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When copy-protection becomes buyer-repulsion

Whilst on my recent trip to the USA, I saw a computer game called Cold War that looked interesting. I am sooooo tired of brainless run-n-gun FPS games that this looked like something work trying.

Alas, once I got back to Britain and started to install the game, I saw that it was about to install StarForce copy protection.

So I hit cancel, removed the disc from my computer and threw the game in the rubbish bin where it belongs. Most annoying is that nowhere on the box does it say that the game uses StarForce.

Why does that matter? Well a few months ago, my nifty and hitherto perfect Alienware computer suddenly died without warning a few hours after I installed Splinter Cell 3, which also uses StarForce copy protection. Am I certain StarForce was to blame? No, I am not but I am bloody suspicious and not without good cause. I wish I had thought to check this site before I dropped $39.99 because I would have never purchased it if I had known.

Is the new-and-improved StarForce better at not blowing up your system than the previous versions? I am not sure but it only has to happen once for me to never ever allow a firm’s products on my hard drive again. If a games company wants my money, it had better find a way of protecting itself that does not put my operating system at risk because there are plenty of other games out there to choose from.

I would recommend you not make the same mistake I just did. Spend your money on something else.

23 comments to When copy-protection becomes buyer-repulsion

  • Richard Easbey

    Stuff like this reminds me how grateful I am that I use a Macintosh… oh, and I don’t play video games.

  • Joshua

    Me too – Macintosh and no video games. Cleaner living.

  • Cleaner living.

    You mean depriving yourself of the most exciting art form of our day? You call that living?

    And in any case, ‘cleaner’ is vastly over-rated 🙂

  • asus phreak

    You mean depriving yourself of the most exciting art form of our day?

    Dude, you got that right! We’re still in the early days and its already amazing what creativity is going into these things. Most of the good stuff is coming out of joints in places like Finland, Germany, Russia… the US games design scene blows chunks, sad to say 🙁

  • Nick

    If you hate twitch games and want something (relatively) historically accurate that is as educational as it is fun, try the Combat Mission games from Battlefront.com.
    (CDV sells them in euroworld)

    The only games I play. And for macs as well….

  • Me too – Macintosh and no video games. Cleaner living.

    Thats funny, I use a macintosh too, and -I- play video games.

    Lets see..

    – World of Warcraft
    – Unreal Tourtament 2004
    – Quake II & III
    – Command and Conquer Generals
    – Halo
    – Warcraft III
    – Second Life
    – Starcraft
    – Sim City 3000
    – Doom III

    And of course, I play all of my old favorites from my childhood with Dosbox, ScummVM, zsnes, and 7nes.

    The only game that I wish I could play is Half-Life 2.

  • J

    Half-life 2 is a good game – and it has a sensible approach to copy protection.

    However, the games industry as a whole, far from being near the beginning, shows signs of terminal decline. Vastly increased budgets, rampant consolidation, a dearth of new ideas (remind me now long we’ve been stuck in networked FPS land?), and a giant leap backwards from personal computers to consoles.

  • Julian Taylor

    My company is currently helping to promote throughout the UK a Christmas party album by ‘4 Poofs and a Piano’ (the support act for Jonathan Ross’ BBC1 show). Now the album runs fine on a normal sound system but when you put it into a computer not only will it kill off the internet connection completely but it will not allow playback at all, whether through Windows Media Player (10), iTunes, AltoMP3 or any other media player. And it does the same thing on a Mac. This isn’t using the infamous Sony protection but something that EMI/Virgin appear to have developed and it doesn’t tell you anywhere on the CD that it is protected.

  • Julian Taylor

    torpid, it isn’t going to happen – HalfLife 2 uses Havok Physics which is apparently impossible to translate onto Mac (Deus Ex 2 and Max Payne 2 likewise). Just have to settle for Quake 4 for Mac, which manages to make Doom 3 look like high caliibre cerebral entertainment, for its completely non-existent plot.

  • I was in the US recently and didnt buy any games (despite being tempted) due to the risk of getting something with regional coding. For example I wanted to get Earth 2160 but it is region coded- so wont work on my UK PC. Am I going to buy the same game in the UK? No chance- they have lost that sale for good.
    Copy protection on CDs has reduced my impulse CD buying to zero CDs per annum. I used to buy a couple a week- now I buy none. I only buy CDs off the net when I am sure there is no copy-protection/DRM on the disc.

    Copy protection only affects customers. Pirates and file sharers are not affected by this crap. Frankly you have to wonder why people pay money for sub-standard products which put their property in danger? Breaking the law may actually make more and more sense!!!!

    Re HL2 & steam- yes it is a relatively OK system but the problem is that if everyone starts doing their own version of steam it will be a nightmare. I think people put up with steam because HL2 and CS are 2 of the best games around- most companies wouldnt stand a chance with that kind of distribution model.

  • j.pickens

    You Macintosh-files should be careful in recommending Apple computers. If enough of you are out there, you will become a tempting target for virus-writers. Don’t think your OS is immune, it just isn’t popular enough for hackers to waste time writing the code.

    And I definitely boycott companies which use or promote copy protection schemes which detract from fair use copyright theory or load evilware on your machine.

    For this reason I stopped buying all Sony products.

