Is EA Realizing That Pirates Are Just Underserved Customers?

from the that-would-be-nice dept

Perhaps no video gaming company has had more trouble with the gaming community when it comes to things like DRM than EA. The company received tons of negative publicity for its aggressive and annoying DRM found in the release of Spore (which did little to nothing in actually slowing the unauthorized spread of the game). More recently, the company went with a much less troubling DRM solution on its latest version of The Sims (though, despite its attempt to call it something other than DRM, it is still DRM -- and, I should note, we've received a bunch of submissions from people who have found the DRM to be cumbersome).

However, the biggest change may be (possibly?) in the attitude of execs at the company -- who at least appear to be trying to become more accepting of the fact that some people will always download and/or share unauthorized versions of games. In an interview with Kotaku (thanks William for sending this in), the CEO of EA tries to put a positive spin on things:
And speaking of pirates, no matter what EA charges for a game, there will be people who want to make EA's games free-to-play on their own terms. That's the nice way of saying what happened to The Sims 3 recently. "We got pirated three weeks before the game launched," Riccitiello said. "And we were really quite nervous about it. We had a lot of telemetry about what the pirates were doing because the launcher was in the version of the disc [that got out.]... There's a lot of Chinese and Polish among those consumers. We know what they're doing. And we finally concluded that we were very happy that almost a million people downloaded the Fight Night demo in the first couple of days we put it out. And in a weird sort of way, the behavior we're starting to see based on sell-through and registration [with the Sims 3] is that we really might have just put out a really good demo."

Riccitiello laughed at his own remark, because he doesn't quite mean it seriously. I pointed out that he might not want to hold his breath waiting for all those Sims 3 pirates to convert to paying customers. "I don't think they will, based on their geography," he said. The point he was making, he said, is that EA's concern over being pirated gave way to a new, more constructive thought: "We were like, 'I think they've demoed the game.' That's probably good. We probably should have posted it on our website."
It's clear he's not entirely comfortable with this position, but perhaps that will come over time. It seems like he's beginning to recognize what folks at Valve had said for a while: "pirates" are just underserved customers. Focusing on giving those underserved customers more reasons to buy seems like a much better strategy than punishing all of the legitimate customers.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 9:37am

    Too Long...

    This is the whole article to me:

    "Focusing on giving those underserved customers more reasons to buy seems like a much better strategy than punishing all of the legitimate customers. "

    I agree totally. I am one of those ahem "underserved customers" but if I see something i like, i will buy it and have countless numbers of times. I love the fact that finally (within the last few years) that game developers are consistently releasing new titles on sites like Steampowered.com and Direct2Drive.com so that I don't have to deal with having a stupid CD/DVD spinning in my system just to play a game that is installed on the hard drive. That pretty much ended pirating games for me. It was the #1 reason i pirated games back in the day because I wanted to play them without being hampered with the DVD... Now I buy 90-95% of all the games i play with just a fraction still pirated and i am not ashamed to say it.

    The overall message for "pirates" or "ex-pirates" like myself is make the games available in formats we want, without stupid protections that break our systems and are not more of a burden to use and also make GOOD PRODUCTS and we will purchase rather than pirate in the majority of situations.

     

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    Ima Fish (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 9:40am

    Back in the good old days, such as Doom or Unreal Tournament, I bought plenty of games. Back then you could simply install the game and then reinstall it by simply copying that installed subfolder. It made the game extremely easy to keep around. However, once I had to start re-installing games via multiple discs every single time I changed systems, it became an annoyance.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 9:54am

    if EA dropped Securom, I will consider dropping my boycott of EA! So yeah, We'll see ....

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 9:57am

    Just like prohibition and the war on drugs, history is filled with governments and companies trying to reign in basic human nature. It doesn't work... The quicker the EA execs realize that they lost the war against piracy, (not that they ever stood a chance) the quicker they can find ways to coax more money out of what is still a multi-billion dollar industry. It gives me some slight hope that one day the RIAA will realize that all those people who download music for free wouldn't have bought it anyway, and that p2p is actually a robust and free, advertising and distribution service.

    If God couldn't stop Adam from plucking apples off the tree in the garden of Eden, what chance does a company have in stopping millions of people from downloading software from millions of servers?

