Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Awful Anti-Pirate System That Will Probably Work

So, when I read that Assassin's Creed 2 for the PC would fight piracy by requiring a live internet connection all the time when you were playing, I thought it was a joke. Sort of a dry, post-modern satire of the whole idea of DRM. Then I learned that, if your internet connection broke while playing it, the game would freeze. What's more, if the connection didn't return soon enough, the game would quit and your progress would be unsaved. This convinced me that the whole thing was a joke.

Then I learned, as explicitly confirmed by Ubisoft representatives, no. Not a joke. Not at all.

Of course, this is pretty harsh medicine, and the many reasons this set-up is hostile have been ably discussed. What if you have an inconsistent internet connection? What if servers ever go down? (Due to malfunction, bankruptcy, or no longer wanting to pay to maintain them.)

Also, you don't hold onto your saved games anymore. They do. This part is really significant. That's why the game needs the net connection all the time. It's not just for their amusement. The constant contact is necessary because your game is saved on their machine. Not yours. They are claiming that this is for your convenience, because then you can get at your saved games from any computer anywhere, but nobody is fooled.

But, in all the writing and bitching on the topic, everyone seems to be missing the most significant detail of this new system. Everyone always assumes that all DRM will be broken immediately and pirated versions will appear instantly and anti-hacker measures never work. But this system (and I know saying this will immediately get me written off as an idiot, but bear with me) is the one that will finally do a good enough job of holding off pirates. It won't hold them off forever (I think) but it will hold them long enough for the game to get its sales.

Here's why ... This is how hacking usually works. A game (or word processor, or operating system) is programmed to, say, check in at launch with the home server to make sure it's a legal copy. The hacker goes through the code and looks for that line of software and disables it. Snip. And the program is cracked and ready to be sent to the Torrents. This is a bit of a simplification, but it gets at the heart of the thing. Most hacking require disabling a small chunk of the program, and that is not hard.

But Assassin's Creed 2 is different. Remember, all of the code for saving and loading games (a significant feature, I'm sure you would agree) is tied into logging into a distant server and sending data back and forth. This vital and complex bit of code has been written from the ground up to require having the saved games live on a machine far away, with said machine being programmed to accept, save, and return the game data. This is a far more difficult problem for a hacker to circumvent. What are the options?

1. Make your own, free saved game server and alter the application code to use it.

This means a lot of work and expense, both to duplicate Ubisoft's game saving code and to set up and maintain the servers. Won't happen.

2. Trick the Ubisoft servers into believing you have a legit copy, so that they will let you save your game.

OK, the hackers will probably eventually come up with a keygen program. This is tricky, because the software that generates the keys will be in Ubisoft's hands, far from prying eyes. But they could possible do it, given a bit of time. But if they ever figure out you have a fake or duplicate key (and I bet they have their ways), poof. Your account and saved games disappear. I don't think this will work.

3. Hack the game to not need to save games on a remote server.

This means a hacker has to figure out the saved game format, somehow jam into the application new code to write the saved data and new code to read it, TEST IT, and get it to work. Doable. But it will take time, and I bet you'd get some bugs in the process.

So this will be a tough nut to crack.

Remember what it takes to get DRM to work. It doesn't have to be uncrackable. Nothing is. All it has to do is delay the hackers long enough for the game to get a couple months worth of sales. And by turning a key part of their game into a MMO ("We, like WoW, control the saved game, not you."), they have come up with a clever and brutal way to do just that.

But this will make everyone hate them.

Perhaps. Make no mistake. Ubisoft will lose customers and earn much nerdrage over this. But they are engaged in a grand experiment. They are seeing if an adequately pirate-proof game can make money. Will keeping cracked copies off the Torrents for a month make extra sales? And enough extra sales to make writing PC games worthwhile? Because the current system, where 90% of the copies out there are pirated and only megahits that could turn a profit on that 10%, doesn't seem to be working.

But it's an amazingly harsh system. As much as I hope for someone to come up with an anti-hacker measure that can reliably hold off the thieves for a few months without ticking the entire planet off (so that I can start using it), well, I wouldn't buy a game with the system Ubisoft is using. I really sympathize with what they're trying to do, and I can't join in with the (almost) unanimous chorus of rage. But this doesn't feel like the answer.

People might buy more copies of Assassin's Creed 2, but this is the sort of measure that can sour people on PC gaming as a whole. And that hurts everyone. Including me.

Edit: Thanks everyone for the comments! A couple responses.

Yes, of course there are solutions for making your own authentication server. But for the DRM to work, all it has to do is 1. delay the cracking, and 2. make it difficult/unreliable for the bulk of non-super-technically-apt gamers. Making people set up their own servers (on their own machines or not) is enough of a barrier to entry to get the job done.

Remember, I didn't say it was uncrackable, only that it was difficult/slow enough to give a profitable first few months.

As for the game making local copies of the saved games. IF this turns out to be the case, and IF the game also has easily accessible features in place for loading those saves (as opposed to only caching them there and only being able to load from the distant server), then yes, it's a dumb and easily crackable system. But even if this is the case, that doesn't change the fact that the next game to use this system will be slow to crack for the reasons given above, and all of the factors and consequences given above still apply.

Edit 2: One quick question for the "Anything can be cracked right away." crowd. Where do I get my cracked copy of World of Warcraft that can play the real game (not some cobbled together emulation server) without paying. Answer: You can't.

Once you accept the need for a constant internet connection, the developer can just load more and more of the game logic onto the servers. Right now, they're just trying it with saved games. (And who knows what else? Do any of us really know what the game is using that constant internet connection for?) But they can put more and more of the game onto their end until cracking the game will involve rewriting the damn thing.

Oh, and by the way, people accept their game needing a constant internet connection all the time. WoW. CounterStrike. Team Fortress. So saying people won't accept it for single player games is a bit of a stretch. They'll get used to it soon enough.

Edit 3: Wow. Main page Slashdot. The Escapist. All the hate is making my face burn. I've written a follow-up article, but I'm posting a squib from it now because I want to address the most common and fallacious point, that any system can easily be cracked:

"You want your very-difficult-to-crack DRM system? Here it is! Take all the statistics and scripts for creatures and items and weapons and put them on the server. The game only downloads them when it needs them. This is ten thousand scripts and bits of data, and it will take a long time for a cracker to get the game to download them so he can isolate and read them all and put them in his fake server/cracked game. And God help you if he missed an item. Don't just wave your hands and go, "Oh, someone could break that easy." This. Would. Work.

(And I bet Assassin's Creed 2 has some of this and they just haven't told us yet. Remember, it has to be using that constant net connection for something.)"

246 comments:

  1. What about making a server that sits on the player's computer?

    - no need to maintain external servers
    - no need to change the game's code (just change the server list)

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  2. "1. Make your own, free saved game server and alter the application code to use it.

    This means a lot of work and expense, both to duplicate Ubisoft's game saving code and to set up and maintain the servers. Won't happen."

    I disagree. This will happen for sure.

    If some people are able to code a WoW emu server, some will be able to reverse-engineer the Ubisoft game saving protocol as well, in order to create a "savegame" emu server.

    The game client needs no modification at all. You'd just need a locally running savegame emu server and a hosts file mapping Ubisoft server IPs to your localhost.

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  3. The problem with the game companies is that they are writing games for consoles, handing them off to third-rate porting teams who don't adapt the game correctly for controls, UI design or performance, and consequently the game suffers from reduced sales, which in turn the game companies blame on piracy.

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  4. Let's just hope this experiment fails, and no one but Ubisoft ever adopts this crappy system.

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  5. How about just running the game in a hypervisor and saving the state of the entire VM whenever you want to save?

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  6. Jeff - let me know what frame rates you get running in they hypervisor.

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  7. As others have mentioned, I think you are grossly over-estimating the amount of work required to setup a false save server.

    Of course, I don't know the details behind the save/restore, but it honestly can not be more involved than the basic transfer of a few kb of data from point A to point B and back. This could literally be operated on a $5/mo. hosting plan or an Amazon instance.

    I'm hoping Ubisoft has implemented some sort of encryption into this process, public keys maybe? This will at least delay the process of someone setting up a rogue save server - otherwise, it'll be up and running within hours.

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  8. An observation:

    Client - Server code is difficult, needs to be heavily point & regression tested before it's rolled out commercially. This makes it expensive to produce.

    It then logically follows that once you have an architecture, (like steam) it will remain static. Unlike steam the UBI implementation is a component, not a system in itself.

    Enter stage right, wiley hacker. All they have to do is engineer the server from the client protocol that must be included with every game. You only have to crack it once, and you have the whole system, and every game that ever uses it.

    The thing that will annoy people however is that it will cripple the mod crowd who rely on save editing. I'm willing to be that a viable alternate save system will occur more from that perspective than from any other.

    Besides which, pirates do this for the kudos & the challenge, not the money. If this goes live then the gauntlet will have been thrown and there will be rush to be the first to crack it, save or no.

    If "pirates" can reverse engineer hardware, down to the encrypted system bus level, (Bunnie's original xbox hack) then nothing based on software is going to slow the arms race down for long.

    That said I bought an never played the first AC game, (I had vouchers :) so I doubt I'll bother with this one either. Let's see how the reviews come out, because there's bound to be an issue there IMO.

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  9. You've heard of Steam, right? the way to get people to ignore DRM is to:
    * make them log in at the start of the game
    * make the games so cheap (weekends with discounts like $5 Games, etc) that no one can be bothered pirating them.

    Seems to work better than this system (which would stop me buying the game, what with having an on/off broadband connection.)

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  10. I am not sure you need an external server. Run another "server program" on the same computer, and use a hacked game .exe which connects to 127.0.0.1 . Done. This is a classical method to test network code. (as a side effect, the local "server program" is a perfect vector for malwares)

    A possible difficulty would be if some treatment on the data stream is made server-side, like some encryption. But the local game must be able to "undo" this treatment: reverse engineering is still possible.

    The novelty of the protection will slow down the crackers... This time. The next time it won't. My very wild guess is one week to get a proof of concept crack, two weeks to get rid of the bugs.

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  11. People have already broken similar systems that require that. Many pieces of software already exist with similar anti-piracy systems, and many of those have torrentable archives that merely need to be extracted on a windows system to start working.

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  12. How horrifying. And yet, as Penny Arcade pointed out, a self-propagating cycle. http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/2/19/

    I wish people would just drop the DRMs and include awesome stuff in the legit game packages that can't be easily reproduced by hackers. Full-color maps, for example. I believe his Jeffness has mentioned this idea already...

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  13. You're certainly right that it's an interesting experiment. We'll see how long it takes to be cracked. Even if it requires reverse-engineering the client/server protocol, I suspect it'll be done fairly quickly.

    A big AAA game like Assassin's Creed 2 is just too big a target for the scene and their nerd-egos to pass up. If it's a legitimately tough crack, the "reward" is that much bigger.

    And speaking of game releases, thanks a lot for ruining my weekend by releasing Avernum 6 for Windows.

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  14. "Also, you don't hold onto your saved games anymore. They do."

    I'm surprised at how many people are making this mistake. Straight from the FAQ:
    "Will all my saved games be stored online?
    Yes! They will be stored both online and on your PC."
    -- http://support.uk.ubi.com/online-services-platform/

    That, right there, is why the system will fail. The DRM will be cracked within a week of release.

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  15. Full-color maps, for example.

    I firmly believe that a large part of the resurgence of vinyl is due to the larger cover art and liner notes that come with the LP. It's not just music, it's an object to be enjoyed and displayed.

    At the moment, games publishers are trying to have it both ways by releasing that kind of stuff in the Collector's Edition, and charging $20-30 extra for $5 worth of stuff. It's only attractive to the hardest of hardcore fans.

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  16. I'm old. I know I am. At least were gaming is concerned.

    I'm old enough to remember a time when Spectrum games were pirated. And I mean pirated. You wouldn't download them -though you could just copy them with two tap recorders-, you'd go downtown and buy them for maybe a couple of bucks a tape. And most of them would work but not all and not always. But still. Piracy *was* rampant, probably a lot more than it is now.

    Oddly enough, it was a time when a lot of diverse -both in quality and nature- games came out. Heck, we even had a "game industry" in Spain back then with maybe a dozen or so game companies.

    So some companies started using some anti-copy features. Turboload, e.g., would not only make load faster, but also would make the tape harder to copy correctly. Still piracy continued.

    Then, one day, someone at one of the bigger distribution/producing companies decided that, you know, the problem is games are too expensive and we could all benefit if we cut down prices to a third of what they currently were. Said and done, to the surprise of all gamers.

    Piracy did not disappear because of that, no. I'm perfectly aware that piracy disappeared because of police intervention. It was easy because games were sold in the open and everybody knew.

    But that price cut really made a change into a lot of people's habits. Before you'd pay 2 bucks for a pirated game and chance it not working because the original one was around 25 bucks. Now, with a lot of *good* games at 6-8 bucks, many of us just thought piracy wasn't worth it.


    I'm not advocating anything or saying price cuts are the solution. I'm just remembering old times. Still, at 60 euros, DRM or not, I'm simply not buying Assassin's Creed II.

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  17. According to http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1153169, this DRM was already cracked two weeks before release.

    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1152938 also outlines a number of ways that one could crack this DRM scheme.

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  18. What's kinda interesting, from reading Jeff's summary of how to hack a game, is that good software engineering practices dictate that this piracy-check should belong in just one place. This makes it very easy to defeat. Better to scatter the logic throughout the game code - harder to maintain, but also harder to do a surgical replacement.

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  19. Last I checked, the game actually saves locally and then syncs in the background if you like. It's not forced save-to-server only.

    Sorry, Jeff.

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  20. What I want to know is what happens when pissed off gamers DDoS Ubisofts servers so that no one can connect to them? I mean why bother to crack the DRM when it is much easier to create a shitstorm by preventing anyone in the world from using the game?

