January 14, 2006
I've recently been struggling with a number of racing sims I bought to use after work hours in our new racing cockpit. I'm a big believer in supporting developers. I'm a developer myself. But digging around for CDs or DVDs is impractical for dedicated gaming rigs, so I install no-cd patches when I can.
Unfortunately, finding no-cd patches is getting harder and harder because of a relatively new copy protection known as StarForce. It's a kernel-mode device driver that talks directly to the IDE hardware to validate the CD or DVD. Beyond that, the technical details are sketchy, probably to prevent crackers from gaining the upper hand. But the net result is that no-cd patches for games with the latest StarForce protection are rare.
For example, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which was released early last year, has no known working no-cd patch as of today-- almost a year later. That's amazing. There are legions of hackers and crackers out there. Fending them off for this long is completely unprecedented. For as long as there has been software, there have been crackers-- and they've always won.
My hat is off to the developers of StarForce. However you feel about copy protection, they've accomplished what many thought could never be done. Now, before you spam the comments with diatribes about how much StarForce sucks, how it kills small children and formats your hard drive, etcetera, take the time to read their point of view in this interview with a StarForce rep. It has their side of the story, and many additional details. I'll also add that I played, completed, and sold Splinter Cell Chaos Theory earlier this year without once knowing that I was playing a StarForce protected game.
Now, this is not to say that StarForce can't be circumvented. It can. The primary method of circumventing StarForce at the moment is to stop using parallel ATA optical drives:
- physically unplug your optical drives*
- use a special utility to completely disable parallel ATA on your PC (that's assuming you're using serial ATA hard drives)
- switch to external USB optical drives
It's kind of a scorched earth solution, but it's the only thing that works. And once you've done that, you're still not done! The very, very latest versions of StarForce monitor hard drive access at the time of disc validation to see if that "DVD" you mounted is really being read from the hard drive. So you have to load an additional device driver that hides the physical drive access from StarForce.
All in all, a giant pain in the ass. Which is entirely the point of copy protection.
But is StarForce too much copy protection? Chris Anderson maintains that there is an optimal level of piracy for any industry, due to the following effects:
- Remember dongles? Any protection technology that is really difficult to crack is probably too cumbersome to be accepted by consumers.
- Piracy can let you raise your prices. Rather than pricing between the absolute economic bottom and the top, you cede the bottom to piracy-- no price can compete with free-- and set your price between the middle and the top.
- Piracy helps seed technology markets. The ubiquity of pirated Windows and Office have made them de-facto national standards in many countries.
Chris proposes that a certain level of piracy is simply good business:
When all these effects are considered, it appears that there actually is an optimal level of piracy. That right level would vary from industry to industry. Today the estimated piracy rates are 33% for CDs and 15% for DVDs. The industries say that's too high, but most anti-copying technologies they've brought in to lower that figure have proven unpopular. Would even tighter lock-downs help? Probably not. Maybe 15%-30% is simply the market saying that this is the optimal rate of piracy for those industries, and any effort to lower that significantly would either choke demand or push even more people to the dark side.
I tend to agree. I think DVDs are an excellent example of this "good enough" theory in action. They have a basic level of copy protection, but they're priced so reasonably very few people bother to pirate them. The people that continue to pirate DVDs probably wouldn't buy them no matter how low they were priced.
* no, disabling them in the BIOS doesn't work. StarForce talks directly to the ATA hardware at the kernel level.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I couldn't agree more with the statement:
"Piracy helps seed technology markets."
When I was a poor broke college student, I would steal every piece of software that I could get my hands on. I never felt guilty about it because I couldn't afford to pay for the software even if I wanted to.
Now that I'm a developer and I actually have money to spend of software, I tend to buy the programs that I pirated in my college days because I'm already familiar with them.
I think most of the time when software is pirated, it is from someone who couldn't or wouldn't pay for the software anyway. So software companies aren't loosing any money, but they are gaining market reputation.
Instead of game-specific no-CD cracks, you might want to try Game Jackal ( http://www.gamejackal.com ).
That's a very clever program that inserts a stub on the Windows driver level between the CD/DVD drive and the application. First you start up your game normally, CD in drive, and let GJ record the data that's transmitted through the driver. Later you just let GJ play back the recorded data for that game, and no longer have to insert a CD!
Cheap, easy to use, and works very well for Civ4 and Star Wars Battlefront 2. Caveat: I think GJ still has trouble with StarForce -- check the forums on their website for discussions on that subject.
The whole copy protection thing (not just for games, but also for audio cds, etc.) is bullshit. I am completely within my rights to make a backup disc and use that to play.. or make a backup image and use that to play.