  • Richard Easbey

    j. pickens is right–I pray (apologies to the atheists in the crowd) fervently that my preferred OS remains marginalized… and I think it’s entirely possible that I’m the only person in the world who has NEVER played a video game.

  • Claxton

    Cold War is an awful game, you’re better off not playing it, Starforce or not. Mostly I play older games. Fallout, for instance, is probably my favorite game of all time. There wasn’t a single worthwhile cRPG out all of this year, it’s such a pity. Original Dooms and all their expansions, Starcraft…Half-Life 2 is the only modern game that I really enjoy. Everything seems to be: “Realistic soil erosion! Patrick Stewart!”

  • Joshua

    You Macintosh-files should be careful in recommending Apple computers. If enough of you are out there, you will become a tempting target for virus-writers. Don’t think your OS is immune, it just isn’t popular enough for hackers to waste time writing the code.

    Absolutely right. The party won’t last forever. For now, it’s the safest OS on the market – but the day is comming when it won’t be. (Lack of) Popularity isnt the only reason it’s safer than Windows, though. Even if MacOS and Windows had roughly equal market share, MacOS would still be harder to hack for structural reasons (for starters, Mac more or less knows everything in its own code — can’t say the same for Microsoft).

    ou mean depriving yourself of the most exciting art form of our day? You call that living?

    Yes – because I used to be a gaming freak some years ago, and I know myself well enough to know that if I start into some of the cool products on the market now, I will never see daylight again. I’m a gradstudent, so gettting into gaming presents the very real danger that I won’t finish my PhD.

  • Macs are currently immune to viruses not only because Windows is a more tempting target, but also because the OS has been designed in a way that is more secure (no Active-X, no default running as root user, no web browser embedded into the heart of the OS). Thus it is unlikely to suffer the same fate, regardless of how popular it becomes.

    The best solution is to run a Mac and play games on a dedicated platform such as PSX or XBox.

  • Bristol City

    The best solution is to run a Mac and play games on a dedicated platform such as PSX or XBox.

    Except that PSX or XBox are complete pants compared to even a mid-range computer with a decent graphics card. Consoles suck moose plonker.

    But Joshua is right that computer games can eat your life 🙂

  • Ron

    I remember about 20 years ago talking to one of the developers of the original Lotus 1-2-3 for MS-DOS.

    Apparently they were experimenting with using lasers to create 20 bad sectors in specific places on the 5.25 inch floppy disks, and the startup code would then check that those particular sectors were bad, otherwise it would exit.

    For use on hard disks they had a system where you could make 3 installs off a floppy before it became useless – but you could uninstall off a hard disk to recover your count of remaining installs.

    But there was a bug in the system where if you uninstalled off a computer without 1-2-3 on at all, it would still grant you an extra uninstall regardless. This is why Lotus 1-2-3 v2.0 became Lotus 1-2-3 v2.01 extremely quickly…

  • JSAllison

    X-Com and Steel Panther: MBT takes care of my offline game jones.
    Check out the Hexwar website, they have ported a large number of the old SPI titles, I’m especially fond of the folio games, classic beer-n-pretzel titles.

    Being a sufferer of simulator sickness I’ve never been able to do fps games going back to Wolfenstein. 10 minutes and I have a screaming headache. Strangely enough flight sims don’t have that effect. I suspect that it has something to do with the perception of nearness…

  • guy herbert

    As I understand it, there’s something of a catch-22 with copy-protection bugs. Testing–configuration testing, too–tends to be done on unprotected copies prior to manufacture, because mainly one’s worried about a bug in the gamecode doing something nasty with direct access to the machine and building a finished, copy protected version and installing it naturally wouls sop up resources. So if the copy-protection or installer combined with the game code has a freaky effect it may not be discovered till far too late. There should be some testing at that stage, of the will-it-still-run variety, but there probably won’t be much.

  • Jay Stranahan

    Most FPS’s are just plain lame. You either fight retarded AI or a handful of live enemies who can beat you with superior reflexes.

    I’d much rather jump into a pitched battle with dozens (or hundreds) of enemies who are all as well-armed, cunning, and intelligent as I am. Where teamwork counts for something. Where you can, on occasion, have so many tracers and shells and plasma bursts and high-tech sh*t flying through the air you don’t dare stand up.

    Planetside rules. Try it. I guarantee you’ll like it.


  • Julian Morrison

    Isn’t your solution obvious? Go download a cracked version off Bit Torrent.

    They can’t even whine about copyright – you HAVE a copy of the game, bought and paid for.

  • gravid

    Isobuster anyone? Gets tracks off my copy protected CDs and leaves the nasties behind. In fact I even managed it with Nero6 only the other week, much to my surprise. I am completely against the buggy crap and don’t want it near me…but needs must. I don’t like the sound of this starforce guff neither. I’m off to plug a few holes in some terrorists in Rainbow 6 Raven Shield ( ’til I get bored that is…)

  • No games on the Mac eh? Well as a computer game reviewer I seem to be kept quite busy playing games like WoW, Dark Horizons, 007 Nightfire and a whole mess of other stuff that is coming out.

    Yes, you do get games on the PC first (well except for Blizzard games) but then you also get all the bugs and updates to deal with.