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24 January 2009

Gamers Find SecuROM Installed with Red Alert 3 Purchased Through Steam

We all got excited when we found out that EA was going to offer their games on Steam with the hope of lacking the third-party SecuROM DRM that we honest paying gamers have so come to loathe.

We rejoiced more when we actually bought some games on Steam (myself getting Mirror's Edge for my first SecuROM-free purchase).

In my entry about EA offering their games on Steam, I thought I'd confirmed that the EA games wouldn't have SecuROM (or would at least that Steam would list it if it had it) by finding the GTA IV page on Steam's store and finding that it listed SecuROM and its terms; where Spore's page on Steam didn't mention any third-party DRM.

Spore, like Mirror's Edge, has been confirmed DRM-free; and thus most fans that have been excited about EA's move to Steam started assuming that any EA game on Steam that DOESN'T list third-party DRM must be DRM-free (aside from Steam's own DRM; which the majority of us don't mind or we wouldn't buy games through it.)

Well, some purchased Red Alert 3 through Steam and got SecuROM with it. It seemed to be inactive until some of said gamers tried to launch it while also running Microsoft/SysInternals' Process Explorer, a popular tool that is like Windows' "Task Manager" on steroids. Being a developer myself, I use this program frequently, and it rocks... highly recommended if you're not fully satisfied with the limited information Windows' "Task Manager" provides. But I digress...

Go to the Steam forums to read the entire thread (well, at least until the ridiculous flame-war takes over the thread.) Two gamers confirmed it and made sure to test with systems that had were already SecuROM-free/had been cleansed of SecuROM prior to the Red Alert 3 install.

Both ended up with SecuROM after and neither could run the game if Process Explorer was running.

I love Steam, by-the-way... and I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt (since the Steam thread only started on 16 January.) For all we know, Steam thought it was SecuROM free as well. I hope they'll rectify it by updating their store page for Red Alert 3; or, better yet, put the pressure on EA to get it removed from the game. I have faith that Steam will handle this responsibly... Time will tell. If you're one of the poor unfortunate souls that are affected by this, please comment here and tell us about how your sitch played out.

Now the flame-wars can continue all over cyber-space and elsewhere all they want, but I'll repeat the resounding theme of why this whole DRM mess has exploded out-of-control and needs to be rectified permanently:

No software distributor has the right to install any third-party software on a customer's machine that does not have to do with the product's functionality that the customer purchased, without:
1. Informing the customer that said third-party software will be installed (and when I say "inform" I mean spelling out exactly what said third-party software will be doing, why it's necessary and what, if any, known side-effects it may cause to their system.
2. Allowing the customer to authorize installation of said third-party software.

The fact of the matter is, this SecuROM was installed without said consumers knowing it was going to be; and that is wrong. That is what is referred to as spyware/malware and I have to assume (someone feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) that such activity isn't legal. It doesn't provide functionality to the software the consumer purchased; rather it supposedly provides "protection" to the distributor for their property.

Protection. Pfffft.

We all know that the criminal pirates crack that crap within a week or so (if not earlier) to a given software release, and those that don't wish to pay for it are already stealing it regardless... so all that happens is the honest paying customers are left holding the bag.

Holding a bag they don't deserve, nor asked for... but have put up with for years, since taking time to write one's own DRM or even to integrate one's software with a third-party DRM takes a lot of time and resources to make happen (trust me, I know ... I'm integrating with some for an enterprise product at work right now and it's very frustrating. But our customers know when their licensing is explained to them what will be happening.) The point is, that cost isn't eaten by the developer/publisher... it's passed on to the paying customers which kicks the cost up a few notches.

So we've dealt with this for years, paying for criminal behavior that we haven't exhibited; and lived with it because we still love the games and want to support the game makers.

But enough is enough when we can't go buy a game without it jacking up other parts of our system; and Google around, there are plenty of reports of hardware and software getting messed up by different implementations of DRM.

People draw analogies left-and-right for and against DRM... one in the Steam thread mentioned metal-detectors in courthouses and cops on the side of the road making sure he's not drunk. These obviously are not fair comparisons, because the metal-detector doesn't hamper the courthouse's functionality or your ability to use its features or other non-related aspects of the courthouse; nor does the police officer stop your car from working after doing his tests.

The bottom line is: Paying customers are sick and tired of holding the bag... and now we're taking it from multiple angles, since we get to pay to have our systems tampered without knowledge of it and with said software makers taking access liberties that don't seem legal to take.

So who wins in this current envrionment?! Only the pirates...

So again, stop the madness... If you're a developer/publisher that really still feels you have to go to all this extra effort and work just to make your honest paying clients suffer (since the pirates still end up with their copies anyway.) then by-all-means, go ahead... but you'd better make dang sure you let them know what they're getting when they license your product!!!

If not, you'll continue to feel it in the wallet, as EA has been... because those that want to pay you for a good game, are done paying you to break their systems and live in fear that the next game they purchase will be installing software they don't want/need on their system that has nothing to do with the game itself.

Oh, and for the record, I've bought several DRMed videos and music from online stores in my day, and never once has any of them ever done naughty things to non-related hardware/software in the device(s) I use them in.

I'll draw my own counter-analogy to the ones from the Steam thread. I don't remember using a copy-protected DVD movie or music CD with the extra copy protection that has made my fridge stop working, my toilet stop flushing, or my surround-sound system stop producing sound. Nor will it ever.

One last point to address that I don't think I have in other DRM rants. There is the issue of game publishers wanting to product resell of their games because they think they deserve a piece of the action if that's done... and some have rumored that this may be another reason why the over-the-top DRM has appeared in newer games.

I've got news for those companies that are that greedy... No one else in the world in any other industry gets a chunk of the revenue when their products are resold. You don't see auto-makers whining when a car is resold time and time again over its lifetime, for example. Get over yourselves and move on.

DRM - It's gotta go... Keep your paying customers happy and they'll keep paying you. Piss them off like you're doing with these way-overboard and too costly DRM schemes and you can kiss the paying customers goodbye.

I'll stop... for now... but be warned Red Alert 3 fans... If you were waiting to purchase from Steam so you could get it sans-SecuROM; you'd better wait til you get POSITIVE confirmation from Steam that it's truly gone.

In the famous words of the classic video game "Smash TV":
"Good luck!!! Yooooou'll NEED it!"

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