Mass Effect and SecuROM:
Trust Us

By Shamus Posted Monday May 12, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 52 comments

If you were to take the official Mass Effect DRM thread and distill it into a conversation between the fans and EA, it would flow something like this:

What info does the installer send during registration? Anything private?

No. Nothing private. We can’t tell you what is sent, but Trust Us, it’s nothing bad.

I have to “use up” on of my three installs every time my hardware changes? What exactly is a “hardware change”?

We can’t tell you. But Trust Us, it’s not unreasonable.

But only three installs? What if I run out?

Just call EA tech support, as it’s evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Trust Us, we’ll let you play your game.

But what if you’re out of business? Or you turn off the authentication servers, like Microsoft did with their DRM system?

We aren’t Microsoft. Don’t judge us by what other companies do.

I’m not a pirate, don’t judge me by what other consumers do.

Fine. If we ever shut down the servers, we’ll release a patch that removes the need for registration.

Put that in writing?

No, but Trust Us.

The hypocrisy has now reached toxic levels. Being repeatedly asked for trust from a company which refuses to trust its own customers is weapons-grade audacity. The entire crux of the matter is a lack of trust on their part, and reasonable customer concerns are met with the outrageous request for more trust on our part. Some of us still remember the circle of stupidity from last year:


And speaking of trust, I visited the SecuROM site. I found their n-CD “solution”, which sounds like what Mass Effect is using. It offers the following tidbit of info:

With SecuROM™ ‘s Product Activation concept, Sony DADC offers software publishers the possibility to secure their content either distributed via the physical or electronic sales channel with one solution. Only legitimate customers who have purchased the product are able to unlock the program which is bound to the hardware after activation. This ensures that once activated, it cannot be transferred to another PC and therefore not being mass pirated. SecuROM™ ‘s Product Activation can be easily combined with Sony DADC's n-CD solution. Let your end-customers register first and collect important market information prior allowing them to use your software products.

Emphasis mine. “Trust Us” indeed. This could be rephrased as, “Hold their purchase ransom until they cough up the personal data you want”. Asking for trust when proposing such a transaction is insulting. They try to soften the blow by playing the victim, saying that they need to take these steps to fight piracy, but all of these measures… only effect… paying… augh!

No, I just can’t say it. If I have to write it one more time I think it will kill me.


From The Archives:

52 thoughts on “Mass Effect and SecuROM:
Trust Us

  1. Lebkin says:

    I really appreciate you bring things issues up. Why there isn’t more outcry in the video game media? Too many console gamers and too few PC gamers? It just seems like it should be more of an issue. The Mass Effect news did make the rounds, but it will die down, and the companies will continue to abuse their customers. Simply irritating.

  2. JFargo says:

    I honestly think you need to find some major outlet for this, Shamus. You reach a lot of ears here, but I don’t think enough people are hearing it. The fact that you actually bring FACT into the mix, and not just feeling is something that many other reviewers* don’t do.

    Have you thought about contacting someone bigger than you, doing a guest rant, or something? I mean…trying at least?

    *Yeah, I know that’s not the right word, but neither is “complainers.”

  3. Z!re says:

    Every time I consider buying a game something like this turns up.

    One has to wonder how detached the people who make these decisions have to be in order to not see how stupid they are.

    Now if you will just send me your credit card information… Trust me, I won’t abuse it. My name? Reason for wanting your credit card info? You don’t need to know that.

  4. Tryss says:

    have you seen userfriendly’s commentary on the DRM? It’s amusing:

  5. Nanami says:

    Argh DRM :( I once bought a small game with this annoying thing. At first I could only use on one of my computers because the second one wasn’t connected to the internet, and later they changed their DRM system – which means my game doesn’t work anymore.

    Something you paid for shouldn’t be like this…

  6. Serdic says:

    This doesn’t affect me in the least. I will not be a paying customer, nor will I justify their histrionics by being a nonpaying consumer.