     

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  5.  
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    Jim Johnson (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 9:59am

    Valve's Attitude

    I think it's worth pointing out that Valve has had this opinion all along.

    http://www.gamedaily.com/articles/news/valve-pirates-are-just-underserved-customers/?biz=1 &page=1

    If you want to look at a game company that understands its customers and how to make money, take a look at Valve & Steam. It's amazing how easy that make it to impulse-buy new video games by offering frequent sales where you get huge value packs of games for as low as $5-$10.

     

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    Freedom, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 10:05am

    Missing BIG issue - telemetry

    >> We had a lot of telemetry about what the pirates were doing because the launcher was in the version of the disc...

    How the hell do they get the telemetry data? You know it wasn't from looking at the torrent sites, but was probably from the program reporting home every time it was run. When the hell did this become an acceptable practice. I've been scanning programs for network traffic and it is surprising the number of them that report home when they first launch. I've read the user agreements and most don't mention this at all. Talk about a major breach in privacy.

    Freedom

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 10:10am

    *falls off chair*

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 10:11am

    Re: Missing BIG issue - telemetry

    re:6

    I think he was just making up imaginary statistics to put a scare into some pirates. EA has terrible online interfaces, I doubt they were able to program something that would get information from "every" install.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 10:16am

    >> We had a lot of telemetry about what the pirates were doing because the launcher was in the version of the disc...

    "Telemetry data" must be the new buzz word for spyware in the industry these days. Can't wait to see the next version of Deer Hunter that taps your phone and reads your email, then calls in an elite hit squad to tape a kilo of crack under your car and calls the cops. Take that you dirty pirates!

    And for the vast majority of people who paid for a legitimate copy of the game, well tough luck... You shouldn't have been hanging out on the internet with all those pirates!

     

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    MarksAngel (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 10:19am

    Re:

    I totally agree with you there, I have boycotted them since NWN2 Wrecked my entire PC because of stupid securom

     

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 10:24am

    Re: Too Long...

    You do realize that No-CDs and No-DVDs have been around for a very very long time don't you?
    The disc hasn't been required since the days before Starcraft.

    I am sorry but I think I actually laughed at you when you said having to put the CD in was main thing holding you back.

    The only thing that gives me restraint is the DRM that companies put on. No DRM and my likeliness to buy goes way up (provided it is a good game). Securom = instant no buy.
    Oh, and just because it is from Steam doesn't mean it is DRM free either. Just ask EA as they had it included anyways.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 10:32am

    Actually, he is doing the smart thing, attempting to kill the piracy by offering PART of the product in demo form, and making the rest "pay". If he wanted to give in to pirates, he would just make all the software free and try to make money selling t-shirts and miniputt games.

    Sometimes Mike, you don't even realize that you are proving the point against your "free" campaigns.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 10:45am

    Re: Missing BIG issue - telemetry

    This is what a firewall is for.

     

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    xtraSico, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 10:59am

    Re:

    It wasn't Adam. It was Eve.

     

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    Designerfx (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 11:09am

    1-3 week demo

    a 3 week FULL demo (not limited in features) would be acceptable for most games and would erase the need to pirate, for the most part. Meanwhile, publishers like EA think "lets make the demo better" which is still not understanding. I think all they've realized is that demonizing your customers is both time consuming and costs you customers.

     

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    Frosty840, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 11:20am

    Shame that EA are removing value from Sims 3 in the form of their (shockingly expensive) online Sims-bits store. Whereas Sims 2 would allow users to create and share their own designs for free (provided they knew how to program the things) Sims 3 forces users to buy, directly from EA, only the things that EA allows to be sold.

     

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  17.  
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    RantyPants, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 11:26am

    Re:

    There was no demo for TS3, no half-free, half-pay. What are you talking about?

    This man Riccetello comes off as an utter dipwit who has no understanding of at least the sims gaming community.

    OF COURSE they should have put out a demo for this game! Or gone to some sort of official open beta testing system. With all the history and hype this game series has, he SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER than to go demo-less.

    Telemetry - feh! Does your telemetry tell you who purchased the game after playing the leaked copy? If it does, bring the numbers (and please do detail the spyware collection method involved). If it doesn't, then shut yer piehole...'telemetry'...lulz! EA has a tough time getting their released games to work as advertised, we should trust their 'telemetry'?

    And speaking of gamecode, the sims modding community has kept this series running for countless players over nearly a decade, making fixes EA never did. Had EA opened up beta testing to those people, they wouldn't have released TS3 with numerous major flaws, which, incidentally, were first exposed by early downloaders.