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  21. The whole premise of this article is wrong. They are saving games locally and also uploading them.

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  22. > This means a lot of work and expense, both to duplicate Ubisoft's game saving code and to set up and maintain the servers. Won't happen.

    This absolutely will happen. Whole servers for MMORPGS and others have been duplicated. This is trivial.

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  23. The problem I have is that the apparent nerdrage is clearly not coming from people who want to purchase games, but from people who would rather pirate them. The comments usually run in this vein...

    "What UBI is doing is wrong!"
    "Why?"
    "Because it makes legitimate game purchasers suffer."
    "Do you have a constant internet connection?"
    "Yes."
    "Then what's the problem?"
    "The problem is that the eventual free (illegal) version will be better than the paid."

    And that's how it ends up. The illegal version is the one he wants because he perceives it as better. He only thinks this because he has no moral qualms with piracy. A person interested in the rule of law, copyright protection, and profitability of the companies which make the games would never say the free illegal version is "better".

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  24. Fascinating indeed. Well done dude.

    jess
    www.true-privacy.es.tc

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  25. So, you figure out how the save format works, run a local server and mod your hosts file so that the save game server resolves to your local save server. Modders have the saves, people can play the pirated game and the fix is actually easier than a hell of a lot of other cracks.
    Works as well as Adobe's phone home fix to CS4.

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  26. CD-keys that are activated online, trough their servers, can be totally random. As there is no algorithm (other than random generator) it is not possible to make a working keygen.

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  27. Thanks for an insightful post. While the save file location is not entirely accurate (you can choose to transfer your saves; It's not mandatory), the always on connection to play the game is correct.

    For the most part I think you are spot on. I think that while this copy protection will eventually be circumvented (perhaps sooner rather than later) it will be around long enough to fulfill it's purpose; It was always intended to stem the tide of piracy during the game's critical first months of sales.

    The real question that I'd like an answer to is, will it be worth the backlash? Certainly not for me personally. I refuse to be treated like a criminal simply for wanting to purchase and play a game. To that end, I choose not to support Ubisoft any more. I'd rather not play their games than be subjected to this kind of control. I will not buy their games, and I refuse to pirate them and lend legitimacy to Ubisoft's inclusion of such a draconian DRM.

    Unfortunately, I think that I may be in a minority in my opinion. A lot of the nerdrage to this move has involved the idea that this DRM somehow entitles people to pirate the game. Despite the publisher's asinine attempt at guarding sales, the developers still deserve to be paid for their hard work. I am more than happy to pay for a game that I want to play. And I'm equally happy telling Ubisoft where to stick this DRM.

    This is one gamer that won't be buying any of their games (on principle alone) until they find a different, better way to protect their investment.

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  28. The same thing is going to happen to BattleNet 2 and Starcraft 2. Oh, and they are going to turn it into second facebook.

    http://starcraft2.com/features/misc/battlenet.xml

    NERDRRAAAAAAGE!

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  29. To the comment above: "A person interested in the rule of law, copyright protection, and profitability of the companies which make the games would never say the free illegal version is "better"."

    Not true. When a game that I purchase legitimately is harder and less convenient to run than a game I can pirate, then the pirated version is indeed better. Pirated games won't make me jump through hoops to play them. A company should look after its profits, yes, but inherent in this is that it should look after the needs of its customers as well, or else it runs the risk of losing them. The problem with your position is that you are assuming that everyone has a stable internet connection at all times when they want to play the game. Not only is this untrue, but the very nature of this DRM is antithetical to what I, as a consumer, want. If I buy a game, I want to play it when I want, where I want, whether I have internet or not. If my internet goes down for a day, I'll usually end up playing a game to pass the time. I don't have this option with AC2.

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  30. Oh, one other thing... Michael, I think you are a troll or on the payroll of one of the big copyright organizations. Obviously the free version will have actual advantages over the paid version, to the point where some legit purchaser might go for the free one anyway.

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  31. To Hongman: You just proved my point. You're not bothered by the fact that downloading a pirated copy of a game is not legal, doesn't protect the concept of copyrights, and fails to compensate the game makers. You're also not bothered by the threat of action against you in either criminal or civil courts. As a practical matter, this is understandable because so few people are prosecuted. As a moral matter, you show absolutely no guilty mind in participating in the very activity that makes DRM (which you hate) so attractive to content creators.

    And about the constant internet connection; that isn't really the point, unless you're pro-DRM methods that don't require a constant internet connection. I doubt that is the case.

    To logic11: A free (stolen) car has actual advantages over a purchased car. It also has a huge disadvantage; it's stolen and carries with it the threat of penalty. Same with pirated games.

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  32. Want to make this bit of evil fail? Fight evil with evil - DDOS Ubisoft's save game servers. They will stop responding, and everyone will not be able to play. Huge backlash, chaos, media fest!

    But, I like Ubisoft, and buy their games, so I don't necessarily like this idea myself. I just don't trust such a system.

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  33. The good news is that Ubisoft engineers probably won't make this nearly as harsh as they could if they really put their minds to it, because they're almost certainly not as evil as you or I would be if we were developing this system.

    We would thread the crypto totally throughout the game data model so that there isn't just one little snip required to lift out the DRM, there'd be countless places in the binary image that would need editing. That's what we would do. That's what the Ubisoft managers would probably like their engineers to do— if they were smart enough to ask for it. They probably aren't.

    So, it probably won't be as tough to work around as we might fear. Probably.

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  34. i don't like the assassin's creed so not going to pirate it or buy it ,but i am also not much of a gamer, i will be sure to never buy a ubisoft game for sure, Ubisoft has been a crappy company for years. this make them on bottom for the consumer now for sure

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  35. The way things are going, if this doesn't protect enough the game, the next games will probably have some data that will always be on the server and will be sent to clients when needed and erased from memory afterwards. Whether a game or business software, we won't have the full program on our computers at any given time and this would probably be almost impossible to pirate.

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  36. @Michael: I think you're a troll, and I shouldn't bother responding to you, but I can't help but take the bait, so that other people aren't fooled.

    The contention is not that the pirated version is better because it's free. The contention being made is that the pirated version would be preferable _EVEN IF YOU HAD TO PAY FULL PRICE FOR IT_. This puts the lie to your car example -- a stolen car is no more useful than a full-price car, it's just cheaper.

    But a pirated copy of Assassin's Creed is much more useful than a full-price copy, even if you had to pay full price for the pirated copy. The pirated copy doesn't require an internet connection to play. It doesn't lose all your progress if your connection goes down. It doesn't invade your privacy by sending information to the creator every time you use it.

    The point that you aren't getting is that the pirated version of the game would be _worth paying full price for_, if that's what the creator were selling. But since they're selling an inferior product, nobody here is buying.

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  37. Here is how it will work: An application hook. The hook grabs the outgoing request from the game, itself, and mocks it's own server. This fakes the game into believing it has connected to it's site and is communicating with UbiSoft, when, in reality, it's merely communicating with a hook app that's running in the background on the local machine. Done and done.

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  38. How do people get the pirated versions? Is it unethical or illegal to release bad versions of the game, advertised as pirated ones, that ruin your computer/hard drive, or pay the pirates to do so? I assume that would turn most people away from trying the pirated ones after a couple of bad experiences. Don't know if it's feasible, but I've always wondered about that.

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  39. You're assessment of the amount of work is incorrect.

    To bypass the servers for saving and loading games you need only trampoline the actual writing and reading of the 'save game file'.

    The format of the save game file is opaque to the trampolining functions. It's just a stream of data that can later be replayed.

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  40. Thanks everyone for the comments! A couple responses.

    Yes, of course there are solutions for making your own authentication server. But for the DRM to work, all it has to do is 1. delay the cracking, and 2. make it difficult/unreliable for the bulk of non-super-technically-apt gamers. Making people set up their own servers (on their own machines or not) is enough of a barrier to entry to get the job done.

    Remember, I didn't say it was uncrackable, only that it was difficult/slow enough to give a profitable first few months.

    As for the game making local copies of the saved games. IF this turns out to be the case, and IF the game also has easily accessible features in place for loading those saves (as opposed to only caching them there and only being able to load from the distant server), then yes, it's a dumb and easily crackable system. But even if this is the case, that doesn't change the fact that the next game to use this system will be slow to crack for the reasons given above, and all of the factors and consequences given above still apply.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  41. @Corey (and everyone who said something similar): Yes, of course there are a thousand ways to do it. But you have to write and insert non-trivial code and then test it, which takes time. Every single day that the DRM delays pirate success means a big bucket of money.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  42. There is an easy and obvious way to circumvent this DRM: Don't play the game. Play some other game instead.

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  43. If Ubisoft sold the game for $5, they'd get a LOT less pirates and a LOT more sales...

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  44. To Michael (and Ubisoft, directly or indirectly):
    No, you miss the point. Copying a game is nothing like stealing a car. A car's made of tangible stuff - parts, oil, paint, etc. Games aren't. Reproducing the car takes at least as much work as the manufacturer put into it. Reproducing a game doesn't take any work at all, thanks to the couple of percentage points of GDP we've all collectively spent developing the internet over the past few decades. I get that it would be better for Ubisoft's bottom line if copying digital content wasn't so cheap, just like it would have been better for buggy whip manufacturer's bottom lines if Henry Ford had never thought up the assembly line. For me, the only moral question here is the duty Ubisoft owes its shareholders and the broader community to stop sticking its head in the sand and find ways to market and sell products in the world they live in, not the world they wish they had.

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  45. To Gwillen: Follow the money. Piracy didn't start because DRM'd games were ruining the user experience. It started because it allowed people to have a game at a discounted rate. This was of course, illegal and morally reprehensible, but you, like everyone else on your side of the debate ignores this. You rewrite history saying that DRM is the cause of piracy, when it only takes a history of about 20 years to realize the opposite is true.

    And I'm not saying that a pirated copy would be useless, inferior, etc... when it comes to gameplay. The quality of the pirated copy vs. the purchased copy isn't the point. What I am saying is that the kind of person who looks only at user experience and privacy (you) and ignores the legality of the issue (you again) is the kind of person can't tell the difference between right actions (only use what you obtained legally) and wrong actions (stealing a pirated version of the product you refuse to pay for). So as unfortunate as it is for your side of the debate, pirates are criminals, which means whatever they say should be regarded as merely an attempt to morally justify their illegal actions.

    I don't mean to be on a high horse, but I'm really tired of people not being honest in their intentions. Pirates are thieves. It's as simple as that. So you'll understand why I get more than a little irritated when I see people writing about pirates as though they are a group of innocent and well meaning consumer advocates.

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  46. Your point is well made, but you're supporting it with a false analogy. Neither buggy-whips nor assembly lines were illegal when they competed against each other. If the laws against piracy need to be changed to make it legal, then I would be open to that debate, but the reality is that pirates don't care about the law.

    And for reference, my analogy with the stolen car was simply to illustrate 2 points. 1- A stolen car has the same advantages as a pirated game, it gives you the product (or something very similar) you want without having the pay for it, which frees up your money for other things you don't want to steal. People steal games when they think it's wrong to steal other things... 2- There is no fundamental difference between stealing a car and a game. The only peripheral differences that I can see are justifications for the theft (DRM in this case), relative ease (game theft carries little work or risk), and social stigma (people don't see theft of software as a bad thing).

    Another common trait of pirates is that they tell you that it is OK to steal one thing (games), but not OK to steal another (cars). And if you ever meet a pirate who says it's OK to steal cars as well, try stealing his and watch his reaction.

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  47. Jeff, what are you smoking if you think it takes crackers months to crack a game?

    You grossly underestimate how long it takes. The longest DRM has survived past a retail date is about one week. The majority of games DRMs are cracked and pirated prior to retail release. The so-called "zero-day warez".

    The game is already out for the XBox 360, which means the crackers have already got a full disassembly of the game, and they'll be able to see immediately how the PC release differs, as soon as their inside man gets them a final copy. They have plenty of experience and tricks up their sleeve, and they can reverse engineer and patch code with ease. They're not like typical web programmers.

    What evidence do you have that this DRM will be any tougher than every single DRM before it? You're making an argument from ignorance.

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  48. socket code is trivial to find. One quick search in WDASM is enough to isolate the lot of it. And if they've wasted their money obfuscating it, well that's just the regular shit a cracker has to deal with, anyway.

    From there it's a matter of backtracking to separate the load/save code from the rest of the network stuff (you can't hide a stacktrace for long), and having it dump the data to disk instead (in whatever damn format I please, thank you very much). Problem solved in... oh about 4 hours.

    You guys are all alike. Something novel comes along and suddenly you're shouting to the hills about the death of piracy. This copy protection scheme is naivete at its highest.

    As I've said time and time again, there are three kinds of software users: those who always buy, those who never buy, and those who sometimes buy. It's the "sometimes" people who determine your bottom line. Make your software more convenient in legit form and you'll attract more "sometimes" people.
    Keep your head in the sand, and you'll alienate the "sometimes" people, PLUS your precious "copy protection" will be broken in less than a week, just like every other one in the history of software.

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  49. @Michael: You are looking at it from the wrong standpoint. I am a person that pays for things, now that I have a job. _AS A PAYING CUSTOMER_, it's sad that the version of the game that I paid for is strictly worse than the pirated version. That's just wrong. That's like saying all of the fruit at the grocery store are rotten, but thieves can steal non-rotten ones.

    And there is a huge difference between thieves of physical objects (cars), and copyright infringement (piracy). I'll illustrate it here: Suppose 1000 people buy product x that gains a profit of $10 and costs $10 to produce, and 10 people steal or pirate it. Here is the breakdown:

    theft:
    costs from production: 1010 x $10 = $10100
    gains from sales: 1000 x $20 = $20000
    = $9900

    piracy:
    costs from production: 1000 x $10 = $10000
    gains from sales: 1000 x $20 = $20000
    = $10000

    Theft inherently _deprives the original owner of the item_, whereas copyright infringement does not. In this way, they are dissimilar. However, I am not condoning piracy, I am just pointing out that you are wrong.