    At the end of the day, I’m choosing not to play a video game, which a lot of people can’t afford to buy in the first place. So, if this is the worst thing that happens to me this month, I’m ok with that.

  7. Shandrunn says:

    Frankly, I’m thinking about sending EA a nice friendly email telling them about the PC games I have legally purchased, but stating that I shall be pirating their games because of their DRM jackery.

    Whether or not I will actually do so, would be something to decide in due time.

  8. BlackJaw says:

    How did the publisher’s attempts to combat piracy become the greatest argument for stealing their software? It’s like a cliche from some bad film:

    MINION “Sir, the rebels just raided our munitions bunker in sector 3. 5 guards were killed and the base was blown up.”

    OVERLORD “Have 100 civilians executed for each guard that was killed! That will let them know these acts of aggression won’t be tolerated!”

    MINION “But, sir… won’t that just embolden the resistance movement?”

    OVERLORD “So, you’re a sympathizer ey? I guess I’ll just have to make an example out of you too! To the dungeons with you! You’re lucky I’m in a forgiving mood today. I will only execute your immediate family instead of your entire blood line. Trust Me, it’s for the good of the empire.”

  9. MadTinkerer says:

    Man, I want to move to City 17. Sure there’s the random beatings, and it’s difficult to fish because alien leeches have infested the ocean which is being drained away to another planet, and I’ll probably get shipped off to Nova Prospect to be turned into a cyborg at some point, but at least Breen doesn’t force us to put up with DRM!

    Think about it: I bet Andrew Ryan, GLaDOS, Mother(from Prey), and even Ganon wouldn’t put up with it either! None of them are that evil!

  10. Malachite says:

    If anyone remembers, long ago, the game developer saying that 9 of 10 games being played on systems were pirated. Well, it looks like EA’s trying to get that one last guy who still pays for the game to pirate it too.
    The game industry has me so disgusted at this point. All the games I have installed right now are _all_ pre-2000. I’m disgusted with the “release now-patch later” and “Oh woe is us; we have no money” attitudes. If these people were suffering under piracy as much as they said, there would be no computer gaming industry. At this rate, there may not be one in the future.

  11. MintSkittle says:

    I remember there was a list of games that were afflicted with Starforce. Is there a similar list of SecuROM afflicted games?

  12. Allan says:

    It’s the increasingly ridiculous cost of keeping up with the latest game requirements combined with the increasingly intrusive copy-right(read: customer punishment) schemes that’s driving me back into console games.

    When I stick a disc into my Xbox 360 it just works, I don’t need 4 or 5 patches and a connection to some validation server.

  13. Barron says:

    I don’t know if anyone listens to the GFW radio podcast, but a few weeks ago they talked with Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock. He had some interesting views on piracy. Basically he pointed out that the rest of the software industry has to deal with piracy too, and that publishers should stop crying about piracy and think about boosting sales. He’s obviously not the first person to say that, but it was nice to hear it from the CEO of a game publisher. Almost makes me want to go buy another copy of Gal Civ 2

    Also, I’ll second the idea that EA is desperately trying to turn that last 1 out of 10 players into pirates. Now that I’m out of school and have a real job, I _want_ to support devlopers I like. But sometimes I’d almost rather pirate games like Mass Effect and Bioshock out of spite

  14. JFargo says:

    Allan: I’m right there with you. Sure, I’m not part of the elite crowd of 360 or PS3 owners, but my Wii console is great for playability. I stick the game in, and it’s just on. No worries about any weird software, validating, or any of this stuff.

  15. Picador says:


    BioWare Drops Mass Effect PC Copy Protection Authentication

    This is a baby step — they’re only eliminating the periodic 10-day reauth scheme — but at least it’s a milestone in the history of game publishers recognizing that intrusive DRM may be bad for business.

    Obviously, the system is still ridiculous, and anyone interested in playing this thing would be well advised to pirate it and mail a $50 bill to the developers.