Not to mention that copy protection can make even legitimate copies/computers not work. I've had problems with the low-level drivers that StarForce installs, as well as other protection schemes (namely it completely breaking my DVD burner's burning support..) I remember when I couldn't get "Battle for Middle Earth" to play.. it kept telling me to insert the disc. Pfft.
It makes me wonder how much consumers are going to take before they just all start pirating the games-- the warez release groups seem to have no problem cracking most games and making them "NOCD" within a few days at most.
I think GJ still has trouble with StarForce
That is clever, but GameJackal doesn't work at all with semi-recent versions of StarForce as well as a few other types of protection. That's because these protections talk directly to the IDE hardware via a driver themselves; they don't use the OS calls.
the warez release groups seem to have no problem cracking most games
This isn't true, though. Many starforce games are NEVER cracked. A handful are, but most aren't.
I worked at a company once (long enough ago that it was the era of supposedly copy-protected floppy disks) where the president's attitude was that he'd rather have people pirating our software and using it than using the competitors'.
Nice post, but I have to disagree with the statement about the DVDs. Maybe, in the USA, they are cheap... according to the average salary - I worked in the USA.
But for example in the Czech republic, where I live, the average month salary is about 800 USD (that means 520 USD minus taxes) and average DVD costs 32 USD... cheap? No, thanx. That does not mean I dont buy a DVD from time to time (I bought Stanley Kubrick collection recently), but I have to think twice.
The same situation is on the field of software, as the prices are not made according to the purchasing power parity, but simply by currency conversion. You cannot buy Visual Studio 2005 Prof from one salary, Windows Home cost half the salary and for Windows Prof You cough all your salary.
That is Czech Republic, Central Europe... imagine the situation more eastwards where salaries are much lower...
About 80 to 95 percent of software is pirated in Russia, but that is simply because the people cannot afford it.
the prices are not made according to the purchasing power parity, but simply by currency conversion
Obviously this is a bad way to do business, since income and salaries are very different in other parts of the world. I know drugs, for example, are not priced this way:
About 80 to 95 percent of software is pirated in Russia, but that is simply because the people cannot afford it
I agree with you, and this is exactly what the post says-- the economic bottom is ceded to piracy.
plus an additional IDE Jammer (which is supposedly built-in to the coming version) punctures StarForce's protection
Actually, it doesn't. The newest versions of starforce fix this hole by "un-jamming" the IDE channels at startup, if they are in a jammed state.
Remember, if it can be done in software, it can be undone in software as well...
The real solution is for Daemon Tools (or whatever) to emulate an IDE drive. All existing emulators emulate SCSI drives, which cause a problem since SCSI optical devices are all blacklisted by StarForce if even one IDE optical drives is found.
Damn, I'm glad I don't play PC games anymore so I don't have to put up with this BS. I would never buy a game that came along with some funky kernel-mode driver crap like that. Sony root-kit anyone?
Well, starforce isn't a rootkit. It's a device driver.. they run in kernel mode by definition. And the device driver ONLY runs when the CD is validated; there's nothing that sticks around in memory or anything like that.
Sorry, I could have been a little more clear in my post.
Well i was not an gammer ohter then the lara 99 time to time i play it from cds or from my hard now that i heard that new lara 2005 dvd but it got starforce wow after reading this i think i m good and best at the lara 99 , this is way too over to do things like this that i don't have time well
if some one do it let me know by e-mails or what ever thanks in advanced ,
have fun ,
i hope daemon tools beat starforce. I want to backup my Toca RAce 3 and i cannot... IDE drives may eclipse in the future. Is satrforce going to blacklist even usb sticks? :)
Worms 4 is starforce protected and i've got a crack and that goes for rainbow six lockdown Nananananana!!!!
Since most no-cd hacks involve decoding the exe and removing all links to the cd testing code entirely, starforce can be as agressive as it likes. If it is removed from the EXE, it can't run.
New methods usually only gain companies 6-12 months from the hackers.
Frankly, I hate having to risk my originals and having my fair use rights violated by preventing me from producing a backup (and using it in place of the original as an expendable media). I prefer the No-cd hacks as they don't require me to forever be fiddling with my drives as I change games AND they allow me to lock up my originals nice and safe, only risking them during install.
Jeff: "And the device driver ONLY runs when the CD is validated; there's nothing that sticks around in memory or anything like that." - oh, does it mean my hdd driver is in memory only when i'm working with file system? And when I finish opening file it uloads itself from memory.
And whe I want to access HDD again... hell, where do i get the driver from now? :)
I don't think it works this way...