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  50. Like has already been said, you only need to have a mock server set up on your computer locally. This could be a very small amount of code that simply sends the right messages back and forth between the itself and the game, and accesses the save files. If you can monitor what's being sent back and forth with a legit copy, you can probably decipher from that data what needs to happen in a virtual environment of your own devising. I don't foresee this being a huge obstacle.

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  51. To Kevin: First, I can't make heads or tails of your numbers. They are meaningless anyway because you're incorrect from the start when you say that pirating a game doesn't deprive the owner of his rights. It deprives the license holder from retaining his ability to distribute the game as he pleases. When you purchase software, you're not purchasing the license to give away as many free copies as you wish. The owner of that... UBI in this case, loses that product when a game is successfully pirated.

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  52. "1- A stolen car has the same advantages as a pirated game, it gives you the product (or something very similar) you want without having the pay for it,"

    But that's NOT the advantage we're talking about.

    Look, say you went to the local movie store to get a copy of the Matrix Trilogy for some reason. They offer you a choice -- a set of three DVDs that each have ten unskippable commercials for various other movies, or a set of three DVDs that just play the movie. The only difference between them is the unskippable commercials.

    Oh, and one of the commercials will call you a thief.

    Which do you buy? They're both $20.

    --

    You have a choice between two CDs of your favorite music group. The same songs, only one of them will install malware if you happen to play it on your computer.

    Same price. Which one is the better offer?

    --

    You have the choice between two copies of the same computer game -- both of them the same price, but one of them will crash without saving if your computer goes offline for a second while you're playing. Oh, and the one that doesn't crash you can run without putting the DVD in the drive -- the one that crashes requires a disc to play.

    Which one do you buy? Again, they're exactly the same price.

    --

    Yes, piracy is thieving. Yes, piracy is short-sighted (If they don't make money on the game, they won't make any more like it.) -- and yes, piracy is just being cheap.

    But in most cases, it's also getting the superior version, and that's NOT because of the money.

    For your metaphor to work, your non-stolen car would need to have a broken taillight and the inability to turn right on red lights. And the stolen car can fly.

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  53. To Trevel: I'm not saying that you're wrong. If Best Buy sold DVD's without trailers, I'd probably buy those. But they don't. That doesn't mean it is right to pirate a version that doesn't contain trailers. You admit this anyway, so I don't see your point.

    And I fully admitted that pirated copies of game carry advantages. They also carry certain burdens, the most universal of which is misunderstood by the pirates (that the owner of the copyright is losing something).

    As long as we're agreeing on things, can we agree that pirates need to be more publicly brought to task on their actions and should face prosecution when they're caught? And if not, why?

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  54. To Michael:

    You are right, at least on the surface of things. Stealing a car is illegal (at least under state laws) and stealing a game is illegal (under federal law). If that's as far as you care to look, then it's a straightforward question.

    For me, it's not quite that simple. I think there are real differences between stealing a car and copying a game, and the law until relatively recently agreed. Content stuff (like music, movies, books, games, etc.) has always fallen under copyright law precisely because it's fundamentally different than stuff like cars (or TVs, horses, houses, etc.). Digital stuff can be easily reproduced, and material stuff can't.

    Until 1997, it wasn't illegal to copy content and give it away. Now it is, but one main law (the NET Act, criminalizing giving copyrighted content away) is largely unenforceable and unenforced, and the other (the DMCA) is mostly used privately as a blunt tool by content industries. The laws as written are pretty broad, criminalizing activity that lots of folks routinely engage in (trading .mp3s, emailing newspaper articles, copying games, etc.).

    So now, in the middle of spending literally hundreds of billions of dollars on networks and systems that make producing and distributing digital content easy, we find ourselves saddled with a series of federal laws with pretty stiff penalties designed to limit the effectiveness of our investment in the internet in order to benefit one industry. It's no wonder that law enforcement has mostly ignored the NET Act and the DMCA. Not only are they practically impossible to enforce fairly because of the scale of ongoing infringement, but they're pretty clearly bent in favor of the content industry.

    If you look at it that way, it's almost your patriotic duty to steal Ubisoft's dumb game and distribute it for free on the subway.

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  55. Michael, let me ask you this - is it OK to buy a game, then download the pirated version and play that instead?

    I've done this. Before the arcane DRMs of today, games simply made you have the CD in the drive to play. I didn't want to do that, so I downloaded the pirated versions, patched my legit copy, and played without having to have the CD in the drive.

    That's an example of the pirated version being better than the version I bought. Not because it was cheaper, but because it was more convenient.

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  56. Eventually game companies will keep everything on their servers, and we'll all be playing the new age version of arcade games.

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  57. Best way, is don't buy their game, as customers we have the power to disregard their DRM filled game as a big pile of spyware trash.
    I like owning the things I pay for, these company is just renting you their code, making grandiose stories of how it is for your own good.

    If you are stupid enough to fall for it, you deserve to get ripped off, and not able to play if you loose your internet connection; spend your money wisely and purchase games from companies that actually cater to their customers and not only to their stockholders.

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  58. Regarding edit #2.

    MMOs have their content online out of necessity. It's a very expensive proposition as opposed to simply distributing the content to the client side and leaving it there.

    Save game data is small, which is why Ubisoft can do it without too much cost (although it's already more expensive due to server-side maintenance costs).

    People accept the requirement to be online for multiplayer games because it's well understood that you can't play with other people if you're NOT online. Even battle.net players understand this.

    What you're doing is stretching this concept beyond the breaking point, much as the music industry did with its now widely recognized DRM failure. People may be stupid, but they're not THAT stupid.

    Still, it doesn't really matter much what discussion occurs here. The pie-in-the-sky copy protection proponents will continue to tout the impending demise of piracy, and force their disgruntled coder minions to implement their hare-brained schemes. And the hackers will continue to break these fundamentally flawed attempts at total control over the consumer. We may have fired the first shot, but it's the software companies who are hurting themselves now.

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  59. A distinction needs to be made, I think, between the Crackers, the distributors, and the users.

    A pirating user really does NOT cost the owner of the copyright anything. They have literally obtained something from nothing. It is also quite possible that they will become a Fan (or even a Legendary True Fan), and thus a case of piracy can become almost a form of free advertisement.

    I would not support coming down on these sorts of pirates, because ... well, because it's pretty much the entire planet. (Well, okay, the entire planet that has the internet.) Which is to say, the problem isn't any individual act, it's that there are vast numbers of individual acts.

    As for the actual crackers, I personally don't want them to pay because they've produced useful tools for someone like me, a legitimate purchaser of the software, to use to get around some of the meaningless restrictions the companies have provided. How can I truly hold any anger for the creator of the NoCD key that let me play games I personally own without swapping discs? Certainly his work allowed piracy, but he also allowed my legitimate use.

    Which leaves the distributors. In the world of torrents this can become quite murky. And hey, most of them live in foreign countries. And can they be found without a witch hunt? (Not really, no.) How hard is it to replace them? And guess how many of them will work out to be teenagers?

    So I suppose I don't support harsher penalties and rougher attacks against pirates, largely because I think there'll be a lot of collateral damage -- and that, like the mythological hydra, with every head cut off two more will spawn. (After all, getting rid of Napster absolutely destroyed music distribution, right?)

    Which doesn't leave me with a solution to the problem, I'll admit. But the history with the movie/music industry shows that prosecution doesn't help, and I can't help but think that actively trying to make the purchased copies even worse ain't going to do it, either.

    And in the meantime, I WAS going to buy Assassin's Creed 2 -- because I bought, played and enjoyed Assassin's Creed -- but now I'm not going to. Whatever other affect they might have had, they lost a sale.

    Maybe I'll use the money to buy Geneforge instead ...

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  60. Where'd you get the 90% pirated statistic?

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  61. One source of a 90% figure.

    http://2dboy.com/2008/11/13/90/

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  62. As a game hacker / software cracker and professional reverse engineer - he (the article) is correct. It obviously isn't impossible to create your own auth server or your own load/save game mechanism, but it is difficult enough that it isn't going to be completed within the first 6 months of the games release (provided they designed their code right to actually leave out the important parts, not just used some registry flag to 'turn them off' - you would be amazed how many people make this mistake). In fact, i'd be impressed if this was meaningfully cracked within the first year.

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  63. If you're talking Blizzard games, remember that people were able to emulate the entire Battle.net protocol. Making a proxy for save-file sending is a trivial task compared to that. And the whole idea with cracks is that making them is difficult, using them - not necessarily so.

    OTOH, I agree with you that this will delay crackers for quite some time. Compared to writing a crack, reverse-engineering a network protocol and writing some proxy server is a much harder task. Nevertheless - for a group of skilled crackers, this is a matter of days, not months.

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  64. While I can agree that computer ports are getting the shaft these days, I can also understand why these measures are necessary. I for one prefer a computer to a game console. For one reason: They are BETTER. In everyway. They are not limited by size, and their graphics are always better. It's simple. So while I feel that honest people are being put upon, I also want to see the PC Game industry thrive again! So companies do what it takes, because there are honest people out there willing to pay for your games!

    2d

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  65. To Trevel: I won't address every point here, but there are a couple worth noting.

    "A pirating user really does NOT cost the owner of the copyright anything. They have literally obtained something from nothing."

    This misses the point of Copyright Law. Pirating games is obtaining something through violating the rights of the owner of the Copyright. And if you're saying, "Well, even if that's true, whats wrong with that?", here's what wrong with it. It deny's the owner of the Copyright the ability to distribute as he pleases, which essentially says you rob him of his ability to say, "Unless you pay me, you can't play my game."

    If you purchase the game and then get a pirated version, I would still argue that you're violating letter of his Copyright, but at least you're not violating the spirit of the Copyright. Then again, if pirates were in the habit of purchasing legal copies of what they illegally take, we wouldn't have DRM today. So I think we would both agree that people who purchase a legal copy and then use an altered copy should not be prosecuted. This is the slim minority I would suspect.

    And last, I can tell that I'm winning this argument because you've resorted to the, "Well everyone does it" plea. Not everyone does it. It's precisely because a large proportion of the game playing population does not pirate games that the market maintains profitability. And please, for your sake, stop making excuses for pirates. They have enough illogical arguments justifying what they do as it is.

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  66. "Edit 2: One quick question for the "Anything can be cracked right away." crowd. Where do I get my cracked copy of World of Warcraft that can play the real game (not some cobbled together emulation server) without paying. Answer: You can't."

    You can, however, play on a private server like you mentionned. It's not critical with AS2 because it's a single player game and you're not missing out anything by not getting online, unlike World of Warcraft.

    Besides, AS2 blows.

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  67. @Michael

    Arguing for the zealous upholding of "the law" and taking to moral high ground is all very well, but we both live in the real world, however much you may wish otherwise. In that real world crime is rife. People steal office supplies at work, they break the speed limit, they drive drunk, they discriminate based on sex & race. There are laws against all these things, yet still they happen every day, these crimes are happening now. Yet compared to premeditated & serious crimes, provided nobody is physically hurt they are classed as misdemeanors.

    What "piracy" does is deprive people of income, but strangely enough, so does "refusing" to buy the game, by the simple expedient of going out to the pub, or indeed buying another game. You cannot legislate to force people to buy an entertainment product. You could of course subsidise the creation and sale, even give it way for free, but that would kill your argument stone dead wouldn't it.

    The fact, and it is a fact, is that people have always wanted things for free. The arrival of the internet has meant that people are now able to obtain things for "free" and more than that, the do so without guilt. They feel no more about "stealing" somebody's intellectual property, than other people do about stealing a paper clip. You may rage against it, but these people are your market. This is your audience.

    However what really irks me about the moralising from on high is that it's made without mention of the central premise. For big companies like UBI who do spend large amounts on making games, they want a guarantee of a return on their investment. This guarantee takes the form of insurance, specifically against piracy. For which the insurance company demands that some form of decent protection is enacted to mitigate against loss. This insurance covers the important first few weeks of a games release. Quite often this protection causes problems for legitimate purchasers and if the company has any sense, the protection is rolled back after a given period. I'm not making this up, I've had personal experience with this both from HL2 which refused to work on my DVD-Writer. Subsequently rolled back via Steam. And with the 3D application poser 5, which eventually released a patch to remove the copy protection system as it was primary cause of instability. I pre-ordered both.

    I worked in a computer shop in the 80's I saw what the Blitz cable did to the Atari ST market. It was an unstoppable copy mechanism, and within a month people stopped buying games. After two months we stopped buying new games in and after 4 months we liquidated the stock, and stopped selling the ST itself. I've seen what piracy can do to a market, I'm not advocating for piracy as I like games, I've been playing them since 3D monster maze on the ZX81, I love the culture, I have many friends that make a living that way. But they're massive prates themselves. You know this, I know this. Piracy is currency in the mainstream games industry, it always has been.

    Making the argument that it's morally wrong, and equating depriving people of income with depriving them of possession of physical object, (however large or small) is both disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.

    If you come to preach, at least be honest about it.

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  68. If the purpose of the DRM is to prevent piracy over the first few months, why don't game companies make available patches that remove the DRM after the first few months pass, and advertise that they're going to do this? That way, they get the upfront benefits of DRM, but people can't claim they're only pirating the game to get past the inconvenient DRM. These sort of patches are already widely, if illicitly, available by then, anyway.

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  69. So, can we say that DRM "works" if no one buys a legitimate copy? There is so much pushback against this DRM, even the people I have heard who want to give Ubisoft money are going to wait for the crack. That way they can have a usable copy in addition to their legit copy (because reverting to a old checkpoint when your IP/router goes down is not usable).

