Mad, Beautiful Ideas
LinuxGames and Copy Protection

I hate Copy Protection. I hate it. It’s typically easy to bypass, and the only ways to make it hard to bypass, are such a pain in the ass of the users, that you end up just hating the entire process. In the early days, you had to keep the manual of the game handy so you could look up a certain word on a certain page. Easy to bypass, people just built up lists of the answers.

Then the CD revolution came, and the developers checked for the disc. Easily thwarted as CD Burners because more common, and the purposeful errors used a Copy Protection, such as SafeDisc, could be cracked with relative ease. And with the new world of Digital Distribution, CD-based copy protection schemes are unfeasible.

Enter the world of Internet-based copy-protection schemes. There is the question of how often you need to connect to the Internet, once or multiple times. XBox Live and Steam both use sort of a hybrid model. XBox Live saves it’s downloads with an encrypted signature for both the user who purchased it, and the ‘home’ system of the user. This encrypted signature is the key. If the signature of the user (or the XBox in question), doesn’t match, the user can’t play. Steam is basically the same, just minus the Host key. Incidentally, the Nintendo Wii is similar, except that it’s locked to the System.

The XBox, Wii, Steam can cache user Credentials, so that they don’t need to be always on the Internet in order to authenicate the games. Several on-line activated games (like On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness or Defcon, only need to connect once, and cache a key which is delivered by the server to verify that the copy of the game is indeed legitimate. The nice part about Online verification, is that you can opt to check the codes periodically (Defcon does every time you go to play online), so if you have reason to believe that a serial number is being shared, you can kill it. The bad part is that if someone makes a Keygen for your game, you may end up killing legitimate users ability to use your software.

Ultimately, I’ve tended to believe that such things are a waste of time. People will still crack the games, and occasionally these systems are designed such to be more of a pain to legitimate users than illegitimate ones. When I heard of [Linux Game Publishing’s recent plans to integrate Copy Protection[(*copy*protection&num=1) into their newest games, particularly a scheme that needs to validate on each load, I was concerned.

Back in the early days of Loki, it was a non-issue. None of the CD copy-protection schemes were ever going to be ported to Linux, so Loki couldn’t even consider it. Now that most people have always-on Internet connections, online verification is quickly becoming the norm. LGP, feeling that it they needed to explain themselves, posted their rebuttal](

I like Michael Simms, the owner of LGP, and my respect for the decisions that he’s made with LGP caused me to wait for his response on this Copy Protection debacle. Having read the press release, I must unfortunately accept LGPs decision. They performed a reasonable study, and I accept that Michael has good data backing this move.

I do want more information however. What exactly does “Contingencies are made so that if no internet connection is available, the game will never lock out legitimate customers” mean? Do I need to have an Internet connection available every so many times I start the game? What are the contingencies?

Overall, that’s really the only complaint I have with what I’ve seen so far. I like that I can install on multiple machines. I don’t believe that I should be required to buy two copies of a game so that my wife can play too. Incidentally, I do scan games’ EULAs for this these days. I like that if LGP ever goes out of business, contingencies are in place to remove the copy protection, even if LGP is not in a position to do so. I like that I always have the option to redownload a game that I’ve licensed, if my CD stops working. I wish I could tap into this now, as my copy of Majesty is scratched bad enough that I can’t install it anymore.

I hate copy protection. I hate any policy that treats legitimate customers like criminals. However, understanding the ease at which many people will copy software (particularly games), I don’t necessarily blame people for trying to protect it. My only requirement is that the method used be mostly transparent. I’ve had that with Defcon and the Penny Arcade Adventures. I’ll give LGP’s scheme a shot, as much as it saddens me that they’ve felt forced down this path.

We as consumers need to be willing to pay for entertainment. Software protection doesn’t bother me as much as media protection since the software inherently has limits on my use of it, so I’ve been more willing to accept it’s integration into my computing life. Ideally, we wouldn’t have to worry about Copy Protection, but until users decide to either pay the asking price or go without, I’m not sure it’s going anywhere. Just make sure that I don’t notice your copy protection after I activate it.