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Stardock Unveils Goo: "Gamer Friendly" DRM

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 17 comments

PC game DRM has been the hot topic of late with both GDC and the FTC’s DRM conference going on.

World of Goo could have benefitted from some GooWorld of Goo could have benefitted from some GooPC games developer Stardock announced earlier this week that its forthcoming update to its digital distribution platform, Impulse, will include a new DRM solution that from first impressions appears to be consumer-oriented and the least invasive of all schemes we’ve learned about so far.

Stardock calls the technology Goo, which stands for Game Object Obfuscation. Goo allows developers to encapsulate into a single file their game executable into a container that includes the original executable plus the “Impulse Reactor” virtual platform.

According to Stardock’s claims, to activate a “Goo’d program,” the owner must enter in his or her email address and serial number which associates the game to a user rather than to a specific computer. After that first validation, the game never needs to connect to the internet again.

While Stardock has a history of not putting DRM on its games for the sake of giving its true supporters the easiest experience possible, the developer does have a responsibility to its business partners who wish to sell their games on Impulse.

"One of our primary goals for Impulse Reactor is to create a solution that will appeal to game developers while adhering to the Gamers Bill of Rights," said Brad Wardell, president & CEO of Stardock. "Publishers want to be able to sell their games in as many channels as possible but don't want to have to implement a half-dozen 'copy protection' schemes. Game Object Obfuscation lets the developer have a single game build that can be distributed everywhere while letting gamers potentially be able to re-download their game later from any digital service. Plus, it finally makes possible a way for gamers and publishers to transfer game licenses to players in a secure and reliable fashion."

Both Microsoft and Valve recently detailed their own new anti-piracy methods. Microsoft’s aims to stop pre-release games from leaking onto the internet, and Valve’s ensures that only the original owner of the game but no one else can make use of the executable.

Goo can perform both of the above functions, and goes one step further in consumer-friendliness. Stardock lists three key differentiators of its Good, which are as follows:

  1. There is no third-party client required. This means a developer can use this as a universal solution since it is not tied to any particular digital distributor.
  2. It paves the way to letting users validate their game on any digital distribution service that supports that game. One common concern of gamers is if the company they purchased a game from exits the market, their game library may disappear too.  Games that use Goo would be able to be validated anywhere.
  3. It opens the door to gamers being able to resell their games because users can voluntarily disable their game access and transfer their license ownership to another user.

Like it or not, DRM here to stay for games. Sure, the music industry may have dug itself out of the DRM trenches, but the gaming industry is hitting a different set of problems. On a positive note, companies such as Stardock are looking for the DRM solution that doesn’t harm consumers who rightfully purchase the game, which hopefully means the end of any Spore-like fiascos. Goo will launch on April 7.

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  • 4 Hide
    Shadow703793 , March 26, 2009 8:57 PM
    Good move in the right direction. I still prefer no DRM, but this is good news for the gamers.
  • 0 Hide
    allenpan , March 26, 2009 9:16 PM
    sigh ... since 2003 everytime i bought a game i have to look for crack, why? b/c alot of time my dvd drive has problem reading, connection to internet not working, and last the worst of worst "Star-Foce" on Ubisoft's splinter cell,... it is jsut complete turn OFF!!!
  • 3 Hide
    grieve , March 26, 2009 9:31 PM
    I like the Idea, and would be satisfied if it were a universal solution as mentioned. I hate that every game you buy has a different type of DRM.
    This would be simple for everyone… except those with no Internet connection for that initial validation.
  • 2 Hide
    megabuster , March 26, 2009 9:56 PM
    No internet = No games for you? Interesting concept.
  • 2 Hide
    smithereen , March 26, 2009 10:21 PM
    Not many have 'no internet' at this point. Also, it just requires a single activation, so it wouldn't be impossible to hook up to a friend's/public internet just for one session.
  • 1 Hide
    Airrax , March 26, 2009 10:36 PM
    I'm not a big fan of DRM, but I do see it's importance. So long as I see a seamless integrated approach, I have no problems with DRM. The places I have issues are with games like Crysis Warhead, and what seems to be the above mentioned Goo; having to connect to the internet for the initial activation is, not so much angering, slightly annoying to me. Steam is great for the fact that it has that play anywhere anytime ability, and to top it off you don't need to have internet access at all. But again, with steam, having to set the client to 'Start in Offline Mode' is slightly annoying (come on, there's obviously no internet connection so it would make sense to start in offline mode, then ping out every now and then to see if a connection is later established).

