One of the most divisive topics in the music and gaming industry is digital rights management (DRM). DRM is the umbrella under which industry efforts to stop piracy via software protections fall. DRM schemes range in how restrictive they are, but they typically are invasive, sometimes installing programs on a user’s computer.
In an ironic twist, Rockstar Games has decided to adopt DRM to make its latest edition of Grand Theft Auto -- GTA IV for the PC -- harder to steal. In a move that perhaps puts its status as the gaming industry's most edgy developer at risk, Rockstar is adopting the SecuROM 7 DRM scheme, which rival EA has championed with titles such as Spore and Mass Effect. It is interesting to note that EA tried unsuccessfully to acquire Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar's parent company, earlier this year.
Unlike EA's titles, GTA IV will not have a limit on the number of computers it can be installed on according to Rockstar's initial statements on the topic. Rockstar defends its decision to jump on the DRM bandwagon in the online gaming site IGN.com, stating in an interview, "We invest a considerable amount of time and effort to release each title, and employ a large number of people in the process. Having copy protection allows us to protect the integrity or our titles and future investments… SecuROM is the most effective form of disc based copy protection and allows us to manage authenticity on a global level for Grand Theft Auto IV."
Another consolation, according to Rockstar is that the system will now allow gamers to get a code to activate their games on a different computer. This will allow users without home internet to activate their titles.
There are definitely some downsides to Rockstar's implementation as well. Unlike Spore's implementation of SecuROM 7, you will always need Disc 1 of the game in the drive in order to play it, probably due to the looser installation restrictions. Also, if you upgrade any of your major system hardware such as graphics cards, RAM, or the processor you will need to reauthenticate the game.
Despite these negatives, Rockstar believes that it is in touch with its gaming audience, stating, "Vocal 'board posters' seem to be most down on the SecuROM feature that limits the number of installations. We recognize that the installation limits have been a major issue, so we have not limited the number of installations for the retail disk version of GTA IV PC."
However, the most controversial feature of SecuROM 7, the inability to remove it and the fact that its UAService7.exe executable remains. The feature has led some in the computer security community to equate it to malware.
Rockstar says it’s working with SecuROM to create message board posts on how to remove these intrusive installations.
While GTA IV for the PC will be available via STEAM, it too will be coming with a hot cup of DRM, which may disappoint some fans who were hoping the online release would be free of the copy protections, as some online distributions are.
Apparently Rockstar is taking the theft of its new title so seriously it is even programming Easter eggs in to assail the unsuspecting game pirate. The company states, "Aside from the fact that warez are a great place to pick up a Trojan or key logger, using a cracked copy of GTA IV PC will result in varying changes to the game experience. These can range from comical to game-progress-halting changes."