    And the leaked download provided those modders with code to provide FIXES for many of these flaws when the game was officially released WITH THOSE SAME FLAWS, something EA has yet to get around to (and shouldn't have been there in the first place; these aren't minor annoyances I'm talking about, they're major game coding issues that should have been caught in playtesting. TS3 IS A BROKEN PRODUCT. Is it playable? Yes. Is it what you paid for? Not as is.)

    To all appearances, EA consistently relies on fanboi/gurl input on sims games instead of those who know where the code fails. I know I'd feel more secure shelling out for these games if I knew reliable community code monkeys were involved in beta testing.

    And let us not forget that EA STILL hasn't addressed or alleviated problems w/Securom in legit TS2 games, which happen with appalling regularity. The lighter DRM for TS3 does nothing to wipe that mess away.

    Do not give this company more credit than they deserve just because an overpaid exec bemusedly titters on about 'pirate demos'. They still have much to answer for to the people who paid them for fault-prone products.

     

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  18.  
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    Eponymous Coward, AKA Doug (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 11:30am

    Re:

    I agree with everything in your post except for the phrase "Can't wait to see the next version of Deer Hunter". I would like to think that no one is waiting for any copy of Deer Hunter, or any other simulated hunting game. Either go kill it yourself or embrace vegetarianism.

     

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  19.  
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    William, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 11:33am

    I bought the game

    Just to clarify I am the guy who send in the story because it's kind of personal for me.

    I did get an "early preview" 3 weeks before the release day. I decided not to wait and got it off the usual "places" because the game was delayed for more then 3 month and I couldn't wait to try it out. I had quite a bit of fun for the next couple of days.

    Let's just say that there is a copy of The Sims 3 sitting beside my desk right now which cost me CAN$60. I bought it 2 days after release day. If anything, the "preview" I had made me want to buy the game even more. EA got smart this time and build a launcher that would tie the Sims community together with the game so the whole experience is even better. A pretty good game with a pretty good community supported by EA's integration, these all adds value to the game and made buying worth it. Yes there will still be pirates playing the game for free but they are not getting the whole experience.

    I am personally glad that EA is taking a better attitude and let's hope this is a trend.

    On the NEGATIVE SIDE of this... the CD CHECK they have really annoy the hell out of me. Having previewed the game with a copy that does not require the disk really make me aware of how annoying it is. Let's hope EA will come to the final reality that people who want to buy the game WILL buy the game and that all these DRM is just annoying ppl who bought it, like me. They are already providing a great experience. why not make it even better with no DRM?

     

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  20.  
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    William, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 11:42am

    about the telemetry data

    if you haven't played the game you wouldn't know that The Sims 3 now have a "Launcher" mentioned in the original story.

    This launcher is like a gateway to the community in which you can 1. start playing game, 2. manage your downloads, 3. update application, 3. shop for new items...etc. On the right hand side it access the official sims 3 website(mini browser I guess) because that's where all the news and the sims shop is. This launcher always starts before you can play sims 3. In addition to this there is a EA download manager that is needed for downloading sims 3 purchased items, which no doubt probably connect to their server when it starts along with the launcher.

    I guess they got the data because some of these "previewers" forgot to block the application or turn of their internet when they are previewing.

     

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  21.  
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    Wesha, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:04pm

    Re:

    Golden!!!

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Missing BIG issue - telemetry

    The launcher is a freakin' web browser window...
    DUUUUH

     

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  23.  
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    Headbhang, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:12pm

    Re:

    "If God couldn't stop Adam..."

    Nice way of putting it, AC :)

    You might want to add abstinence-based sex education to the list of naive, futile attempts to rein in human nature.

     

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  24.  
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    Headbhang (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re:

    True. Adam ate it, though.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:23pm

    Re: Re:

    He should it works better at preventing out of wedlock babies. I am sure you can find some study by a liberal foundation that states the opposite. But then again that is the goal of the liberals, because the more poor they can create the more voters will vote for their entitlement programs that hinder the poor.

     

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  26.  
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    1DandyTroll, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:32pm

    No DRM No Game

    At least that seem to be the way to do business in the gaming industry, because you can never earn money from giving stuff away for free to potential customers, like why would they buy the product then?

    Once upon a time ...

    There is this thing called shareware games, which you can freely share ... I kid you not, 's true. Sure the games don't have all the levels, but usually enough of 'em to lure you into it, if it's good.

    Sure there's some limitations. You need like 3.5" diskettets, a slow and retarded 1200 baud modem, a BBS (with a nice enough op), to start with, but the worst thing of all, the bane really: no easy convinient way to pay for the full bloody range of levels.

