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How DRM Killed My Bioshock

Here at No High Scores we’ve, rather justly, beaten the topic of DRM in games into the ground, and I’d imagine we’ll continue to do so. In most cases, like in talking about Diablo 3, we’re talking in the relative abstract about the way in which stringent online authentication demands can cause real problems for gamers. It’s a real concern, but in the here and now, it’s largely nuisance issues. Sure, Diablo 3 servers go down, but they go back up. You can have DLC headaches with Bioware games, but they generally get cleared up eventually. There’s a lot of frustration, but no impassable roadblocks to speak of. Mostly, we talk about and live in fear of the potential for nightmare scenarios that could permanently block you from playing a game you’ve purchase. This past weekend, I hit on exactly that…

I’ve been dating. This is not a dating post and I don’t intend for it become one, but it’s how the story starts so you’ll just have to grit your teeth and bear with the notion that a member of the opposite sex finds me charming and rogue-like. It’s a mystery that will confound scientists for decades. Anyway. We were kicking back in my living room recently when she inquired about the creepy doll-like object I had hanging from the fireplace. You might have seen him before:

Hat tip to Brandon, by the way. He bought it for me. It’s awesome.

At this point she knows me well enough to know I’m a big geek and a gamer. I don’t talk about games a lot with her, but I have no reservation about launching into an abridged explanation of Bioshock, Big Daddies, and what generally made the game tick. It’s an interesting game and a very discussion-worthy premise. She was rather interested and I noted that I thought the first five minutes of Bioshock are among the very best I’ve seen from video games. I still find that initial descent into Rapture an incredible thing. So I decide to go do a quick game install and let her see it for herself. Why not? If you show a girl Bioshock and she bolts then it was never meant to be. Right, Wayne?

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Exactly.

The game install is slow, but I return to the PC a half hour later and see this error message:

Why wasn’t the download server responding? Your guess is as good as mine, but near as I can figure from an hour of Google Kung Fu, the SecuROM installer included with the boxed version of this game can be rather persnickity. The server it’s trying to access is there, the Auto Patcher just can’t get to it. I’ve seen various forum posts indicating potential firewall interference, antivirus software interference, browser settings issues (including it just not liking specific browsers), and more. I tried a few simple solutions (turning off my a/v and firewall), but neither worked. Another potential solution, that I’ll get to, I haven’t tried yet. Try explaining the intricacies and pointlessness of DRM insanity, by the way, to someone who only plays Scrabble and Sudoku on an Android phone. It’s not exactly a selling point on this industry.

The problem, however is not that the game wouldn’t install without phoning home to the server to authenticate. I never even got as far as providing a software key or anything. And the game did install. As soon as it was done installing, however, it immediately phones home for the patch. When it can’t locate the patch server you are faced with two options: Retry or Cancel. Retry works about as well as you’d expect. Cancel immediately removes the install and returns you to the Windows desktop. In other words, every time I try and troubleshoot my way around this, I have to reinstall the game from scratch.

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Thanks, 2k!

This, my friends, is the DRM nightmare scenario and we’re going to run into it more and more often in the years ahead. The game installed just fine when I bought it. It even installed just fine a couple of years later when I installed it again. This time, however, I’ve hit a brick wall, that sure, as a more advanced PC user, I might just be able to work around. But what about Joe Average? Is he going to be able to find the forum thread that says to try uninstalling (not just turn off, but uninstall) his anti-virus software? Or that he should leave the error message up, move the install directory to a new location, click Cancel, and then move the folder back?

What’s he going to think? What did my Special Lady Friend, a potential casual gamer in the making, think?

I’ll tell you what they think: Well that’s pretty stupid. Why even bother?

And they’d be right.

This isn’t even some crappy one-off game bought from the bargain bin at Wal Mart. This is for a flagship IP for 2k Games and I can’t so much as install it because of a DRM scheme that demands access to a patch server immediately upon the completion of installation. This is where PC gaming is headed and it’s incredibly not worth it because your average (non-dedicated) gamer is going to do the same thing I did, remove the game disc and toss it back on the shelf (or into the trash). They’re also not going to do something that I will do: Because I am who I am, I’ll end up buying and writing about Bioshock Infinite when it arrives. Will Joe Average buy anything with Bioshock in the title ever again?

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I rather doubt it.

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at ToddsFoolery.com.

