Mass Effect PC SecuRom Editorials

The Mass Effect copy protection case brought about a lot of discussion, too much to sum up here. We've covered an article by GameCritics as well as Twenty Sided's first response, but here's a few more.

First off, Twenty Sided keeps waving the flag and shouting Attica, first by pointing out that this looks like BioWare is giving in only the slightest bit but managing to sow division the response by doing so. Second by discussing how a lot of the PR on this simply comes down to the phrase "trust us".

Penny Arcade inevitably swung around to this with a pretty funny comic, as well as a pretty level-headed response.
The one topic upon which there is any consensus at all is that SecuROM copy protection barely deters piracy, and makes life more difficult specifically for paying customers. That was true even of the run-of-the-mill version we'd been exposed to before, where depending on your specific hardware configuration games might run poorly, assuming they ran at all. It's the sort of thing that makes a person invest their leisure time with other machines, or - and this is awesome - pirate games they have themselves purchased by circumventing the check with a cracked exe. This is something I do almost one hundred percent of the time, because I can't be sure I'm receiving the full value of my hardware if I don't.

The mechanism EA is utilizing on their newest, big-name PC plays is even more eldritch than the previous iterations, and there are people who hated the earlier versions enough to boycott games that used it. It now phones home every ten days or so to verify that... God only knows what it is verifying, or how. I'm afraid.

Why use it, then? Why make use of it? As a publicly held company, they can't do nothing - I'm an adult, I get it. Even so, I think we'd scoot the line back over toward Liberty. The group of people who even perceive things like SecuROM must either be too small to take into account, or they think people will buy the game anyway.

I okayed ads for Mass Effect on there PC because I liked the game, and thought that - free of the resolution and storage restraints - it could be substantially better than its console counterpart. I wasn't aware of this mechanism at the time, and there's no way I could have been. I apologize. I still endorse the experience they've chosen to bind up in this way.
The Escapist had a more heavy-handed response to this "form of collective suicide" (paraphrased), though it should be noted this was written before BioWare lightened the load of the DRM.
If we want to take a big logical leap across a chasm of reactionary hysterics into the realm of pondering "the death of PC gaming," which seems to be the thing to do these days, then let's at least be honest about the metaphor. PC gaming isn't dying; it's committing suicide. But I'm done trying to persuade PC publishers to take the Glock out of their mouth, because it's a complete fallacy. Even if they were to pull the trigger, there's a line of guys right behind them just waiting to fill the void. And frankly, the sob story of disillusioned developers petulantly storming from the PC camp as if consumers took their lunch-money and kicked sand in their faces is getting a little old. It's not that I contend there is no problem with piracy, or that the PC market is as durable as it once was. It's just that I'm tired of hearing developers bitch about it.

Fine. I get it. Just go.

Besides, the idea that PC gaming could die, much less that it actually is dying, strikes me as dumb on a profound level. Say transition, say evolution, hell, you can even say that PC gaming has become inhospitable for the release of most AAA-exclusive properties, but we're talking about a platform with an install base in the tens of millions in the U.S. alone, home to success stories like World of WarCraft and The Sims. It's preposterous to imagine that that market will go completely untapped if Epic, Bioware or Crytek skip gaily toward that land of milk and honey called console development. I'm pretty confident that if Electronic Arts, Activision, Ubisoft and their ilk suddenly unleashed a total moratorium on PC gaming, there would be dozens of smaller companies more than happy to begin developing and marketing games for the platform. Considering how much time I've spent in the past few years with games like Sins of a Solar Empire, Mythos, Defcon or Armageddon Empires, to say nothing of Team Fortress 2, World in Conflict, World of WarCraft and Civilization IV, my rush to write the obit for the platform is non-existent.

If anything is stifling PC gaming, it's an endless array of console ports with restrictive DRM. If that's the dominant future of PC gaming, then I'd rather just see it dead. I'll concede that publishers clearly see piracy on the PC as a pervasive threat, but I'm not interested in making it my problem anymore.
And finally tries to look at the wider picture by considering ownership and user rights (thanks Blue's News).
This is where we reach an impasse, because so much effort is being put into the protection and subsequent removal of that protection that it's generated a whole business in and of itself. The buyer has a set of rights, but so does the creator. Those rights differ. The former has the right of enjoyment, the latter has the right of income. And fighting at the front lines with bloodlust in their eyes are the copy protectors and the crackers.

At the heart of it lies one very dirty question: Is it protecting your rights, or prohibiting someone else's?

In every forum that discusses the issues, there's a clear resonant theme that copy protection in and of itself is sufficient reason for piracy. Top crackers are looked at as heroes just look at DVD-Jon, for example. On the flip side, companies are growing so desperate to feel like their interests are protected that things like rootkits and "phone-home" methods are becoming the rule instead of the overzealous exception.

We're left with a chicken-and-egg scenario. If nobody stole it, would they need to protect it so carefully? But if the protection wasn't so invasive and the price so enormous, would we feel as pressing of a need for previously legitimate users to download cracks and patches that thwart it? Both sides justify their own actions by the actions taken by the other side.

Even the debate about product quality creates an inescapable paradox. Pirate-supporters say that it's ridiculous and unfair to charge full price for a game that isn't pretty well bug-free, while developers are stuck with less budget to pay people to bug-test when less people are buying the game. That amount is further decreased by the chunk that the publisher has to pay a protection company to attempt to stall the cracks by even a little.