EA/Origin/Something Locks Benchmarkers Out Of Battlefield Hardline After Too Many GPU Swaps

from the punishing-the-innocent dept

Origin, Electronic Arts’ online store and license-check-in system is a hilarious study in how to build a platform to serve legitimate customers and identify infringing copies of the game that both inhibits legitimate customers and misidentifies what is an infringing copy of a game. Add to this the fact that the Origin platform has in the past been found to be in and of itself a massive security exploit and one wonders how the service is still around today. But around it most certainly is, and still screwing with legitimate customers, too, as a group attempting to run benchmark tests on EA’s Battlefield Hardline found out.

Guru 3D writer Hilbert Hagedoorn has discovered some pernicious DRM in Battlefield Hardline while attempting to do a “VGA graphics performance” test with the game for a feature article (thanks Blue’s News). Apparently the DRM monitors hardware changes – something Hagedoorn was doing a lot of when testing different cards with the game – and when it hits a certain threshold it locks the user out of the game.

“Here’s what EAs DRM is doing,” Hagedoorn writes. “They don’t just verify the number of PCs you work on slash use, nope .. they dare to monitor hardware changes now, which I am sure is a privacy breach on many levels. So once we insert new hardware (graphics cards) the hardware id # hash changes and if that happens a couple of times they are rendering your activation invalid.”

For the record, EA has already responded to Game Politics with a wonderfully silly answer: it ain’t our DRM, it’s the Origin DRM, yo!

“Origin authentication allows players to install a game on up to five different PCs every 24 hours,” the EA spokesperson told us this morning. “Players looking to benchmark more than five hardware configurations in one 24 hour period can contact our Customer Support team who can help.”

Hoo-boy, EA, that’s quite a trip of a rebuttal, considering Origin is your platform and the check-in system you’re describing is in fact a form of DRM. So a statement that essentially boils down to, “It wasn’t our game DRM, it was our platform DRM!” is absolutely useless. Is the Origin authentication that lets customers install on five different machines in a day fairly lenient as these things go? Sure, except for a couple of things. First, it clearly doesn’t work all that well, since simply swapping out a GPU suddenly counts as a whole new machine. Second, why have this restriction at all? If your platform can’t be relied upon to properly determine legitimate copies of games, then ditch the platform. Don’t back that failure up by annoying paying customers with restrictions designed to buttress your failed attempts.

But all of that may end up being besides the point, because Hagedoorn’s early point is the key: why is EA sniffing around our hardware configurations? The company had damned well better be sure that there is something in the EULA that allows for them to sniff out hardware swaps, something quite common amongst PC gamers, nevermind benchmarkers. But even if the EULA allows for this… what the hell?

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Comments on “EA/Origin/Something Locks Benchmarkers Out Of Battlefield Hardline After Too Many GPU Swaps”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: MY rights

Is there even any profit involved in this monitoring of device configuration? Can’t origin just check that a single login is active at any time?

I think that you statement could be more accurately phrased as

A company’s right to consider its customers serfs does NOT trump my right to privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:


I thought this game was free to play but I guess that was only because I was in the beta. But banning people from a game they spent something like $60 on because they change the hardware too often? That is a really really bad way to do business in my opinion.

It is one thing to basicly steal peoples money if they hack or cheat but for nothing more than *remove gfx card* *plugin new gfx card* that is just silly.

And the “excuse” is just the cherry on top. If it is your game or your platform that does the damage really doesn’t matter because it is still YOU!

But in the end I guess when people use software that more or less asks them “Do you want to have everything you do on your PC monitored by us?” and they click “check” then they kind of deserve that treatment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wow

I’m trying to figure out why people are so surprised at this. Microsoft, for example, does the same thing with Windows. If you swap out too many pieces of hardware, you get locked out and need to re-validate your registration. They even have an API for doing this check. Apple does a similar thing with their UUID, but they only tie it to the cryptographic chip on the motherboard and don’t care about the peripherals. They can do that because they control the entire platform.

In other words, there’s no privacy violation going on here; EA doesn’t really track what hardware you’re using — they just have your registration hashed against the serial numbers reported by your main hardware components, and when the hash changes, your registration fails. Contacting them can likely get it re-enabled, just like with MS.

Annoying draconian DRM? Yes… but not a privacy issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wow

Well, it can become a privacy issue when other track you too. I mean sure one instance can’t get you into “offical” trouble but if multiple source trace you then it is another topic to be discussed.

And just to be honest about it, MS doesn’t trace all your steps if you manage to use http://www.google.com for once. Apple on the other hand can’t be fouled that easily because of their closed system and “we control everything you do” mentality.

Socrates says:

Re: Re: "Activation"

I’m trying to figure out why people are so surprised at this. Microsoft, for example, does the same thing with Windows. If you swap out too many pieces of hardware, you get locked out and need to re-validate your registration.

Yes, and it harms Microsofts customers too. I know of “hardened computers” that had components changed because they were to be operated autonomous (as in: without access to the internet and without easy access to parts or external services). It failed horribly. When something failed the spare parts disabled computers permanently as the Microsoft Windows counter triggered. That someone would consider Microsoft products for critical infrastructure is baffling. It is not public as it were “shit on the face” of some “important” people.

