Can You Still Say DRM Is Effective When It Creates Security Vulnerabilities, Performance Degradation, Incompatibilities, System Instability And 'Other Issues'? [Update]

from the seems-like-a-stretch dept

Modplan alerts us to a developer at Wolfire games who wrote a blog post claiming that DRM can be “effective,” and giving the example of StarForce’s DRM on Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory, which supposedly took over a year to crack. But, for this to happen, there were all sorts of problems and even lawsuit threats over people reporting on those problems:

StarForce 3.0 used a plethora of controversial methods to achieve this, most notably, it secretly installed mandatory device drivers. This obviously was highly controversial and there were many reports of new security vulnerabilities, performance degredation, incompatibilities, system instability, and other issues. As an aside, StarForce actually threatened to sue BoingBoing and CNET for reporting on these issues.

Massive consumer issues aside, it worked.

Wait, what? You can’t just toss aside those massive consumer issues. “Security vulnerabilities, performance degradation, incompatibilities, system instability, and other issues,” does not sound like it “worked” at all. It sounds like the exact opposite. It pissed off and potentially put at risk tons of paying customers. That’s not DRM “working” — though, that is how DRM works. Anyone who reads about “security vulnerabilities, performance degradation, incompatibilities, system instability, and other issues,” and thinks that’s an example of a system to be emulated, is not someone who you should ever trust to do business with. I’d consider that fair warning to stay away from Wolfire games. As pointed out in the comments, we may have been too quick to judge on this one. Wolfire makes it clear they don’t believe that DRM makes sense. The folks from Wolfire also reached out and pointed out that this post was actually a small “correction” to an anti-DRM piece written earlier. As for DRM, Wolfire makes it clear: “We have never used DRM, we hate DRM, and we never will use DRM!” On top of that, they “encourage all other game developers to remove DRM.” My apologies for jumping to conclusions on that one. Ok, now go support Wolfire Games…

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Comments on “Can You Still Say DRM Is Effective When It Creates Security Vulnerabilities, Performance Degradation, Incompatibilities, System Instability And 'Other Issues'? [Update]”

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kirillian (profile) says:

Re: Re: *snort*

You do realize that there weren’t very many serious attempts at it for three years because Sony was tight-lipped about firmware and hardware info, threatened legal action, and touted its impossible-to-crack nature? Also, geohotz said he spent maybe 3 weeks on it, including research before cracking it…not a really long time at all…I think this is a case where only a small number of people were even attampting to create a crack…

Pitabred says:

Re: Re: *snort*

Sony also provides an alternative booting setup for Linux, so the people who would otherwise crack it have access to the interesting bits of the hardware as far as they’re concerned. Why crack what you can legitimately access? The GPU isn’t anything to write home about, and that’s the main thing that’s locked up still.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: *snort*

Can anybody name one DRM scheme that hasn’t been cracked?

Back in the “good ol’ days”, there was a game called (ironically enough) Pirates! It came on a 3.5 inch floppy. Back then it was pretty common to ‘copy that floppy’ and pass one on to a friend, and one way the developers/publishers tried to prevent this was by introducing bad sectors and the like onto the media. Even back then there were tools that would let you make supposedly “perfect” copies, bad sectors and all. But I don’t know of anyone that was ever able to copy THAT floppy.

Paul (profile) says:

Maybe it does work...

People buy drugs all the time, even though by law they have to list various ‘possible’ side effects. Take Zoloft for example:

Zoloft side effects: Some of the more common side effects may include:

Abdominal pain, agitation, anxiety, constipation, decreased sex drive, diarrhea or loose stools, difficulty with ejaculation, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, gas, headache, and decreased appetite are some of the more common Zoloft side effects. And, they also may include increased sweating, indigestion, insomnia, nausea, nervousness, rash, pain, sleepiness, sore throat, tingling or pins and needles, tremor, vision problems and vomiting.

Those are just the common side effects. Yet people see the commercials and buy this stuff up.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Maybe it does work...

In the case of drugs, they usually have at least one beneficial main effect to justify the danger of the side effects.

DRM has no positive side. A cracked DRM only affects legitimate customers and not the “pirates” it’s intended to combat. Since there’s no such thing as an uncrackable DRM, there are no positive effects to balance the negative side-effects.

Paul (profile) says:

Re: Re: Maybe it does work...

The Game is the “beneficial main effect”… DRM is that list side effects you have to live with.

