed only after most reviews were written. As a result that story didn’t really get its due in the gaming press. I certainly did my best to overcompensate, but no amount of indignation here can make up for the lack of attention there.

Release date for Mass Effect on the PC is May 28. The news has most likely come too late to get a mention in print reviews – probably not an accident, there – but online reviews will be able to give this issue some attention. I am very interested to see which ones avoid or gloss over the DRM. This story should be in the forefront of any publication covering PC gaming. Readers need to know about the hassles and obligations the game will place on them more than they need four paragraphs of gushing about the graphics. Any publication which spends column inches hyperventilating about graphics without mentioning the infuriating DRM is announcing their own worthlessness.


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28 thoughts on “Mass Effect:

  1. henebry says:

    That’s a funny cartoon, Shamus, but it misses what is (to my mind) the most vital aspect of the argument you’ve been making so eloquently. In focusing on the violations of privacy and CPU cycles experienced by purchasers, it glosses over the fact that pirates experience none of the cumbersome shackles of the DRM scheme.

    This argument “” that the pirates are offering a better product “” is the really telling one. I really hope it gains traction in the wider world of videogame forums, perhaps filtering up eventually to developer and publisher board rooms.

  2. Deoxy says:

    Any publication which spends column inches hyperventilating about graphics without mentioning the infuriating DRM is announcing their own worthlessness.

    1. There will be many such announcements.

    2. These announcements are unnecessary and redundant.

    The comic was funny-ish, but nothing incredible. Yours was MUCH better.

    Oh, and henebry is absolutely correct about the winning-est argument.

  3. Strangeite says:

    Unfortunately, while I agree that best argument against DRM is that the pirates are offering a better product, as a consumer that would like to stay on the right side of the law, it is a moot argument. The pirates product, while it may be superior, is an illegal product.

    But a consumer has plenty of other legitimate and legal arguments against the DRM attached to the games. To summarize just a few:

    1. The fact that there is no company supported way of removing the DRM completely from your computer (including regeistry keys) after you uninstall the game itself.

    2. The fact that the DRM refuses to allow you to play the game if you just so happen to also own another piece of software.

    3. That while the box states that an internet connection is required to play the game, it is not stated at the point of sale, that auhorization of the game (as opposed to actual gameplay) is dependent upon EA maintaining servers. Microsoft and Plays For Sure, showed that is no guarantee, no matter the size of the company.

  4. MissusJ says:

    Sorry about the soapbox here…

    I agree (with Herebry) that the comic falls flat. It just makes the point that the security measures are overkill without pointing out the legitimate concerns with just the calling home (a term I love) that have even been raised in the few posts and comments (compared with the rest of the Web) you have generated.

    Saying that the pirates have a better product just because of the lack of DRM isn’t going to do anything other than insult EA and put them on the defensive, which as I think someone else said in the comments here, would make EA try to justify the DRM. We don’t want that.

    We want to point out the legitimate customers that are being marginalized because of their policies. The idea is to make the argument logical enough that there is no other alternative, no way to justify their actions.

    The people we want to talk about are not the pirates. We want to talk about the people in your comments who move frequently and have to change ISPs. We want to talk about the people who just plain don’t have internet, or are on dialup only. The gamer who can’t afford internet and the game*. And then when we want to hit below the belt, we bring up our brave soldier on the submarine and his brothers in the desert. Perhaps, after all that, we can then point out that for these people, and many others, the pirates have a better product.

    Something that is forgotten in our capitalist, gottahavethenewestandbestthingadvertised society is that not everyone can afford the stuff being advertised. People aren’t lazy, they’re poor. Yet all they see around them is stuff they cannot have. So either they put themselves into debt over their heads (look where that’s gotten us) or they prioritize and save up for that one thing- and requiring something else that the person can’t afford to get the one thing they’ve saved up for… that’s demoralizing a fellow human being. That’s rubbing salt in the wound, and it certainly doesn’t reward their forbearance in not putting themselves into debt.

    So yeah, the comic falls flat. soapbox ends.

    *The strategic problem with bringing up people’s computers is that a lot of these games are requiring very souped up systems- the arguement that comes back is that if the people can afford the system they can probably afford internet access. Plus, if the computer in question is a work computer, bought by the user’s employer, then it belongs to the employer even if it is in the employee’s home. Loading an employee-owned game onto such a computer is probably in violation of the employer’s terms of use (or whatever they call it). As such, you can’t use the arguement that the DRM is affecting work software without opening a can of worms best left alone. Which is why I left these arguements out of my strategy above. ;)

  5. Muhammad says:

    I hope Yahtzee is asked to review Mass Effect PC. Would like to hear his rants on it. :P

  6. I’m a bit ashamed that I don’t have anything meaningful to add, but I figured a bit of inane chatter would help liven the day, what with a raw topic such as this.