  16. Rick C says:

    Apparently, they think we’re stupid, too. How do I square “no personal/private information sent” with per-pc activation? Obviously they have to retrieve *some* theoretically-unique identification from your computer to know that installing it on a *different* one counts as an extra activation. Or am I to believe if I install it, uninstall it, and reinstall it again on one computer, that won’t use up two activations?

  17. goatsgomoo says:

    “Trust always depends on mutuality.”
    This talk about trust reminds me of an Against the TCPA video I saw a while ago:

  18. Joe says:

    @alan: Once PC gaming dies, I wonder how long it will take for companies to start doing “activation” for console games? “Here’s your copy of Halo 5, it’ll allow you to run it on 3 separate Xbox 720 consoles, unless you do something like add a controller or buy a new TV.”

    But the economic incentives here are really quite perverse. If you run out of your three activations and are forced to buy another copy, they make free money. If you buy a box off the shelf whose serial has already been pirated, you’re SOL, but they got their money.

    But most insidiously, once they’ve stopped selling the game, turning off the activation servers is probably actually a complete win for them. Because that means that their next game *only has to compete with their current competitors, not with their own out-of-sale catalog*.

  19. Allan says:


    If that day arrives I’m going back to books.

    EDIT: Yay! 20th.

  20. Phlux says:

    Anyone else think that they should just start selling PC games with USB dongles?

    It’s probably more effective and I can’t say I hate the idea of having to pop in a flash-drive-sized device into my computer anymore than I hated putting in the CD/DVD.

    They can still be defeated, but from what I’ve read it’s much harder if the developer did it right and the dongle is integrated fully into the application, not just as a start-up check or key authentication process, but literally every few seconds the key is being used.

    I’m guessing that with some secu-rom type software ( not the online authenticating version) you could protect against emulation of the device as well, so the only way to pirate the game would be to buy a hacked dongle on ebay or something.

  21. Solka says:

    Shamus, I agree 100% with what you say. You tell it well, and your arguments are extremely convincing..

    But please, don’t make a stroke over this. If you keep talking about DMR, it’s gonna be bad for your health.. :(

  22. Sarah says:

    Mass Effect is bad enough….if they do this to Spore, there will be firebombs.

  23. Unbeliever says:

    Rick C:

    Actually, I believe the idea is that they generate a unique “hash” string based on your hardware, and save THAT. Your hardware will always result in the same hash string, but the hash string cannot be “decoded” to reveal your hardware. In this case, the data would be meaningless EXCEPT as a comparison to verify your computer, the next time you connect.

    Since they refuse to TELL us what they’re sending, of course, we have no way of knowing if this is all they’re doing. But it is quite possible to establish a verification procedure without compromising private information…

  24. Lost Chauncy says:

    2nd MintSkittle’s question. I’d love to see an up-to-date boycott…I mean SecuROM list.

  25. GAZZA says:

    The one good thing to come out of all this is that Spore will be available on the Wii. :)

    Though I do like Picador’s idea of pirating and then mailing EA the purchase price.

  26. Davesnot says:

    why isn’t there a huge outcry?.. well.. they aren’t holding us hostage with a sword.. why do you think the pen is mightier than the sword. We’ll hand over rights if someone “explains” it.. tis a sad state of affairs.

  27. Anyone else think that they should just start selling PC games with USB dongles?

    I deal with court reporters and they all have them. Personally, rather than require the CD in the hard drive, why not just the dongle? I wouldn’t mind that at all.

    Darn, I like that idea. I could live with it.

  28. Jeff says:

    Now that I'm out of school and have a real job, I _want_ to support developers I like. But sometimes I'd almost rather pirate games like Mass Effect and Bioshock out of spite.

    I second this. It’s actually more convenient now for me to talk to the nearby games shop on my lunch hour and ring up a game so I have immediate gratification. ’cause… shiny! My connection is slow, I don’t want to wait three weeks.