I also know several students that got problems related to the activations. Windows was pre-installed when they bought the computers, and sooner or later they would get problems. Usually closer to the exam or some other inconvenient time (or perhaps those were just more vocal).

Joe says:

Re: Wow

Actually to be fair it is possibly a cheating thing, Hardware ID is one of the tools used to catch and block cheaters, by putting a limit on the number of time they can spoof their hardware in a day they can mitigate at least some of the cheating. I can’t think of another practical use for the whole 5 computers in 24 hours thing. Its meaningless as an anti piracy tool.

That said no excuse, the industry has been down right lazy when it comes to dealing with cheaters, and this just hurts legitimate users with negligible impact on cheaters. Companies that have invested heavily in dealing with cheaters have found significant success and support from their communities, and while one time release games can’t afford to hire a team to handle anti-cheat, with publishers pushing multiplayer even in games where no one wants it, there is no reason publishers shouldn’t have a group to handle anticheat for all their games in an real way, not this half assed spyware crap. Hell if the industry was smart they would collaborate on this, but you know that would be good for the consumer.

Zonker says:

Re: Re: I worry about Steam's market dominance, monopoly potential

The Witcher 3 is the only game I have pre-ordered in twenty years. Ever since EA took my pre-order money for Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale (the canceled expansion pack for U8: Pagan) but never delivered it despite being finished and ready to ship. After enjoying Witchers 1 and 2 Projekt Red and GOG are the first ones I’ve trusted to deliver a pre-order since, no matter how much I’ve looked forward to a new game release.

Fuck EA for destroying Origin Systems and using their name for a bad DRM scheme.
Fuck EA for destroying Bullfrog Productions, Westwood Studios, and now Maxis too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I worry about Steam's market dominance, monopoly potential

But…but… GoG is pure evil because people can copy games. It can’t make profits because those darrrrn childandcopyrightrapingpirates WILL (and I dare you to argument against it becaues you can’t, because you are wrong because children and all) copy the games and ruin the insert random name here industry.

TL:DR DRM is the only way to make sure people in the industry earn more in a year than a regular worker earns in a live time ($50k year *40)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I worry about Steam's market dominance, monopoly potential

Just to be clear, regular worker meaning the average income. Which means that people make way way way way way way more than that because some people make way way ….. way less than that to get to the average. Do the math yourselves, if one makes 3 billion a year who many do you need to get to an average of $50k?

Answer is: too many.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: not new.

Not back then you weren’t. Back then when you googled Securom you came up with approximately “jack” and “shit”. And that’s if you knew to google Securom at all, because EA and whoever else used it didn’t bother to tell anyone who bought their product that it was included at all, let alone could interfere with anything on one’s computer.

History. Learn it.

joe says:

Re: Re: Re: not new.

If had ever pirated any game ever you knew how to get around securom. It was really that easy, that was broken next day. I mean this was from a period of time where I would buy a game and then install the pirated version because it was less likely to screw up my computer. That was shortly before I stopped playing PC games altogether. Thank god for steam savior of the PC, even if I buy from GOG first.

DCL says:

Re: not new.

The Securom issue you refer to was different as that was total activations and it took them a while give you a tool to undo those activations.

This is a time based limit that few people run into and not a total install/activation limit… well you are limited to 1,820 installs a year for fixed 24 hour window… if is 5 per rolling 24 hour window that ends up around 8,741.

Tom Mink (profile) says:

What the hell?

I’m sure there’s a way to identify hardware changes without specifically identifying what the hardware is… but I doubt that’s happening here. Instead, this looks like EA is making me pay to contribute valuable market research that they can use for leverage against hardware makers. Combine that with the linked payment and other data they collect and there’s a pot of saleable consumer information as well.

How are they not offering games for free or paying developers decently with all of this extra revenue they can rake in off their users?

DCL says:

Re: What the hell?

I have heard from a very reliable source they use a one way machine hash for the account check.

They do use telemetry with detailed hardware configurations to do data driven risk analysis and development resourcing. That type of information is critical for game teams and not something they have to worry about on console. You can opt out of that type of data collection in the user settings.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have long ago quit buying anything put out by EA. Their shitty attitude as demonstrated by their response is very typical of them. I’ve read so many times of others locked out of their games, of being banned in the EA forums for trying to get EA to fix a bug. Rather than acknowledge the bug, they will have mods delete threads, lock them to prevent other comments, ignore them, or ban members rather than address it.

EA sets a whole nother level for how shitty you can be to your customers and long ago, I said I would never buy another game from EA; and I haven’t. They don’t make a product good enough to even out their treatment of their gaming fans. EA has also been well known to give the minimum gaming experience for a franchise. It makes the game not worth the money as all they are doing is cashing in on the name. You don’t get long playing games with them.

This sort of stuff has been going on forever in the gaming world and if you have a problem with it, shame on you. You stupid enough to buy their games after all this time of them doing it this way? Then suck it up. It’s your own damn fault.

