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Thursday, May 24 2018 @ 12:19 AM -08

DRM in SimCity 3: EPIC failure

When EA announced that their new version of SimCity would require an always-on Internet connection, the response from the Internet was practically audible. Why should a single-player game be required to connect to the Internet? You may have guessed the answer: greed.

Yes, game producers have been salivating at the big profits and piracy-proof models of successful online games like World of Warcraft, and are now busily adding phony and/or worthless online-only features to even single player games. In response to the uproar, EA claimed that the game couldn't be played without a connection to their servers, since a lot of the game processing would be done there. They also played up the 'social' aspect of the game - essentially tacked-on multi-player features that don't really add much to the game. They claimed it would be impossible to make the game work without a connection to their servers.

And then the game launched. EA's servers promptly fell over, and haven't gotten back up since. The uproar increased markedly. Many players are only able to play about 10% of the time. When they can play, gameplay is often extremely sluggish. Refunds are being demanded. Reviews are scathing; there were so many terrible reviews for the download-only version on Amazon, that the retailer pulled the game from its web store.

Here's a random selection of posts on this debacle from around the web:

Update #1: SimCity modder proves that the game can run indefinitely without being connected to EA Servers.

Update #2: EA Admits SimCity Could Have Run Offline. So now EA is back-pedaling like crazy, although they will never, ever admit that the real reason for the single-player Internet connection requirement was DRM (copy protection). Meanwhile, hobby hackers are engaged in a worldwide race to produce a fully-functional, single-player, no-Internet-required, cracked version of the game. These people love a challenge. Still think it was a good idea, EA?

Battlefield 2 for five bucks

EA is offering most of the Battlefield games at greatly reduced prices on the Origin site until February 27, 2013. That includes the Battlefield 2 Complete Collection for $5. Anyone who doesn't already have it and wants to play on the TPU BF2 server should grab it fast.

I was tempted to buy Battlefield 3 for $10, but then I remembered that Battlefield 3 sucks. Also, you can't run the game without using EA's crappy Origin service.

Patch for Battlefield 1942 reduces problems in Windows 7

I recently upgraded my main gaming PC from Windows XP to Windows 7. So far I've had very few issues with games, but Battlefield 1942 was a problem. Running it normally, the game would crash on startup about half the time. Then when it started okay, it would crash between maps about 75% of the time. I tried enabling the various Windows compatibility modes, and that definitely reduced the number of crashes, but at a terrible cost: after a few minutes of play, the framerate would drop to the point where the game was unplayable, and the audio started to sound weird.

A bit of research led me to a fix provided by Grabbi on (the awesome) bfmods.com. The fix consists of a small file containing application compatibility settings specific to the main Battlefield 1942 executable, BF1942.EXE. Once installed, these compatibility tweaks adjust the way Windows runs BF42, and the result is far fewer crashes and smooth gameplay.

I've posted the fix in the "Files and links" section of this site, but here's a shortcut: http://jrc-core.com/files/BF1942-vista-win7-fix.rar

Company of Heroes: support request

I just submitted this Company of Heroes support request to THQ support: "Every time I go back to this game, it's the same thing: I can't run it without logging in, I can't log in without patching first, the patch installs but doesn't appear to do anything, I download the patch outside the game and install it, I try to log in but my previously-working username and password are rejected, and both the Register and Forgot Password buttons are grayed out. Every time this happens, I waste literally hours trying to figure out what the %#&@ is going on, and end up wiping the game and reinstalling. Please note: your efforts at copy protection (the clear source of all these issues) only serve to frustrate and annoy paying customers. Pirates don't care and are not affected. No amount of money you might conceivably have saved by (supposedly) thwarting pirates is vastly outweighed by lost sales due to customer anger. Please stop it. All you are doing is forcing legitimate customers to find pirated versions that don't require all of this crap. STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT. Meanwhile, what do you suggest, short of a total reinstall (he asked, knowing full well that you won't be able to help)?"

Will they even respond? I doubt it. Even if they do, they won't be even slightly helpful. I'll report anything they do say here.

Update 2013Jan29: They never responded. Instead, they went bankrupt.

Update 2013Mar06: I finally got this response:

We are emailing to notify you that THQ is no longer able to offer support for Relic owned titles. All support for this titles will be through Sega. If you have an open ticket with THQ, Sega will be receiving your specific ticket to continue support. Thank you for your patience and support over the years. THQ Customer Support

Has Ubisoft seen the light?