    But now I’m going to definitely just wait for a download to see how it goes. I mean, I’m not even sure if I can run it. Much like Hellgate (which I indeed bought during my lunch hour) I wasn’t sure if I could run it, but I planned to upgrade my computer if I couldn’t. If I did this with ME/Spore, I’d use up two activations!

    Convenience is a big factor. I believe I once posted about my experience in trying to get a copy of Oblivion. I even wanted the CE edition for the shiny coin (there’s a theme in how to catch my attention…). I walked thirty minutes to the nearest gamestore (was in Uni at the time, and pretty much broke) and was willing to pay because I wanted to support the Elder Scrolls series. Couldn’t get a copy. Walked back (30 minutes), stopped by at a friend’s place. They asked me what I was doing and why I was totally covered in sweat, I explained, dude goes, “Oh, I finished downloading that a week ago. Here, let me burn you a copy.”

    Given that I was willing to trek through hell for it, if the game was good I certainly would have bought it later anyways… but Shamus already mentioned the “running in place” gameplay style, which made me play Oblivion for maybe a week at most before uninstalling and never touching it again.

    WTF, bandits in full daedric equipment.

    Edit: Boy did I digress in that one.

  29. Yahzi says:

    “Anyone else think that they should just start selling PC games with USB dongles?”

    If Microsoft weren’t pure, distilled evil, they would make a single dongle with flash memory that you could use for all of your software products.

    Think about it: no matter where you go, you connect to the net, download all software for free, plug in your dongle, and you’re set. Every computer could have all software, but only registered users could use it. Microsoft could use their market position to make this happen.

    But they don’t. And why not? Because dongles cost money – at least a dollar each! And that XP CD they just sold you cost them 7 cents to print.

  30. MintSkittle says:

    A quick search for SecuROM infested games turns up these.

    Bioshock, Armed Assault, Neverwinter Nights 2, Oblivion, Overlord, World in Conflict, Supreme Commander, Command & Conquer 3, Stalker, several Sims 2 expansions, and the Sam & Max Season 1 episodes. Maybe the Season 2 ones as well.

    This really sucks because I bought most of these games.

    This is by no means a complete list. Just a few I found with a quick google search.

    Also, the Boycott Starforce game list.

  31. Nova says:


    Looking at that list, I’m wondering why some versions of the game have it (ie. say the german version but not other languages, etc.), but others don’t. Can anyone explain?

  32. Winter says:

    “Hi, I’m a pirate…”
    “And I’m a legitimate buyer.”
    “How’s it going there, LB?”
    “Not so good, Pirate… I have cancer… and herpes, too!”
    “Wow, you were fine just yesterday! What happened?”

  33. K says:

    May I start posting warez links now? I think it’s about time for that… Sadly.

    Now I finally am not a kid anymore and got enough money to be able to buy games instead of pirate them. And what happens? The producer basically forces me to pirate them, because buying them is just a bad deal. Way to go.

    On the other hand: If there was some sort of global dongle for all games, that would be acceptable. But then, that would require you to copy data onto it OR have one dongle PER GAME. That is not so much acceptable.

  34. Fipps says:

    The Sony Sales and Marketting headquarters is across the street from where I work. I see some of their top execs on a daily basis. I’ll spread some of these concerns on to them and see if they can help get the developers to pull their heads out of their bank accounts and do something useful.

  35. Space Ace says:

    You know why they keep doing this? The West has forgotten the power of the boycott. Take Tycho from Penny Arcade, for instance. He said he buys all his games legally, but downloads a crack anyway, because he doesn’t want the SecuROM trouble.

    This is stupid. That’s just telling companies that they can get away with that crap. All your complaining means nothing if you’re still making their system work. People need to get over this self-righteous “piracy is bad and should be banned” attitude. Yeah, there’s some r-tards out there who’ll pirate every game they play, but it’s also a good way of playing the games you want to play without poisoning your computer or experiencing the problems associated with SecuROM.

