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October 24, 2005 6:06 PM   Subscribe

Ubisoft's demo of the new King Kong PC game comes with a lovely surprise: StarForce copy protection software. Starforce installs a device driver with no warning, and many users have complained that it causes system instability. It also appears totally contrary to the idea of allowing users to copy the demo between one another (effectively robbing Ubisoft of free advertising). As with any form of copy protection it appears StarForce is simply an annoyance to the casual user, while the dedicated pirates are well on their way to cracking it.
posted by pivotal (38 comments total)

 

This is a common practice for game demos nowadays (all of them have starforce). I personally don't have a strong opinion one way or the other, but the reason is because releasing a demo without gives pirates a "clean" exe to work from making their job easier.

Not that every game doesn't get pirated on the first day anyway.
posted by malphigian at 6:17 PM on October 24, 2005


The best laid plans of DRM software and their designers often go awry.
posted by gen at 6:23 PM on October 24, 2005


Someone needs to emphasize this in such a way that the right people see it: people who pirate software enjoy cracking it. The game itself is orders of magnitude less amusing. And their distributed ingenuity will smash your firm, secure edifice into beach absolutely every Goddamn time. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Nobody says it often enough: Penny Arcade's Tyco is a great fucking writer.
posted by Tlogmer at 6:23 PM on October 24, 2005


Aye Tlogmer. Tyco's fact is incredibly well known, but I don't think I've seen anyone put it so clearly. If you build it (DRM) it will be cracked.
posted by pivotal at 6:27 PM on October 24, 2005


Exactly. DRM and copy protection ... these are the "game" releases the crackers seek out. The actual product is secondary to tertiary.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:31 PM on October 24, 2005


There has been no game, in recent memory, that has not been cracked. There may be some obscure games no one has bothered to touch yet, but I didn't think they'd be able to crack Half-Life 2 easily and they did it before it was released!

Please game people, it's a son of a bitch to swap CDs and have you install your crap on our computers. Take away all DRM and check for valid serial numbers on multiplayer public servers. People who will buy will already buy it, those who won't buy it won't.
posted by geoff. at 6:36 PM on October 24, 2005


all of them have starforce

This is patently untrue. Not many games at the moment, and very few demos indeed, use Starforce. Most games do use some easily-circumvented form of copy protection, but in general it's less invasive, system-destabilizing, and utterly stealth-craptastic than Starforce.

Boycott games that install the Starforce service and drivers. In the meantime, run this Starforce removal tool, and some of your Windows performance and stability problems might just go away. Mine did.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:36 PM on October 24, 2005


(Note: if you do nuke Starforce, any games that use it won't work without cracked executables. Get them from the usual sources, if you need to.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:38 PM on October 24, 2005


Yeah I was going to call malphigian out on all of them have starforce, but to tell you the truth, I've all but given up on PC gaming in favour of consoles, so I'm no authority.

The only explanation I can think of for Ubisoft StarForceing demos is to get the software installed on as many PCs as possible.
posted by pivotal at 6:45 PM on October 24, 2005


If you build it (DRM) it will be cracked.

Sure, now it will always be cracked. Give it 5 years and Dell will be selling "Trusted" PCs that cryptographically verify everything running on your machine from the bootloader on up. Then the only ones doing the cracking will be those with major resources, e.g. people who make money from it.
posted by hupp at 6:51 PM on October 24, 2005


There may be some obscure games no one has bothered to touch yet, but I didn't think they'd be able to crack Half-Life 2 easily and they did it before it was released!

Half-Life 2 wasn't cracked before it's release on November 16th last year, Valve did a good job of preventing it from getting out early. There was a leak of an early incomplete version in 2003, maybe you're thinking of that.
posted by bobo123 at 7:04 PM on October 24, 2005


Sure, now it will always be cracked. Give it 5 years and Dell will be selling "Trusted" PCs that cryptographically verify everything running on your machine from the bootloader on up.

And someone else will be producing "freedom" PCs without hardware DRM that a sizable segment of consumers will be wanting to buy, and someone will crack the games to run on them. As much as it pains my commie ass to say it, the market will win this one.
posted by Jimbob at 7:05 PM on October 24, 2005


And someone else will be producing "freedom" PCs without hardware DRM that a sizable segment of consumers will be wanting to buy, and someone will crack the games to run on them. As much as it pains my commie ass to say it, the market will win this one.