    And that does not even count the push back from soldiers on deployment. No military PX is going to carry this game.

    And if it doesn't sell well, does Ubisoft just give up on the PC platform?

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  70. *

    And that's how it ends up. The illegal version is the one he wants because he perceives it as better. He only thinks this because he has no moral qualms with piracy. A person interested in the rule of law, copyright protection, and profitability of the companies which make the games would never say the free illegal version is "better".*

    I'm saying the free version is better.

    And I won't be buying the game OR warezing it. I won't play it at all because I don't play warezed games and I certainly won't buy games protected in this way.

    The warez version of something like this has a massive advantage. Right now I can come in from work, sit down to relax with the computer and discover "Oh noes, the interweb connection is broken. No Lolcat lulz for me... I know, I'll play my new game instead".

    Except if my new game is continually connecting to the internet to allow me to play the single player game then I can't. Smooth moves, Ubisoft.

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  71. (Some scattered thoughts)

    It is pretty simple.

    Step 1) People want great games, movies, music, etc
    Step 2) People don't want to pay for anything.
    Step 3) Companies stop developing.
    Step 4) People complain when there arn't alot of great games, movies, music, etc just recycled crap.

    There is a reason there are alot of movies based on old TV shows, sequels, etc. There is less cost in rehasing an old plot, then creating one from scratch.

    Imagine if someone sets up a movie theatre and shows movies for free? That is essentially what putting a game up on a torrent site is doing.

    The economic model for a lot of our industry is based on a large upfront cost for R&D and then trying to recoup that R&D with sales. (Be it video games to Pharmaceuticals) Why would anyone put money into R&D knowing they won't be able to recoup that money?

    What is going to wind up happening is you will have two groups of game developers:
    1) A few large video game companies and primarily spit out recycled games that didn't take much development. (Like the old jokes of Rocky 15, it will be God of War 14. NHL 2034)
    2) People who develop on their off time/weekends. Think of independent film developers. Some great games will come out of here, but will be few and far between and no support.

    I remember reading a great article in the 90's about the death of turn based strategy games. Essentially said development follows the money.

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  72. Game publishers just don't get it. They turned an inherent multiplayer feature it would have had anyway into a cheap anti-piracy measure that will still fail. You make it sound hard to bypass this measure, but the reason people crack games is specifically for this kind of challenge.

    They are doing it wrong once again. To encourage people to buy their games, they are supposed to add value, not unnecessary nuisance (which will hit paying customers, not pirates). Piracy is not the reason the PC market has dried up. If a game was good enough, people would buy it for the legit multiplayer experience, which pirated games do not offer (note: cracked servers aren't fully up to par). They should stop wasting their resources on anti-piracy and being so stupid as to ruin single player. The real reasons PC gaming is in such a sad state are many, but blaming piracy is a cop out on part of companies that don't want to face much larger issues.

    PC gamers are accustomed to quality games and the stuff coming out nowadays pales in comparison. Look at combat flight sims. I would rather play a decade-old one than what passes for a sim these days. It's painfully obvious to us that the freedom, depth, and quality that we have enjoyed for so long seems to have evaporated. Also, I would like to note that the reason Valve's Steam service does so well is because of its convenience and reasonable pricing, not because it has online ownership checks (even games released only on Steam can be pirated just as easily).

    The console market has really opened up. Gaming is not just for nerds anymore, and every household is opening up to it. However, I bet you a lot of the game purchases are impulse buys or gifts. The console market can dry up just as quickly as on the PC when people recognize the trend of lackluster games that companies have been getting away with. Publishers need to stop influencing the development of a game by rushing them to market and purposely dumbing them down to save costs and appeal to an inexperienced market. A lot of gamers settle now, but they can't keep indie developers or hardcore developers from having their say eventually and getting worthwhile games to market that will make a lasting impression. A lot of companies seem to think tarnishing their reputation will have no effect on them in the future. Although, I suppose they are right if people are so easily fooled into parting with their money.

    Hardware manufacturers, especially on the GPU side, are also having an ill effect on the gaming market. They are more interested in pushing out the competition, getting into the easiest exploitable markets, and creating the quickest turnaround for "next gen" tech than actually progressing into ground-breaking future technology. PCs should have a decided advantage in performance over consoles, but even if we pay for enthusiast-grade hardware we are struggling to keep up with games even if they are nothing more than eye-candy (and poorly optimized for lower specs). The innovation and expandibility are sorely lacking. Furthermore, the standard of performance is kept low. When no product is significantly better or without a cost that is prohibitive, the absolute cheapest and lowest-grade hardware sells. Even well-informed consumers will buy it because, at the purposely accelerated turnaround between generations, nothing lasts. It's common practice for companies, whether they provide hardware, software, or services (ISPs), to provide the lowest standard product as long as they can keep the profit the same or better. That is what is killing us, corporate greed and lack of foresight, not piracy.

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  73. Oh, and by the way, people accept their game needing a constant internet connection all the time.

    Aside from anything else, the cost of running a large online game is nontrivial. Can you imagine launch day for a AAA game? Tens or hundreds of thousands of sustained connections. Almost nobody has the necessary infrastructure. OnLive is trying to build it, but we'll see. I still think the laws of physics guarantee a lousy experience in that kind of system.

    You've not done a multiplayer game, so maybe you're not aware of the additional programming issues; compensating for latency tends to be a total freaking nightmare, and certain game types simply aren't possible. Making every game work like an MMO adds to development time.

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  74. I believe you're overlooking a significant point... you claim that the current situation is that 90% of copies out there are pirated and companies are finding it difficult to make a profit off of the remaining 10% of gamers. I don't know where you got support for such an idea, especially with regards to things like multiplayer games which mostly all have effective protection to prevent pirated copies from being played online, but even if it were true, there is still another thing to consider: PC games ARE profitable. Greatly so. They turn as much profit now as anyone could rationally expect them to. Analysis of sales information of PC games over time, levels of profit, and the expansion of the gaming industry as a whole have shown that publishing PC games has kept pace profit-wise when considering their user base. They have not expanded as rapidly as console games simply because there are many more customers playing games on consoles than there are people following the PC gaming scene.

    With the move to digital distribution, of which only the PC platform offers a reasonable solution for large scale games presently, will magnify their profits to an absurd degree. Gamers have reliably shown time and again that they are, to put it bluntly, spineless. Regardless of the quality of a game, or the severely restricted rights that come with a 'digital license' as opposed to a physical copy of the game, they will pay more than retail price (usually there is not a large difference, but publishers are forbidden by GameStop from selling games at lower than retail prices, while retailers are permitted to discount the games). Call of Duty 5 was a perfect example of this. The magnitude of gamer "rejection" of the title for a multitude of reasons was widespread, but on release day, the gamers bought it in droves. As problems continued to pile up after release, gamers continued to buy it in droves. It would be simply bad business for game publishers to even give momentary consideration to the "public opinion" of gamers, because they are incapable or unwilling to forego, or even forestall, getting the latest game in order to attempt to affect the market for their better interests.

    I've been waiting for protection like this for a decade. There is no reason that Ubisoft needs to be as aggressive about it as they are, but there is one form of protection that can be nearly impossible to crack: Make the servers do important work. Not checking a key, not authentication. Something that, if it were not done, would break the game. Ideally, something that would require so much work on the part of the crackers to duplicate that it would be equivalent to them coding the game themselves, or near to it. The best way to crack that protection is to break into the companies network (or offices) and steal the code... an option that comes with certain disadvantages.

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  75. wow how can ignorance by so widespread in these times. Your looking for the word CRACKER not HACKER... HUGE difference, please research before you write. Its like talking about the Dallas Cowboys winning the next Stanley Cup... WRONG SPORT...

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  76. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  77. Well hardware dongles work, but they contribute to driving up the price of the actual software. And since they are physical hardware, it does make it harder to pirate. Not impossible, just harder. Emulators proved that they weren't a perfect solution. But a well engineered USB dongle using a combination of 1024bit (or more) encryption changing the keys every second AND built-in recognition for detecting emulators SHOULD in theory make it nearly impossible to hack.

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  78. Fear not, there is always a way. Piracy won't go down that easily, The Scene is always watching...

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  79. To Praxis22: Yes, I know piracy exists the same way all those other crimes you mentioned do. People don't create laws against what people don't do. I don't see your point here. If your point is that we should decriminalize piracy, then say so. If your point is that we should criminalize piracy as a misdemeanor because it is a non-violent crime, then would you say the same about Bernie Madoff.

    And I've done nothing intellectually dishonest. The fact that piracy doesn't deprive people of a physical product is a red herring. The intellectual property rights are violated in piracy, which is the same as or worse than stealing a hard copy of the game, because it carries with it the ability to let anyone else who cares to commit the same crime to do so without doing the work. Whether the property is physical or not is a non-issue, because you're denying the owner the right to use his property as he wishes, which is why theft is illegal. The logic of theft laws stems not from the inherent wrongness of getting something for nothing. That has nothing to do with it. It stems from the fact that theft deprives the owner of his property rights. This is exactly the same with regard to property rights and piracy.

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  80. Simpler to hack the servers that run the keygen code.

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  81. Games I've bought in the last 3 months: 8 (5 from steam, 3 in a box). Games I have over 5 years old: dozens. Hours spent on MA2 in past 3 weeks: 55.

    Odds of buying AC2: 0%. Was 80%, then read about the unholy DRM. Why not? Well, among the games I'm playing right now are a couple that are several years old.

    Do I trust a company to keep its activation servers up a second longer than possible? No. Doubly so when they don't trust me to begin with.

    Will I buy it when it inevitably shows up in the discount bin? NO - at that point, I'll assume they've shuttered the activation server and I'll be buying a doorstop.

    So they've managed to ensure they get none of my money, and lose the ability to sell bad games to discounters - I know I wouldn't buy a pallet if there's a good chance it'll all get returned by angry customers due to DRM. Good job, guys. Okay, MA2 finished, now for the next game.

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  82. To Michael: I don't pirate software, but your arguments against the advantages of using pirated software are specious. You wrote "The illegal version is the one he wants because he perceives it as better." That is not correct. The illegal version IS better because it is MORE USEFUL. For example, I actually have two constant-on internet connections (at home and at office), but I don't have them with me ALL THE TIME. Sometimes I am on my laptop away from an internet connection. If I was at the airport, say, and I wanted to play a game while I waited out a blizzard, I could play the cracked version for free, but would have to buy an internet connection for $8 in order to play the legal version.
    You also wrote that piracy is like stealing "because you're denying the owner the right to use his property as he wishes." This is also not correct. The property owner can still do everything with his property he could before it was pirated. What I am denying him is his state-granted right to control what *I* do with it which is not the same thing at all.
    As I said, I don't pirate software, but I do use only Open Source software because it offers the same advantages as pirated software, but legally and ethically.

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  83. I've already had the experience with games I can't play anymore because some server was shut down.
    Not again.

    Ubisoft you are amoral assholes, and I'm NOT paying for this.

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  84. Oh, and blogowner - if by work you mean not buying it - yeah, that'll work!

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  85. I love the car analogy, it shows how much people are used to being fed shit when it comes to computers.

    Everyone who got a broadband connection has also a mobile phone. Would you buy a car that would use your mobile phone to contact the car maker, and would stop functionning whenever your mobile phone would be unable to contact the car maker no matter the reason? And also the car maker can shut down the service on his side whenever he would feel like it leaving you with a useless car.

    Even without the safety issues, it sounds totally ridiculous. So is this new DRM thing.

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  86. Please delete any comment about servers and black box hacking. They have of course used a non-linear algorithm to encode the save game. Hence impossible to reverse engineer.

    Cracking the game is easy.

    When you save a game, you read out the variables in the state machine the game is in, and write them to the disk.

    When you read a save game, you read the variables and put them in the state machine.

    In this case, you find the function that copies the state machine, right before it is sent to Ubisoft. Save that to a file. That's your save game.

    To read your save game you find the function that converts Unisoft save game format plain state machine variables, and insert your own saved state machine variables there.

    Cracked.

    No need for servers or Internet connection.

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  87. "Once you accept the need for a constant internet connection, the developer can just load more and more of the game logic onto the servers. Right now, they're just trying it with saved games. "

    But with webpages it is going the other way, they are putting more and more into the local machine so their servers have do less and less. Why? Because it puts a ton of load on them and it costs a fortune.

    "Oh, and by the way, people accept their game needing a constant internet connection all the time. WoW. CounterStrike. Team Fortress. So saying people won't accept it for single player games is a bit of a stretch. They'll get used to it soon enough."

    Don't be silly that is something else. Those games are designed to meet other people online. A single player game does NOT need to be online, except in as much as they are spying on you.

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  88. Michael, you're right. I see the light.

    If not for piracy, we would have better games than we do now. In fact, we'd have more games; different games; no bad sequels; there would be no DRM at all. I bet games would run on Linux, even freeBSD. Why, they'd all come in boxes with sparkles.

    It's really easy for you to make arguments based on promises you can't keep, isn't it?

    I have shelves full of games behind me. I paid retail for them, not used. During my teenage years, I would say that the vast majority of my "hey, I can spare this dollar for something I want!" earnings went toward games. After all, at $50 a copy, I didn't really have a choice.

    Turns out they spent more on marketing than they did on making a decent game a time or two. Man, I got screwed with Age of Empires 3. Great looking game, great reviews, horrible piece of crap. Yeah, I got burned a few times. But I went back and bought more anyway. Some games were worth ten times what I paid for them or even more.

    Frankly, Vivendi doesn't give one living fart about me or anyone else. Take the piracy away, and they're going to churn out more bad buggy overpriced sequels covered in DRM. (If you think there are no reasons for DRM other than piracy, you really don't know anything about modern market segmentation by region).

