I'd wear the MPAA's disapproval as a badge of honor

I certainly wouldn't lose any sleep over them being unhappy with me. #seb #MPAA #Piracy #DRM

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MPAA attacks Ars for "challenging efforts to curb content theft"
The Motion Picture Association of America doesn't like us. According to the MPAA blog on Tuesday, "Arts Technica" is a "tech blog with a long history of challenging efforts to curb content theft." (If so, we're the only such tech blog that actually encouraged a now-current MPAA lawyer to do copyright coverage for our site and that recommended the pro-rightsholder book Free Ride in this year's holiday guide.)

One can see why MPAA staffers might think this way. "Ars Technica opposes our attemp…

“Bioshock 2” following in “Modern Warfare 2’s” footsteps for multiplayer.

It looks like the folks at Infinity Ward may have started a trend among developers of first person shooters on the PC. Word now comes from a Q&A about Bioshock 2‘s multiplayer mode over at The Cult of Rapture that it will not have dedicated server support, LAN play, or the ability to kick troublemakers from the game:

Do you support LAN play on consoles or PC? Do you support dedicated servers?
Short answer, no and no. There is always a finite amount of time for the development of a game. Bringing Multiplayer to BioShock was a daunting task between the tech (there was no multiplayer support in the codebase from the first game) and the expectations of the community. Either you try to do everything and so nothing feels finished or you focus your efforts to do a smaller number of things really well like an accessible online experience. We chose to spend the time we had creating a solid game foundation and unfortunately that did not include LAN play or dedicated servers.

How does your matchmaking system work and how do you make sure there isn’t lag or bad match ups?
The matchmaking system takes a couple of things into account. We try to get you into a game as quickly as possible (since we know how much waiting really stinks), but match you up to people who are as close to your rank and skill as possible, with a certain amount of weighting to each factor, as well as requiring a low ping for those matched players.

How do you deal with people who grief or cheat or are otherwise not making a good ranked experience? Can you kick them?
Even though we are doing everything we can to try to find exploits in our own game, there will always be people who will find a way to grief a game. There is no kick option as we felt like it often leads to more unfair kicking than fair kicking. We hope that because there are a variety of player goals and a multitude of options for ranking up and killing, the player will always feel like he or she is gaining something in a match with mean people and griefers. If you do get matched up with one of those people, please report it, leave that game, and we’ll try to smooth out the online experience as best as we can.

It sounds more or less just like the multiplayer system in Modern Warfare 2 which a lot of fans, including myself, weren’t happy about. This is disappointing to say the least and I expect it’ll be plagued with similar problems as a result. No word on what ant-cheat system they’ll be using, MW2 uses Valve’s VAC system, and that could go a long way to determining how much of a problem cheaters end up being.

Back when I wrote my rant discouraging folks from buying the PC version of MW2 the number of people using aimbots/wallhacks was simply ridiculous and, combined with how long it takes a ban in VAC to be enforced, was making the multiplayer almost pointless. These days it’s settled down quite a bit and I can only assume that someone must be banning cheaters more often as it’s possible to go through a number of sessions with nary a cheater in sight, but the damage has been done and now legitimate players are accused of cheating simply for having a high kill/death ratio. It’s even happened to me and I’m hardly a great player.

I never bought the first Bioshock due to the ridiculously restrictive SecuROM DRM it had and it was looking like BS2 was going in a similar direction, but they recently announced they were scaling back the restrictions for BS2 at least somewhat:

There will be no SecuROM install limits for either the retail or digital editions of BioShock 2, and SecuROM will be used only to verify the game’s executable and check the date. Beyond that, we are only using standard Games for Windows Live non-SSA guidelines, which, per Microsoft, comes with 15 activations (after that, you can reset them with a call to Microsoft.)

What does that mean for your gameplay experience? This means that BioShock 2’s new DRM is now similar to many popular games you advised had better DRM through both digital and retail channels. Many of you have used Batman: Arkham Asylum as an example to me, which uses the exact same Games for Windows Live guidelines as us as well as SecuROM on retail discs, and now our SecuROM is less restrictive on Steam.

