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Why even pay for software? A declaration against poorly implemented DRM

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I’m guessing you wouldn’t usually expect me to make a post like this, but seriously, where is the incentive to pay for software these days? Yes, it is unfortunate how millions of people pirate software nowadays, but by now it has to be clear that there is little to nothing that can be done about it.

Those that can afford to buy software generally do pay for it, but I have found the hard way that it isn’t always worth it, and this is becoming truer as time goes on thanks to poorly implemented DRM (Digital Rights Management).

When Microsoft released Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit it was rather pricey, but I still went out and purchased two copies right away – one for me and one for testing. Although I have paid for the software I’m extremely tempted to avoid the genuine activation and simply crack it. But why would I do such a thing for software that I have paid good money for? Well, it’s simple. Because of the large number of people that pirate Windows, Microsoft has felt compelled to punish the suckers that actually buy it.

Hateful DRM practices jeopardize the end-user experience

Hateful DRM practices jeopardize the end-user experience

Every time I change a major piece of hardware I end up with a warning message informing me that I have two days to reactivate my copy of Windows. Okay, that’s not so bad. Just click re-activate then shall we. Hang on, that didn’t work, and now I have to ring the Microsoft support center based on India and try to communicate a 60+ digit code to someone I can barely understand. After that process is done I can finally use my computer again. Yay! Well… at least until I need to change/upgrade something again.

The alternative is to run a 20 second patch that removes the Microsoft activation altogether, meaning that I will never be inconvenienced again when upgrading, an inconvenience I apparently paid good money for. Again, the options: to pay for software that is going to have you pulling your hair out every time you change something, or get it for free without any of the catches.

Over the years the countless re-activations of my computers has not only improved my Indian accent, but also simply become a way of life.

Windows activation reminder

Windows activation reminder

While I have learned to live with this, just recently the world of pirated software has started to make sense once again.

Although I spend much of my time testing out new and exciting graphics cards in the latest games, I rarely get to actually play the games themselves extensively. I’m a huge fan of real-time strategy games and I love the Command & Conquer series. The good old days when Westwood was still around…

Anyway, the recent release of C&C: Red Alert 3 allowed me to get back into the RTS scene and play a few games in-between testing new graphics cards. Unfortunately, having finally stopped and taken the time to enjoy a video game, the experience was far from enjoyable, at least so far.

The first thing I did upon receiving my fresh new copy of Red Alert 3 was to install it on one of my desktop PCs, I chose my work computer since it was powerful enough and I spend most of my time on it. This turned out to be a bad move since EA doesn’t support 64-bit operating systems, at least with RA3 anyway. The game would crash to the desktop after 15 – 20 min of gameplay without fail.

Before discovering that it was an incompatibility issue with the 64-bit operating system I uninstalled the game and then re-installed it on the same system to no avail. The crashes to the desktop persisted and I was forced to play on another computer. I got another hard drive, installed Windows XP on it, and re-installed RA3 once again. It worked, and flawlessly too, which was all good news. I spent much of my spare time over the next few weeks playing it online.

Red Alert 3 is one EA titles that uses DRM

C&C: Red Alert 3 is one many current EA titles that uses SecuROM DRM

The computer that I had installed it on needed a motherboard change (testing related issue) so I swapped out the board for a new one. Windows XP booted up, I installed the new drivers and away I went without an issue, at least until I tried to fire up RA3 again. Other games like Far Cry 2 worked like a charm. Not Red Alert 3, though. Instead the game pretended to load and then hit me with an error explaining that the game had been installed too many times.

Despite the fact that I had not re-installed the game on this PC and had only changed the motherboard, it refused to load. Therefore I had to sign up for EA support, which was a pain in the arse, and just another one of those inconveniences you shouldn’t have to go through when paying full price for software. Anyway, EA got back to me, slowly, and once I sent them all my details they informed me that I had been given 1 more activation and after that it was pretty much all over, even if I uninstalled the game.

So here I am, with a game that I paid $60 for ($95 AUD), and if anything goes wrong with the hardware in my current system or I want to upgrade it in a year’s time, I may have to purchase another copy if I want to continue playing.

I have been reading about these kinds of DRM problems for some time now, but had never encountered them myself other than the Vista activation shenanigans. So, I understand that this is nothing new and probably something that many of you have already been dealing with, but it is still a load of BS!

Anti-DRM logo by Alfredo Rezinovsky.

Written by Julio Franco

February 6th, 2009 at 3:41 am