Conspiracy Theories Over Steam Game Suddenly Crashing Wrong; Just More Broken Anti-Piracy Code

from the crash-override dept

If you follow video game news as I do, you probably came across a fascinating and somewhat thrilling series of speculative stories revolving around a game called Spintires, which is being sold through the Steam platform. The driving game had been selling for some time, and selling fairly well, when all of the sudden it stopped working. Just like that, the game was crashing all over the place. Some sites, including this later-updated Gamasutra post, began digging into a wellspring of conspiracy theories about purposeful sabotage by the developer over money disputes with the publisher.

There may be something rotten in the state of Spintires, as the game’s players have taken to Reddit and its official forum recently to complain about alleged “time bombs” hidden in the code by the game’s developer that are rendering it unplayable.

The reason that a conspiracy theory like this found purchase rather than being laughed away was the rocky history between the developer of the game, Pavel Zagrebelnyy, with the game’s publisher, Oovee Game Studios. Just a week before the crashing of the game began, Zagrebelnyy had been participating in interviews with sites and offering up less than flattering comments about Oovee.

“They owe me a s***load of money according to our contract,” Pavel tells me in a new interview. “But I don’t have any leverage because my judicial skills are zero. I haven’t had a meaningful communication with Oovee for many months (maybe a year).”

Oovee, in the same post, acknowledges that it has been late in paying Zagrebelnyy, but promises that this will be corrected. A week later, the game of Zagrebelnyy’s that Oovee published is suddenly broken and unplayable. At that point, Oovee released a statement, acknowledging that the crashes were a widespread issue and stating that those crashes were “date-related.” The internet took that statement and ran with it, extrapolating it into a tale in which Zagrebelnyy had inserted time-bomb bits of code into the game that could be weaponized to cause it to crash on certain days or within certain date-ranges if he were so motivated, say by a lack of being paid by the publisher.

But that speculation and the conspiracy theory behind it then crashed upon comments from Zagrebelnyy and Oovee, which acknowledge to the theorists that, naaaah, it’s just another case of anti-piracy efforts fucking things up for all the legitimate customers.

Zagrebelnyy gave the following response:

“Well, I dont understand who and why started the rumours of sabotaging – apparently they are based on reverse engineering Spintires code? Anyways, publisher (Oovee) have the source codes so they know (they should) I didn’t sabotage Spintires – there is no such code! But there is in fact a time-related bug (a self-check uses time functions to see if game wasn’t cracked by pirates) which was not fixed in time (because we have little to no communicating with Oovee.)”

And Oovee:

“We are aware of recent press speculation relating to sabotage of the spintires game by the lead developer Pavel. We wish to express our displeasure at this speculation and totally refute these and other recent allegations. It is a shame that some press are reporting this without talking to us, and even saying in some articles they are yet to talk to us. The situation on the bug is that we became aware of a major bug last week that caused the game to stop for some users.”

And so another conspiracy theory falls, this times at the hands of faulty DRM. I’ll put this here so nobody has to in the comments: never blame malice when incompetence is just as likely. Or maybe just blame DRM always and for everything. You’re going to be right a decent amount of the time.

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Companies: oovee game studios

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Comments on “Conspiracy Theories Over Steam Game Suddenly Crashing Wrong; Just More Broken Anti-Piracy Code”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Ready. Fire. Aim.

But there is in fact a time-related bug (a self-check uses time functions to see if game wasn’t cracked by pirates) which was not fixed in time (because we have little to no communicating with Oovee.)”

Of course in true DRM fashion I imagine the pirated copies were the only ones that weren’t crashing, because they would have stripped that code out as soon as they noticed it.

DRM: For when you want to take careful aim at pirates, and hit nothing but your paying customers instead.

Keroberos (profile) says:

Re: Re: DRM is not a recent invention

The original US NES (1985) had a lockout chip which was designed to block unlicensed games from playing on the system, but also caused problems with legitimate game playback. On PC The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) had the “Dial a Pirate” wheel, and Night Hawk: F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0 (1991) had an aircraft identification system so you could not play without the manual. So, DRM systems since 1985? 30+ years ago? Not very recent.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 DRM is not a recent invention

It was fairly widespread. Every computer out had some form of DRM on all their games, and the big ones had several forms of DRM. In ’82, Atari 8-bit games mostly had extra sectors on the disk. You would read the track to find the sector with the extra copy to verify the disk. That was too easy to copy, so they started making tracks that were too long for regular drives to copy. By ’85, The Goonies came out with the new DRM – “weak bit” protection. Reading a sector with weak bits would return different data every time. The Goonies would read the sector eight times and fail if the same data was read even once. 16-bit computers like the Amiga made DRM on floppies into an art form. Disk copiers got pretty sophisticated on copying disks, with the bigger ones releasing an update after every game that featured a new DRM that couldn’t be handled by the copier. The 80’s and 90’s were the Golden Age of floppy DRM. The late 90’s and 2000’s were the Golden Age of CD DRM. The 10’s is now the Golden Age of online DRM.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: DRM is not a recent invention

“On PC The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) had the “Dial a Pirate” wheel”

Easily lost/broken for the legitimate owner, easily photocopied for the pirate.

“Night Hawk: F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0 (1991) had an aircraft identification system so you could not play without the manual”

Not true. You could play with a photocopy of the relevant pages. IIRC, most such games only asked for 20-30 pages from the manual rather than the whole thing, so a pirate could easily find out which were required and supply their copies accordingly. Plus, the pirated discs I’ve seen of games from that era were usually hacked either to remove those requests or accept any random answer as correct. So, again, legitimate owners were screwed if the manual got lost/damaged while the pirate never needed to set eyes on one.

The other fundamental issue with DRM also remains from those days – the game assumes everyone is a pirate and only lets you use your legally purchased property if you can prove otherwise. That some attempts were humorous doesn’t make them any less odious than the modern versions that require no human interaction.

“So, DRM systems since 1985? 30+ years ago? Not very recent.”

Not recent, but the fundamental problems remain the same.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 DRM is not a recent invention

Ahh yes, good old Macrovision. Technically, though, it didn’t “magnetize” the copy or anything. It stripped the sync signals from the encoding, which made it impossible for VHS players to keep a stable picture.

But those sync signals could be replaced, so Macrovision was not terribly effective as an antipiracy measure. What it was GREAT at was preventing you from being able connect your VHS system to your TV and then playing external video sources through it, which meant everyone had to use those stupid physical switches.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 DRM is not a recent invention

Actually, it doesn’t strip the sync, it changes the level of the sync. TVs would pick up the sync just fine (well, MOST would), but VCRs were required by Macrovision (and their purchased laws) to use bad sync extraction circuits so they WOULDN’T pick up the sync, thus causing bad copies. For a while, even broadcast TV was doing this for “premiere” broadcasts of movies and TV shows.

You may have noticed (I sure did) that OLD VCRs would handle Macrovision just fine, but new VCRs were completely borked. They often choked even when MV wasn’t present because of those twitchy sync extraction circuits.

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