This is better than the first game, but still not fabulous. It was loose enough to make me consider buying the sequel along with perhaps the original – seeing as they’ve since dropped the DRM from the first game altogether – but the fact that they’re using a similar matchmaking system as MW2 has dropped my enthusiasm back down to zero.

Amazon gives me another reason not to buy a Kindle. (#Blogathon)

It’s a bit old news by now, but perhaps some of you haven’t heard about it. About a week ago the folks at Amazon had a problem with a couple of George Orwell’s novels they were selling in e-book form. News reports vary with some saying the publisher changed it’s mind about letting them be published in that format and others that Amazon had mistakenly assumed they had the rights to do so, but either way they were asked to stop. Amazon immediately removed said novels from their online store and then went a step further and deleted already sold copies from owner’s Kindle devices with no warning they were going to do so. Needless to say this once again spawned a debate over whether or not we actually “own” digital media:

It’s a provocative question explored in an article Thursday by the WSJ’s Geoffrey Fowler. The issue came up last week when Amazon.com reached into customers’ Kindle e-readers and deleted some e-books written — ironically — by George Orwell. Amazon, which returned the cost of the e-books, said it made the move when it realized that the publisher didn’t have the proper rights to sell the books in the U.S.

The move annoyed some consumers. “I love my Kindle, but if they can take back a book after I buy it, that bothers me,” said one. Amazon later promised to change its system and “not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” according to a spokesman.

Regardless, according to Fowler, the incident raises some difficult questions about what it means to “own” books in the digital age. Some experts are saying that these matters might best be remedied by passing new laws that clearly define digital ownership.

“What this incident shows is that the law gives radically more control to the company than the system ought to,” says Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig.

It’s bad enough that the books all have DRM on them and there are unspecified limits on how many times you’re allowed to download them to your devices be they your Kindle or your iPhone or PC. Said limits vary from publisher to publisher and book to book and there’s no way to found out what the limits are for a particular book before you buy it because Amazon won’t tell you, but when they also have the ability and right to reach into your collection and remove books you’ve already purchased, well, that’s just beyond the pale. Sure they gave everyone a refund, but this sort of thing would never happen with a paper book and when you’re done reading it you can sell it or give it to a friend.

DRM sucks and it only punishes the legitimate consumers. So long as the Kindle makes use of it I won’t be buying one. No matter how many times Jeff Bezos apologizes.

EA goes back to serial number copy protection for “The Sims 3.”

In a blog post on the official The Sims 3 website executive producer Rod Humble has announced that the next outing of the franchise will be reverting to less intrusive forms of copy protection:

Hello everyone I wanted to share news with you regarding our copy protection plans for The Sims 3.

We’ll have more information for you as we get closer to launch about everything we’ll have to offer on TheSims3.com and The Sims 3 Store, but we have heard your requests over the past months and here is our plan for The Sims 3.

The game will have disc-based copy protection – there is a Serial Code just like The Sims 2. To play the game there will not be any online authentication needed.

We feel like this is a good, time-proven solution that makes it easy for you to play the game without DRM methods that feel overly invasive or leave you concerned about authorization server access in the distant future.

We’re really excited to bring you the game for the PC and Mac starting June 2, 2009. The extra time we’ve taken to polish the game has resulted in an even better game experience for you to enjoy and we can’t wait for you to see for yourself!

Thanks for your passion and your loyalty.
Rod Humble

This is certainly good news as I was looking forward to the new iteration, but I’m concerned by the fact that they don’t specifically state which copy protection system they’re using. A lot of video game blogs are reporting this as though EA are not using SecuROM, but there’s nothing in the way of evidence that that’s a correct assumption. SecuROM has varying levels of restrictions and it’s entirely possible to use it as just a simple disc-based serial number protection system. Given the ridiculous level of system modification SecuROM engages in, even when not using all of its features, it would still stop me from buying the game if it were present. I’ve asked a couple of the bigger blogs to follow up and ask which copy protection scheme EA does plan to use.