I wouldn't be too sure about that - AMD and Intel are both onboard with the trusted computing initiative right now and are both in a position to require all future motherboard chipsets for their processors to implement it as well.
posted by Ryvar at 7:08 PM on October 24, 2005


Oh, and one other thing - there's an entire genre of games that don't get pirated or cracked at all: MMOGs. One CD key, one account, and one credit card are all tied together, rendering piracy moot. This fact, accompanied by the steadier income of monthly fees, is a major force behind the ongoing shift to online games as a service rather than a product.
posted by Ryvar at 7:12 PM on October 24, 2005


The cracked version of Half-Life 2 was also released on November 16th. Granted, that version was barely functional and it took a couple of days before a proper version was released. So bobo123 is right, it was not cracked before it's release.
posted by lazy-ville at 7:13 PM on October 24, 2005


I wouldn't be too sure about that - AMD and Intel are both onboard with the trusted computing initiative right now and are both in a position to require all future motherboard chipsets for their processors to implement it as well.

So someone writes a hardware abstraction layer in a bootloader that circumvents it, maybe, and we ('we' being the geeksquad as opposed to joe consumer) go on as before?

Nothing digital can be locked down forever, I don't believe, nor should it be. [/grandiose handwaving]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:20 PM on October 24, 2005


I've installed, played, and eventually un-installed a legal copy of one of the games in that list with no problems. I've never "cleaned up" StarForce, because I hadn't heard of it until now. But my system doesn't appear to have any StarForce residue.

So I'm guessing that it's possible for the game designers to set things up so that StarForce is uninstalled when the game is - the "stays behind when the game is uninstalled" complaints are probably really caused by buggy un-installers, not by a basic property of the StarForce system.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:33 PM on October 24, 2005


MMOG's can be pirated to run on pirate servers.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:43 PM on October 24, 2005


Pirate servers are easier to find and shut down than pirated clients.
posted by Foosnark at 8:36 PM on October 24, 2005


yeah, seriously. there is no defense that exists or that you can think of, no matter how ingenious, that isn't or won't be cracked. Tycho's explanation is the biggest reason why, but there's another: people who play cracked games (for the large part) wouldn't be buying the games, anyway.

You may doubt me if you wish, but it's one of the reasons that many professional graphics applications don't bother with individuals owning pirated copies. It's also what the RIAA doesn't get, yet. Pirating is easy if you're well into a life of doing it, and hard if you're not. that learning curve can be pretty steep in a lot of cases, and the reason people take the time to overcome it is simply because they either can't afford the product normally (Photoshop, 3d and video editing applications) or they're not interested enough to spend real money on it unless it's worth their real money (games). Alias Maya has a serious copy protection scheme that prevents big companies from pirating it, and so does adobe, but those schemes haven't gotten too difficult to crack and there's been virtually no pursuit of crackers on their parts. Why?

Because kids who pirate photoshop and Maya today are the professionals who force their employers to buy it tomorrow. Adobe's protection actually contacts adobe to tell them what the serial number is and who's registered it on what computer when you perform certain functions, including install. I don't even bother disabling my internet when I do these things because i'm just some schmoe. They don't care if I don't buy it because they're not getting my money for it anyway, and when I go to work every day I use a legal licensed copy.

Games are different. Every week handfuls of utter garbage are thrust at a hungry consumer base who gets less than a dozen excellent games a year. Do you think those crappy games are betting on word of mouth to get them their sales in a market that typically has a 2 week window of peak sales before the title drops off the face of the earth? No. They survive on forced licensed off-the-shelf spec purchases that ultimately the buyer regrets. That's why there's so much more effort put into game copy protection, and it's why the industry is suffering so much in terms of quality, and why piracy is perceived as a threat: word of mouth, illicit or otherwise, doesn't help when your game is a piece of shit.

Which is why the cracking scene exists. I've downloaded thousands of games, most of which go in my recycle bin within days and a handful of which I then go out and purchase. I may be the exception rather than the rule, but the majority of game downloaders aren't THAT different. The difference is that they wouldn't buy ANY games, normally, with rare exceptions like gta or the sims, but certainly wouldn't be buying anything if they didn't already know they'd be addicted to the quality gameplay.

Online games actually do tend to be proof against this, though. not just mmog's, but games that depend heavily on online play like Battlefield 2 and Counter-Strike as well. But the reason they do so well is because, while there are technically ways around remote content and cd keys, the draw of the game is the entrance into an online community where you can be a badass/fashion maven/sniper/whatever. That seems to be the one thing that no one's overcome, yet. Why not? Because it's a quality product that draws them. Crappy mmo's go out of business, and there's usually one online fps that dominates the market for a while at a time before a better one comes to eat the market share. There isn't any reason to pirate an experience that someone is providing that's worth the price of admission. Who wants to play on 5 Saudi Arabian BF2 servers for free when there are thousands of worldwide servers to play on for a measly 50 bucks? Who could possibly want to play World of Warcraft in an environment that doesn't take advantage of all of blizzard's immense growing content and service at the same time the rest of the world does?

