By Diana Poulsen
This week I am celebrating my triumphant return to PC gaming. After about an eight year absence I have decided to return to my computer and catch up with some old PC friends. I can’t remember why I left the PC gaming scene. The last two games I played were Septerra Core and American McGee’s Alice, both bloody awesome games. I am still not sure why I decided to return now when I only have a 1.6 gzh Pentium 4 laptop with little to no graphics card. But on the bright side, I can play all sorts of old games and World of Warcraft.
I remember the good old days of little to no software security and no serial numbers. Where you had to uninstall and reinstall a game multiple times just to get it to function right. I had to install more RAM to get Alice to work, but once you got through the painful setup it was always a delightful experience. There was a certain level of satisfaction in getting the setup right. Of course, it’s not like that anymore.
I bought Black Mirror and spent almost two hours installing, and not the fun kind of installing. It involved typing in the five different serial numbers they gave me. And of course, it had to be the last one that worked. Just the processing of the different serial numbers took forever. Why did I need five? Couldn’t they just have given me one that worked? This was my frustrating introduction to StarForce, a copy-protection software that demands to check your game every single flippin’ time you play it, to determine if you have purchased it. It was very annoying to wait a minute or two to play the damn game just to wait for it to tell me that, yes, I had bought it. I couldn’t even get it to run on my DVD drive and I had to run it on my sub-par CD drive. It got to the point where I debated downloading an illegal copy so I could just play the stupid game I had paid for. It’s just like that time I bought Hawksley Workman’s Lover/Fighter CD and with all the copy protection it wouldn’t even play on my CD player or my Walkman. The CD worked perfectly on my PS2 — but that is not for playing music! I didn’t buy the (at the time) $400 machine to play bloody music. I had to try to download the songs after I bought the CD and I couldn’t even find the songs so I had to buy them off of Puretracks (the old Canadian version of iTunes). And after three years the Puretracks songs wouldn’t even play on my computer because they were copy protected! And StarForce is just as bad. On top of this, the strict copy protection on Black Mirror was there to protect the measley $9.99 I paid for the game.
Which brings me to BioShock. The PC version uses SecuROM, a copy-protection software requiring an internet connection to complete installation. The first issue might not be obvious here online, but not everyone has the internet. I used to live in a rural area where they only had dial-up, so I could understand if my neighbours chose not to have the internet. Beyond this initial leap of faith, BioShock has had numerous problems with its copy-protection software, to the point where some people have told me not to even bother with the PC version (not that I could run it anyway). It seems to be a bit weird to buy a game and only be able to install it five (originally it was two) times. If you needed it reinstalled six times you would have had to call SecuROM to re-activate your game. It also didn’t help that in certain manuals the phone number was misprinted. It’s such a shame to have to criticize a beautiful Art Deco First Person Shooter for their copy protection and bad planning.
When the copy protection interferes with the quality of the software or product then the company needs think of a better option. All of these copy-protection-related difficulties are driving me, someone who obtains all her digital media perfectly legally, to pirating. This is not what you want, software and music companies! I understand the need for copy protection. You simply might want to investigate how user-friendly it is – you know, so it doesn’t piss me off and drive me away from your product.
On the bright side, The Longest Journey (which I have a review for) did not require a serial number or have crazy copy protection. It worked perfectly on my computer and required only one attempt to successfully install it. Even for World of Warcraft, I just needed my single, working serial number and I was all set to go. See software companies? You can copy protect something, just make it so it works and doesn’t annoy the shit out of your customers.