Still, this is a step in the right direction at least. It won’t stop the game from being pirated, but at least it won’t be too intrusive on the legitimate users. EA certainly seems to have learned a lesson from the release of Spore which continues to be one of the most heavily pirated games of all time which many attribute to being a direct response to the use of SecuROM and the installation limits.

Retail PC version of next “Prince of Persia” totally DRM free.

Kudos to Ubisoft for listening to customers and taking a chance. They’ve announced that the retail release of the PC version of Prince of Persia will have no DRM at all:

“A lot of people complain that DRM is what forces people to pirate games but as PoP PC has no DRM we’ll see how truthful people actually are,” said Easton in a post on the Ubisoft forums. “Not very, I imagine.”

Easton later clarified that only the retail copies will be devoid of DRM: “I was purely talking about store-bought copies of PoP which have no copy protection.”

So the digital download still has DRM, but the disc version doesn’t. Keep that in mind when deciding which one to buy. I’d be happy as a clam except that I won’t be buying the PC version of PoP because it’s a platformer and I prefer to play those on a console. I’ll still be buying PoP for the PS3 so it’s not like they won’t get some money out of me, assuming I don’t get it for Christmas, but at least they’re giving a DRM free PC version a shot. If you’re thinking of buying the game for the PC then you now have an excellent reason to do so. Plus I hear the game is pretty good.

Updated: The folks at GoGamer.com have PoP on sale for $30. Even more reason to buy it.

“Spore” most heavily pirated game of 2008 despite draconian DRM.

Remember when EA Games Label President Frank Gibeau said the following about why using SecuROM on Spore was a necessary evil:

We assumed that consumers understand piracy is a huge problem – and that if games that take 1-4 years to develop are effectively stolen the day they launch, developers and publishers will simply stop investing in PC games.

We already know that the SecuROM DRM didn’t stop Spore from being cracked and pirated five days before it was released, but surely the inclusion of such heavy-handed copy protection kept the piracy to a minimum, right? Right?

Not according to the folks at Kotaku and TorrentFreak:

TorrentFreak put up a list of the top 10 games copied and shared over BitTorrent for the year 2008, and Spore, quite unsurprisingly, leads them all by a country mile.

[…] TorrentFreak insists its stats don’t include downloads of malicious or malfunctioning torrents (a figure it puts at 1 percent of all available torrents). Spore’s 1.7 million has it well in first. The Sims 2 was No. 2 with 1.15 million. The Sims 2 was released in 2004. Fallout 3’s 645,000 downloads was the next highest among any 2008 game, good for eighth.

See the original article for the full list, but it should go without saying that the only people impacted by the SecuROM DRM are the people who bought legitimate copies. It’s worth noting that five of the top 10 most pirated games of 2008 were all SecuROM protected titles. But if you listen to Electronic Arts they’ll go on about how SecuROM is all about successfully stopping piracy and how it’s doing such a great job of it.

Blu-ray DRM is officially dead. Chinese pirates selling Blu-ray movies for $7 each.

It took a bit longer than I expected, but the Chinese are ripping Blu-ray movies, cracking the DRM, and burning them to disc so they can sell them for next to nothing. The quality drops, but is still technically High Def and the movie industry is not happy:

Law enforcement in Shenzhen, China, raided a warehouse last month that contained HD copies of a number of popular movies. There were over 800 discs (so, what is that, like eight spindles?) that were packaged in faux Blu-ray boxes, complete with holograms to make them appear legitimate. According to the Motion Picture Association International, this is the “first ever” seizure of these types of discs in China.