    What I would really like to see, just once or twice on a high profile game, is NO type of end user validation. Now, I don't mean don't track the disks, give every disk/copy a specific key-code that the client doesn't have to enter, it's simply written on the .exe (or something), and tell the client that the game will poll with the server, if an internet connection is present, to indicate the .exe code; no personal data will be recorded. Now, I don't mean to use this as a possibility for determining who is sharing their game, but it would be nice to have this type of system to show just how many people do pirate a game. Also, if the game is a pirated game, have it set a couple of flags in the game so that a loading screen or two in the middle of the game says something like "You've been playing this game for a while now. If you would like to support the developers of the game, please visit www.blah.com and submit a payment. You can pay what you think the game is worth." I mean, it might seem like a 'Big Brother' like idea, but I think that most people pirate a game because they either can't afford it, or they just want to try it out and the demo is not enough to get a good feel for the game (problem is, they play it once and will never again touch it). This might just be a win-win situation for everyone. (Oh, and yes I am pulling this idea from Radiohead. I believe they said they made more money with their 'Choose Your Price' album than all of their previous records combined...)
  • 1 Hide
    Eggrenade , March 26, 2009 10:41 PM
    I think the ability to resell is a huge plus. I'd like to see some more details, but this really seems like a very good step for both companies and honest consumers. My only worry is letting my brother play my games when I'm not home without giving him my password, ect. Perhaps a seccondary password that will use my account but can be overriden when I put in the primary one? Still only one person at a time can be logged in, but I control who that is.
  • 4 Hide
    seboj , March 26, 2009 10:47 PM
    How does this prevent piracy?
  • 0 Hide
    cruiseoveride , March 26, 2009 11:30 PM
    sebojHow does this prevent piracy?

    My thoughts exactly.

    There are 4 kinds of people.

    #1. People who are too fukin thick and find it difficult copying one .exe over the other
    #2. People who are too cheap (or simply poor) to pay for games and so pirate like monkeys
    #3. People who like Microsoft products and thus enjoy paying for software
    #4. People who dont believe in paying for software (Hackers)

    This only helps fight people type #1. And honestly? what sort of market share do they represent?
  • 0 Hide
    ZeroTech , March 27, 2009 1:54 AM
    I'm sure that when games were required to read the CD/DVD drive to start it was believed that it was going to stop piracy.
    Still, the same way there are minds out there that came up with this acceptable idea, there are also minds that will eventually crack this, then back to step 1.
    If you make a standard for validating a system, I'm sure hackers will find a standard to crack it.
  • 5 Hide
    Dmerc , March 27, 2009 5:01 AM
    I always find it interesting that people who can't afford games, pirate them but their pc is always well enoughed specs to pay them.
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , March 27, 2009 9:32 AM
    Dmerc: have you thought that there are people with decent rig, who buy some games they think are worth buying, but who cannot afford every game because they would have to pay half price of their rig per month for games? Because today you can buy a game with a full price that ends after 8 hours? Or because you can buy a game which says it will run on your rig and it doesn't? Or because the well advertised game is so stupid and boring that you just throw it away? Think about it, millionaire.
  • 0 Hide
    mtyermom , March 27, 2009 12:18 PM
    DmercI always find it interesting that people who can't afford games, pirate them but their pc is always well enoughed specs to pay them.


    That's why they can't afford the games, they've spent all their upgrading their PCs...


    But seriously, I do like the direction they are going with this. It is much less invasive and less potentially harmful for the legitimate buyers, but I don't think the crackers are going to crack games with this type of DRM any less than the games using current conventional DRM methods.

    I really don't think we're going to stop piracy any time soon. Some people are going to refuse to pay for a game, regardless of the quality, DRM or not. I pay for games I like, period. The biggest incentive to actually buy a game, IMO, are features accessible only to legitimate copies; ie: official patches/updates, official DLC/addons, and most importantly multiplayer. One way to use this to combat piracy would be to make the purchase portion very basic and shifting most of the 'good stuff' to DLC (even available immediately upon release) only available through a validated client. The problem with that solution is it punishes legitimate purchasers with no/limited internet connection with a chopped down and crippled version of the game. This would likely raise as much outcry and backlash as the shady and invasive copy protection schemes we've seen already.

    To sum up: I definitely think this is a step in the right direction, but I have yet to see an elegant solution that handles all aspects of combating piracy with respect to legitimate purchasers privacy and integrity.
  • 2 Hide
    4c1dr41n4 , March 27, 2009 2:15 PM
    Will this get cracked? Yeah, almost certainly. But at least the honest buyers won't have rootkits all over their systems.

    I also think everyone buying recent games has enough internet connectivity to send/receive a few kB to activate them.
  • 0 Hide
    theevilsock , March 27, 2009 2:32 PM
    "After that first validation, the game never needs to connect to the internet again."

    I don't think that the initial validation over internet would be a big issue, and if a game developer or distributor was worried about losing sales because an internet connection was required, they could provide a toll-free activation number where the user could dial in with their computer and activate.

  • 0 Hide
    Tindytim , March 27, 2009 5:29 PM
    theevilsockI don't think that the initial validation over internet would be a big issue, and if a game developer or distributor was worried about losing sales because an internet connection was required, they could provide a toll-free activation number where the user could dial in with their computer and activate.

    That would make it extremely easy to crack. It would be a simple pattern.
  • 0 Hide
    MamiyaOtaru , March 29, 2009 9:48 AM
    I don't think they are worried about losing sales from having an internet connection required, as this DRM is being developed to be used with their *online distribution system*