This is a great discussion. I learnt a lot. Starforce seems to be one of the toughest protections ever made. The other day, I tried Prince of Persia T2T but it didn't run at all. Tried that simple age old trick of removing the CD cable and it worked like a charm. What not... Starforce failed on one of my laptops... While on one side, I get so excited upon knowing that I'll be able to play the game, the other side, I feel a little uneasy too... For, these programmers spend day and night coding these games and well, what to say? The next day or even before release, they are pirated. Guess it can't be helped. These games are too costly for a normal individual to afford. I used to play video games in my childhood for roughly 10 cents an hour(it turns out to be 20 units in my currency)... When AOE was released... It was priced at around $60(60*100*2 units in my currency)...
Why would I buy such a costly game? I didn't. After an year, one of my friends gave it to me... I got it for free... Guess piracy can't be avoided after all...
I used to manage an internet cafe, and copy protection software was a complete nightmare. We owned legitimate copies of all our software, not just one copy, but one copy for every PC that had that title installed in the stop.
Letting the customers get hold of the individual CDs/DVDs was out of the question, and many games refused to work with noCD cracks online. Because of this we had to use Daemon tools to mount an image of each game stored locally on the PC, meaning each PC needed 60GB of HDD space just for the images.
Storeforce protection was so good on one racing game we had, that it was impossible to crack, so in the end we had to remove that game from our systems.
This is a prime example of too much copy protection.
Besides all: I AM TOO FUCKING POOR TO PAY FOR WINDOWS! I'm still a high school student, my parents are not poor, but they can't afford giving me a computer that is capable of running games, genuine windows, genuine office, 50$ per computer game, and I like music and books and going out too. This things cost a lot.
I want to be a game designer, and I would love to pay for games and for my music but I don't have the money. Sorry, I just don't have it. I am not a fucking thief. There are two options: either I download windows or I don't use windows. Either I download your band or I won't hear it. You are just fucking yourself, I'm a decent guy and if I had the money I'd buy your software, you are just losing word of mouth from me about how awesome your music is or making your OS standard with me and many pirates using it.
Now my windows is stuck and I can't play COD2. Thank you.
I am not a fucking thief
yes, yes you are. a self justified thief, but a thief nonetheless. I don't want to get into some BS about how different software is from actual goods (on account of it simply being data at the lowest level), but it costs money. Wether or not you can afford it is not a justifiable excuse for pirating.
I'll admit it- I pirate software fairly profusely. But you don't see me jumping on a soapbox claiming that what I'm doing is justified. I don't. Ideally, if you couldn't afford something. You wouldn't use it. Can't afford a computer? Don't get one. I didn't have one until I was in grade 12 of high school (that being only 5 6 years ago, and the computer was a 286....). Can't afford the software to run the computer? Go ahead and pirate it, just don't jump on a pedestal claiming that what your doing is actually good for the products publishers. Even if that was the case, it wasn't the reason you pirated it, now was it. You didn't think, hmm, I think I'll pirate this OS, not because I want it, but rather because I agree with the ideals of the company that produced it and would like for them to expand and grow, which I can supplement by giving them free publicity. Heck, they should be paying me to use their software.... No. You pirated it because YOU wanted it, not because of any vested interest in the company that produced it.
Is capturing rain water the same as stealing from your utility company? Well, the comparison is a bit misleading, but you produce the same amount of waste water - so you actually steal from your utility company. So again, is capturing rain water to steal water?
@Tony: not even CLOSE to the same thing - the utility company doesn't own rain water, and therefore capturing rain water isn't stealing anything from anyone - it's free as in beer. Same with air, sunlight, the wind, etc.
I'm much like Jeff: pirated when I didn't have the money, pay now that I have the money. There's one time I don't pay, though: when I feel like punishing a company for fucking up my day with their bullshit DRM. What I'm thinking of is how I happily bought KOTOR, and pirated KOTOR 2 specifically because I considered the money saved a partial and inadequate payment for all the times KOTOR's DVD checks locked up my machine.
I Pirate. I have to or I do without, and I prefer to be with. The why on this later. I am completely upfront about it too--right to the people I pirate from. Often, but not always, they provide me with the right (license--in the form of a legit key) to use their software legitimately. To these folks, my hat is off, and if I could stand, I would additionally provide a deep and courteous bow. To the rest of you squats, including and foremost Microsoft and Symantec. I would never hope you get get what I have so you will understand, but Gawd, jerks, what does it take?
You see, I am a disabled old man. I sit and suffer continually attempting that razor edged balance between too much pain and not enough morphine--or too much morphine for the pain. Anyone who lives on my moon can well understand this strange balance that is somehow never correct. And the rest of you please keep your comment holes closed. No, you DON'T know. And I hope you remain that inept. You deserve a fine and active life.