    I almost read the tags as “DRM, Mass Effect, Scrotum.”

    Maybe this was the Penny Arcade talking, but I’m amused that my mind seemed to jump at the opportunity for such a fitting word substitution.

  7. SiliconScout says:

    one thing I would like to point out to everyone is that many feel that these measures are really a push to move games to the console. it makes sense for the developer as the hardware and installed software are a “known entity” and they don’t have to code for dozens of possible cards just the ones in the consoles.

    Many people are avoiding the DRM BS by moving to console, but you are just delaying your pain.

    Chipping a console to play a burned game is simplicity itself now, use google and you will see that. So once critical mass is achieved and the vast majority of games are console games and the vast majority of of gamers are playing them DRM will lift it’s ugly head for you too.

    Many games have an “online” component now and every new console connects to the internet if you want it to.

    Pirates will be ALL OVER the console, they already are. And you can be darn sure it’ll be harder to get the console clean. This will show up on the console sooner than anyone thinks.

  8. gyfrmabrd says:

    BTW, EA now does seem to react…
    I just got a Bioware newsletter that must somehow have slipped past my lazy-bum junk-filters and it says that (drumroll)

    …If you pre-order Mass Effect for PC, you can save ten bucks. And get a poster.
    (pa-bum tsh.)

    If that isn’t a corporation reacting to a public problem realated to one of their flagship products with only the best of their customers interests in mind, then I don’t know what is.

  9. Dev Null says:

    Reacting inappropriately, irrelevantly, and (hopefully) ineffectually, but reacting…

  10. Phlux says:

    Anybody notice that EB Games has done a price reduction on Mass Effect PC edition? It’s 40 bucks now. It doesn’t say when this price drop was initiated…but I wonder if this is a response from EB or from EA. EB might be doing it to try to bring back people who cancelled their pre-orders.

    The price drop is listed also for other retailers, so it’s probably EA’s doing.

    Also EA’s direct download store now lists Mass Effect PC as requiring an internet connection. Whether that’s because it’s a downloadable title, or they have altered it because of SecuROM I can’t say.

    I know that EB doesn’t list internet connection as a requirement. That could get them in big trouble with the DOJ.

    I think after a couple days the thing about this scheme that bothers me the most is that they have provided NO recourse for those without internet access to play the game.

  11. Nilus says:

    Anyone else think that maybe this whole Mass Effect DRM debate is getting blow way out of proportion. Sure the DRM is a pain but does it really need this much media attention. If you don’t like it vote with your dollars. I really don’t think the game reviewers need to spend time talking about the DRM when they review the game. The average consumer doesn’t care about it and would much rather read 4 paragraphs about how good the graphics are.

    Edit: And the not so average consumer already knows all the details about the DRM already because very videogame news source on the planet has covered it by now.

  12. Laurel Raven says:

    [TWO_CENTS]: I think the Penny Arcade comic is the perfect statement for this. As Shamus said, I hope that EA reads this and feels some discomfort over it…one thing about PA is that people read it. It is probably the biggest, most trusted gaming comic/blog out there, and people who read it know that they only endorse games that they think are actually GOOD.

    I would say that EA WILL see this comic. I just hope the right people see it, and actually GET what is being said.

    That having been said, I agree that Shamus’ blog on this was more powerful, but the fact is that not everyone will stop and read a long rant on the subject, but will stop and read something short and funny…long enough to let them know something that might be of interest to them that will pique their interests enough to read about it and get upset about it.


  13. Alan De Smet says:

    Nilus: Giving consumers what they would rather read is entertainment. Telling consumers what they need to know is journalism. I prefer that my video game reviewers strive to be journalists and not entertainers. Being regularly reminded that unlike their DVD movies, music CDs, and books, their video games might stop working in a few years because the publisher decided to is important. Large content producing companies are trying to use technology to destroy the balance provided by copyright. This is worth, at the very least, a great deal of public discussion. Voting with my money is basically worthless. Even adding up all of the Shamuses and Alans, the impact of our refusing these products is a rounding error on EA’s spreadsheets. By spreading the word we may bring this to the attention of more people who do care, but didn’t see the problem. With luck we’ll grow to include the Tychos, Gabes, and others, encourage more people to vote with their wallets, and actually make a real impact. Being quiet by not pushing for more coverage is identical to surrender. Me, I like owning copies of the things I buy. I like the idea that I can show the next generation the music, movies, and games of the past. I like the idea that after a limited time works enter the public domain and can be reused.

