Invincible Killer Scorpions And Other DRM Hijinks

from the who-needs-restricting-DRM-when-you've-got-scorpions-with-chain-guns? dept

DRM is often an ugly thing. Many software companies have crippled perfectly good software in hopes of deterring piracy, only to find themselves alienating their paying customers while only momentarily inconveniencing their non-paying nemeses. Ubisoft, in particular, has waged war against pirates at the expense of its own reputation, deploying unpopular anti-piracy schemes such as requiring an internet connection to play its games, even in offline, single player modes.

But not every company is interested in doing the same old “internet connection required” or “original disc in drive” or “x number of installs” copy protection. Many have tried other, less draconian, methods to hamper the gaming experience of those operating pirated versions. Not only are these anti-piracy schemes less likely to affect legitimate users, but they’re also infused with a welcome sense of humor. Or a jet black mean streak. Either way, it’s refreshing to see some creative thinking in the DRM department, which often suffers from the touch of unimaginative spreadsheet operators, rather than the somewhat anarchic spirit of the actual game creators.

Blowing up all over at the moment is the recently released FPS Serious Sam 3. There’s DRM in that baby (not counting anything Steam-related), and if you’ve pirated the game, it’s out to kill you. Starting about 10 minutes into the game, the pirating player is suddenly presented with a “giant invincible armoured scorpion” which relentlessly pursues them for the rest of the game.

This has led to paying players expressing an interest in downloading the pirated version in order to play the game with this additional level of challenge. It’s DRM as “dare” and no doubt someone is off polishing a deadly-DRM-scorpion speed run at this very moment.

By no means is this the first gameplay element added/subtracted as a way to push players towards purchasing the game. Bohemia Interactive has been experimenting with gameplay degradation (called DEGRADE, obviously) as DRM for a few years now, starting with its Arma series. Players with pirated versions were treated to wildly inaccurate weapons, hallucinogenic landscapes and even occasionally turned into birds and greeted with the message, “Good birds do not fly away from this game, you have only yourself to blame.” Bohemia’s latest title, Take On Helicopters, features the same protection scheme which led to the banning of forum members who asked for tech support on this “graphics issue.”

Crysis: Warhead took the same route as Arma, but with a twist. Not only is your gun a bit more inaccurate, but all of your ammo (including your grenades) is made entirely out of live chickens.

Uber-Half Life 2 playground Garry’s Mod utilized faux graphical problems to deter pirates as well. However, illicit copies didn’t get much further than the loading screen before kicking out an error message about being “unable to shade polygon normals.” Creator Garry Newman admits that this additional “feature” will probably do little to increase sales, rather that he added it to give paying customers “something to be smug about.” (Presumably followed by “TROLOLOLOLOL.”)

Another recent release, Batman: Arkham Asylum featured a “bug” inherent to unofficial copies: a broken “Glide” function, which led to Batman collapsing in a cloud of poisonous gas rather than floating gracefully (you know, like a bat) from ledge to ledge. Once again, tech support was sought at the official forum, only to be greeted by a reply that the actual “bug” was in the user’s “moral code.” (Protip: when seeking tech support for your pirated game, it’s probably best to wait until after the game is officially released.)

And it’s not just FPS games getting into the act. Even software developers for systems not exactly swarming with pirates have added additional “content” solely with the purpose of harshing pirates’ mellows. Big-in-Japan Nintendo DS dating simulator LovePlus+ utilized DRM that completely removed the sole reason for the game’s existence. Gamers with pirated copies found themselves completely unable to get any of the virtual girlfriends to return their affections, putting them in the awkward (but possibly not unfamiliar) situation of having to pay money for female attention.

Ultra-hardcore action-RPG Dark Souls further punished its masochistic crowd by sending “maximum level Black Phantoms” (level 145 monsters with 1900 hit points and all of their abilities set to maximum) out en masse to greet early purchasers who broke the official street date, taking the game from merely “Nintendo hard” to “Nothing but SNK Bosses all the way down.” This would be one of those incredibly rare instances where DRM is instituted to prevent paying players from playing the game and giving themselves an advantage over other online players who waited (or were forced to wait) until the street date to get in on the action.