    I'll keep buying games, but no thanks to you.

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  89. What if some group of crackers decides to DOS the server for 48 hours after the launch (to gain time to crack it)?

    What happens to all the legal, paying customers if that happens...?

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  90. There is at least one upcoming antipiracy patent application (mine!) that I hope will solve a lot of these problems. Unfortunately it might be another year or two before they get to it. USPTO Application Number 11678137.

    Basically, each and every copy of a protected program gets it's own internal intelligence, interpretable only by itself, which includes time of program creation, etc., etc.. The only hitch is that each copy of the program must be compiled or otherwise created at the time of purchase. Also, the maker must keep track of each and every set of created special software in case the user emails in that he needs to reinstall. Perhaps even the purchasers name would be encoded and included as part of the intelligence. The number of permissible occurrences of requests for new key codes, say, 5 times, can be controlled by the program maker. If a pirate cracks the code for that single copy of the program, still, it will work only for that copy, and only in the time frame that the internal intelligence says it can be installed.

    The upshot is that program maker gets money, the purchaser can own it, install on more than one computer in his home, again within a day or so, and new key codes can be obtained in case of needed reinstalls, a reasonable amount of times.

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  91. @Malcolm

    No matter what somewhere in the code there must be an if-statement that either returns true or false. The cracker just changes the return value to 1.

    Cracked.

    The 5 times install limit it easy to crack. It is just like making a trailer with unlimited lives for a game.

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  92. If the only reason pirates downloaded a game was not because they are cheap or immoral but because they are in search of a better experience then the pirates should buy a copy of the game giving the developers the money they deserve and then download the cracked version to play it for its superior experience, but rarely is this the case. As many arguments as someone can make as to why they do it and the morals they have rarely will you find someone doing the moral thing. It's true I have talked to people who downloaded a game to see if they would like it and then bought a copy, but they are a vast vast minority to those who make rediculous arguments and fail to put their money where their mouth is.

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  93. I predict this anti-piracy system will fail very quickly. "1. Make your own, free saved game server and alter the application code to use it" is almost exactly what will happen, as Michel above me also says. I'm shocked to hear Vogel say this absolutely won't happen. I'm a novice programmer, but I seriously doubt it would take much time or effort at all, and this will probably be the easiest and most reliable method of circumvention. Basically slip something between the game and the local "server" where the games will be saved, and trick the game into thinking it's the official server.

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  94. Here's food for thought about Piracy. Long but excellent:

    http://www.tweakguides.com/Piracy_1.html

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  95. Here's another possible failure mode of this DRM scheme. Given the high percentage of Windows installations that is infected with some kind of spyware/botnet, and the fact that botnet operators will try to make money out of any illegal activity they can, it is possible that they will start selling keys that were stolen from legitimate users. This would give the software company 2 options: blocking legitimate users or allowing multiple users to use the same key...

    I'm not saying this will necessarily happen with this particular title; the amount of money that can be made out of selling stolen keys for just one game might not justify the effort of deploying the malware that steals the keys. But if this DRM scheme finds wider adoptation, it's bound to happen some day, and then it will come crashing down.

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  96. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  97. Then don't play the game, don't buy the game, and better yet don't buy anything from UBISOFT again!
    Its obvious they hate their customers, so screw them.
    Let their company rot in hell.

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  98. Let's all agree that Anti-Piracy mechanisms, although very effective in shunning some people from waiting for pirated copies, it is not full proof and is basically just a waste of company time and cost. Movie, Music & Video Game sales are higher than ever before, but all of these companies say that piracy is the problem when the revenues go down. This is not even remotely the case. The problems with declining sales has a great, GREAT deal to do with society. Society buys/sells/etc based on: taste and our own personal income. Tastes change.

    A certain type of movie, band or video game is not going to always generate the same amount of capital for businesses. Whether or not the economy and it's citizens' tastes have changed and whether the companies and the products they are creating and releasing keep up with the demand for these changes, that is the majority of shape for business revenue.

    That said, this crack is not severely easy, but then again, it could take 1 cracker a month or less to do this, provided he's got I/O scans running all the time, executing the game and looking for some hooks. When a crack is released, is the revenue gained from the crack taking so long (ie: gaining the 'lost' (don't make me laugh) revenue from not having it cracked soon) going to surpass how much time/money that the company has invested SOLELY in creating this inadequate DRM, when they could have invested all of their time, energy and money in creating a BETTER GAME!!!

    Let's lose all of the resources spent on preventing this so called loss of revenue from pirating and spend more of it on making better games, movies and music. How about that, industry?

    /Rant, Done... LoL

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  99. "but it will hold them long enough for the game to get its sales"

    I don't fully understand this. If a pirate is going to steal the game because they don't want to pay for it...why then would they pay for it just because they can't get it right away?

    Pirate:
    "Oh man I want to play this game, but it's going to take a week or two for it to get cracked. I guess I'll just buy it instead."

    I just don't see it. It's going to make the same amount of money as it would have if it was cracked on day 1 or before...unless I'm just blind and pirates are really -that- stupid and inconsistant.

    And if I'm right and it's not going to sell any better (even though I'm sure Ubisoft will toot its own horn about how much more money they made by thwarting the pirates), it'll probably do even worse because of people being so upset about the idiotic DRM system...which then just leads MORE people to pirating.

    I'll never understand either side of this conflict...nobody is winning.

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  100. I disagree with this notion that "for DRM to work, it only has to hold pirates off during the hot sales period". I've yet to see convincing proof that holding off the pirates leads to a huge spike in sales. Pirates do what they do because they either don't want to pay or want to sample before paying. Neither of those are addressed by the game being unavailable on Bittorrent for a while. If pirates are blocked for two months, the poor teenagers just wait it out, and the ones who want to sample it first will not risk throwing down $60.

    DRM has no positive effect on sales. It only hurts sales. It is sad that when Ubisoft (or anyone else) runs a DRM experiment, they remove DRM from a game no one cares about or likes. Ubisoft should release AC2 with no DRM to have a definitive answer.

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  101. I have no problem with this, and here is why;

    1) This has happened because people steal - sucks that the rest of us have to suffer but companies deserve to be paid for what they create.

    2) This is no different than playing an MMO - when they go down, yes it sucks, but is it really the end of the world to have to do something else (or play another game)?

    3)People love to over-react, especially the online community. This experiment might fail OR things might get worse where ALL single player games end up with the same client/server model as MMO's.

    4) The game company has the right to do whatever the hell they like. It may or may not impact their business model, but it's their call. As consumers we have the right to reject their DRM and not buy the game. Don't complain just vote with your money.

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  102. I'll just note that, after much kicking and screaming, the music industry has decided the best course is to drop DRM entirely. I can buy a high-quality, unprotected copy of most anything from iTunes and/or Amazon, including stuff that's out of print on CD. It's great.

    And this in spite of the fact that music is far easier, faster, and safer (no viruses) to pirate than PC games.

    Worth thinking about, no?

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  103. I certainly do sympathize with Ubisoft with regard to trying to stop people from stealing their work. Having said that, I will not be buying Assassin's Creed 2.. and this anti-piracy system is the reason.

    I do not have a 24/7/365 100% reliable internet connection everywhere I take my computer (which is almost everywhere). Until such a thing exists, there is no way in hell I'll buy a SINGLE PLAYER game that requires it.

    I mostly agree with your post, but:
    "Oh, and by the way, people accept their game needing a constant internet connection all the time. WoW. CounterStrike. Team Fortress. So saying people won't accept it for single player games is a bit of a stretch. They'll get used to it soon enough."

    I completely disagree here - a net connection is REQUIRED in order to play multiplayer games by the nature of these games. For a single player game, a net connection is NOT REQUIRED, and is not at all acceptable.

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  104. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (PC version) holds the record for length of time uncracked (422 days). It didn't exactly set the world alight with spectacular sales, the DRM driver crashed some PCs, and the protection system (Starforce) was subsequently dropped by most major publishers.

    Just correcting some errors in previous comments: DRM checks are routinely sprinkled throughout the program, it is not just at one point any more. Having the Xbox 360 version does not help crackers of the PC version as the xbox game code is completely different and encrypted.

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  105. I think sales will suffer - but it will have less to do with DRM, 'Nerdrage' or anything like that. It's simply this, " Why would anyone get this game on PC?" It is so much more suited to the console. I myself have it on PS3 and it looks and runs great. Also, given the system requirements required to run the game, anyone who can afford a PC to run it and look half reasonable, could surely afford either a PS3 or Xbox 360, couldn't they? And if it's a rubbish port that'll just make the situation worse, plus the game is old news now isn't (taking soooo long to get it out on PC always makes me think of the news story about how the Playstation 2 - YES, 2! - just officialY launched in a South American country last year - YES, LAST YEAR!). Their draconian system may very well be perceived by Ubi as having 'succeeded' because so few will bother getting it, having already played in on a console.

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  106. Can't say I like the online DRM much either, and it is a problem for people w/o internet (both of them), but there's no way around the fact that piracy and torrenting games in the hundred of thousands have led to this. Lay this at the feet of each individual who downloaded a game instead of buying it. If he never intended to buy it, he should not have downloaded it.

    Good article. Glad there are people who don't go from disliking DRm to full blown nerd rage.

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  107. Neither Counterstrike nor Team Fortress 2 (assume you mean 2) require an internet connection. You can use Steam's offline mode and play it as a LAN game, I believe.

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  108. iRacing.com requires and internet connection, even if you just want to do laps around a track all by yourself.

    And it's a subscription service, not a one off payment.

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  109. this is a single player game.... MMORPGs already require constant network connection. third-party clone servers can't change state on primary ones, so game companies run their own systems and player prestige for those environments increases.

    rather than the software program being the good/service, the account itself is the entity of value. it may be cancelled/blocked by the game purveyor, played/sold/traded by the user. in playing each character account changes state, and thus its value. so new accounts are of nearly zero value when accounts are free to create, and by playing them each augments the game's total value and marketplace. over unlimited time an evolving game value has nearly infinite potential value, whereas one with a software program as the commodity has an approximate maximum profit potential of total game player population (max. total world pop.) times greatest *single, one-time* price market can bear. even for the most popular game in the world, profit is marginal and limited without game state, evolution and multiple players.

    games that are the same each time you start playing them have shorter half lives... consumers should be allowed to sell/trade these if the software disc is the commodity. however no mechanism for ensuring it is not copied exists that is effective.... rather than maintaining the identity of the software program, with a central server the user account can be its own identity, not able to be copied/cloned but only transferred by the holder or blocked by the purveyor.

    notice SaaS (software as a service) providers do not need to use serial numbers for tracking users, the program and its installation are readily available to all. sharing an account compromises the user who shares it and its contents, but not the profit or integrity of the purveyor or other accounts. indeed by providing great value to all its users, services can sometimes cover their costs of operation with premier subscription features/accounts. this is strategic if possible since the application gains more exposure and potential customers may trial its use. free accounts are not expected to provide unlimited usage, necessarily be permanent, or offer the complete feature set, but do show users first-hand how the application functions.

    in terms of single player games without state, which are networked and managed in order to limit unpurchased usage, the effort and expense may outweigh the benefits. for popular releases it is expected that some users will try to construct a local server, reverse engineering the calls necessary, and perhaps share this with others. rather than prevent unauthorized play the purveyor is increasing the barrier to its entry and limiting its ability to notice what does occur. more piracy than previously may even occur, but the organization will not be prepared to notice.... in fact it will be prepared NOT to notice it - maybe that's even their subconscious goal! :)

    for really daring game purveyors I think even the server code could be released. those systems which are official will be highly contested and not likely any more subject to compromise by the release of the codebase upon which they run. perhaps a delayed release if there is some concern in that regard.

    thus a community of game servers emerges, widening the web of learning in which the organization involves itself in ongoing production of game evolution. reporting bugs and responding to changes from a greater pool of users than the organizations' own primary servers, minimizing the need to run their own test release servers and garner usage of them.

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  110. Just crack it like this:

    Log the protocol (which will be decrypted, because any key to encrypt it would have to be stored on your system), and then make a loopback to a small program that runs in the background and stores and returns the incoming BLOBs. No need for a central server.

    And this wouldn’t be the first time. Windows (since XP) has something that checks the server. Well, some weeks later, you could find screenshots on the net, showing MS’s own tool saying that Ubuntu is “Genuine Microsoft Windows XP(tm)”. ^^

    Also, the logic that it would make sense to hold off the crackers long enough to make sales, does not make any sense at all.
    Because the reason people don’t buy it, is NOT that they do not want to buy it. It’s that they do not want to buy it AT THAT PRICE. Period.
    Holding it off, is not going to change anything. People will just wait.
    Just like we did with DVDs, before people started to film them off of cinemas, or just like we still do, when we prefer high-quality rips.

    What a bunch or real retards.

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  111. To P. Scott: Like I've said twice before, you have totally missed the fact that piracy is immoral and illegal. These are not just arguments, they are burdens carried by pirates. They are factors in how you view the quality of the software. You don't even factor them in when you compare the pirated to the purchased software because you are an immoral person who literally thinks nothing of this kind of theft. Therefore, in your opinion, the pirated version without DRM is better. I do factor in the morality and legality of piracy, which leads me to the opposite conclusion; that the legally purchased copy is superior. When I get legal software, which allows me to sleep at night knowing I'm not a criminal and won't get a surprise lawsuit one day. Again, you lack guilty conscience for your theft because you don't care about property rights and for whatever reason you don't fear a lawsuit.

    And your Copyright argument is self defeating.

    Copyrighter: Isn't this great, I have the sole right to publish AND/OR sell this intellectual property I created.

    Pirates: Well, I'm going to get a copy and then distribute it for free to anyone, including possible paying customers, that I feel like. Just for the challenge... Problem?

