Copy Protection

Published on December 16, 2005

An interesting article on games that use the StarForce copy protection scheme showed up on Digg the other day, and it got me thinking about the topic. I’m all for copy protection schemes, but this particular one seems a little fishy to me. All of the negative press behind it has to have some grain of truth, right?

From what little I know about it, StarForce is apparently a low-level driver that gets installed alongside some of today’s games (and even game demos!) to prevent software piracy. And a number of complaints about it indicate that said driver can cause a number of problems: from blue screens to disappearing CD or DVD drives. And what’s more, StarForce software doesn’t get uninstalled when you uninstall the product it came with (sounds a little like spyware to me). So, I was fairly disappointed when I learned that several games I was looking forward to playing (Splinter Cell 3, Silent Hunter 3, and F.E.A.R.) all made use of this new copy protection scheme. But are these rumors of system crashes and instability fact or fiction?

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard to tell. The vast majority of comments in the Digg article were people voicing their disgust against this scheme. And interestingly enough, most of these posts were laden with vulgar language, egregious misuse of the English language, and the occasional bit of l33t speak. These facts incline me to believe that a number of “kids” were posting their disgust about the system; kids who most likely spend their time downloading cracked versions of games. Since this particular system is turning out to be difficult for hackers to bypass, fewer games that use the system are available as downloads. So, are these people angry at StarForce’s questionable install practices, or are they simply frustrated that they’ll have to start actually paying for the software they buy? I’m not sure anyone can provide an honest answer to that question.

I have yet to purchase a StarForce protected game, so I don’t yet know if it really causes problems or not. Splinter Cell 3 is high up on my list of games to play, so I might bite the bullet and get it – if only to see if these complaints are valid or not. I’d like to believe that this cacophony of opinions is similar to those voiced when Valve’s Steam system was introduced. As an owner of Half-Life 2, I only have good things to say about the Steam platform; so might I not be just as pleased with the performance of StarForce? We can certainly hope.

One Comment

Starforce sounds like a milder form of what Sony BMG included with some of their recent music CDs. Sony’s was a little worse, because it included a rootkit to conceal its presence, and a back door to allow Sony to make further unauthorised changes to your PC in the future, and spyware to phone home with various information from your system.

But the principle that software vendors can update YOUR operating system, in ways that can harm its normal operation, or compromise its stability or security is a bad one.

You don’t have to be in favour of ripping copies of software or music to object to your PC’s operating system and drivers being messed up by sloppy or malicious code, often without your permission.

There were some interesting games on that list, and I’ve just bought a shiny new PC. Ah well… they can do without my cash as well, I expect. There are plenty more useful things I could be doing.

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