DRM Run Amok: How BioWare and EA Are Screwing Users

13 Apr 2011

I'm not sure that I've ever seen Ars Technica get downright angry at a video game publisher, but they certainly aren't too happy with EA/BioWare right now. The issue? A several-day "unauthorized DLC" error message that has kept legitimate Dragon Age: Origins owners (including some of their staff) from loading their save games, all thanks to the DA:O content servers being offline:
Sometime on Friday morning, Dragon Age:Origins players who booted up the game for a session of single-player dungeon crawling were greeted with a nasty surprise: all of the downloadable content (DLC) that they had purchased for the game had been flagged as "unauthorized," so their saved games wouldn't load. Again, these were vanilla, single-player saved games, representing untold hours of gameplay and investment, that users were suddenly unable to load.

Judging by the accounts that later showed up in Bioware's forums over the weekends, many of these users had the same, fatal response to the "DLC not authorized" error they were getting from the game: they Googled the error message. Googling the error message, instead of going straight to EA's online tech support chat and asking a rep for help, was the first, critical mistake that ruined everyone's weekend (mine included).

The problem with the Google approach is that these DLC authorization issues have plagued DA:O users from the game's launch, so Google will point you to plenty of threads in various forums that describe in painstaking, mind-numbing, encyclopedic detail the many different hacks and tweaks that users have invented for solving this peculiar family of closely related DLC problems. These hacks involve digging into the guts of the Windows version of the game, monkeying with XML and other game files, changing versions of Microsoft's .NET framework, and even editing the registry. Different hacks have worked for different people, and there are very, very many of them. Unfortunately, none of these arcane, client-side hacks can fix a server problem.

If only we had known up-front that the server was the issue.
So what happens when it isn't an "unidentified failure" and simply EA deciding that it's time to retire an old server, as they've done many, many times before?  And because Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age II use a similar DLC authorization system, my guess is that this same problem pertains to those games as well.