$.02 sorry that was so long. it's a thing of mine.
posted by shmegegge at 9:13 PM on October 24, 2005


Well said. You are entirely correct.
posted by solipse at 9:29 PM on October 24, 2005


ok, reason #300 or so why i only buy Apples now.

not trying to derail the thread with my evangelism, but seriously -- every time i see something like this, it makes me smile that i don't have to deal with it anymore.

and before anybody pulls out the "you can't even play these games" card, allow me to point out that this is also a point in favor of my owning Apples -- because if i still had easy access to PC games i probably wouldn't even be able to hold down a steady job. same reason i don't buy a TV. i know my limits :)

oh, and back on topic, in response to:

As much as it pains my commie ass to say it, the market will win this one.

right. because there's a huge economic impetus behind non-DRMed games and/or software. because the majority of the computer-using populace really gives a crap. and like us geeks would not play half-life 2 anyway. ::rolls eyes:: fear the invisible pinky toe.
posted by spiderwire at 9:34 PM on October 24, 2005


because the majority of the computer-using populace really gives a crap.

Oh but they do, because this goes further than games. Hardware DRM goes to music and video too. And e-books. You name it, the industry wants to lock it down.

But already, music CD copy protection mechanisms have started to fall by the wayside because a bulk of consumers have bitched about it. When they start producing computers that make it impossible to play a non-DRM audio file, or video file, or which demand some kind of authorization for every single executable, your average, every-day consumer will complain. Just as at the moment, even the most basic computer user is aware that certain software will run on PCs and not Macs, and adjust their buying habits accordingly, if hardware DRM takes off, basic consumers will become aware that buying a DRM machine will mean that certain software won't run, or they won't be able to copy their CDs to their iPod, and will demand alternatives.
posted by Jimbob at 9:44 PM on October 24, 2005


I wouldn't be too sure about that - AMD and Intel are both onboard with the trusted computing initiative right now and are both in a position to require all future motherboard chipsets for their processors to implement it as well.

Hardware DRM only has to be cracked once.
posted by nickerbocker at 9:52 PM on October 24, 2005


Sorry to harp on, but I've got one more point.

Take Linux. There's going to be no way that Linux will happily run on a DRM hardware system. It would mean having hidden, proprietry code, which Linux can't contain, so it would be impossible. So Linux users would demand "free" computers to enable them to continue to use their operating system. Linux users, you say? Who cares about them! They're in a minority.

Not in servers, though. Or other such applications. And hardware manufacturers are already producing custom Linux devices - the market it big enough. So some manufacturer will step up to the plate and start making "free" non-DRM hardware for Linux users. And if it's available for Linux users, it will be available for everybody.
posted by Jimbob at 9:59 PM on October 24, 2005


You know, my computer's been screwy since I installed that demo. It'll freeze and play horrible noises now, and a soft reboot isn't enough to bring it back. But it's linked to the 3d Card, and it took me forever to diagnose it as this starforce crud. Now I know what people are complaining about. Malware of the highest sort. They really need to come up with something better.
posted by Busithoth at 10:13 PM on October 24, 2005


Though it deals primarily with P2P networks, Microsoft's "Darknet" paper provides a good introduction into some of the technical challenges DRM systems face.

One interesting point of convergence: I wonder if the rise in homebrew hacking ala MakeZine and Hackaday is training a new generation of hardware hackers just in time for DRM-on-a-chip. It's probably moot though; the next-gen hardware hacks will just emerge from from the bowels of some undergrad EE lab.

And spiderwire, Apple's definitely joining the hardware DRM crowd. While current versions of OS X are only tied to the hardware via the EULA, you can bet that's going to change when they switch to Intel-based chips.
posted by Loser at 10:42 PM on October 24, 2005


ok, reason #300 or so why i only buy Apples now.

not trying to derail the thread with my evangelism, but seriously -- every time i see something like this, it makes me smile that i don't have to deal with it anymore.


Sorry, what?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:48 PM on October 24, 2005


THANK YOU STAVROS!

and solipse:

Thank you. It occurs to me that I am astute and also eloquent.
posted by shmegegge at 12:49 AM on October 25, 2005


"And someone else will be producing "freedom" PCs without hardware DRM that a sizable segment of consumers will be wanting to buy, and someone will crack the games to run on them."

Indeed. The mod-chippers will simply take a step up (or down, since PCs are easier to modify), and the world will go on.

Increasing the difficulty-level merely means that mod-chippers can charge a higher fee without loosing out to DIY, therefore mod-chipping will be a more attractive career choice.
posted by spazzm at 3:38 AM on October 25, 2005


because if i still had easy access to PC games i probably wouldn't even be able to hold down a steady job. same reason i don't buy a TV.