DRM doesn’t bring *anything* to the customer. I do enterprise software. Someone tells me I need to set up and run a license server and register their products with said server to use their products (think Rational), I say forget it.

Why should I have to buy resources and pay staff to police the use of your product??? If a customer of mine HAS to have such products, I hold my nose and do it. BUT I gripe about it each and every day, every time we can’t work because there is some issue with their license server.

What literally blows my mind is how often a customer accepts this and demands the suite of products DRM’ed to the point it costs each project thousands of lost dollars, lost man hours, and delayed project schedules.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: Maybe it does work...

Here’s a big difference: If drug companies could elliminate side effects they would (and how) and they’d make a bunch more money. Short sighted video game destributors CAN elliminate DRM, but choose not to out of some misguided belief that it will stop unauthorized copies of the game from being used. In both cases if those negatives were gone those distributors would make more money. One can’t, and one won’t.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: Maybe it does work...

Here’s a big difference: If drug companies could elliminate side effects they would (and how) and they’d make a bunch more money. Short sighted video game destributors CAN elliminate DRM, but choose not to out of some misguided belief that it will stop unauthorized copies of the game from being used. In both cases if those negatives were gone those distributors would make more money. One can’t, and one won’t.

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Re: DRM

According to vgchartz, they’re 0.00:

But it lists sales of the xbox as 1.11m, the ps2 0.81m, and the DS 0.07m. Add those up to 2 million sales not including the PC(if indeed the sales cited in the gamespot article include all sales).

The article is dated a month after the release date, though I doubt there was a ton of change after the first month. Long story short, it doesn’t tell us much but it’s something.

scott (user link) says:

DRM definition

I think you put forth a great argument, but I’d like to step back a little. DRM is not any particular implementation of technology, but rather a concept, interface, template, or however you’d like to describe it.

In software developement (particularly Object Oriented) bugs are not written when defining interfaces. It is the implementation that we blame, not the interface for malfunctioning technolgy. I think we need to apply this to DRM as well.

SomeGuy (profile) says:

Re: DRM definition

This assumes that the vulnerabilities, degredation, and instability are bugs per se and not just a consequence of DRM as such. If the DRM needs to, say, intercept commands and do pre- or post-processing on those commends, then there will be system degredation, period. It’s possible that this wouldn’t necessarily lead to system instability, but there’s A LOT to take into account there, especially when you’re talking about DLLs and device drivers. It borders on simply infeasible.

It’s arguable that there could be some Platonic ideal of DRM, but that doesn’t mean it does or even can exist in the real world, and almost assuredly not at a price point that makes it comercially feasible.

crade (profile) says:

still effective

Sure, it is effective at being DRM. DRM’s job is to prevent copying. Side effects and collateral damage don’t make it any less effective at doing it’s job. Being effective DRM certainly doesn’t exclude it from being an absolutely terrible idea and being bad for your company. In fact I think that might be a requirement for being effective DRM.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Open GL?

If you look at it big picture, it makes a lot of sense…

1. DirectX is a Microsoft Technology.
2. PC Gamers are slowly but surely moving away from their windows based PC’s. Either to console’s or simply away from Windows to Mac or even Linux (I’m one of a half dozen friends who went to Linux, so while the group is a small one, it does exist).
3. Some of those simply changing their computer’s OS, are NOT also picking up consoles to continue their gaming…

This would very much lead me to believe that the future of PC gaming would lie in a technology that does not depend on a product that is losing ground in it’s own market.

Anon says:

Re: Open GL?

Okay, seriously, did you read that article? Or are you just a wank who judges books by its cover?

Also, on the subject of DRM, I believe wolfire, being and indie games dev n’all, is pretty hard against DRM, theyre just looking at how it works, or how it doesn’t work, purely out of curiousity im sure, due to it being topic of the month.

And the editors of this must be fucktards too, as two blog posts earlier they had a post saying how it didnt work (, and ONE OF THEIR COMMENTERS told them splinter cell DRM worked.

By worked, you have to take into account that it stopped piracy of the game for over a year, which is what the blog says, and in that sense, it does work. Because those half-pirates who would have pirated it they could but still wanted to play it would have bought it. DRM doesnt have to work forever, sales slow down anyway… so… I think theyre being perfectly reasonable, and more sensible about the whole thing than the editors of this article.

Did you get paid by someone to try and fuck up some indie devs rep?

By god i hope you did, else you should just burn in hell. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.

