BioWare DRM Server Problems Corrected

Although the horror of not being able to play the single player versions of BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins is now apparently over (see this Blue’s News story), for four days gamers were greeted with all kinds of problems every time they fired up a game because of DRM server problems. This is not the way to curry favor among consumers, but it is a good way to get a class action lawsuit or (at the very least) an online petition. The problem, which began over this past weekend, was called an "unidentified failure" of the game’s servers rendered players unable to use their downloaded content.

BioWare explained the problem on its forums: "Over the April 9, 2011 weekend, some of our Dragon Age: Origins content servers experienced an as yet unidentified failure."

"As a result, users began to experience error messages when attempting to access their downloadable content, indicating that the DLC was unauthorized," it added, saying, "We apologize for the inconvenience and are currently investigating and working to resolve the issue on our end."

Users were not pleased – in fact it would be fair to say that they were pissed off and agitated beyond belief.

On the plus side, BioWare seems to have fixed the problem. The moral of the story is that your DRM solution shouldn’t mess with the single player portion of your game. If you need a reference, simply ask Ubisoft.

Source: C&VG

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  1. 0
    Thad says:

    A fair point (and indeed the DMCA says it’s illegal to circumvent copy protection, it doesn’t specify how hard it is — DeCSS is famously just a few lines of code but it’s still a violation), but if all we’re talking about is a legal fig leaf then a simple disc check works just as well as this debacle.  Better, since it doesn’t stop customers from playing the game.

  2. 0
    greevar says:

    Who cares? It’s not the government’s problem. Nobody cares that their business model is wholly dependent on making an abundant good into a scarce good, nor are they required to support one that does. That’s not what copyright is for. Copyright was crafted to encourage artists to make more art through the incentive of a monopoly. It’s not there to protect their income, it’s there to give them a reason to make more art. If it doesn’t serve that purpose, then it has no place in our laws as it is now.

    The cost of games production is not copyright’s problem. It’s not the people’s problem. That’s for the industry to figure out. Just because they don’t currently have a model that works without copyright is not any justification for its existence.

    "So people shouldn’t be paid for the same work more than once. What are you suggesting? That we put a sticker price of a couple of million on the game for the first person who asks, then give it away for free to the next person and any subsequent people? Obviously that doesn’t make sense, so how would you suggest keeping games affordable without maintaining control of copyright?"

    That would go against what I just posted earlier. It’s more of a model of finding a way to get people to fund the production of the game, so that all the bills and wages get paid. Afterward, the game is released and given away. See how that works? They get paid to make it and then they release it. If they don’t get paid, they don’t make the game. The crux is in finding what incentives will drive people to pay out. Is it selling copies, but at prices that everyone who wishes to play it will buy it on impulse instead of deciding between which game they can afford? Is it selling related goods and services that make the game more valuable to the customer (like selling acces to redownload the game as often as they wish)? I don’t know. I’m not in a position where I can put these concepts to the test, but it’s painfully obivious that the old way of doing games is not going to work as people become more aware that copying is easy and good for society.


  3. 0
    Allan Weallans says:

    I’m always very wary about comparing piracy to physical theft, because it’s not the same thing, but I think this analogy is useful.

    If someone breaks into your house and steals your stuff, no insurance company is going to pay out if you left the door unlocked, but they will if the door was locked, even though locks are pretty easy to bypass.

    DRM is like leaving the door locked. It’s hard to complain about pirates if you’re not doing anything to stop them. But if you are doing something to stop them, even if it doesn’t really work, then you get to complain.

    That way, if you have diminishing sales (or diminishing growth in sales, or even diminishing growth of growth in sales, as the music industry has complained about before) you can blame pirates. It’s a good way of saying, "It’s not our fault!" and you don’t lose your job.

    On the other hand, much like the excellent dialogue you quoted, if piracy happens to go down for any reason, you can say, "Hey, our DRM is working! Aren’t we wonderful?" and you get a raise.

  4. 0
    Allan Weallans says:

    Fine, let’s go with the labour for pay model. Lets pay 50 employees minimum wage for 40 hour weeks for one and a half years (ignoring that game development isn’t a minimum wage job, and 40 hour weeks are optimistic in the industry). Already we’re looking at needing to generate $1.2 million just to pay those wages.

    So people shouldn’t be paid for the same work more than once. What are you suggesting? That we put a sticker price of a couple of million on the game for the first person who asks, then give it away for free to the next person and any subsequent people? Obviously that doesn’t make sense, so how would you suggest keeping games affordable without maintaining control of copyright?