Apparently, Ubisoft has dropped the always-connected requirement for its future PC games. It's difficult to be certain of the motive for this welcome change, but the recent public backlash against the UPlay DRM probably had something to do with it.

Whether this is an attempt to stem the tide of negative publicity, or a genuine rethinking of DRM policies, remains to be seen, but the full Sep 5 RPS interview with Ubisoft execs seems to show that opinions are divided. In any case, it is encouraging to hear that at least some of Ubisoft's management has finally realized that DRM is ineffective at preventing piracy, and only serves to annoy paying customers.

Ubisoft's idiocy persists

I'm starting to lose track of all the boneheaded blunders coming from Ubisoft.

The latest fiasco? Apparently their pointless DRM software - aka UPlay - includes a security hole so huge that it must be some kind of record. With this software installed on your Windows PC (required if you want to play any of their more recent games), your computer is wide open to attacks from any web site. No special hacking skills required. Immediate and complete access to your computer.

Luckily for Ubisoft, this particular hole was easy to fix, and they issued a patch right away. Of course, you have to install the patch to fix the hole. But there's a larger issue: if Ubisoft feels it necessary to force you to install their DRM crapware, they should really hire competent programmers. Who knows how many other holes exist in this software? I'll bet the black hat hackers are looking at the UPlay code right now, rubbing their hands together gleefully.

Anyone who's been reading this site for a while may remember that I previously recommended boycotting Ubisoft games for the PC. Needless to say, that recommendation has not changed.

Additional details:

More Ubisoft stupidity

If you needed yet another reason to avoid Ubisoft games completely, they have just provided one. Apparently they are moving some of their services to new servers, and during that time, certain games will not function. At all. Even if you only want to play single-player games. That's because those games won't run unless they can access those Ubisoft servers. Behold the supreme idiocy of DRM.

They haven't even bothered to estimate the duration of the outage, so all you can do is keep trying until your game finally starts working again. So lame.

As if that's not bad enough, many in the tech industry (including myself) are scratching their heads, wondering why moving a critical service to new server hardware would be planned to involve more than a few seconds of downtime. This is not rocket science: get the new hardware up and running, flip the switch, then when everything looks okay, pull down the old servers.

The details are in this Ubisoft announcement:
http://static2.cdn.ubi.com/transition/details/

Don't use EA's Origin service if you value your privacy

Wow. I thought Ubisoft was bad. EA's new Origin gaming service - which you'll need to use if you want to play any of EA's new games (including Battlefield 3) - wants access to everything on your hard drive. If you install one of the new games, you agree to the use of Origin, which means you also agree to its terms of use, one of which allows EA to root around in your computer, using what it finds in any way it chooses.

Let me think about this for a moment... it seems I have a choice: play EA games and give EA access to my computer, or stop buying EA games. Seems like a no-brainer to me. I'm officially boycotting EA games (for PC/Windows) until they come to their senses (unlikely).

Here are the details:
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/2011...data.shtml

Diablo franchise officially jumps the shark

Et tu, Blizzard? Abandoning your single player, LAN gaming base is going to be a costly mistake. Sure, plenty of Diablo fans will buy Diablo III despite being required to have an always-on Internet connection, but those of us who still fondly remember Diablo LAN parties will shake our heads sadly and give D3 a pass. Blizzard, what do you think made Diablo so huge in the first place? Do you really think you lost any sales because of LAN gaming? No. Even if a dozen people at a LAN party all played with one copy of Diablo, the promotional value made up for any imagined loss in ways you clearly have never imagined possible.

To make matters worse, the real-world-currency market in D3 is going to give wealthy people a distinct advantage in the game. Yes, that's what the world needs: more advantages for rich people.

Screw you, Blizzard, and screw your accountants and lawyers who pushed for these changes. You just lost a customer. And speaking of promotional value, don't forget that it comes in negatives as well.

Ghastly details: http://games.slashdot.org/story/11/08...tion-House

UPDATE: Blizzard responds to the outcry with more bullcrap. Details below.

UPDATE 2012Jul26: The backlash against Diablo 3's senseless DRM ramps up in Germany:
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/2012...ents.shtml