The pirates are apparently ripping high-def movies (cracking Blu-ray’s AACS and BD+ encryption in the process) and re-encoding them using AVCHD, which offers a 720p picture. Because of the reduction in resolution, file sizes are smaller and can be burned to regular DVDs instead of the more costly Blu-ray discs, netting a tidy profit. Needless to say, the film industry isn’t thrilled by the news. “We are concerned and are assigning priority to this issue,” the MPA’s Asia-Pacific managing director Mike Ellis told the Wall Street Journal.

Movie piracy in China is by no means a new trend, but the proliferation of Blu-ray fakes out of Asia is being viewed as a serious threat that could make its way to other countries quickly. Ellis pointed out that pirates in China can be very enterprising and have exported their wares all over the globe in the past, so there’s nothing stopping them from doing so with this new format. “These syndicates are very quick to spot market opportunities,” he said.

Considering that standard Blu-ray carries an average price of $30 (which is why I only have a few movies on Blu-ray at the moment) the $7 the pirates are asking will probably more than make up for the content “only” being 720P. It won’t be long before those techniques are widespread. Another proof of the adage that if you can make it, they can break it.

EA boss on DRM protesters: Half are pirates and the other half are stupid.

The folks over at Gamasutra.com landed an interview with Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello wherein he claims to hate DRM but says it’s necessary due to piracy. He goes on to address the massive online protest over Spore using SecuROM:

“So far, Spore has outsold Sims 2,” he notes. “Commercially, it’s doing very well.”

“Everyone gets that we need some level of protection, or we’re going to be in business for free,” Riccitiello says. But he sees a lack of understanding among “a minority of people that orchestrated a great PR program. They picked the highest-profile game they could find,” he says. “I respect them for the success of their movement.”

“‘I’m guessing that half of them were pirates, and the other half were people caught up in something that they didn’t understand,” he says. “If I’d had a chance to have a conversation with them, they’d have gotten it.”

Thanks John, for telling us you think we’re either thieves or fucking idiots. But let me give you a clue for free: The pirates were all busy downloading your game off of the torrent sites five fucking days before you even put it on store shelves. Why the hell would they bother protesting your game when it was already cracked and on the Net?

And I would absolutely LOVE to have a conversation with you on the topic. Not that I think I could change your mind with my stunningly persuasive argument, but just so you could hear my stance on why I’m not buying your games straight from me. I’d also love to hear you explain how DRM stops piracy on a title that was being pirated before it was ever released? I’d also love to ask you to man up and admit that this is less to do with piracy and more to do with stopping second-hand sales of your titles because you’re upset at how much money GameStop and other companies are making.

This becomes obvious to anyone who reads the Spore EULA which states that there’s no guarantee that you can transfer the activations over to whomever you sell the game to. It’s also clear by the fact that more and more games are coming with features that will only work for the initial purchaser of the title:

Game publishers and developers have long been frustrated by their inability to get a cut of used game sales at retailers such as GameStop.

Rather than just complain, though, game makers are now starting to provide gamers with incentives to not sell their games at all or, at least, not buy used games.

[…] For example, each copy of Gears of War 2 will ship with a unique, one-time-use code for downloading extra multiplayer levels.

Once the code has been used, subsequent owners of that copy of the game will be unable to download the levels.

And NBA Live 09 will include a similar free, one-time code for accessing daily roster and stat updates.

If you buy a used copy of NBA Live 09 and the previous user has already redeemed the code, you’ll have to pay $20 to get the updates.

Isn’t NBA Live 09 one of your company’s titles, John? Why yes, yes it is. At least have the balls to own up to the fact that what you’re attempting to do is to limit what legitimate customers can do with the games they buy from your company rather than stopping piracy. Because we both know that you’re not going to stop the pirates anytime soon and we both know how pissed off you are at all the money GameStop has been making off of second-hand sales.

I am not the fucking idiot you seem to think I am, John.

“Far Cry 2” to use SecuROM DRM.