    Shite, to get shareware games to actually work, to really take off, you'd need something lika a ginormous planet wide network that users could readily access with a somewhat decent speed (hehehe yeah right like the speeds ever gone be as fast as todays busnet right), some easy convinient online pay methods (ROFL like anyone else but pr0n BBSs'll use visa and mastercard for O N L I N E payment.)

    Ah, well, could've been a nice dream, if, if only one could put the 2 and 2 together.

     

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  27.  
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    Idaho Potato Commisioner, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:33pm

    Hmmm

    could it be possible that EA "leaked" the game earlier with the telemetry in place to track how a pirated game moves through the ether. Seems like it would be good data to have going forward.

     

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  28.  
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    Idaho Potato Commisioner, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Missing BIG issue - telemetry

    you give up your right to privacy (which doesn't exist by the way) when you pirate the game.

     

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  29.  
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    Idaho Potato Commisioner, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Hmmm

    this would also explain putting telemetry on the disk in the first place. They could get away with it if the disk "got out" before launch. Then they remove the telemetry on the disk for launch and all the "privacy" whiners are happy.

     

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  30.  
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    william, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Re: Hmmm

    I really don't think there is spyware and stuff on the game (that would have really pissed me off)

    like a poster said above, the launch has a browser in it. EA would be able to get a rough idea of how many people has the game already by checking out the hits of the web pages that are reserved for the game.

    It's not rocket science. that's how counters work.

     

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 1:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Hmmm

    Within a week of the games release I am sure that there will be a patch for you that allows you to bypass the launcher if you so desire.
    Just check the usual sites.

     

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  32.  
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    RD, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 1:44pm

    Dear Lying Shill

    "You do realize that No-CDs and No-DVDs have been around for a very very long time don't you?
    The disc hasn't been required since the days before Starcraft."

    Bull. Pure lie. Absolutely untrue. I play Battlefield 2, REQUIRES the DVD in the drive to run.

    You are either a shill, or an idiot.

     

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  33.  
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    minijedimaster (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 1:46pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yea, because Eve didn't tell him where it came from.

     

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  34.  
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    minijedimaster (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 1:47pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    AMEN

     

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  35.  
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    minijedimaster (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Valve's Attitude

    Stardock does this all the time too through their Impulse digital distribution client. That's another company that understands the piracy issue, I'd say even more so than Valve.

     

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  36.  
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    minijedimaster (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Re: Missing BIG issue - telemetry

    A firewall by default doesn't block outgoing traffic (unless its a software one with program control) but only incoming. Even then, if the program goes over port 80 or 443 most firewalls will do nothing since if it blocked those you couldn't web browse.

     

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  37.  
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    Rhandom (profile), Jun 11th, 2009 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Hmmm

    I'm postulating here (haven't had a chance yet to play The Sims 3, neither in 'leaked'/previewing or purchased form).

    I am going to guess that the launcher (getting some confusion reading through the comments here -- was there a form of the launcher in the leaked version? This comment only makes sense if there was a form of the launcher on the leaked version), if it integrated the web-based features - or even just had the framework in place for the web components to be added in -- likely they are making use of a web analytics company like Omniture.


    I've noticed various applications making use of Omniture for their web analytics. Photoshop comes immediately to mind, with Photoshop CS3 sending requests through the router to 192.168.112.2o7.net and being extremely puzzled/concerned about it initially - as honestly, the CS3 suite academic packaging in Canada, and the registration key process did not look anywhere near as polished as all the previous suites 7, CS, CS2 were.

    (Aside: yes, my licensing is valid, and yes it was purchased through a legitimate college bookstore -- but when the previous suites are higher quality packaging and inserts, and then finding just the disc and printed leaflet instructing you to go to a non-Adobe website to obtain the registration key, it makes you kind of go "hrm...")

    My confusion had been cleared up re: Photoshop when John Nack posted on the Adobe blog about it, but it made me aware of Omniture using the look-a-like 192.168.112.2o7.net in gathering analytics for companies, resembling at a quick glance internal network --- and saw various other software doing it as well (as well as strict web based apps as well)
    Just a tiny little invisible image, that's all it takes.


    Of course, there is also the other possibility in EA's "telemetry" -- scraping blogs/social networks to see countries of origin, languages being posted in, of screenshots and excited babbling users playing the game before it was released.

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 2:06pm

    Re: about the telemetry data

    I haven't played the game and I know of the launcher. I'm reading posts from people with legit games who are finding it sends and receives unknown info over an open connection without telling them, even when they've directed their AV/firewall software to deny that connection.

