Games for Windows Beefing Up Anti-Piracy Measures

Microsoft is beefing up its anti-piracy effort in its Games for Windows program, but it’s not what you think.

Microsoft has a new anti-piracy method, but it’s not DRM. It’s being termed “zero-day piracy protection and server-side authentication to help prevent game piracy before street date, and protect publishers and consumers by requiring authentication for online play,” quoted Develop.

Basically, Microsoft’s new method fights piracy from a very specific angle -- the eager hardcore fans. As dedicated and legit a hardcore gamer may be, there is the undeniable desire to play a highly anticipated game as soon as possible.

A gamer may have already plunked down the cash at a local game store for a pre-order, all with intentions to purchase a game, but often times games are leaked onto the internet before street date.

The super hyped Crysis was leaked days before retail release, which lead to otherwise honest gamers downloading the title out of sheer anticipation rather than for any intention of stealing from the developers. While a portion of those gamers who downloaded a copy earlier may still pay for a legit copy upon release, there is little incentive other than from moral grounds to pay for something that one practically has free access to.

This problem is bigger on PC games because almost everyone can download a copy off a BitTorrent network and install without any system modifications, but it also happens on consoles. Highly anticipated Xbox 360 games such as Gears of War 2, Fallout 3 and Resident Evil 5 were available to modded console owners.

Microsoft believes part of the problem is that gamers eager to play the game have little reason to wait any longer than they already have. If it’s available early from any place, free or not, gamers will flock to it. There have been countless incidents on internet forums where gamers have found a store that’s broken the street date of a game and are selling the product early -- and before you know it, gangs of gamers are there with cash ready to get their hands on it ASAP.

To combat this, Microsoft is putting into place an “unlocking” system that will ensure that games won’t be playable until a set date.

"We've heard from publishers that preauthorized release before streetdate can... they can lose half the sales, the revenue of the game. This is specifically aimed at helping reduce that for the publisher," Drew Johnston, the product unit manager for the Windows Gaming Platform, said to Ars Technica. "We have zero-day piracy protection—this helps reduce the leakage of IP before release. The bits are encrypted, and there is a one-time activation that checks to see if the game has been released or not, and we'll send out a decrypt code so the game can be played."

This method may sound familiar to those who have used Valve’s Steam online service. Gamers can pre-purchase a game, download and install before release date, and have the files unlocked and ready for play the moment the “release switch” is flipped. Of course, there are still non-Steam-exclusive games that one can obtain illegally, and before release date.

Microsoft wants to make this a part of all Games for Windows, which means that there would be a requirement for a GFW Live account, and an internet connection. A side effect of this apparent inconvenience is that Microsoft will allow the license holder to make as many installs and copies as he wishes, as long as the game can be authenticated on an account.

Such a system would also destroy the used games market, but that is less of an issue since PC games practically have no resale value.

What do you think of this new model for Games for Windows? Is this something you’d be willing to trade in place of Spore-like DRM? Let us know in the comments below.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • seboj
    Keep on fighting that losing battle MS.

    My torrents will keep on downloading.
    i dont know i think this may be a good thing we may get more games for the PC if this works out
  • RiotSniperX
    sebojMy torrents will keep on downloading.And i bet your proud of that?
  • jsloan
    hackers will find ways around it faster than microdopes can stop it...
  • sriojas
    If it means no DRM, then I am good with it. Steam and StarDock's Impulse are certainly ahead of the curve where Microsoft sits, but this should help the gaming industry further. If they do it right, you won't always need to be "connected", just like Steam and Impulse.
  • cjl
    sebojKeep on fighting that losing battle MS.My torrents will keep on downloading.
    Of course you realize that if everyone did this, there would be no games for PCs, right?
  • Flameout
    i'm guessing this article is targeting the single player aspect of a game since most developers hav some sort of account rego to play online, n they can check if ur key is already used or not
  • CosmosX
    Is the real issue here who is pirating and how?
    For crying out loud release a "mature" and stable game for once at reasonable prices and then more people are going to buy it.

    Latest example is Empire Total War with all the issues gamers have been having. When will you guys get it? It's not the piracy that kills the gaming industry, it's what we get for the money we pay.
    Maybe instead of spending money on "protections" you should invest your money into customer value proposition and take back the market share.

    Good luck Microsoft.
  • hallic7
    As a computer programmer I know how sad is the fact that some people steal your work when is very hard to produce (games specially), but let's face it, piracy will never die. I encourage companies (not just MS) fighting against piracy, but this is a never ending story. More than fighting piracy I encourage gamers to support the gaming industry one way or another. Because of honest players the industry is and it will be alive.
  • anubis572
    It's not a bad compromise but I feel that those with a 'stand alone' system may have a few problems with the on-line authentication. I personally don't like to go online to authenticate anything because most of the time it's just a limited install on so many computers. Still, this is one of the better ideas MS has come up with.