The Best Copy Protection Methods in Gaming
We all know of DRM, or digital rights management. This can range from merely activating a game online, to having to be online all the time just to play it. Gone are the days of the simple cd key!
But this article isn’t about all that. This article is about the more subtle and funny anti piracy methods out there that will serve to poke fun at pirates and act as more of an inconvenience than punish legitimate buyers (although sometimes it manages to do both). This is often referred to as copy protection, and even games without DRM can and do have copy protection. They usually contain some sort of payload, which isn’t entirely unlike malware in a lot of cases, and can and will completely mess up your game. And it’s entirely legal on the part of the developers, because firstly, some even warn people ahead of time of the presence of copy protection in the game (and even have it printed in the End User Licence Agreement), and secondly, are you really going to try and sue the developers? They should be suing you!
Let’s look at some of the best (or worst depending on how you look at it, or indeed which side you’re on) copy protection schemes out there that have been deployed by developers over the years.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
If you pirated Red Alert 2, there was a rather amusing “bug” where all of your buildings and units would explode within half a minute of starting a game – apparently the current record is 10 seconds. This, as you can imagine, rendered the point of base building – a strategy integral to the series – effectively useless. The only trouble was that some people who bought legal versions also experienced this issue, which led to this copyright protection scheme being patched out in a later version of the game.
Brutality rating: it basically stops your from playing the game properly, but keep in mind that it was patched out because legitimate copies were affected as well. I’d still give it a 6/10 on the brutality scale.
Operation Flashpoint, or OpFlash for short, was and likely still is known as one of the most realistic and unforgiving military simulators of all time. But the level of difficulty was made even worse due to something called FADE. FADE is a copyright protection scheme engineered by Bohemia Interactive, and has been incorporated in to several of their games. What FADE would do in OpFlash, upon finding that the player has a pirated copy of the game, is gradually decrease the player’s weapon accuracy, and also decrease the amount of damage that their weapons do. And at the same time increase the amount of damage that they took from enemies. People who would go on to pirate Arma II experienced the same thing.
FADE also made it in to Take On Helicopters, another title by Bohemia. Several people took to forums online to report a weird occurrence that had taken place while playing this game. The screen would go all blurry during a play session – something that every pilot surely dreads, unless you happen to be Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) out of Flight.
Brutality rating: You can still play the game, and you could probably still get through it alive although it would be mind-bendingly difficult to do this. It would mean that you would have to rely solely on your squadmates to do all the work while you waited in the back. Keep in mind that not all missions have you with a squad however, and I can only imagine the murder those missions would be with FADE. 7/10.
In GTA IV if you were in possession of a pirated copy of the game, the camera would start to sway from side to side. This was referred to as “drunk cam”, and would get worse the more the player character moved, essentially preventing you from carrying out whatever nefarious deeds you had in mind. And if you thought that hijacking a car would somehow stop this, you’d be wrong, because cars would become instantly damaged and start smoking, making them very vulnerable to just about anything – and you know what happens if a vehicle gets too many dents or dings in it in GTA. Yep, it explodes.
So you get to choose: hoof it on foot while drunk as a beggar or try your luck in a car and get blown up at the slightest scrape.
Brutality rating: It wouldn’t be completely impossible to get past missions in this game, but you’d have to be extra careful when driving, and running around on foot with the camera swaying around is going to cause some to become sick quite easily. And the time sensitive missions are going to be hell because of these factors. 7/10.
Serious Sam 3: BFE
If you played an illegal copy of this game, very early on in the game you would come up against a red scorpion. This scorpion would more than likely kill you over and over and over again. You’d think he must be unbeatable due to his amazing quickness. And you’d be right: he is invincible, so nothing you throw at him will help at all.
If you manage to get past the scorpion somehow, then you’ll be safe… for a few levels, until eventually your camera locks up, making you look up and to the left, which makes it seem like you’re constantly trying to spot faces in the clouds above. People who cracked the game and managed to bypass the scorpion were greeted with this new problem.
Brutality rating: The scorpion can be outrun or avoided somehow, so you can still play through a section of the game, but once Sam gets that crick in his neck, you can’t see where you’re going or what you’re doing, or who is coming after you. 5/10.
Crysis Warhead was the standalone expansion for Crysis, and the player assumed the role of Michael Sykes, or Psycho. Psycho was known for being a hyper-masculine hothead, so imagine how he must have felt when in a pirated copy of the game when his weapon start firing live chickens instead of bullets. Apparently once again pirates were outed when they took to the official forums and complained about this bug in the game and whether there was a fix. The only solution is to just buy the game legally.
Copy protection reared its head again later on in the series with Crysis 3. Pirated versions of the game contained an unbeatable boss enemy, preventing players from being able to finish the game completely – this might well have been a page taken out of Serious Sam’s book. Maybe. Who knows?
Brutality rating: Considering that one can still get through the game without using guns in Warhead, by using your suit’s cloak ability, and by executing enemy soldiers by throwing objects at them, and indeed throwing them at objects, Warhead’s chicken gun is surely a minor inconvenience to Psycho in the end. 2/10.