    Copyrighter: You're violating my rights to be the sole entity to publish, sell, copy, give away, burn, etc... what I own.

    Pirates: But you can still publish the game.

    Copyrighter: But now I'm not the SOLE person doing it!

    Pirates: Problem? [trollface]

    Copyrighter: FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU......

    It's a Copyright violation, which deprives the Copyright owner of his right to be the SOLE person publishing and selling the product. I don't know how I can make this any simpler to you.

    To Steven: I've promised nothing. And I never made any claim that games would be any better or worse if there were no pirates. I do know this; if there were no pirates, the game makers would be more fairly compensated for their work.

    And you purchased some bad games in your lifetime... aw... poor baby. What a non-response to the whole issue of piracy...

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  112. The sad part is that this will be pirated just like any other draconian DRM scheme before it... and the pirate version will be able to run offline while the legit version will continue to punish the honest consumers...

    What they need to realize is that these mad schemes to thwart piracy, as they get increasingly more aggressive, hurt the company image and this will eventually have a more negative effect on sales than even piracy does... There's a clear catch 22 here... the harder your wall is to crack, the more people will be bent on cracking it... until inevitably one succeeds...

    Up until now, I've only seen one DRM scheme that works... I say 'works' not in the sense that the game it protects is unpirateable, but in the sense that it generates no inconvenience for legit players, and does offer some protection. It's the copy protection system found in ArmA 2 from Bohemia Interactive... It's called FADE... what happens is that, if the game's self checking mechanism is tripped by a cracking attempt, the system is activated... and what happens? (here is the genius part) nothing!!

    so, what happens next is that mr. hacker, feeling good about his l33t hax0rz skills, goes ahead and posts his torrent for everyone to download... not knowing that FADE has been activated.

    The torrent game is fully playable... until after a few weeks, when gameplay starts to degrade... not in a technical way, as crashes and hangs... but in a funnier way that will affect the player AND mr. hacker.. After a few weeks the player can't shoot straight anymore, can't walk in a straight line, and things start to get weird altogether until the game in completely unplayable... the gamer then, is frustrated by his downloaded copy, and the hacker's reputation is now tainted by a bad upload...

    So what happened is what mr. l33t hax0r managed to crack was but a decoy copy protection, that without his knowledge set off FADE, and the hacker has no way of knowing he set it off because the game gives no indication that it's activated until it's already up and being downloaded by the thousands...

    This gets even better when you realize that FADE never manifests itself in quite the same way every time... some players get black screens, some cannot shoot straight and some can't keep their characters standing up...

    And what happens when your game is behaving weirdly? what's the first thing you do? you rush to the official forum to tell all about it, and let the community know you've got the 'unofficial' version of the game, and get bashed by the forum goers for your actions.

    Of course, this is by no means infallible, but given that any successful cracking effort will inevitably take weeks to happen, because the effects of a bad crack won't show themselves until then, the legit game has months of safe time to get sold. And the pirate consumers are having such a hard time with their slowly malfunctioning copies that many are giving up on pirating and buying the game, now that they had a taste of it.

    This is the most brilliant DRM system I've ever seen, and the reason it works is because their creators decided to outsmart the hackers in their own game, using brain instead of brawn... and brains is something that seems to be missing in a big part of the industry these days.

    Cheers

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  113. @Harvester: that is not a brilliant DRM, it's downright stupid. How does the cracked program know that weeks have passed after the cracking attempt? I bet the system's clock, so you'll just reset that. Or the hackers, once they know about it, will disable that check. Poof.

    Besides, making the game play worse is a very, very dangerous approach. I only want to remind you about The Settlers 3 whose weapon factories (or something like that) started producing pigs after a few hours of playing the game when it detected that the game was cracked. However, this happened to legit users as well, and i can't see how FADE is protected against this.

    It may be something stupid like a virus that hooked into the program, or the user trying to save some disk space so he ran an EXE compression utility on his hard drive. In both cases the game should still work, but that would trigger the copy protection.

    Now if those users flood the forums, they will be accused of being pirates. And nothing hurts a developer's credibility more than flagging legit users as pirates.

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  114. @steffenj: I didn't make the system, so I really don't know how it does what it does, but as a regular on Bohemia's forums, I have never seen anyone be able to delay the decay by resetting the clock... Not all time-bomb systems can be tricked by resetting the clock.

    Also, even if the crackers do disable FADE, they won't know if it worked until weeks later, which would make cracking it a painfully slow process.

    And it's rare to see someone with a legitimate copy having FADE activated... usually the guy himself made some attempt at modding the core files... and it is reversible if you contact the publisher and report it. It also helps that the ArmA community is very mature and doesn't go about abusing people that are reporting FADE issues, the threads I've seen about it have mostly been very civilized. Although I reckon that less civilized communities would probably lash out on the 'pirates' on sight.

    I've read up some more on the FADE system, and it seems it will only trip if you try to disable the first layer of copy protection, which is a standard serial key system.

    This is the Codemasters article on FADE: http://www.codemasters.com/news/?showarticle=500

    Codemasters created the system for Bohemia's Operation Flashpoint, but apparently Bohemia retained it after they broke their publishing deal with CM.

    Anyways, I'm not saying FADE is perfect... everything has it's flaws... I said it's the BEST system I've ever seen, compared to the other alternatives out there...

    Cheers

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  115. Continued: As a personal opinion, I believe that DRM or no, the rate of piracy will likely remain the same for any given software release... there are those who are willing to pay for games, and some who are not, and resort to piracy... but I find it very unlikely that anyone being utterly denied of playing a pirated copy will give up and just buy the legit copy.

    That's why I thought FADE was worth mentioning, because it's AFAIK the only system that will let the pirate play and get a taste of the game (for a while), potentially driving some to a legit purchase.

    I believe this so-called 'loss of revenue' due to piracy is an illusion... there may be people playing illegal copies out there, but had they been denied that they would be simply NOT playing --and NOT paying, so an aggressive DRM system like Ubi is doing will only result in one thing, which is making potential legitimate consumers angry and turning them down from the game as well.

    Cheers

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  116. Sandra comes close with the idea of saving the game's state variables, but relies on the assumption that the coded format the game sends to the server and the format it gets back are the same.

    It could instead look like this:
    Client[Game State -> coded format A]
    -> Server[coded format A -> coded format B]
    -> Client[coded format B -> Game State]

    The function to load coded format A into a Game State does not need to exist in the client.

    But, there is a more primitive way to get around this. First you'll need to disable the code that resets the game when it can't successfully communicate with the server (non-trivial, but required for anything but fake-server solutions)

    Then have a utility that dumps the complete memory image of the game to disc, and restores it to memory when needed.

    That gives you basic save-load with no reverse-engineering of the format, although at the cost of hideously-large save files and no ability to recover from game glitches that started prior to your last save.

    Although not as satisfactory as creating a fake server, it's probably easier to roll-out within the first weeks after the game's launch.

    Countermeasures could include the game keeping track of the system state (like its clock) so it can detect when it's been "woken," or fancy memory re-jiggering that makes it hard to consistently save & restore the right blocks. I doubt they've gone to these lengths, but I could be mistaken.

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  117. I cannot remember what game it was, but some company used the protection mechanism that caused the game to crash at a point in the game. The company got what it wanted: pirates flooded the forums and complained about the crash. It was easy to see who pirated the game. The problem? Tons of legitimate customers decided not to buy the game until the supposed issue was patched. The company took a massive PR hit.

    Piracy is not stealing. Making a copy is not the same as physically lifting the original. It is certainly an unethical practice, but call it what it is: infringement. If someone assaults me on the street, I cannot take him to court on charges of murder. Calling piracy "stealing" is a weak attempt to give the act added moral sting, but all it does is demonstrate how little you understand the dynamics of what is taking place.

    The ones who do well are the ones who focus on the customers and ignore the pirates. Not everyone in the world is a freeloading cheapskate. Implying that they are means your stuff deserves to be pirated. I do not approve of piracy at all, but the corporate response to piracy has been, by and large, inappropriate.

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  118. I've written a follow-up post that I will post in a couple of days, but I just posted a squib from it in Edit 3, above. I think it is a conclusive rejoinder to the "Oh, the constant-net-connection system can be cracked easily" crowd.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  119. I am sorry. But why would you need to build a savegame server to replace the one Ubisoft has, if you wanted to pirate the game? Game crackers already change code of the games.

    Simply replace the calls that send state to the server, with code that saves to a file. And the opposite for the one that retrieves it. And the check for connection you hardcode to always return true.

    Sure it is not exactly that simple in real life. But I'd bet it would be a lot simpler than reimplementing their server. Although that approach has the advantage that you don't have to modify the game.

    Either way it will be done. And it will be another example of the cracked game being a lot more friendly to the gamer than to one you can buy in a store.

    If DRM is ever going to really succeed it needs to be the other way around. And so far the music business has proven that getting there is really hard.

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  120. While I agree with you in principle that software can be made impractical to crack, the argument made in said squib (Edit 3) isn't actually that compelling.

    In the situation that you describe, a hacker could make guesses at the needed values and scripts (a lengthy process in itself, to be sure), and have a perfectly-smoothly operating game - just with modified parameters.

    In fact, this tactic would hand a successful hack full control to modify game behaviour at no added cost. It wouldn't be the game as-sold in stores, but the ability to fully modify item/character stats and abilities might be enough of an incentive in itself.

    Of course you can encrypt and sign and check the game values six ways from Sunday, but that does not in principle grant any more security than authentication not based upon game data.

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  121. This. Would. Work.

    It would also cost. Lots. Of. Money.

    So Ubisoft wants to take on all (well, most) of the cost of running an MMO, with none of the tasty subscription fees? *And* further degrade the player's experience with latency? Unlikely.

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  122. Wow. Um.

    @DMG: "In the situation that you describe, a hacker could make guesses at the needed values and scripts (a lengthy process in itself, to be sure), and have a perfectly-smoothly operating game - just with modified parameters."

    First off, a lengthy process is all you need for your DRM to count.

    Second, you much think that game designers are incredibly useless and superfluous creatures, since you can make a full and working game with rough "oh whatever" guesses for every value the game needs to, you know, work.

    @PKD: Lots of money? Latency? Nonsense. We're just talking about passing a few K of data back and forth. A few K of completely vital data. Though I'm sure Blizzard would love hearing how World of Warcraft's system is completely non-viable.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  123. Jeff:
    I "much" think no such thing - I AM a game designer, working for a studio based in Toronto. If you took my studio's current title and randomized all the character/item variables, you'd get strange behaviour for sure! But you could play it.

    If we implemented the system you describe, I'd expect it would take a good hacker a matter of hours at best to figure out the right data types/encoding, and then a few more to get the critical values into playable ranges (really only the masses need to be right, to prevent unplayable physics. Most other game variables can be off by an order of magnitude or two and give merely strange results).

    So, I wouldn't expect this to add more than a day or two's work total to get basic playability. This is added onto the much lengthier process of decrypting the game's communications and faking the necessary signatures. It adds time, to be sure, but it's not a quantum leap in security.

    Given the low added time-to-crack over ordinary authentication techniques, the fact that it exposes the game's vitals to easy tweaking, and the increased server-side bandwidth requirments, I think it's unlikely to come out to a net benefit.

    I also don't feel your hostility toward other viewpoints is warranted here. As I said, I agree with your point about DRM, I'm just suggesting that you're using a weak example to make it - and PKD confirms that. Your argument would be stronger if you addressed this hole, and thankfully you have time to do so before you post your next article.

    I hope you do, because you have a good point to make. Best of luck!

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  124. 1KB/s * 100,000 peak users = oh crap we need to lease some big pipes.

    World of Warcraft runs nicely (queues and scheduled downtime aside) because Blizzard has *massive* global infrastructure. That consists of hardware, bandwidth, and staff to keep it all running.

    You could literally turn every game into an MMO and shut out piracy entirely. Would the theoretical extra sales outweigh the additional cost? Not even Ubisoft is making quite that big of a gamble yet. And I think it's one they'd lose.

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  125. @DMG: Sorry for being touchy. After the first thousand or so people calling me an idiot, I get a bit punchy. :-)

    But we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Batman: Arkham Asylum became unplayable because they made one variable in the fake leaked version (jump distance) too low. I don't think they'd be able to make a proper fake game in little enough time to count. When someone adopts this system (if Assassin's Creed 2 doesn't already), reality will prove which one of us is right.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  126. I haven't played the first one, so I'm not likely to be one of their clients.

    I still feel sad for those who will legally get the game.

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  127. I have one question. What happens when the game stops being profitable? Will the server close and everybody, who payed for the game, will have a legit but totally unplayable game?
    Lets say than in the end of 2010 Ubisoft decides that the server costs more money than they got from the game and announces that in 1-2 months the server will be shut down. It happened before with various music services which closed shop and many legit users who payed money for the songs they bought and now have only useless DRM protected files.
    The main issue with this kind of DRM is that the companies assume that they own your copy of the game/music/etc and they can disable your right to use it for any reason they want.

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  128. @DMG: That "strange behavior" you're talking about is why the game would be unplayable - or, in economic terms, the cost of playing the pirated version would far outweigh the cost of playing the paid-for version. Jeff's right on that point. Whether the person playing the pirated game would even advance far enough into the game for that to matter is a different story. In my experience, a lot of people who download pirated versions of games tend to attach very little value to those games, and hence devote very little effort into their completion.

    @Michael: I'm glad there's at least one other person on here who is calling piracy what it is. The entitlement mentality is exactly what drives this line of thought. It's a childish attitude, no matter how it's spun. You can wrap it up and paint it in pretty colors (such as this particular packaging: I'm the consumer, cater to me), but that's what it is.

