Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Copy Protection

Wow... I don't know how to begin this one. Alrighty, how about an example?

On February 16, 2007 GasPoweredGames released Supreme Commander. Before you accuse me of being unfair, let me point out that SupCom is easily among the top 5 games I have ever played; absolutely amazing. Anyway... I believe the "high-quality" SecuROM piracy prevention system was a bit overzealous. Thousands of users were unable to play the game WITH THE ORIGINAL DISC because the copy protection detected their discs as copies (please make sure the official disc is in your disc drive). Eventually, in order to make the game playable, GPG released a "patch." I put that in quotes, because this has to be one of the rare occasions in history where the most critical patch to a game eliminated the copy protection software.

Wow. What a testament to the usefulness and efficiency of piracy prevention software. It is now clear why every user from around the world should support the efforts of developers in utilizing copy protection for their products.

Alcohol 120% has been ballyhooed as the "ultimate" way around copy protection; it makes "perfect" 1:1 copies of almost anything. However, the same effect can be achieved with legal, free, software.

Now, developers, let's be realistic. Between the *free* version of Alcohol 52% and Daemon Tools, I can play my games without the disc in the drive. Curiously enough, if I save the .iso to a disc as a file instead of an image, it can be mounted with Daemon Tools. Suddenly, the much-heralded 1:1 copy is no longer necessary. THe only disadvantage to this method is that the disc image (along with MDS and subchannel data) is slightly larger than the amount of space used on the original disc. Realistically, however, how many games have been released on a single DVD with more than 8.5 GB of space used up? Any game that I have seen can be saved in this manner on a single dual-layer DVD-R disk. Conceivably, larger games could also be distributed in this manner through the use of a archiver/file splitter such as 7-zip.

To put it quite simply, disk-based copy protection simply does not work. I applaud developers that recognize this and release their games without any; one notable example is Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.

There are two kinds of copy-protection that DO work.
1. key-based (online play)
2. quality-based (offline)

To explain what I mean, let me give another example...

A friend of mine gave me a StarCraft disc he had copied from his own. I installed it, and began to play. I soon discovered that it was not his actual disc; it was one of those elusive 'warez' I had heard about. The game was great; the online play was nonexistent. An hour after installing it on my computer, I was in the checkout line at Best Buy purchasing my own copy of the game and the expansion; an hour later the illegal one was removed and I was online on the real deal.

This happened because Blizzard managed to make a game so good that I WANTED to pay them money for it. The same goes for Oblivion; this is quality-based protection.

If I had not thought it was high-quality enough to pay for it at this poing, however, I still would have bought it for the online play. This is key-based protection. For the uninitiated, under key-based protection, each copy of a given game has a product key. When playing online, there are 2 methods this is implemented. A) only one copy of the game per product key can be online at once OR B) Each product key is irrovacably linked to one and only one account. The idea behind key-based protection is the (correct) assumption that most people want to play the online version of the game rather than the offline.

Although this post got much longer than I intended, the message still stands. Developers, your job is to make your products so good the public wants to pay for them. Give them online play with a key; has anyone successfully pirated Guild Wars? (rofl.. this is offtopic, but on eBay, there are people that sell used CDKeys, usually for about $1. Of course, they claim that it was a "returned open-box product, and, as such, we cannot guarantee the purchaser's ability to play the game with the included CD-Key. Therefore, no refunds or exchanges are available on this product." [note: that was not a quote, it was paraphrased] If you don't believe me, check it for yourself.)

Splendid-Tastic Quote:

Friend: You're awfully skeptical today.
Me: Oh yeah? Prove it.

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