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Stardock Unveils Goo: "Gamer Friendly" DRM

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 Goo

PC 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.

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.
  • Shadow703793
    Good move in the right direction. I still prefer no DRM, but this is good news for the gamers.
    Reply
  • allenpan
    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!!!
    Reply
  • grieve
    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.
    Reply
  • megabuster
    No internet = No games for you? Interesting concept.
    Reply
  • smithereen
    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.
    Reply
  • Airrax
    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...)
    Reply
  • Eggrenade
    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.
    Reply
  • seboj
    How does this prevent piracy?
    Reply
  • cruiseoveride
    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?
    Reply
  • ZeroTech
    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.
    Reply