ECA (profile) says:


For all the work, expense, time wasted on DRM…
For all the lawyers to Scare people..
Wouldnt it be better to Lower the price and make it NOT worth hacking?

Most games have gone to Online distribution..
Which means there is no shipping/handling/Making DVD’s for MILLIONS of packages.
There is little or NO art work on packaging.
These 2 things would drop the price in 1/2.
There is no LOSS to damage, there is no Store theft, there is no Profit margin for the STORE, there are no BOXES in the back room gathering DUST.
Example= $50 game, Store profit is $20, Shipping and handling is another $10, we are at $20.

NOW get rid of the lawyers, and the DRM, and it should be in the $15 price range, and I havnt removed ANY PROFIT.
Is it worth hacking, if there is NOTHING to hack?
Is it worth $15 if you are getting the whole program and the PROGRAM is GREAT TO PLAY?

huh says:

Re: Ok,

store profit of $20 on a new game not even close you are looking at a maybe a $1 or $2 that a store makes on a new game and $10 shipping you are just coming up with random numbers you really think they pay 10 dollars shipping on every game I would be suprised if shipping them in bulk it cost more then a $1 so that would bring us down to $47 not near $20.

Coyote says:

The point...

Let me post the part you omitted, Mr. Masnick:

“A couple of days ago I asked the question “Where does DRM come from?” From my perspective, DRM did not add up no matter how you looked at it. It is obviously bad for the consumer and conventional wisdom dictates that pirates can simply bypass it, getting a better experience. However, this is largely because one of my assumptions was that all DRM in a popular, AAA title is guaranteed to be cracked shortly after the release.”

I think the point the Wolfire was trying to make is that as long as people still buy DRM-protected titles, and the DRM is effective at preventing piracy while the game is popular, publishers will continue to use it. They really don’t care about how badly it farks up your computer, because when it comes to software, once you’ve opened the box, they have your money.

Wolfire isn’t advocating DRM, in fact the developer expresses his distaste for it. His is explaining why Ubisoft and others still use it.

but you imply he thing’s it’s a system to be emulated nad advise people to stay away from Wolfire?

I dunno about Starforce suing BB, but Wolfire’s legal department might be justified in having a word with you.

You’re putting words in their mouth, and that’s libel.

william (profile) says:

all over nothing?

Mike, I usually agrees with you on many issues, but I found this article to be mis-representative of the original blog writer’s intent.

If anyone bother opening up the blog post and actually read it, you can see that the author of the post is discussing about his thoughts on DRM as an indie game developer. He is not making a stance on pro or con of this issue but simply stated in RARE CASES, DRM does do what it’s intent to do, prevent people from copying. Yes it’s by using all those potentially illegal technique but by golly it worked.

If you read between the lines, he’s actually a bit CON on using DRM. However, by quoting him on such a short section of his article, it protrait him in the light that he is PRO on using DRM.

so really, this post is all about nothing…

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s a curve for game purchases, starting at zero, going up, and dropping off to zero some years later. If the DRM is cracked after the big hump of purchases has gone past, that’s a win. If it gets nailed like Ubisoft did right away, it’s not.

DRM does not have to be perfectly effective for it to be profitable. Do not create a false dichotomy; it hurts your argument. As long as DRM impels “enough” people to buy instead of pirate, and that increased earning is greater than the implementation cost, it’s a win. You can probably subtract some for PR issues, but what game doesn’t have PR issues?

Measurement of “enough,” of course, is fairly hard to do, as well as trying to figure out if another course of action might have been more profitable. Of course, that’s true of any other business model, including CwF + RtB. This stuff cuts both ways.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Is it worth $15 if you are getting the whole program and the PROGRAM is GREAT TO PLAY?” Maybe.

Some people will not pay, even if the price is near zero. Talk to some shareware creators with five dollar programs. These people are at one extreme.

Some people will either pay or decide they will not use the program. These people are at another extreme.

The middle everyone ignores in their ideological struggles for one side or another are the people who would pay at a certain amount and pirate at higher amounts. And if pirating is “hard” (either in terms of complexity or immediate availability of a cracked version as compared to “I want to play this game NOW!”) the pirate/pay curve shifts yet again.