Speaking of “Nintendo hard,” cult classic RPG Mother 2 (a.k.a. Earthbound) used multiple layers of DRM to nudge pirates towards a purchase. The DRM first makes itself known by simply popping up a FBI-esque warning, reminding the user that it’s a “serious crime to copy video games.” If this first self-check was cracked, a second line of defense would kick in, greatly increasing the number of enemies in any given area. If all the self-checks fail, the gamer is cruelly allowed to proceed through the enemy-laden deathtrap and into a final boss battle, at which point the knife is fully inserted, twisted and yanked out through the gamer’s virtual spine. During the climatic battle, the game freezes, deletes all saved games and resets. Ow.

And who can forget the godawful, skull-piercing sound of the vuvuzuela, which heralded a new era of obnoxiousness in both soccer fans and DRM, courtesy of none other than DRM-poster boy Ubisoft in its Nintendo DS game, Michael Jackson: The Experience. (Have you forgotten it? Click through to bring it back to horrible life.)

Obviously, any DRM scheme will net itself some legitimate users. But the more developers look to targeted deterrents like these rather than broad “everyone’s a thief” copy protection, the less chance they run of pissing off their paying customers by delivering a product that is less usable than the cracked version.

Here’s one last link to attempt to scrub that nightmarish vuvuzuela out of your brain. Here’s a jaunty little anti-piracy theme that showed up in “Worms 2D.” It’s short, catchy and may even make you lawl a bit. Enjoy.

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Comments on “Invincible Killer Scorpions And Other DRM Hijinks”

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Karen in Wichita says:

Re: Re:

Agreed. And banning members who ask for help with it smacks of Microsoft’s “Oh, you have that video driver that gives our DRM a false positive? Well, if you pay us for Windows AGAIN we’ll unlock it.”

DRM just has way too many false positives for this to be very amusing. Especially if it doesn’t clearly pop up and tell you it thinks you have a pirated copy… first time a piece of software starts acting up without telling me why is the last time I give any money to the company that thinks *that’s* a clever idea. Yikes.

PaulT (profile) says:

While certainly better than DRM that blocks you from using the game at all, especially idiocy such as requiring online connection for single player games, I can’t help but wonder what the rate of false positives are here. If there’s one thing worse than not being able to play a game at all, it must be getting attacked for being a pirate when your legal copy erroneously thinks you copied it. The company probably wouldn’t even know what the flase positive rate is if they ban everyone with the problem from their forums…

That said, if it doesn’t tag people as pirates incorrectly, this is probably the only kind of DRM that would work to convince people to buy legal copies as it gives people the chance to preview a game before buying. Much better than the other crap that just causes headaches for legal customers.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Continuing from where it broke, whenever I get those kinds of DRM I just skip the game (for the graphical type). I’ve never had an experience where I’d play till the end to get screwrd but that’s pure evil. Aside from making me want to put a bullet in some heads I”d not only ditch the game but I’d become an advocate against the company.

I’ve already cost HP over 15 notebooks, 3 desktops and 5 printers because they fucked up the customer relations. (ppl now avoid HP when they talk to me for tech advice). I’m sure I can be even worse for games 😉

TasMot (profile) says:

The First "Fun" DRM I encountered

was way back when in Sim City. You had a certain amount of time to enter a code from a “Key” sheet that was black print on a red background and would copy in a photocopier. If you didn’t get the key code in fast enough the game would go on anyway. But, natural disasters would start happening, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and so on until you just lost the game anyway. Took me a while to make the association since I could play normal for 10 to 15 minutes before the “strange” things started happening.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: The First "Fun" DRM I encountered

Took me a while to make the association since I could play normal for 10 to 15 minutes before the “strange” things started happening

This is another problem with it. You might just think the game was unbalanced (which happens often enough.) At least with “normal” DRM you know when they think you’re pirating. With this stuff you might just think the game sucks and give up on it altogether. When you consider that some people pirate in order to ‘test drive’ games, and buy the real thing if they like it, this probably results in those lost sales they’re so concerned about.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Sensible DRM

That’s the problem, assuming no false positives. That’s the problem with all DRM, whether the kind shown in this article or all the other kinds such as disc-in-tray or online connection. They all rely on the fact there are no false positives, because if there are, its the legit paying customer who gets punished. I paid for Dragon Age Origins myself after torrenting it, and I was locked out of my DLC for the first two weeks because I couldn’t connect to the DRM servers. If a huge dragon had shown up and eaten my character within the first five minutes of the game, I would have refused to play it (and more than likely, sworn off that company’s games). I will admit, these videos are hilarious to watch, but that’s the outsider looking in. If that had been me being affected, while playing a legit version, I would have been pissed.

peter says:

“Bohemia’s latest title, Take On Helicopters, features the same protection scheme which led to the banning of forum members who asked for tech support on this “graphics issue.”