  5. 0
    DorthLous says:

    Indeed. Such a system IS full-proof (as long as the windows aren’t open, that is) to any front door cracking. However, it does come with a very heavy cost to the users. Still, with the rise of various f2p, a wedding of both could end up being an amazing solution.

  6. 0
    Thad says:

    Homer: Not a bear in sight.  The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.

    Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.

    Homer: Thank you, dear.

    Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

    Homer: Oh?  How does it work?

    Lisa: It doesn’t work!

    Homer: Uh-huh.

    Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock!

    Homer: Uh-huh.

    Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?

    Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

  7. 0
    Thad says:

    "even if games were to be streamed, the code still exists on the client’s side and with some expertise and finesse, can be transferred from the machine’s ram to the harddrive."

    Not necessarily.  I’m picturing a client that accepts inputs, sends them off to the server, and renders video.  Biggest problem there is latency, but again, it’s a surmountable obstacle, particularly for games that don’t require split-second accuracy.

    "I have yet to hear of one rumor where someone pirated a game from an arcade."

  8. 0
    tallimar says:

    there’s another hurdle your forgetting about.  even if games were to be streamed, the code still exists on the client’s side and with some expertise and finesse, can be transferred from the machine’s ram to the harddrive.  in all honesty, the most effective anti-piracy i can think of would be to quit selling games alltogether and start setting up more arcades.  I have yet to hear of one rumor where someone pirated a game from an arcade.

  9. 0
    Ashkihyena says:

    I can think of something right off the bat.  Remove the DRM altogether, to bad corporations will be all  "BAWWWW, MAH MONEY!" and won’t and the regular joe will suffer because of it.


  10. 0
    greevar says:

    "and normal thinking humans won’t, either."

    I had to shake my head when I read that. I think you mean to say "brainwashed humans won’t either." Anybody that understands what copyright is for and understands the natural mechanics of ideas, knowledge, and expression would know that "piracy" is just people doing what comes naturally. That is, sharing ideas, knowledge, and expression to expand the supply of common culture from which we can derive more ideas, knowldge, and expression. Copyright’s goal when it was adapted from the Statute of Anne by Jefferson and Madison was to give incentives to authors by way of a temporary monopoly (At the time 7-14 years depending on if you re-registered and it was not automatic upon publishing) that gave the author control over whom may receive a copy and allowed them to dictate the terms under which one would be permitted to have a copy (e.g. payment).

    Now as it exists today, people have been lead to believe that copyright is some right of property. This attitude has been very damaging to the intended purpose of copyright because now people have settled into the false belief that copyright = property and that copyright = right to payment. Copyright supporters also ignore the fact that what artists do with their time is no different than what a landscaper or carpenter does with their time. They perform labor. If artists perform labor, just like everyone else whom earns a living, why do they need a piece of law that says they can demand payment for the rest of their life without investing any additional labor to it? I can’t go to a conventional employer and demand that they pay me for work I did in the past every time they make use of the results of my labor. If you work at WalMart, tell your supervisor that you want to be paid continually for all of the customer contacts you’ve made and in each instance that customer comes back and buys more product. They’d laugh in your face and tell you to get back to work. How does the labor of a retail worker deserve fewer rights than an artist when both of them perform labor to produce what they are required to do?

    I know what you’re going to say. You think I’m a dirty thief who wants to take the hard work of others for free. Wrong. I want to enjoy what my ancestral cultural commonwealth has founded in the works of others without being beat over the head with false concepts of "intellectual property" and restricting me from doing with what you created in the same way you used what others created in the past. If you can take the ideas and expression of what was created in the past to build and distribute your own new works, then I should be free to do so as well with what you created. You want to be paid for your work? I suggest you try the traditional labor for pay model. It works for the rest of us clock-punching slaves.


  11. 0
    Allan Weallans says:

    DRM does do something other than annoy customers, that a lot of people seem to forget.

    DRM can also be presented to shareholders and investors as "evidence" that a publisher has measures in place to combat piracy. In that sense, it doesn’t need to be good enough to work; it just needs to appear good enough on the surface to convince the people who have the money.

    I’m pretty sure that, in a lot of cases, this is the real reason DRM is used. It’s the only thing I can think of that makes any sense. (In the vanishingly few cases where DRM is implemented without having to answer to shareholders and investors, it’s probably motivated the naive and mistaken belief that it does work.)

  12. 0
    Thad says:

    The technical hurdles are surmountable, as are user attitudes — I’ve been surprised by how willing consumers have been to give up their rights to ownership and control over what they run on their systems.