    It's telling that so many of those who are defending piracy try to say that it's not stealing, because no physical (or digital) product has been taken from the consumer. They completely overlook (intentionally, I'd wager) the fact that the product is being stolen directly from the producer.

    The car analogy that's been used would be better packaged in this way...

    A pirate steals a shipment of Toyota Corolla's from Toyota's manufacturing plant. He then sets up shop on a street corner with the Corolla's, sets up a sign that says, "stolen Toyota Corolla's For Sale," and allows anyone who comes by to drive away in one for $100 (in the digital age of piracy, he'd just give them away for free).

    This example better demonstrates who the primary victim of piracy is: the producer. This example also illustrates why governments in the past have gone after piracy so hard when it existed (and when they finally got their act together): piracy, when it grows beyond its humble beginnings, threatens to cripple the capacity of a group/tribe/nation to create new things, which is a requirement for a group of people to thrive. That modern-day piracy, which threatens the entertainment industry disproportionately as compared to other industries, has thrived is partly due to the fact that it mainly impacts what many consider a non-vital element of society - entertainment.

    This example also illustrates that when you (the consumer) purchase/download/acquire a pirated copy of a game, you are (regardless of whether you own the original product or not) are contributing to the pirates’ existence. Whether this is in the tangible form of money, as in the example above, or in the intangible form of fame/prestige/ego, you are saying, “yes, I want you to pirate more games,” just as when you buy a company’s product, you are saying, “yes, I want you to create more games.” To those who say that pirates do what they do, “just for kicks,” I’d ask: why do they post the pirated game to the internet? An individual who “pirated” a game just to prove that they could do it, or who was trying to do it for fun, would have little to no incentive to put their pirated version up on the internet – at least, not if that was their only goal, and they had some sort of moral center. Instead, for many it’s an ego trip of sorts, a “look what I did!” mentality just as entitled and self-centered as the consumer attitude that perpetuates it.

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  129. @ sleepysheep26117 Sorry but the Corolla analogy is a bit wrong. The correct analogy would be that the pirate gets a original Corolla and copies every part of it plus/minus the parts he doesn't like and then distributes the result as a "copy of a Corolla". You describe a thief who enters a warehouse, steals a shipment of something and sells it for profit.
    Copyright is an invention of the last century in order to maximize profit. If you read history you will see that technology and the dispersion of knowledge was a result of continuous "copying". Good ideas in the ancient world ware copied and improved costantly. Thank God that the invension of the fire was before the invention of copyright :)
    The copyright of non esensial items like songs or games isn't important. Try to think copyright in thinks you need to survive like food and medicine and you will find that the "copyright" sometimes is legal but not ethical.

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  130. To The Buzz Saw: I see your point, but while piracy doesn't take away a physical product, it does cripple the Copyright owner's capacity to turn a profit. Theft of product vs. theft of money. I don't see the huge difference in character between these crimes that one would see between your assault/rape example. Even if I conceded that piracy isn't theft at all, but infringement only instead, all my other points would still be the same.

    To Sleepysheep: In light of the above comment you're correct, but your analogy needs some work as well. Toyota would have an infinite supply of Corollas, and your theft/selling of your stolen goods would deny part of the market for Toyota. Same with pirated games. Because so few people get a pirated game and then go out to purchase the real thing, a pirated copy corrupts part of the market for the game maker.

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  131. @Nikos: Good point on the analogy. I actually laughed when I read what you said (as far as improving the analogy), because it brought to mind what's happening in China today in the car industry. The Chinese have been stealing foreign car designs and copying them, plus/minus the parts they don't like, and then selling them as a copy of the original.

    Anyways, back on topic. Your spot-on critique of my analogy doesn't make it right to pirate software/music/anything. I'm also unclear as to your disgruntlement with game/music companies selling their games/music for a profit. If they weren't able to do that, then why make them? Those guys/gals have to eat too.

    Your comment on copyright's history is incorrect. You can trace copyright's history back at least two centuries, if not more (depending on what you want to call "copyright law"). As for your comment on continuous copying, it is the "improved upon" part that matters the most. Pirates rarely, if ever, improve upon the original product (aside from removing the DRM, which, while it is an "improvement" in performance, is not the primary intent of the pirate in most cases). There are certainly things that no one should be able to copyright (fire being one of them :) ), but games, music, works of art, and literature would not fall into that category. There is an investment of time and creative activity that, while not quantifiable in a physical sense (such as the production of a car), requires a return on the investment of said time and effort for it to continue. While games and music are not necessary for survival, they are necessary for someone's survival (that is, the people who make them).

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  132. "This. Would. Work."
    Developers may go even further - to execute some of the scripts on the server. But like someone mentiond - it would be like having mmo infrastructure for single player game. And even this does not ensure that scripts will not be leaked.
    But for delaying hackers - general purpose authentication methods are quite enough. Just encrypt a lot of game assets with public key encryption keys and make server to provide the corresponding key by demand and different for every customer.
    Hacker will have to monitor traffic and catch the keys, then dump decrypted assets and recreate decompressed game.
    The same security, no latency because of data amounts, it doesn't make sense to create emulation server.
    But then again - there's nothing revolutionary here, measures just to slow down hackers a bit.

    Imho, software developers better would research how to provide added values for legal games. For mmo's - it's infrastructure which hackers and people can not afford. For single player games - maybe some additional streamed material from servers which could be updated constantly. Maybe something else - it's up to developers to research. Basicly i'm advocating to fight piracy the "avatar" movie way (it's just not worth to see pirated version). To create something which is possible, but not worth to play offline. I.e. to reward people who purchased the legal version and not other way around.

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  133. In short... you're dumb.

    An "Internet" connection in the end only boils down to a connection to a file. A computer can never really know if said file is really "remote" or not. By what you've described, it should be relatively straightforward to redirect wherever it is the outbound AC traffic is heading back to your own computer, which can then emulate whatever it is Ubisoft does with their real servers.

    In short, it is a very straightforward exercise to make AC2 playable offline. Whether or not that will happen... just given past history, and given this game is popular enough... I would wager it will happen, and it won't take very long either....

    You're WoW comparison is absurd... the only "online" part of AC which would need to be "emulated" would be the saved games... which could easily be done with 100% accuracy. WoW requires emulation of an online community, which is why it doesn't work for WoW.

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  134. @sleepysheep26117 -- Wrong. So very wrong. I'll take your bet: let piracy be made legal, and let's see if the entertainment industry tanks. So many people like to assume that if people stop getting paid, art will just vanish from the earth. The only art that will go away is the industry garbage that is marketed to death to where it is impossible NOT to know about it. It takes nothing into account regarding quality. It's just the corporate giants trying to rake in more money without a care for the customer's experience.



    @Michael -- Piracy does not "cripple" anyone. I guarantee it. Even if it were possible to stop piracy, doing so would result in the same (if not fewer) sales. I can name multiple instances where piracy turned people (myself included) into paying customers.

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  135. The edit #3 is hilarious. I only tolerate that degree of protection when it comes to anti-cheating measures (such as in closed Battle.net for Diablo II). If I am playing offline, single player, or a LAN session, I better have all the assets on my machine. Otherwise, I won't be buying the game in the first place.

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  136. Just wanted to go ahead and say you're a fucking idiot if you think this article makes any sense at all. Complete fail!

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  137. @Michael -- Wow, you are such a dense idiot.

    People can evaluate things in many ways. They can do an overall evaluation. They can do an evaluation on a subset of the overall (i.e. they can evaluate the "production values" of a product, but not the overall product).

    The point many people have been making, but that Michael has repeatedly failed to understand, is that people are not making "overall" evaluations with regard to pirated vs original versions of games in their arguments. If they were, then their actions would reflect their statements (however, clearly most of the people arguing against Michael have denied pirating anything. Whether or not this is true is not the basis of the argument). So, from the perspective of technical quality, I view a pirated version of game to be of superior quality than that of the original game. However, giving such game an overall evaluation, clearly the pirated version is illegal, which makes it worse 'overall' than the retail copy, even though 'technically' the pirated copy is superior. However, like most people, when making a decision, we go with the 'overall' evaluation. So, what do we do? We don't buy the game, but we don't pirate it either. We just boycott the game altogether.

    I have never "pirated", or obtained an illegitmate copy of, a game in my life. However, I have circumvented DRM schemes in the games I have legally bought, because of the restrictions they place on my product. According to Copyright law, this would be an infringment. But yet, how does circumventing a DRM scheme really infringe on someone's copyright? Clearly, the laws are not without flaws.

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  138. To The Buzz Saw: I never said that art would go away. I did say that infringement crippled a Copyright holder's profit making ability. Who should I believe when judging your analysis? You, who provides no evidence except the personal and vaguely anecdotal? No thanks. I'll take the publisher's opposing viewpoint, because they are the one's spending the money to try to protect their products from the very thing you say isn't a threat.

    To Jon: I am in agreement with you that the pirated versions of games have superior qualities to paid versions with DRM. They are free, don't need a CD to run, etc... But my original argument still stands untouched. The only kinds of people who neglect the issue of legality when making an overall evaluation (and subsequently downloading a pirated copy of a game) are immoral.

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  139. Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

    Buy Research Papers

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  140. Saying that not putting DRM in your game results in more sales is ludicrous. Stardock is probably the most vocal developer in their desire to not include DRM in their games and their game, Demigod, got hit hard by pirates with 80% or more of the people on their servers having pirated versions of the game.

    So yes, this Ubisoft DRM is a pain, but does anyone have a better idea to keep the pirates out?

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  141. There's something I don't understand about this DRM: it's there to stop Ubisoft from losing revenue by preventing piracy.
    Yet on the other hand, with this DRM Ubisoft makes it impossible for honest customers to buy the game because of not having a stable enough connection or (like me) feeling that it ruins the gameplay because you're in constant fear that your (or Ubisoft's) connection will cut out.

    So, in other words:

    DRM -->> should increase revenue by preventing piracy

    but also:

    DRM -->> decreases revenue by making it impossible for well-willing customers to buy it.

    so then my brain thinks:

    WARNING!! DOES NOT COMPUTE!!

    I mean, really. Who ever came up with this idea?

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  142. @Michael: Wow, I'm surprised I made progress with you. However, let's examine the claim that the original argument remains untouched. This argument, which if I recall correctly, was made on February 26, 2010 at 8:38 AM.

    In it, you said, "The illegal version is the one he wants because he perceives it as better. He only thinks this because he has no moral qualms with piracy. A person interested in the rule of law, copyright protection, and profitability of the companies which make the games would never say the free illegal version is 'better'."

    However, given my explanation on different valuations (some 'overall', some not), I can say that the one I would want *from a matter of technical quality* would be the pirated version as well. However, since I cannot obtain that version without pirating it, I do not obtain it. However, I still offhandedly refer to the pirated version as "better" even though I would never get it -- why would that be? It's not because I clearly view the pirated version as superior (otherwise I *would* get it), but because everyone around me (except you) understands that I'm implicitly referring to the technical quality of the game.

    That's what everyone here has been trying to argue you with. I have no idea if the people positing arguments against you are pirates or not -- but for most of them (at least early on.... later on you somehow get people to argue you on the merits/demerits of piracy in general), they were trying to explain the exact thing I just did.

    Thus, the conversation you provided is farcical:
    "What UBI is doing is wrong!"
    "Why?"
    "Because it makes legitimate game purchasers suffer."
    "Do you have a constant internet connection?"
    "Yes."
    "Then what's the problem?"
    "The problem is that the eventual free (illegal) version will be better than the paid."

    Yes, that is my problem with the game. Generally speaking, I always have a constant internet connection. However, there are times when I don't, and often these times are when I would specifically want to play the game. Now, if the requirement for a constant IC were endemic to the game itself (as in WoW), a consumer such as myself isn't going to have the same type of problem -- of course you can't interact with an online community if you're not online.

    But when the IC requirement is NOT endemic to the game itself, it becomes a problem when the only reason why said IC requirement is there has absolutely no bearing on myself (an honest customer), and furthermore that there is a version out there which doesn't have these IC requirements. That causes me to be angry.

    Although I purchased the first Assassin's Creed for the PC, I can unequivocally state that, unless the IC requirement is cracked, I will not be buying AC2. If it does end up getting cracked and the solution itself works convienently enough, I will buy AC2 and apply the crack to my legally purchased copy (although I will likely wait for it at a heavily discounted price, instead of paying the usual $50 for a launch game). Now, I alluded to this point in my last post to which you somewhat surprisngly had no comment on.

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  143. A cool picture summarizing a lot of posts:
    http://images.bite.lt/banga/files/club/201002/4b8925f18e8e3.jpg

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  144. @Michael

    My "point" is that piracy is widespread inside the games industry, both in the US, the UK and Japan. It's part of the culture. People who write games also play others, in the same way that people who build cars drive others, both for the experience, and to see how others do it, pick up ideas, etc.

    So to then claim that only the piracy of your customers is bad, is hypocritical, and thus IMO, intellectually dishonest.

    As for Bernie Madoff, trust me on this, you don't want me to get financial on you, I can be very boring about that :)

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  145. To Jon: I don't see how you're missing this, but it is easily remedied. You're not a pirate, so my major point doesn't apply to you. And when pirates say that DRM is the cause of modern piracy when viewed in the light of a "technical evaluation" I think that that is more than a little disingenuous. Never forget that the pirated version of a game is often free AND that the piracy culture grew out of a non-DRM era. Pirates might say that they pirate because of some technical evaluation; I think they are making an economic evaluation. Either way, they aren't making a moral or legal evaluation, which makes them at best amoral scofflaws. Again, you don't pirate, so this doesn't apply to you. You make an overall evaluation, which precludes you from reaching the conclusion that pirates do, namely that the pirated version of a game is economically and technically better, so it is the one to get.

    And I was looking forward to reading about how my sample conversation was a farce, but instead I had to read 3 paragraphs explaining how correct and relevant it is.

