Sunday, September 14, 2008

Down with DRM

This is a topic already written about by countless others and I'll probably update this post as time goes by, but it's on my mind recently with the release of Spore.  I pre-ordered the game quite some time ago and have been looking forward to it only to find out the night before it was delivered, that it's hampered by rather draconian digital rights management (DRM).

At first I was told that it would install a rootkit, but after further inquiry, I determined that it installs SecuROM, which is not a rootkit, but it does install a hidden device driver and registry entries without your knowledge which will remain on your system even after you uninstall Spore.  After some searching, I did find instructions for removing SecuROM at, which is good news, but the fact that they don't include an uninstaller program seems suspicious as is the "especially be sure that no instance of the Windows Explorer is running" contained in the instructions - as you probably know, Windows Explorer is the file browser on your Windows machine, but it's the same process that controls your start menu, task bar, and system tray display as you'd know if Windows Explorer has ever crashed and these components have gone missing.  It's unclear as to whether it means you need to have your Windows Explorer windows closed or whether you have to open your task manager and kill the explorer.exe process.

There is also a three activation limit, though activations are supposed to reset after an undisclosed period of time.  Many have pointed out that this almost makes the purchase seem more like renting since the activation servers will eventually shut down, at which time you will be unable to install the game again.  I'm not really worried about the activation limit - I don't tend to install games very often myself, though I'm a little bit worried since my system has been BSOD'ing lately and I might need to reinstall Windows or take it back - but if I decide I want to play again 10 years down the line, I might be more agrravated.

As with most people, I'm mostly angry about the concept of DRM itself.  I can understand that companies want to protect their investment in creating a product, but their method of doing so is an utter failure.  It simply doesn't work.  A week before the release of Spore, a pirated copy was already available for download stripped of DRM.  No SecuROM, no Activation.  There's no way to stop piracy for installed games.  Online games have more options since they can control users logging in, but DRM in installed media simply doesn't work and winds up simply aggravating honest users.  I think it actually encourages piracy.  I'm inclined to download this hacked version of Spore simply to get a version without DRM issues.  I don't want to steal - I believe that if you make a product, you should be compensated - but I don't want to be treated as a thief and I don't want my system's performance to be impacted either.

I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't return the game and installed it anyway, which is somewhat hypocritical of myself.  It's not technically hypocrasy since I didn't write and post that "people shouldn't buy this game because of the DRM", but it still went against my principles and left a bad taste in my mouth.

For a quick review, the designers in the game are generally excellent and there are a plethora of choices for designing your creature, house, vehicles, etc, however I'm disappointed at the enhancement cap - you can only add so many parts per object.  I also agree with many reviewers that the gameplay is overly simplified and can be repetitive.  It's cute, but I'd like more options in actually doing things.  It's also sometime unclear as to exactly what you should be doing.  I don't want to write any spoilers, but if you have an economic nation and your city is being bombarded by enemy craft, you might know what I'm talking about.  I haven't yet reached the vaunted space stage, so I reserve final judgement until I do.