    I want to support worthwhile companies, too, but one that put spyware on my computer aren’t worthwhile, if you ask me. I’ll instead spend my money on Stardock games, or some other developer who really needs/deserves the money.

  36. Rival Wombat says:

    You know, I normally buy a game, install it, install any patches, back up the EXE then install the NOCD crack it’s taken me 30 seconds to find by typing the name of the game and NOCD into Google.

    In the case of Mass Effect PC, I think I’ll skip one of these steps. I’ll leave it to everyone to guess what step it is.

    (Spoiler Warning: It’s the first one.)

  37. Mephane says:

    “Anyone else think that they should just start selling PC games with USB dongles?”

    Given the reasonable prices and increasing size of USB storage devices… hell, you could have entire games load directly from such a thing. It would feel a bit anachronistic, like a high-tech version of these old fancy console game cartridges… heh!

    But then again, what if the thing breaks? You probably wouldn’t be able/allowed to do backups, as that would probably defeat the purpose of the dongle.

    The whole idea of DRM and copy protection is a dead end, for sure. It will still take some time, but eventually people realize that inventing technology trying to prevent people from copying data is a bad idea in the long run.

    The real enemy is data loss, not backup. Heck! The whole mindset that a generation of game developers (behold the exceptions, of course) is showing is not only outrageous from the point of view of a customer, but it’s also totally stupid in the grand scheme.

    Think of the library of Alexandria, which was burned down, and no one knows what possibly scientific, historical or cultural value was lost that way. The great thing about our “digital age” is that it is possible to become immune to a loss of knowledge and culture through mere destruction of media, because of global reduncy of data, because of myriads of copies distributed all over the planet.

    This does neither exclude nor is limited to video games of course, but ANY kind of software, data, information, obviously.

    That is why I think software pirates do an invaluable service to mankind, by breaking up all those stupid schemes trying to prevent data to be spread. It is the nature of data itself, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot prevent it from spreading once and for all, you can only slow it down.

    Just imagine coming home from vacation, and your house has burned down. Your entire collection of music, videos, games, books etc. has been destroyed, and you have to buy all that stuff again! Stuff that could be given to you again pretty much for free (the only real cost would be the cost to actually produce a hard copy of anything, digital distribution’s costs are miniscule in comparison), in a perfect world. And technically, such a world is possible. We have it all here, right at hand, the technology, the knowledge, the tools.

    But instead of using it to build ourselves wings to fly, we forge the chains holding us in position. Of the many stupid things mankind as a whole does, this is one of the worst and yet one of the easiest to actually get rid of.

    Ok, I am going to stop now, I’ve already written far too much. Sigh.

  38. John Alexander says:

    Mephane: I agree with your point on the whole ‘wings and chains’ idea, but unfortunately, that’s an idealistic view, not a realistic one.

    Anywhoozle, the point I want to discuss is the “But then again, what if the thing breaks? You probably wouldn't be able/allowed to do backups, as that would probably defeat the purpose of the dongle,” part. The same is held true now; if a CD breaks, it is you have to buy a new one. You don’t get a free one to replace it. So the change would be minimal. I actually think the ‘dongle’ idea, while sounding ridiculously sexual, is also the idea of a GENIUS, and needs to be implemented yesterday. Then again, I don’t know a great deal about how all that stuff works, and it may be much harder than I think.

  39. Telas says:

    There are games that don’t require online activation, constant computer upgrades, or much of a learning curve. The last one only costs $10, and they all have limitless replay value.

    And they get you among friends, instead of


  40. Daosus says:

    The thing with the CD is that you have a right to make a back up. Now, certainly, the CDs are copy-protected, and bypassing that copy protection violates the DMCA, but you’re allowed to have a backup. You’re just not allowed to make one, is all.

  41. Winter says:

    Doing “dongles” is not actually that hard, and in fact a lot of software used to (and probably still does) come with dongles.

    The problem is that most games already come with a primitive dongle technology: you have to put the CD in the drive before the game will run.

    That’s a dongle.