  14. Pete Zaitcev says:

    By the way, over the fence in the anime world, biggest companies are turning towards DRM-free downloads (for example, at BOST). I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I don’t think that Tycho statement how public companies have to do the DRM holds any water at all. There’s no such fudiciary duty, only property rights owners being retarded. Of course, it’s not all honey and rose petals on my side, we still have the issue of DRM-free downloads being low resolution instead of full HD resolution, because the owners are still afraid and do not trust their own customers completely. But they are learning. There’s no reason for gaming companies not to learn.

  15. Mordaedil says:


    They did as you hoped they wouldn’t do, Shamus, and now the 10-day activation is removed.

  16. Deoxy says:

    Large content producing companies are trying to use technology to destroy the balance provided by copyright. This is worth, at the very least, a great deal of public discussion.

    This is a succinct and accurate summary of what is at stake and why it’s more important than the video games that are supposedly all that’s at stake.

    Thanks, Alan. (Oh, and seriously, put some breaks in that – the “Enter” key is your friend!)

  17. Strangeite says:

    Mordaedil: That is going to take some of the wind out of the sail for getting people outraged.

  18. Mordaedil says:

    Well, I am a Bioware fan, because I still play Neverwinter Nights 1, which they are still updating regularly. If Bioware isn’t worth a lot of trust, I don’t know who would be.

    I tend to get angry in the ME-forums because a LOT of outsiders that have no idea about Bioware comes in and flames them without considering what they can still do about the DMR.

    I do hope Shamus brings the point up though, Bioware promised to fix faults with this, and if there still are some, I bet they will.

  19. Victory? You must be kidding.

    It’s still SecuROM. It’s still requiring online authentication. It’s still limiting the number of installs.

    Basically they’ve said, “Well, we’ll just go back to the way we were doing it with Bioshock.” But that was still a busted model and I’m still not buying their buy-to-rent games.

    And, as Shamus predicted, the Kotaku forums are cheering the news as a “victory”, but it’s not.

  20. Jadawin says:

    Looks like this immediately went on my “must-buy” list.

  21. Phlux says:

    Greg: Unfortunately it’s not really a victory. It’s exactly like Shamus said…they learned the wrong lesson here. They turned off the most offensive part, but haven’t really grasped the fundamental issue: We don’t want SecuROM services polluting our computers and we don’t want online authentication even if it’s only one time.

    It’s not that I mind authenticating…it’s a painless process assuming the servers are up and running…it’s that when I want to play this game 10 years from now I won’t be able to unless that auth server is still up and running.

    If you read the threads on these articles, though, it definitely seems to be enough to sway public opinion back in favor of the DRM makers. No longer is it 5% of the crowd supporting DRM usage, it’s more like 50%.

  22. Mark says:

    If by “victory” you mean “we got what we wanted,” then no, it’s not a victory. If by “victory” you mean “we are the party who gained in the resulting compromise” then yes, it is a victory.

    SecuROM is still SecuROM; I won’t know how to feel about this until I can find out exactly what side effects it will have.

    I don’t like that they have to authenticate me but I understand why they feel they need it. I can be sympathetic. My fundamental issue has always been not whether they use copy-protection, but what kind of copy-protection they use. And I still don’t know that.

  23. Phlux says:

    To those taking issue with what Tycho said, I don’t think he meant it in the sense that EA as a publicly held company is REQUIRED to protect its intellectual property with DRM. I think he meant that their shareholders expect them to do SOMETHING to fight piracy, which is probably true. And SecuROM is pretty much all they’ve got at the moment.

    Microsoft is a publicly traded company and dishes out all kinds of DRM-free utility software for free. Nobody would accuse them of fiduciary irresponsibility for it. EA’s shareholders expect their investment to be protected, and SecuROM is EA’s way of placating them.

  24. Sitte says:

    Part of me wonders if this was the plan all along. Advertise a terrible DRM plan, then quickly back away.

    That’s unlikely for two reasons:
    1) That’s a pretty big potential backfire if you push enough people far enough into annoyance that they won’t come back when you say “Just kidding!”
    2) That shows a lot more forethought and planning than they’ve showed in any other area of their PR or DRM strategies.

    So – though unlikely, I would not be very surprised if it came out as such.

  25. Greg says:

    well personally I’m not happy with the system in Bioshock but its far better than what they were proposing

  26. gyfrmabrd says:

    “I’m gonna bake you a nice cake, but before you can eat it, I’ma gonna have to shoot you in the gut…
    Ah, wait, I’m having a good day today, so I’ll just bust your kneecaps. Enjoy your cake!”

    Yep, there’s definitely an improvement.

  27. method3 says:

    Does anyone even remember when SecuROM or SafeDisc first reared its ugly head? Now everyone forgets how bad that first jump was, and thinks that’s good when compared to the shit they’re trying to do now. Unbelievable.

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