Wednesday, August 29, 2007

BioShock and the 2K FUBAR Machine

BioShock is an outstanding game, one of the most carefully crafted games I've ever played. It's been universally praised in reviews, has a very strong chance of being Game of the Year, and incredibly (for those who remember System Shock and its disappointing sales), it's even selling well.

In other words, Ken Levine should be basking in the glow of a supreme achievement. Instead, thanks to 2K Games, he's been on the defensive from the day the game shipped because of the strange choices 2K made in regards to user limitations and copy protection.

Let's review.

1. The PC demo gets released.
2. A few people find and buy the PC version early. They can't actually play the game, though, because their copy must be "activated" via the Internet, and the game activation servers aren't up.
3. It's discovered the day the game officially releases that it uses SecuROM copy protection, that SecuROM resides on the user's system and verifies the number of installs, and that the number of installs is capped at two.
4. Shortly thereafter, it's discovered that the demo included SecuROM protection as well.
5. The 2K servers are overloaded and go down. That means everyone who is being forced into Internet-based activation--can't activate their fifty dollar game.
6. 2K publishes a "clarification" on the forums saying that if users are reinstalling the game "a lot," that they might have to call SecuROM and get another installation key.
7. It's quickly confirmed that uninstalling does not necessarily decrement the installation counter as it should, and people contacting SecuROM are directed to contact 2K.
8. Ken Levin posts in the 2K Forums that the SecuROM/2K loop "sucks" and that they're working on the issue.
9. The number of allowed activations is changed from two to five.
10. Levine says in an interview with Joystiq that at an unspecified point in the future, install activation will be removed entirely.

So let's see. People buy a product and some can't use it. Plus, if you want to reinstall Windows, you better uninstall BioShock first, and you better hope that the "counter" registers that uninstall correctly. Hard drive crash? Oops.

And in maybe the worst decision of all, the little octopus known as SecuROM was included on the DEMO.

In other words, the entire installation/copy-protection process has been a complete cluster ****.

So what did Ken Levine say when he was interviewed by Gamespot? Well, he said this: was a bit of a cluster****.

Damn, that's refreshing. It's not like we didn't already know, but it's tremendously refreshing to hear someone tell the truth without using marketing speak or stonewalling or claiming that they were just picking up a piece of paper from the restroom floor.

I never thought about this until now, but while everyone (including me) has been saying that the fragmented user base is a huge part of the decline in top-tier, high-budget titles appearing on the PC, very few people are mentioning another problem: that from our end, the draconian copy-protection methods being used by publishers are really, really pissing us off.

So it's not just that there's less food on the table when it comes to the big budget games, but we're less hungry as well.

Of course intellectual property should be protected, and I've always said that. But publishers have developed a Big Brother mentality--hey, don't worry about what we're using, because unless you're doing something wrong, you have nothing to worry about.

Gee, that sounds familiar, and not in a good way.

If publishers don't clearly, explicitly explain copy protection up front, it makes us think that the publisher is trying to hide something.

Usually, they are.

I should receive notification when a copy protection program installs itself. I should be told its name. I should also receive notification every time it connects to the Internet, and if it sends data, I should be told what it's sending. If I uninstall the game, and I have no other game using this method of copy protection, then the copy protection program should be fully and completely removed from my system. Completely.

All this octopus shit on my system makes me feel like squatters are living in my house. I won't even buy a game that uses Starforce anymore.

Here's another thing: when a publisher finally tells us what's going on with a copy protection scheme, it damn well better be the truth, and it better be correct. Otherwise, a site like Tom's Hardware will do its own investigation and find out that much of what we're being told is totally inaccurate, like this.

The biggest problem, of course, is that we have no rights as consumers. Nothing's spelled out on the box in regards to this kind of bullshit, and we can't return the game.

Because we might have copied it, of course.

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