Because if I hadn't begged the doctor to plant this hideous, bulging and hirsute eye in the middle of my forehead, I'd still have trouble with all of those women throwing themselves at me ...

Of all the reasons to own an Apple, I've never heard anyone cite the machine's abject limitations as a benefit. For that matter, many of the games available for the PC are eventually -- after months of mysterious delay in the halls of Aspyr, typically -- ported to Mac OS X. And even if games aren't your thing, you cannot deny the fact that there is just as much piracy in the Mac side of the house where productivity and creative software is concerned.

Salt Mine, anyone? Serial Box, perhaps?
posted by grabbingsand at 5:44 AM on October 25, 2005


I hope the gaming industry knows that this only causes knowledgeable people to reach for the pirate version *right from the start* instead of giving the legitimate version even so much as a try.

If I like it I will then usually buy the product, unless by then it has a reputation for crippling PCs/slipping in unwanted stuff through the back door, in which case I figure the greedy bastards deserve to get ripped. If you're going to openly treat me like a thief, I'll decide to act the part.
posted by clevershark at 6:02 AM on October 25, 2005


I've always thought that one of the reasons Apple is switching to Intel is because Intel has solid plans to implement DRM into their hardware.

Now, I've heard that one of the problems Apple had with Motorola was that they couldn't deliver a PowerPC chip above a certain clock speed. But seeing that Apple seems to be forming a strategy around selling digital media (and machines that display such media), it would be hard to convince me that they are not planning their future platforms with DRM in mind.
posted by moonbiter at 6:14 AM on October 25, 2005


And spiderwire, Apple's definitely joining the hardware DRM crowd. While current versions of OS X are only tied to the hardware via the EULA, you can bet that's going to change when they switch to Intel-based chips.

You've missed the point -- the allure of Apple isn't DRM free software, it's that a demo game won't install unstable device drivers on your system.

The strange thing to me as a Mac User in this discussion is that it's turned into a DRM debate, and there is this idea that "better" platforms are DRM free. When really, I just want my system to work. I don't even mind paying for it either.

The appalling thing about StarForce isn't that they copy protected a demo. Instead, their software can destablize your system. And somehow, the criticism is being leveled at the fact that they included DRM in the first place? I don't get it.
posted by adzuki at 6:29 AM on October 25, 2005


adzuki, my criticism is wholly-related to Starforce's farking up my system's config, and it the removal hasn't stopped the glitches. My faith in Norton in fixing it is minimal, and it looks like another fresh install is in order for me.

DRM is a hard thing for me to rail against, until it takes as aggressive a route as Starforce. All the ballyhoo over M$'s newest OS downsampling non-DRM video seems like madness. Forcing your machine to reinterpret video (lowering the quality) is pretty shitty.

I'm all for people protecting their code.
I'm all against people installing stealth monitoring programs on your system to 'try' to protect their code. Computers used to be tricky enough to get running without active disabling programs. This will make the experience more frustrating than anything else.

And, having played the demo, I have to say that it kind of bored me. Pretty, but boring. It was absolutely not worth installation.
posted by Busithoth at 7:28 AM on October 25, 2005


grabbingsand : "Because if I hadn't begged the doctor to plant this hideous, bulging and hirsute eye in the middle of my forehead, I'd still have trouble with all of those women throwing themselves at me ..."

I bought a PC from a guy selling them on the side of the road. It cost $3000, but I'm glad I bought it, because it won't turn on, and opening up the case revealed that all the circuitry and hardware inside was burned and melted. Thanks to this PC, I now have time at home to hang out with my wife, make delicious dinners, and learn to play the violin. Every time I see a comment like spiderwire's while browsing MeFi at work, it makes me smile that i don't have to deal with it anymore.
posted by Bugbread at 8:09 AM on October 25, 2005


I remember reading somewhere that starforce doesn't uninstall when the game does.

also, adzuki: And somehow, the criticism is being leveled at the fact that they included DRM in the first place? I don't get it.

the problem is that they're trying to prevent the free distribution of something that's already free and legally freely distributed. That's just dumb. The crippling nature makes it even more dumb, and unethical to boot. But the crippling nature is incidental. Starforce never intended their software to fuck up legally owned copies of the game. It's a bug, not an intent.
posted by shmegegge at 10:51 AM on October 25, 2005


clevershark writes "If I like it I will then usually buy the product, unless by then it has a reputation for crippling PCs/slipping in unwanted stuff through the back door, in which case I figure the greedy bastards deserve to get ripped. If you're going to openly treat me like a thief, I'll decide to act the part."

True. The copy protection on NWN was so irritating and such a pain in the ass I sought out a crack even though I owned a legitimate copy.
posted by Mitheral at 12:23 PM on October 25, 2005


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