I’m sure to the gamer that can no longer play his game that it makes no difference if the DRM is Origin or EA. It results in the same thing, a non-playable game. EA’s name is all over it. That’s not a product I will ever buy due to EA’s poor customer relations.

RD says:

Re: Re:

“This sort of stuff has been going on forever in the gaming world and if you have a problem with it, shame on you. You stupid enough to buy their games after all this time of them doing it this way? Then suck it up. It’s your own damn fault. “

Ah yes, blame the victim, of course. Not that any company should, you know, behave decently towards its consumers. Oh no, fuck the consumer. Suck it up or live without. Interestingly, this is the same attitude the Big Media corps have regarding any reasonable release of their locked-up copyrighted content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

EA exists because the very victims that complain then turn around and defend EA. As long as EAs consumers refuse to stand up and refuse to continue protecting EA, they will not stop and good luck stopping them. The sad truth of abusive relationships, the victims are frequently the only ones who can do anything about it.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: EA has found an aspect of human nature on which they capitalize.

Which is that if they provide certain kinds of games, they’ll get enough of a following that they can rule their customers with an iron fist (in some cases permabanning accounts without explanation) and that following will stay loyal.

Kinda like Zynga.

It does make EA look like a total turd, but so far a golden turd.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think Origin’s policies are all that unreasonable. Did any of you read this before screaming bloody murder on EA? I get it, I dislike them, they have taken the soul out of many franchises.

But this is not something to scream about… FIVE PER DAY. And their response was, contact us if you want to do something like this. And maybe it’s not just about DRM, maybe is also has to do with suspicious behavior on your account. A negligible percentage of players are going to be affected by this.

EternalAmbiguity says:

This is a terribly written article. EA is not saying “it’s not game DRM, it’s Origin DRM.” No one is talking about game DRM. EA is saying that that’s simply the way the program DRM is set up. They aren’t excusing it, they’re explaining it.

And for the hyperbole “they DARE record hardware changes???” That’s been going on for years. I don’t think it’s good to lock users out because of it (though a temporary lock-out is really not bad at all), but this is not something that started with EA, or started in 2015.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: They've always done it this way. Everyone does it.

How do people still believe that tradition or common practice justifies a terrible practice?

We also torture and throw wrongful convictions by the hundreds into inhumane prisons. Not that I’m saying that DRM on a computer game is of the same caliber of heinous crime as wrongfully imprisoning people into dungeons. But the notion of that’s just the way it’s done is an appeal to the continuation of madness.

coward (anon) says:

Hardware hash

As was pointed out (and apparently ignored due to the deserved hatred of EA), the only way to semi uniquely identify a PC is to hash the hardware configuration. Unlike Apple who has a unique crypto chip on the motherboard, PCs don’t have anything unique available. This has long been an issue to developers who want to tie software or acccounts to a specific PC.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

What privacy?

Origin is notorious for snooping. It’s supposed to do that, and anyone who is surprised by how invasive it is must not have ever played any of EA’s crappy games.

The original clusterfuck.

I still think EA should be in business with the NSA for the amount of data they capture all the time. What good does it do, anyway? It doesn’t prevent piracy, nor does it even slow it down.

Customer metrics? Oh, let’s get real. It’s just a way for them to think they can control every single ‘gaming experience”.

It’s just intentional spyware.

Joe says:

BAD EA, take all my monies!!!!

The only reason that Origin/EA still exist is that people refuse to walk away. Its this unbelievably abusive relation ship where EA shits on its consumers and its consumers complain and talk about creating a gamer bill of rights, and then turn around and buy the next simcity with a complaint list a mile long.

Its funny too the looks you get when you tell people that complain about EA that that is why you simply refuse to buy any thing from them, like you’re the ridiculous one for refusing to buy from someone that is behaving abusively and borderline illegally, and voting with your wallet, possibly the most powerful tool a citizen of this country has.

lostalaska (profile) says:

As a gamer the list keeps getting longer....

I quit buying Ubisoft games because their Uplay system is a horrible tacked on piece of bloatware with almost no user benefits for all the overhead and if it’s crashing it won’t let you play the game you bought on Steam. Then there was the Microsoft “Games for Windows” program that added itself as another layer of frustration since it wasn’t tied to a specific brand. I had one of the Batman Arkham games on Steam that had the MS Games for Windows DRM tacked onto it. When I had the gall to update to windows 8 I couldn’t play any of the games locked down for “Games for Windows” because they didn’t have a driver for Windows 8 because MS had abandoned the program. About a year later it was re-released on steam as a Game of the Year edition and they had ripped out Games For Windows DRM and offered it free as a replacement to those of us who hadn’t been able to play it for nearly two years. I’ve avoided EA’s ORIGIN service because I’m so fed up with janky DRM I just didn’t want to have to jump through another set of hoops for another company. I pick up a lot of older games off of GoG, but their selection is pretty small and specific. Still I usually check there first before going elsewhere to purchase a game.

Isaac Tyreus (user link) says:

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Entrance is easy, and there are few contestants at the moment so your chances of winning are quite high!

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