A thumbs up followed by a massive fail.

Thumbs up to the company for coming up with an innovative way to highlight pirated games and a massive thumbs down to the tech support for banning them.

A simple message of “glad you like the game. I am afraid you are having these issues ‘cos you are playing a pirated game. How about buying the real version?” would have gone much further to generate a customer and a fan rather than a sledgehammer ban that would just guarantee a no sale.

Michael Talpas (profile) says:


I might agree with you, if the person had waited until after the game was actually released to ask for help. There is a certain audacity here, however, that must be addressed.

When I was working for Apple, a man called our Apple Care technical support for help with his phone. He said he had use jailbreak software to get around the requirement to have AT&T as the service provider, and when he updated his phone, it overwrote the jailbreak software and disconnected him from his service provider.

When he was told he would have to get AT&T to turn the phone back on, he replied that he was living in Australia. There was no AT&T in Australia (at that time, I don’t know whether there is now or not). The technician sympathized, but ultimately there was nothing he could do.

Now, the technician could have pointed out to him that he needed to redownload the jailbreak software, upload it to his phone and reinstall, but if this guy can’t figure that out himself, he is an idiot who deserves to have a phone brick.

Anonymous Coward says:

Years and years ago, I remember hearing about pirated AutoCAD installs slowly skewing the lines within a CAD drawing which would obviously render a drawing unusable. Is that true or a myth? I can’t seem to find any info on that particular DRM. This was like at least 7-10 years ago. Am I making this up in my own head or does anyone else remember that?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t remember that, but that sounds like a horrible idea if true. False positives, pranks and the like are things that you can put up with on a game or something else that’s just fluff or entertainment. But, skewing drawings that can either form a major part of someone’s business or lead to potentially dangerous blueprints? That’s a terrible idea, even if you can guarantee a 100% lack of false positives.

Michael says:

Even though the DRM concepts Nintendo employs with Earthbound are amusing and effective, particularly the final battle against Gigyas where the game freezs and deletes your save files, it doesn’t have a way of breaching an emulator’s save files, so a good hacker will be able to break through this quite easily. Furthermore, what of the Earthbound SNES ROMs which have been floating around forever? None of those have any DRM protection, so to add it after the fact isn’t going to do much except perhaps amuse people. DRM might perhaps be effective with current software, but somehow I get the feeling that the game cracking community lives for these sort of challenges. After all, a lot of gamers pirate software because they don’t want to install the third-party software often required for play, which is probably an excuse because many would still do so even without the added software requirement.

Oh well. It’s still quite amusing. I would come up with some truly funny stuff like a random round of ammo in a FPS which blows up the screen and kills everything, even the icons, so you have to start over. Or an adventure/RPG where you start off in a town and all of the villagers mutate into huge monsters and all come after you.

TheNutman69321 (profile) says:

Not only are these DRM schemes funnier and way more acceptable than traditional DRM. They also always last much longer because the crackers don’t notice them until they release the game and people start playing it, making them have to go back and re-crack it. I have seen these types take weeks sometimes to get fully cracked while traditional draconian drm is almost always broken day 1.

Brent (profile) says:

I had bad luck with an EA game years ago...

It was one in the need for speed series. It assumed that any SCSI drives were “emulated” and refused to work, even though my only disc drive was a SCSI cd burner. I borrowed an IDE drive from an old machine I had sitting there and voila!

The error was something like, “The disc in drive E: is invalid” or similar.

Not happy with the speed of that old IDE drive though, I did some searching and a few minutes after that I had a crack in hand that let me play it using my SCSI drive and retail disc…DRM defeated.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Bohemia’s latest title, Take On Helicopters, features the same protection scheme which led to the banning of forum members who asked for tech support on this “graphics issue.””

Yes, and who wants to bet those people told their friends the game is a pile of bugs and tech support doesn’t care.

There is no good DRM. There is no DRM with zero false positives. There is no DRM that won’t be cracked. There is no DRM that won’t cost you sales.

Anonymous Coward says:

IMO it’s just immature how developers instead of sinking their time into improving the game wastes time making stupid things like this in order to massage their own ego and also of anti-piracy zealots, who lacks any sort of knowledge of basic economics.

I pity those who think everything is all black and white/ good vs evil, really. It’s everything but “innovative” and “cool”.

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