    I don’t want to see streaming games replacing real ones, but I CAN see it happening, especially once the Powers that Be realize that it is, quite literally, the only method that has any potential at all of truly stopping piracy.

    And that’s the major point I was making: DRM does not work, and will never work.  So long as users have access to data and the means for running it, they…have access to data and the means for running it.

    You’re right about Steam; on the whole it’s done a good job of providing an unintrusive form of DRM that doesn’t bother its users (and the fact that it’s not just DRM, it’s also a service that includes significant value-add features helps a lot).  But it also hasn’t really curbed piracy any.

  13. 0
    GrimCW says:

    major flaw with this concept is the same as that of the always on UbiDRM, in that it’ll PO customers by being streamed, require an internet connection to work, as well as require the servers be active at ALL times.

    theres also the issue of price, who would pay full, or even half, price to stream a game that could be wiped out by mistake in a day? let alone be pulled by the publisher for whatever reason? as well as at terrible quality, and flaky stream connection?

    this is also the major flaw in the above Bioware DRM.

    one little hiccup in the whole process and its down for days, if at some point the publishers decide they no longer support that product, and the hosts aren’t getting payed any longer to host it, its gone for good. and tbh i still won’t believe Ubi or any other company thats got an inflated ego when they claim they’ll remove the DRM scheme when the sales have gone down. as proofed by Ubi, they cut it back, not out as promised.

    ATM the best solution is STEAM style (with on and offline modes avail at almost all times after initial activation) or no DRM.

    in most cases no DRM is the better as it’ll prevent such stupid things as the above article speaks, and as had happened to Ubi making them credit free games at their own loss.

  14. 0
    Thad says:

    The only solution that has any potential of working at all is the streaming solution, a la OnLive.

    If a game is stored locally, then a user can examine the binary and, eventually, will find a way of cracking it.

    If the data is encrypted, then the keys must still be stored in local memory.  A user can extract them from there (which is how Blu-Ray encryption was broken).

    If games are stored entirely on the server side, and users have no access to the binaries, ONLY THEN are they immune to user modification.  Then you’ll still have the potential issue of leaks, but it’s the only form of content protection that even has the POTENTIAL of working.

    That’s the only option.  All other attempts at DRM are exactly what you say they are: piss off your customers without stopping pirates.  They are a waste of time and money and are counter-productive.

    I was really looking forward to Dragon Age 2, but I am so very glad I didn’t get it.  On the other hand, I preordered The Witcher 2 — DRM-free.

  15. 0
    Thad says:

    "Oh, and I’m not talking "just accept piracy as a part of life," because they won’t, and normal thinking humans won’t, either."

    Tough.  Refusing to accept reality does not change it.  You can clap as hard as you want, but the bottom line is that this weekend people who bought Dragon Age 2 could not play it, while people who pirated it could.

    Dress it up all you like, but if the game had been DRM-free, the result would have been that people who bought Dragon Age 2 COULD play it, while people who pirated it could also play it.  I can draw a truth table if you’d like.

  16. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    Do I have something better?  Yes, it’s called no DRM.

    With DRM:  don’t prevent piracy, piss off customers

    Without DRM: don’t prevent piracy, don’t piss off customers

    Miracle Solution: prevent piracy, don’t piss off customers

    Obviously, the Miracle Solution is the preferred choice but since no one knows what that entails yet, it would be wise, in the meantime, to go with the next best solution which is "no DRM" instead of the worst.


    Andrew Eisen

  17. 0
    jedidethfreak says:

    Again, that may be so.  You got a better idea?  They’re not going to do nothing, so, instead of constantly complaining about it, throw out something better.

    I think Steamworks is the best thing to use, but people here don’t like that option either.  The fact is, it doesn’t matter how many people complain, DRM is here to stay.  We should be trying to come up with something that works, instead of just whining, which is all people are really doing at this point.

    With the first link, the chain is forged.

  18. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    The thing that gets me is DRM solutions do absolutely nothing to prevent piracy.  The only thing they do is annoy customers so why is DRM used?


    Andrew Eisen

  19. 0
    jedidethfreak says:

    Well, when someone can come up with a DRM scheme that can solve all of the consumer concerns AND actually be somewhat effective against piracy, I’m sure corporations would be all ears.

    Oh, and I’m not talking "just accept piracy as a part of life," because they won’t, and normal thinking humans won’t, either.

    With the first link, the chain is forged.

  20. 0
    GrimCW says:

    and this folks is why always on and/or check in DRM is not a good idea.

    tbh activation limits are more favorable.  (as long as they refresh in some reasonable manner, having to deactivate is BS since many times its just not possible during an emergency wipe or system failure…)

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