    To Praxis: "So to then claim that only the piracy of your customers is bad, is hypocritical, and thus IMO, intellectually dishonest."

    Calling customers pirates is more than intellectually dishonest; it's an oxymoron. Moreover, I never made any such claim. Have I misunderstood you?

    And my Bernie Madoff comment was directed to a specific claim you made, that piracy should be a misdemeanor because some non-violent crimes are classified as misdemeanors. That's true. But lots of violent crimes are misdemeanors and lots of non-violent crimes are felonies, so your wish to decrease the penalty of Copyright infringement using this logic is flawed.

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  146. sorry to disappoint you or ubisoft, but the DRM has already been cracked, it makes the game save directly on the hard drive so, no need to nothing, ofcourse it is still in beta but the game isnt even out yet

    take a look at it if you dont believe me
    http://www.mediafire.com/?z3q22zqjmad

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  147. @Michael: Unfortunately, then, you fail to realize the farce of your "conversation"... let me spell it out for you then: from the conversation you provided, there is absolutely NO indication that two hypothetical people making such arguments are pirates. They could very well be people like me, who, like I said in my previous post, off-handedly refer to the pirated version as "better," even though we are implicitly only speaking from a technical perspective. But the implication you made was that two such hypothetical people were indeed pirates... how do you know that?

    So, to see you thinking people are "pirates" based on such a converation shows a true lack in making fair conclusions. In other words, you seem to be quite prejudicial, at least in these comments (the more and more pepole argue with you, the more your attitude seems to scale back however). But you cemented this rash rubric for the whole world to see when Hongman went and essentially made the same argument I did, although he didn't explain his rationale behind it, like I did. Do you personally know Hongman? Do you *know* for a fact that he is a pirate? If the answer is no to both questions, taking a tone that he is one (and, in your respone to Hongman, you DID have a tone like he was a pirate), then you should know what's causing so much ire to pop up against you in these comments. You've been on dangerously close grounds of baselessly accusing people to be pirates (and of course I'm not trying to say that Hongman et. al are NOT pirates -- I'm just trying to say that there is no evidence one way or the other, so I will be friendly and assume they are NOT. After all, innocent until proven guilty).

    None of the early commenters arguing against you were trying to argue that DRM justifies piracy: they were trying to explain that the pirated version is "better." Such a line of logic is not a good basis to suspect someone of being a "pirate." I hope now you see the problem with your comments.

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  148. @Robert -- The problem is that you view this 80% as a "hard hit". Stardock understands that catering to customers brings in more money than the war on piracy. These efforts to combat piracy don't "reduce loss" or bring in more money. Even if a DRM scheme could keep out pirates, sales won't magically increase as a result. Again, the issue is not whether piracy is right or wrong; the issue is what to do amid this startling reality. You look only at the 80% and see some kind of failure. I look at the actual sales of Stardock's games and see grand success. Funny how Sins of a Solar Empire sat at the top of the charts for a while despite having no DRM of any kind. Musta been a fluke...

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  149. To Jon: Once again... my fictional conversation is how I envision pirates to be, people who fail to make a moral or legal evaluations; people for whom an overall evaluation is only about the economics of getting free software and the technical nature of cracked games.

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  150. @Michael: Although I'll let you claim your fictional converstaion to be whatever you want, it still doesn't change the fact that you took the same tone against real-life commenters here (i.e. Hongman). Although, I'm surmising I'm writing this right now because you didn't read all of my previous post.

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  151. Silent Hunter 5, released yesterday with the same DRM scheme ("A PERMANENT INTERNET CONNECTION AND CREATION OF A UBISOFT ACCOUNT ARE REQUIRED TO PLAY THIS VIDEO GAME AT ALL TIMES") just got cracked. Check your favorite NFO site for confirmation.

    Assassin's Creed II is due out on Steam in about two hours. I'll start counting.

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  152. To Jon: Me, "The illegal version is the one he wants because he perceives it as better. He only thinks this because he has no moral qualms with piracy. A person interested in the rule of law, copyright protection, and profitability of the companies which make the games would never say the free illegal version is "better"."

    Hongman replies, "When a game that I purchase legitimately is harder and less convenient to run than a game I can pirate, then the pirated version is indeed better. Pirated games won't make me jump through hoops to play them."

    Me, "You just proved my point. You're not bothered by the fact that downloading a pirated copy of a game is not legal, doesn't protect the concept of copyrights, and fails to compensate the game makers. You're also not bothered by the threat of action against you in either criminal or civil courts."

    If Hongman was morally bothered by piracy, he would have included that as a cost in his overall evaluation. He didn't. You do. I don't see why you're coming to his defense here.

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  153. @Michael: Because, he never made mention of anything about an "overall" evalutaion. If I'm correct, Hongman (like me if I was offhandedly making remarks to someone) was *implicitly* talking about a technical evalution when he said "the pirated version is indeed better."

    I agree with him. The pirated version is indeed better... "from a techincal perspective."

    All I'm saying is that I would normally not bother to clarify the "from a technical perspective" part, and just assume the person I'm speaking with implicitly understands. Clearly, that would not work with you.

    We have no evidence that Hongman is or is not a pirate. But, as Hongman made no mention that he actually does pirate, I'm not going to use his remarks as evidence that he is one. If he had stated, "even considering the fact that it's illegal, I still think the pirated verson's better, and that's why I pirated the game" then I would not be arguing with you now. However, Hongman was only speaking from a technical perspective (never mentioning the legality aspect of it), and thus we should assume that his conclusions were from a technical perspective as well.

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  154. it's been cracked today and silent hunter 2 so much for your post jeff

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  155. To Jon: So you assumed "technical" and I assumed "overall." You're making a mountain out of a mole-hill.

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  156. Server side processing can stop piracy if done properly. I blogged about this recently:
    http://www.jfplayhouse.com/2010/02/server-side-processing-can-eliminate-pc.html

    The problem with the Ubisoft implementation is that the game isn't dependent enough on server data. It was just doing a lame server check and remote save. There's plenty of MMOs that haven't been cracked because too much data is processed on the server.

    Ubisoft's strategy was extremely risky and required at the very least an effective implementation. Going this route just made them a target and generated a ton of bad press. They need better programmers as well, this was cracked way too quickly.

    PC piracy is a huge problem and maybe they should just keep single player games on consoles until they come up with an effective solution.

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  157. @Buzzsaw

    The CEO of Stardock also said that his strategy won't work for every type of game, especially single-player games that have high budgets.

    He was also making statements about how you ignore pirates before his demigod servers were overloaded by them:
    http://www.pcgameshardware.com/aid,682161/Demigod-server-becomes-pirates-victim/News/

    When single player pc games have piracy rates of over 80% you can't expect publishers to look the other way. They'll just dump money into more MMOs. You can expect more delayed multiplats for the pc as well.

    I'm actually surprised that the pc gets as many games as it does. Not only does it have a piracy problem but it also has a problem with people making excuses for parasites as seen in this thread. Too many pc gamers think it is their right to download games and just spend money on hardware.

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  158. Sounds like it was cracked in one day!

    http://www.infoaddict.com/ubisofts-new-drm-cracked-in-under-25-hours

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  159. I know it's obvious, but it should be emphasized how BAD of an idea this was for Ubisoft to try and pull off, particularly with this game, at this point in time.
    Regardless of what people will try to tell you, there's still a good chunk of the world out there that doesn't have internet, or at the very least doesn't have a reliable connection. I was one of those PC gamers in my early high school years, and it was painful enough without having single player games that would cut off in tandem with your internet. Also, Assassin's Creed 2? Trying a system like this out on a game that is genuinely better than it's successor hampers it's potential for financial gain. Now, I have no doubt that a lot of people who WOULD have bought this title will just snicker and give Ubisoft the finger. Just wave goodbye to that money, Ubisoft. No one is going to want to give it to you now, anyway.

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  160. Yes, for all those interested, it was cracked in one, single day, by Skid-Row. It's funny how Ubisoft released a statement saying that the crack is false, merely because players do not have the full game without a constant internet connection. However, they also testified against themselves merely a week ago saying that in the future, if servers go down and users need to play the game, then a patch could be released allowing users to play without an internet connection. Ergo, duh, the game is playable now.

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  161. Unfortunately, the alternate approach you gave (download ridiculous amounts of unique data from the servers) conflicts with another antipiracy measure. How much data are we talking about here, after all? Several ISPs are now limiting the amount of data you can download in a month without paying extra. The amount of data, even the non-pirated stuff, that is available to be downloaded dwarfs these caps. And now we're gonna add our games into the mix? I don't know about you, but I'm not gonna pay MY ISP overage charges to play a game. Bad enough I shelled out $50-60 to buy it in the first place. Not only that, but I like to play my old games. Once Ubi drops support for Assasin's Creed et al, am I going to be able to play a trip down memory lane? Yeah, right. This is why PCs are losing out to consoles as gaming machines. My PS3 copy of Assasin's Creed 2 will work long after Ubisoft drops support for the PC version.

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  163. Ah, schadenfreude, though I do feel sorry for those those that bought it:

    http://games.slashdot.org/story/10/03/08/004219/Ubisofts-Authentication-Servers-Go-Down

    "With Ubisoft's fantastically awful new DRM you must be online and logged in to their servers to play the games you buy. Not only was this DRM broken the very first day it was released, but now their authentication servers have failed so absolutely that no-one who legally bought their games can play them. 'At around 8am GMT, people began to complain in the Assassin's Creed 2 forum that they couldn't access the Ubisoft servers and were unable to play their games.' One can only hope that this utter failure will help to stem the tide of bad DRM."

    ReplyDelete
  164. I'd love to see you write a second article now that it's been cracked/DOSed and the paying customers burned.

    ReplyDelete
  165. @HarvesteR: You do know that Bohemia disabled FADE and made their game DRM-free as of patch 1.05, right? Not the best example of DRM success.

    ReplyDelete
  166. yeah, make ur own gamesave server siiting ate the home pc. a 127.0.0.1 sever.

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  168. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  169. Hey Jeff, first of all great post, I agree with a lot of what you're saying, expect for the WoW isn't cracked bit.

    People don't pay monthly to play WoW to play alone, they pay to play with other people, that's why it's called MMORPG. Also I don't know about WoW emulated servers, but I have played on many UO emu servers. And I can tell you they can do 100% what the real UO servers can do, plus more. You can also run your own private server for WoW, but what is the point it has no single player features.

    Assassin's Creed 2 is different, the game is all about the single player story, yet you'll have to be connected to internet to play a single player game.

    Ubisoft protection for them self come with of a cost of putting their paying customers at risk. This might never happen but because you'll need live internet connection, and always connected to their server to play their games means you'll be open to more risk of virus attacks. I read that their DRM server has already been attack. Ya they have plenty of high paying tech to solve their problem, but I don't have a team of people that can jump in and fix my issues. If something bad happens to my computer, I have to take it to the shop and pay to fix it.

    ReplyDelete
  170. It is interesting to read the entire blog on piracy. Piracy is simple problem which requires a simple solution.
    Let us analyse. Piracy takes place as a programme/software contained in CD/DVD can be loaded on more than one PC.Stop this from loading on the second PC. You have stopped piracy. 'n' number of copies will make no difference at all.

    I have developed a mechanism which permits a software/programme ( not audio/video/OS ) to be loaded on one PC only and while attempting to loade on the second PC, the programme shuts itself.It will load again and again on the first PC.

    The problem is no software manufacturer wants to pay for this, they don't believe such a thing is possible. To do the impossible, a positive frame of mind is needed.

    They know to scream intellectual property rights but when it comes to something like this, they want it free!!

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  172. "A company should look after its profits, yes, but inherent in this is that it should look after the needs of its customers as well, or else it runs the risk of losing them."

    Doesn't that go both ways, though? Shouldn't consumers look after their providers (by monetarily compensating them for that provided) or else they run the risk of losing them? Isn't that what's happening here?

    I find it ironic that everyone points the fingers at the companies when it's the pirates actions in the first place that prompted this kind of behavior. There's no chicken or egg question, here.

    ReplyDelete
  173. The DRM attempt reflects a possibily dangerous trend in the video gaming bussiness, while I'm leaning towards crackers as I believe that knowledge copyrights restrict innovation I can understand that a compan must make profits (thou i will not for EA).

    The risk might be that major single player games are wiped out completely, afterall MMORPGs collect the same initial purchase income as RPGs but they also provide a stable subscribtion income for the company; making it the more attractive choice. (which leaves out single-player orientated RPG and strategy games out in the cold)

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  175. All said and done AC2 has been finally cracked. and cracked so well that genuine users can use this to save game locally without any need to be connected to Ubisoft server.

    Perhaps, Ubisoft doesn't understood piracy at all. As I said earlier, a programme can be cracked only if it can be loaded.

    I have developed a mechanism which stops a programme from loading on more than one PC. This will put an end to piracy once and for all.

    K.Ganapathy

    ReplyDelete
  176. The pirates will just "redirect" all internet calls such that it access local files. It's not all that complicated. I think at most, instead of a 0-day crack, it will be a 1-day crack. Hardly any benefit to Ubisoft. Just think of the millions they poured into developing this dumb DRM instead of putting it into another game.

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  179. And unless I am mistaken this game was cracked day one.

    not that making a game rely on online stuff would not make it really hard to crack quickly, they just did a bad job with this one.

    @Edit 2: from what I have heard many working WoW free serves have been created but have been shut down by Blizzard. If any exist for any good amount of time it is by not announcing themselves to everyone.

    But it is a multiplier game, and as such not comparable to AC2.
    Not that multiplayer games are not cracked and free servers put up.

    ReplyDelete
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  183. it will be a 1-day crack. Hardly any benefit to Ubisoft. Just think of the millions they poured into developing this dumb DRM instead of putting it into another game.
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