I do not think the middle group is small, either, but I have yet to see either side address the concept in more than passing.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

you get the point.
Piracy as a Business model.
Its the competition.
If the price of a game is to high, someone ELSE will have a reason to Crack it.
After looking at the recent games released and how many people play after the first week. Most games arent worth playing. So the thought goes..Why pay $50 for something I may not like(just like movies). Let me find another way to TEST if I like it, BEFORE I BUY IT.
The problem is that after a person Finds out HOW CHEAP it is to get Copies off the net, rather then Paying $50. They tend not to BUY full price any more.
Give them a reason not to spend 2 hours to 2 days, downloading. The Corp is saving TONS of money using Online distribution. GIVE it back to the customer.

Not long ago i looked into International distribution. And found that in Europe and Japan, there are 10 times more games released then in the USA. Prices were also cheaper then in the USA. Games that get TO the USA are Pigeon holed into certain TYPES. The market also hasnt looked at WHAT is being played ONLINE, only what can be sold on the shelf. There are TONS of online games that are NOT the genre that is always touted for RELEASE in the USA.
In the USA they SLAP a game in your face and say PLAY IT. In other countries they COMPETE for the market.
Also you have to know something about the USA market on Software/movies/audio. ITS A CLOSED MARKET. If you want into this market you have to PAY. Look at Anime titles. HOW in hell can they charge that much. BECAUSE they had to PAY into the market, and use USA distribution systems which ADD 2-3 times to the price of a product.

This country needs a BIG FIX.

vastrightwing (profile) says:

DRM plus prosecution, a leathal combination

DRM is like a wax seal: It’s not really there to stop anyone other than the few who are afraid to tamper with it. DRM works when used in combination with prosecution. And this only works because the state has agreed to prosecute anyone breaking that wax seal. I seriously doubt any publisher thinks DRM is going to stop anyone from being able to break it. Its goal is to give companies a way to monetize the breaking of that seal. Put a different way, it’s like being able to charge a thief with breaking a lock to your front door even if he doesn’t steal anything. The court will force that person to pay you specified or unspecified damages. Potentially a good business model if enough people are caught. Lest you think this isn’t a good business model, ask the RIAA why they’ve been doing this for so long and continuing to do so?

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: DRM plus prosecution, a leathal combination

“Lest you think this isn’t a good business model, ask the RIAA why they’ve been doing this for so long and continuing to do so?”

Because the RIAA is run by morons. While they’ve been suing people for rediculous sums, their profits have steadily dwindled. So no, it’s not a good business model. Nice example. Any other stupid comparisons you’d like to throw out there?

Jim (user link) says:

DRM only "works" in preventing legal competition

Nobody ever got a third party DRM to function on the iPod (at least not for very long). And because music executives demanded DRM, Apple owned the channel. Due to the DMCA, nobody was able to legally sell a product to help iPod users move FairPlay-encrypted downloads to non-Apple players, which means customers were more or less locked in.

FairPlay DRM didn’t do much for the music executives that demanded it, except help transfer control of the music biz from them to Steve Jobs. So, DRM “worked” pretty well for Apple in music. Now their trying to repeat that success for e-books, videos and apps.

jendelui (profile) says:

Irreparable damage to their own reputation for a sale

I was a big fan of the SC games. I bought the first one, then SC:CT. Started having issues with the PC, they got worse and worse – couldn’t burn disks (coasters, crashes), couldn’t watch DVDs or listen to music CDs. It started crashing more often, the IDE interface was getting slower and slower till the CD would only connect in PIO… went on for months and cost me heaps in lost data, time, stress (also blank media) even though I only played the game a few times and uninstalled it trying to find a solution for the problem. That didn’t work so I thought they were off the hook – until eventually found a fix which was to remove the ‘hidden’ starforce drivers that had been installed by the game. Heaps of people who bought the game may not have found out that it caused their PC crashes and inability to burn discs or watch DVDs, but plenty enough did find out that now the once glorified Splinter Cell name is mud. Evil mud.

Point is, they may have sold copies – but every one of them has messed with the PCs of the people that bought them, long after the game is forgotten and probably represents the last sale they will get from that person once they find out who is responsible for their PCs woes.

Splinter Cell is a forgotten franchise now – they aren’t getting repeat customers, either because their computers are stuffed or they know SC caused their computer problems.

If you bought a car radio that stopped your car from working you would avoid that brand as much as possible.

I also used to love International Cricket Captain 2005 – I got the trial with every intention of buying it, but when I went to run it under WINE in Ubuntu it gave a message that it had detected a decompiler on the system and therefore was not going to run. Technically it could have run, but they chose to make it not run – this annoyed me greatly. I didn’t buy the game.