    No sims store crap is worth making games more of a pain in the ass to monitor for security and privacy purposes.

     

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  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 3:41pm

    Re: Dear Lying Shill

    Poster's not an idiot or shill - s/he's talking about cracked .exe files, I'd wager.

    Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but it's only a game's applied DRM/disk checking tech that necessitates a disk in the drive, and that is a publisher decision. If you can install the pure .exe and all associated files to your harddrive, you don't need a disk at all.

     

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  40.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 3:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Hmmm

    From what I'd observed (I didn't download or buy the game), the inital leaked version contained Securom, which was bypassed by use of a noDVD crack.

    The second leaked version did not use Securom.

    Both revealed serious bugs, as did the the official release.

     

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    tdr, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 6:10pm

    Telemetry? What is this, a deep space probe or something?

     

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    Jesse, Jun 11th, 2009 @ 8:41pm

    Of course, that means the game is phoning home without permission...

     

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  43.  
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    Non EA buyer, Jun 12th, 2009 @ 3:08am

    DRM is effective!

    EA's DRM in The Sims is perfection:
    1. Buy game
    2. Open game so it can't be returned.
    3. Discover game won't run on your computer (hardware better than EA's stated minimums)
    4. Have former customer who will never buy another EA product.

     

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  44.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jun 12th, 2009 @ 6:46am

    Re: Dear Lying Shill

    Lol. Oh that is rich. I am a shill? For who? Do you even know what a shill is?
    As the other AC was pointing out, I am talking about the no cds and no dvds from sites such as gamecopyworld. It is an exe that somebody took the original game's exe, and removed all of the CD checking software from. You can use hex editors to create them if you are good enough.

    From the sound of it you must not play games too much if you have never heard of no-cds or no-dvds and have such a reaction to the idea of them.

    And, just to completely prove you wrong, here is a URL from the search engine on GCW that proves you don't need the dvd:
    m0001.gamecopyworld.com/games/pc_battlefield_2.shtml
    (I already clicked past the agreement saying you will only download them for games you own, just to prove you wrong)

    So while I will not call you stupid, I will call you uninformed and wrong on this.

    The reason DVDs and CDs are not 100% needed is because it is much faster to run games from the hard drive than it is to run them from a CD or DVD drive. They put all of the files on the computer. It is just their stupid little protection schemes that force you to want the dvd in the drive. As I am pointing out again, they are not really needed.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 12th, 2009 @ 10:10am

    for online games anyway

    I love games were you can just copy the folder and "install" it to any cpu. makes it so easy if you upgrade your comp or reinstall windows/etc. *Most* games are online multiplayer now-a-days anyway, just make the game have to authenticate with a central server before a 3rd party server lets them connect.

    they can have this authentication all server side, so if they decide to take down the authen servers some day, the client doesn't have to change, just release a new server that doesn't care

    this would catch most people and encourage them to actually pay

     

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  46.  
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    nasch (profile), Jun 12th, 2009 @ 1:35pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Just to be sure I understand you correctly, you're saying that abstinence-only sex education is more effective than other techniques at preventing teen pregnancies?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    icon
    siliconbandit (profile), Jun 14th, 2009 @ 6:10am

    Tsk tsk

    Pirated three weeks before launch huh? Maybe nobody slipped it out past the door in the middle of the night to let EA spindoctors take a shot at changing their image a little.
    They know they've got another major project coming up and can't afford to frag it up. EA isn't changing their position just that quick without good cause.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Crash, Jun 16th, 2009 @ 4:02am

    Re: Re: Re: Missing BIG issue - telemetry

    "A firewall by default doesn't block outgoing traffic"

    You mean a shitty firewall doesn't block outgoing traffic. Theres no point to even running a software Firewall that only blocks incoming. Sitting behind a router is all thats needed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    Tina1980, Aug 13th, 2009 @ 4:03am

    It's pretty interesting in the end to see EA of all companies being this forward thinking. They really have changed over the past few years, and releasing titles like 'Mirror's Edge' and 'Deadspace' was certainly a mark of that - even though they didn't seel overly well - EA are still willing to consider the niche markets.

    Seems to me, we are about to enter a new age of gaming. With services like Onlive just around the corner. Who knows what this will mean for physical distribution and piracy. I reckon physical distribution is here to stay, but I also thinking it is going to drastically change. Tina, brainwave entrainment

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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