Game Dev Tycoon
Within a week of being released, the indie title Game Dev Tycoon was pirated by 94% of people who played it. But the game was uploaded to torrent portals by the very team that made it, and this cracked version contained a little surprise – no it wasn’t malware, but it did punish people who pirated the game by making them lose money in-game due to piracy. Ironic, but if you think that’s ironic, then you should have witnessed some of the complaints on the game’s official forum.
Brutality rating: the game becomes incredibly challenging with the addition of piracy, but it is said that it is still possible for your business to somehow survive despite every product selling at a loss. 7/10.
Ah, Mirror’s Edge. A largely underrated gem from a few years ago that was praised mostly by the artsy fartsy types out there who constantly complain about games nowadays being too grey. There’s no doubt that it was rather beautiful in a way, and so was the main protagonist – the only thing that wasn’t so great was the awful cutscenes.
But the game was not only much more beautiful than most games – it was also much harder. The gameplay centred around parkour or freerunning in order to progress from one part of the city to another, dashing across rooftops, balancing while walking along airducts, and timing manoeuvres just right or risk crippling injury and even death. And death was certain to come if you pirated this game, because with a pirated copy, as Faith approached a crucial jump in the game which required the utmost speed to clear, she would suddenly slow down to walking pace, making the jump pretty much impossible, meaning that you wouldn't be able to progress past the first part of the game
Brutality rating: the player can’t jump from one area to the next, so they are effectively trapped at the first area of the game, and any attempt to make it out is greeted with virtual suicide. 8/10.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman is considered to be one of the most badass superheroes. He is in fact the only major superhero out there who doesn’t have superpowers, unlike Superman and Spiderman. Even still, he has done rather well for himself over the last several decades. He is capable of many impressive feats largely thanks to his wide array of gadgets. But if you went and copied Arkham Asylum, boy were you in for a surprise.
Parts of the game require Batman to open his cape in order to glide, particularly the part where there’s a room filled with poison gas which Batman needs to obviously avoid or die. So you’d go about trying to glide as advertised on the box, but Batman would instead start flapping his cape, and much like a baby bird trying to fly for the first time, would plummet to the ground below.
Upon seeking help on the forum, one user was told by the forum admin: “It’s not a bug in the game; it’s a bug in your moral code.”
“Why so serious?”
Brutality rating: the player can’t glide from one area to the next, so they are effectively trapped at the first area of the game, and any attempt to make it out is greeted with virtual suicide. 8/10.
Michael Jackson: The Experience
Michael Jackson sadly left us years ago, and yet some people felt the need to take money away from his dear children by pirating this game (as awful as it apparently was). But Michael, known for playing pranks on occasion, had one last trick up his sleeve. While playing the game, all the music tracks were accompanied by what can only be compared to the sound of a dying animal, or rather a chorus of dying animals. Yes, it was soccer season, with the 2010 World Cup taking place in South Africa, and the lovely sound of the vuvuzelas, or rather a bunch of them ruined every song in the game. And if you tried to pause the game to stop this infernal racket, the game froze.
Brutality rating: if you have ever been exposed to the sound of vuvuzelas, then you know what brutal is. Still, it’s hardly going to do much to ruin this game, which I’m suprised anyone even bought. Still kind of nasty, but funny too. Not that I endorse piracy, but I totally think that Thriller would be enhanced that much by the the sound. 4/10.
This is a game that, unlike several of the entries on this list, I haven’t even heard of, let alone played. But the copy protection involved in this game is just so brutal that I had to include it here.
Pirated copies of the game, believed to have been uploaded to torrent sites by the developers themselves were bundled with malware. Upon people installing the game, they were asked several personal questions. This would make anyone a bit cautious, but in order to progress, most people would have done so, perhaps filling in false information like many people do when it comes to registration forms.
If that wasn’t enough, this malware on their system took a screen capture (basically making it a type of keylogger in a way), and uploaded that screenshot to a website. So whatever that person was doing at the time the screenshot was taken would be revealed to the world. Apparently it was possible to get the pictures taken down if these people admitted that they were pirates. The site is now down, but it’s likely that these screens are still circulating the internet.
Brutality rating: it installs malware on your PC, and outs the pervert in you. 10/10.
Earthbound, otherwise known as Mother 2, upon detecting a pirated copy would make the game infinitely harder than it would have been otherwise. If you were able to get to the end and face the boss, the game would freeze, and you would have to reboot your console, only to find that all savegames had been deleted and all your progress was lost.
Brutality rating: there is nothing more brutal that wasting time, and that’s exactly what would happen here: all your progress was for nothing. Okay, so malware taking screenshots of your desktop is probably worse. 9/10.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
It’s a common goal with most games that you slog through most of the game levelling up, getting stronger, finding better weapons, and eventually facing off against the boss creature at the end of the game. But here, if you pirated this game, you would be teleported straight to the final boss and subsequently massacred due to the fact that you were completely unprepared. Oh, and the fairy in the game would break the fourth wall and tell you what a thieving scumbag you are.
Brutality rating: 7/10.
Day of the Tentacle: Maniac Mansion
In the game there is a steel door. Inputting the wrong code will have severe consequences even in the legitimate version. But putting in the right code in the pirated version will also have severe consequences, as the entire mansion is detonated by what looks like a A-bomb and everyone in a 5 mile radius is obliterated. Game over.
Brutality rating: 7/10.
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