Can anyone think of an instance when the presence of DRM made them decide to buy the game? ‘Cos I’ve only experienced being burned by DRM, or choosing not to buy because of DRM.

Where is the reason to buy DRM?

hmm says:

Well it finally looks like Starforce have found the 100% effective method of stopping piracy..simply attach their virus/rootkit/malware piece of crap to any game..people don’t buy it, and if the game just sits on the shelves unsold hey presto!!!!! no piracy!!!!!!

They can even count how effective Starforce is by how many programmers their clients have to lay off due to poor sales…..

Jeffrey Rosen (user link) says:

A note from the author

Dear TechDirt,

Wolfire is 100% anti-DRM and our games do not have any DRM in them, nor will they. This post that you are using as an example to “stay away from Wolfire games”, is actually a minor technical correction to a previous post where I blast DRM. We are actually a company that develops on Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows and has several open source games. We advocate open standards loudly and are card-carrying members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

When I received several pieces of hate mail about how Wolfire loves of DRM, it was a serious WTF moment. This is the exact opposite of what we believe.

In my original anti-DRM post, I incorrectly assumed that DRM is guaranteed to be cracked within a day or two of a AAA release. I received many comments and emails that this was inaccurate. Splinter Cell is one of the few games where the DRM prevented the game from being cracked for 422 days using highly suspect methods. I wrote a correctional piece explaining this.

Sorry for the misunderstanding. I hope that TechDirt writes a correctional piece as well. 🙂

Jeffrey Rosen
Wolfire Games

Fraser (profile) says:

Are you serious?

I have been following Wolfire games for nearly a year now so I know for a fact that your full of crap by saying that we should “stay away from Wolfire games”.

Also I must ask, and please don’t take this as an insult because it is indeed a genuine question. Are you retarded?

I only ask because as soon as I read that article I understood that what they were saying was that the security could work as it was a contrast to their previous blog post saying that often DRM can be broken with in a day or even before the game is released and this is simply saying that the DRM can stop piracy, so next time you make a comment that could jeopardize a company that only survives because of pre-orders and their own determination because of you not knowing what you are talking about I suggest you read around the subject a little bit more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: For the record

I agree Mike needs to post a correction, but shouldn’t you reserve your judgment about whether to visit a site again until you see how he handles mistakes?

Everyone makes mistakes and Mike is pretty good about owning up when he makes a goof, which is more than can be said about a lot of other writers on the internet.

I think the least you can do is give him a chance to apologize and admit the goof before writing him and this wonderful site off completely.

ausbushman says:

Re: Updated

And I would like to apologise for jumping too far, too soon. I just wanted to point out that mistakes like these do matter, but didn’t need to say any more.

I have in fact revisited the site to read some articles of interest to me (hoping that this doesn’t promote bad publicity as good publicity) and enjoyed the short, bite-sized reads. I’m also amazed at the frequency of postings, which might explain the occasional mistake.

Anyway, cheers.

Anonymous Coward says:

I love teh internets.

– Mike blogs about a blog and totally misconstrues it.

– Mike gets called out as wrong two hours after the article is written, and first commenter to point it out gets ridiculed.

– Then someone actually thinks “hey, wait a minute”, reads the article, and also comments, pointing out just how wrong Mike is.

– The guy from Wolfire comments a whole 12 hours later.

– Then the real morons start to comment, jumping on the bandwagon, calling for Mike’s head.

– Mike prints a correction and apologizes in the comments.

But this is hardly the first time (or will be the last time) a wildly inaccurate, heavily biased, jump-the-gun piece has appeared on Techdirt (or Boing Boing, or Slashdot…)

Above all, this is a perfect example of why bloggers are not, and will never be, real journalists.

william (profile) says:

Re: Re:

right… and now let’s forget all the times that “real” journalists jump the gun, misrepresent news, heavily biased in their editorials…

AND NOT apologizing (or prints a small correction at the edge of the newspaper, right beside the obituaries) Hooray for the “real” journalists! Hooray for mainstream media! Hooray for Fox Network! Hooray for Glen Beck! for they are the true journalistic heros!

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Mike has never claimed to be a journalist. He does seem to be of the opinion that people should fact-check “articles” before posting/printing them, and I bet he is feeling properly chastened at this point.

However, unlike many journalists, he did not attempt to “disappear” his mistake but actually posted a retraction and apology. That buys him a lot of respect in my book.

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