    Notice a problem with the “the CD has to be in the drive” copy protection method? Yeah: it doesn’t work.

    A USB dongle would have some small advantages, but not much.


    Distributing games in USB form might be pretty neat from an end-user (ie, my) point of view. Particularly if you can play the game right off the disk, a’la video game carts. (And especially if i still have the option to install so i don’t have to fumble with the things!) From the perspective of a “content provider”, however, they’ve already pretty much lost the “dongle war” with pirates.

  42. Derek K says:

    @Joe: That argument is quickly growing on me – I’ve seen it in a few places. The pirates aren’t the target. Us who play our old games, not buy new ones, are the target.

    @Telas: When you can get me a pen and paper game I can play for an hour after whatever time the the babies have decided to go to sleep, and doesn’t involve 30 minutes of dicking around before hand, and I’ll agree with you.

    Don’t get me wrong – I have an every other week game. But it’s certainly not the same experience as picking up KoTOR II for an hour before bed. Even NWN/NWN 2 I can’t just log in, pick up and play. It’s *similar* to the issues MMOs have, but at least in an mmo you can solo, or just put on an auto-lfg tag.

    @Winter: “It was the spring of aught-eight. The pirates had just won the dongle wars, and the world still reeled. The discarded carcasses of flash memory chips lay like cobblestones over the streets of New Shanghai.”


  43. tafka says:

    Suck-U-Rom is full of suck. And it must be destroyed.

  44. Telas says:

    Derek – Check out some of the PnP by chat games. You still need to coordinate with someone, but I’ve got a lot of friends who do PnP RPG over chat.

    That said, I hear you loud and clear; I have quite a few “stress reliever” games loaded at any given time.

  45. Rick C says:

    Unbeliever @ post 24–if that’s true, you run into similar issues to Windows activation. As soon as I change any hardware that’s used in the hash, the hash changes, and it looks like I’ve installed on a second computer. IF they anticipated that, then they have to work in some kind of way to allow for a certain amount of hardware changes…just like Windows activation…and we barely trust that, all these years later.

  46. Ludov says:

    As it’s been mentionned before, the Sims 2 community is one /heavily/ affected by Securom. In fact, the latest patch for the latest expansion pack came with a new version of the software which made even some of the legitimately owned version of the game unable to run.

    … let alone not mention all the stories of the software interfering with anti-viruses(AVG in particular) or cd-dvd burner(one of the “simmers”, by example, was pretty miffed damn bad when she tried to burn photos of her dead grandfather only to find herself unable to because Securom had somehow decided to take a dislike of her cd-burner software).

    I guess it shouldn’t be surprising from Sony, considering the rootkit they once put on music cds(with which many people says Securom shares many similarities with).

    A lot of Sims 2 fans have basically created their own community with which they hope to put enough pressure on EA to get them to drop the Securom software altogether

  47. Varil says:

    Unconfirmed rumor-mongering : A friend of mine recently bought Mass Effect, and claims that they have a patch that removes the DRM now, buuut you have to sign up to their website to get it. I haven’t looked into it at all myself, anyone confirm?

    He isn’t the most thorough sort, so I’m more than a bit skeptical, myself.

  48. Mark says:

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    Finkelstein Thompson LLP is a law firm that represents consumers who have been harmed by unfair business practices. We are currently investigating claims that computer games with an irremovable anti-piracy program called SecuROM may cause computer problems. These video games include: Spore, Mass Effect, The Sims 2, BioShock, Need for Speed, Medal of Honor, Armed Assault, Neverwinter Nights 2, Overlord, World in Conflict, Supreme Commander, Command & Conquer 3, and Stalker.

    Some customers have complained that when they purchase and install these video games, SecuROM is automatically installed onto their hard drive with no warning, and they cannot remove the program. According to these complaints, SecuROM can cause a number of computer problems, including: the disabling of software and hardware operations, the disruption of other computer programs, and possibly making the computer more vulnerable to hackers.

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