Well it looks like I won’t be buying Far Cry 2 either seeing as they’re going to use SecuROM:

Some DRM points that will hopefully answer some of your questions and will clarify some misunderstandings about our DRM and SecuROM:

  • You have 5 activations on 3 separate PCs.
  • Uninstalling the game “refunds” an activation. This process is called “revoke”, so as long as you complete proper uninstall you will be able to install the game an unlimited number of times on 3 systems.
  • You can upgrade your computer as many time as you want (using our revoke system)
  • Ubisoft is committed to the support of our games, and additional activations can be provided.
  • Ubisoft is committed to the long term support of our games: you’ll always be able to play Far Cry 2.

Treating your customers like criminals will do more to kill PC gaming than piracy ever will.

Pity. I really like the first game.

[Update]: I felt the need to register on the UBI.com forums and leave a comment so I thought I’d include it here:

    Congratulations! You’ve just guaranteed that I won’t be buying Far Cry 2. Which is a shame as I really loved the first one.

    Why won’t I be buying the game? Specifically because of the presence of the SecuROM DRM. I could list off all the common reasons such as the known hardware incompatibilities and the fact that it interferes with the operation of some legitimate software tools, but the primary reason is this: I don’t see why I should spend between $50 and $60 to be treated like a criminal when the criminals are enjoying your game with no restrictions whatsoever.

    And the pirates will crack your game just like they cracked Spore and every other SecuROM protected title prior to that. If Far Cry 2 follows the current trend then it’ll be cracked and on the torrent sites at least a week before it’s due to be released making the inclusion of SecuROM for anti-piracy reasons moot.

    But then the reason you guys want to use SecuROM over some of the other equally ineffective copy protection schemes that I don’t have a problem with has nothing to do with defeating piracy and everything to do with preventing folks from using the first sale doctrine.

    I haven’t seen your EULA for FC2 yet, but I’m willing to bet there will be a clause in it that’ll state that the transferal of activations to anyone we happen to sell the game to after we’re done playing is non-existent or very limited. The EULA for Spore had such limitations which proved that SecuROM wasn’t about stopping the pirates and was all about stopping the resale of used games.

    GameStop is making a KILLING on buying old games and selling them for close to new prices and the game publishers and even some designers have made it no secret just how much that pisses them off. This isn’t about piracy at all because you guys fully expect it’ll be cracked regardless of what you use, but piracy sure makes for a convenient excuse to justify using SecuROM which will keep your legitimate customers from selling off the game once they get bored with it or move on to the next big release.

another DRM server bites the dust

Walmart… (via BoingBoing).

From: Walmart Music Team
Date: Fri, Sep 26, 2008 at 7:42 PM
Subject: Important Information About Your Walmart.com Digital Music Purchases
To: xxxxxx@gmail.com

Important Information About Your Digital Music Purchases

We hope you are enjoying the increased music quality/bitrate and the improved usability of Walmart’s MP3 music downloads. We began offering MP3s in August 2007 and have offered only DRM (digital rights management) -free MP3s since February 2008. As the final stage of our transition to a full DRM-free MP3 download store, Walmart will be shutting down our digital rights management system that supports protected songs and albums purchased from our site.

If you have purchased protected WMA music files from our site prior to Feb 2008, we strongly recommend that you back up your songs by burning them to a recordable audio CD. By backing up your songs, you will be able to access them from any personal computer. This change does not impact songs or albums purchased after Feb 2008, as those are DRM-free.

Beginning October 9, we will no longer be able to assist with digital rights management issues for protected WMA files purchased from Walmart.com. If you do not back up your files before this date, you will no longer be able to transfer your songs to other computers or access your songs after changing or reinstalling your operating system or in the event of a system crash. Your music and video collections will still play on the originally authorized computer.

Thank you for using Walmart.com for music downloads. We are working hard to make our store better than ever and easier to use.

Walmart Music Team

There’s not much to add, is there…

It’s nice that they’re transitioning to a DRM-free store, but can’t they just give the suckers who music crippled by DRM the unshackled tracks? Just another example that buying anything locked down by DRM is not a long-term investment, but a short- or medium-term rental.