I'm a cancer survivor that wonders if such a thing was the right move. Many of us do, and I think we all support Dr. Kevorkian. I can walk, but not far, and I tend not to sleep. Three hours a night (day) is my best. So what do I do? There is a mental limit to staring at the wall or scratching at the warts on the back of your hands. Some of us old geezers are far more intelligent than many of you young rascalians might realize. Our mental activities are not limited to old movies and watching old Three Stooges reruns. We can and must be mentally active. That means software and the internet as few other outlets are available to us.
I'm too old to enjoy (about 70) all the games, but I like some of them (Doom series) and I have become reasonably decent with Photoshop CS3 and some of the math applications. All of which (including the OS they run on) are pirated. In fact, if it runs on my PC, it IS pirated. And I will absolutely grab anything I can get to run without my own nickle in the slot.
You see, I couldn't buy software even if it was the price of a blank, unformatted DVD withOUT a label. I live on our governments contribution to the poor, or disability. We call it FEEP 'Federally Enforced Extreme Poverty'. As example, I get $791 a month and from that, claiming to keep costs down, Humana is inhuman enough to demand $96 right off the top. The rest lets me pay my house payment, utilities, insurance gas, car, clothes, food, taxes, and medicine. Notice that the cost of software and the machine was not in that list.
Piracy shouldn't be completely impossible. If it were, a lot of folks like me would suffer even more than the condition promises and the government enforces.
I told Microsoft of my condition, and that I became this way primarily because of a psychopath masquerading as a doctor, and they absolutely refused to acknowledge me. They would NOT return any comment, answers, etc. I was a pirate first last and always--even though I was honest in telling them and asking for assistance to NOT be one.
So, on behalf of the approximately half a million of us suffering this way, I would beseech those who publish software to supply some free licenses for folks to whom watching grass grow is really not all that bad. Real, completely legit current software would seriously (and I mean SERIOUSLY) brighten our day.
Have a heart. We couldn't buy it if it were three bucks a copy. Remember, you aren't loosing what you could never get. Please, think about that.
No matter how much I sympathize with software developers I just can't grasp restricting usage on software YOU PURCHASE.
I don't pirate SHAREWARE. When I was in college in only two years I spent over 2,000 in software WITH student discounts. How the hell, even as a professional, am supposed to purchase any copy of, for example, the Adobe CS which costs that much for one piece of software?
I ALWAYS purchase software from indie companies (TextMate, TaskPaper, TextExpander, CoverSutra, MacJournal, and Transmit are all bought and running right now) because they understand that if I buy it I should be able to use it on my two macs and make copies in case I loose it.
My favorite example is this:
I went to the store to buy Vista to dual boot from my Mac. Fred Meyers COVERED the UPDATE on the box, so I get home open it and realize this. Bring it back and offer to give them MORE money. They refuse because of their copyright policy. I go home, rip XP, install XP, crack XP, install the Vista update and sit back and laugh at Fred Meyers and M$ who lost money just because of their piracy policies. I would have never went and paid another $300 for the SAME software.
WTF is wrong with these companies. I think that Apple does it 100% right.
Leopard for the Mac = $130, no serial, no different upgraded versions and no copyright on it. Yeah, they did kinda fuck up on DRM though...
You might be interested in knowing that Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was finally cracked towards the beginning of last year (Splinter.Cell.Chaos.Theory-RELOADED).
StarForce's protection is so good, it doesn't work on every computer; reports of problems with StarForce are not at all uncommon. Daemon Tools (a CD/DVD emulator) plus an additional IDE Jammer (which is supposedly built-in to the coming version) punctures StarForce's protection. You have to have an ISO loaded onto your drive so technically there's no no-CD crack. Also technically, there's nothing stopping pirates from playing the game (aside from the fre gigs of HD space to leave an image that they can mount). Another forum I read talked about Starforce and its impact on racing games a bit - http://episteme.arstechnica.com/groupee/forums/a/tpc/f/39309975/m/659001117731/p/1 and the thesis of the first post (before it devolved into Yet Another Argument Over Piracy) was that the reason that 1nsane was (and is) such a successful racing game while Cross Racing Championship, a game with more hype and by the same developer, was a flop was that CRC had Starforce.
I understand the desire to make sure that there's no shrinkage (horrible accounting term, that) but I also think there's something wrong when your paying customers have a lesser experience than the people pirating your software (hi, early versions of Morrowind) and this normally seems to be the case. At any rate, god bless the hackers pumping out no-CD cracks so I don't have to dig through sleeves of game discs every time the bug bites.