37 thoughts to “How DRM Killed My Bioshock”

  1. I totally sympathize with your hatred of stupid DRM, but in this case it may just be a badly designed installer. I’m not certain, but it sounds like this autopatcher is just supposed to find the latest patch for the game. If it can’t find it, then it should just let the game launch at whatever version it’s at. Probably the fact that it tries to do this as part of the install process causes the whole thing to get rolled back. Not necessarily malicious DRM, just bad design on the installer. Not that the phoning home for a single player game is acceptable, but it sounds like you didn’t even get that far in this case.

    1. Hmmm. Well, I just went a Googling to pull up the site that referenced SecuROM function in conjunction with this specific issue (and the boxed game does use SecuROM) and I can’t find it (though I found references to it interfering with other people’s installs in different ways); could be that’s a bad attribution on my part (that or I’m just not repeating my search right), but whether it’s the installer design or specific DRM code, the result remains the same. It needs to phone home to install and if it can’t, you’re hosed.

      1. In the event of a failure to launch such as this; the average gamer would snap said game in half and pull up youtube and show the descent that way. I personally was able to take Bioshock back because of that DRM and picked up the X-box version. On the next date though; try and talk about something she likes to do 😛

        1. Actually did pull up YouTube. The quality of the video I found for the intro (despite being labeled “high quality”) was, unfortunately, atrocious and ended too soon. As for the other thing, yes, we spent the entire time talking about video games and I absolutely forbid the conversation from being about things of interest to her. Because that’s how I roll. 😉

  2. So you’re saying this woman finds you attractive because you resemble a dungeon adventure with permadearh? That’s no basis for a good relationship, trust me.

  3. Most inappropriate follow up lines:

    ‘That’s never happened to me before’
    ‘Looks like I came up short today’
    ‘Guess someone isn’t going to come to Big Daddy’

    Sorry couldn’t resist.

    Anyhow this is why I don’t buy many games new. I bought some games with DRM that could cause problems in the future, but usually at less than $15. The Assasin’s Creed games are prime examples. I’ve gotten all but Revelations, but paid less than $10 each. I wasn’t going to pay more for a game that might not work in a few years.

    Still when the time comes if I want to play but can’t you can bet I’ll find and download a crack faster than you can say ‘Screw you Ubisoft’.

  4. It’s all a conspiracy to force the consumer towards consoles and away from PCs. The business gurus need to put truth to the “PC gaming is dead” line they’ve been spitting so they can stop appeasing the thieving masses and shrink they’re production channels for more profit!

    Also, “blank” X Seven = 49….these math problems are getting hard. Or maybe the difficulty increases exponentially based on the actual contributive worth of the comment.

    1. The moment the math problem starts asking me log(n), this site will receive one of my proper full on, Diablo three style rants, am just saying!

  5. This is the second time Bioshock has come up in reference to Todd’s dating life, and both times the story has ended badly. Allow me to humbly suggest that a mechanically intimidating game about a dystopic Randian collapse, crafted and distributed by ruthlessly uncompromising capitalists, might not be the ideal choice for introducing neophytes to the hobby.

    How about Heavy Rain? It’s gorgeous, artistically shot, and immediately relatable. Guy wakes up, makes a few choices about whether to work or goof off until his wife gets home with the kids, and then sets out to the mall for a day of family fun. She’d love it!

    1. Hey it worked out fine the last time. That woman wasn’t into my Bioshock stories and I wasn’t into the way she chewed food with her mouth open and opined for a re-imagining of Hee-Haw.

  6. Don’t worry, I’m sure it was over when she realized you play with creepy dolls.

    Seriously though, good article, and I agree, for the decent pc geek they’ll figure out a way to install, but this is really bad for someone who is not as technical, and is likely to turn them off PC gaming. Any idea if this happens with the steam version too?

    1. It shouldn’t. Steam delivers its own patches.

      And I don’t play with the creepy doll. He just hangs they’re looking awesome. That’s right – awesome!

      …sometimes he talks to me.

  7. Did you try finding the latest patch online somewhere and installing it manually? Sometimes that works; maybe somebody dropped in on File Sharing service.

    I sympathize with getting older games to run on your PC, but it’s not like this is an uncommon thing. Bioshock is 5 years old now.

    PC gaming has always been fraught with problems like this, sadly. It’s one of the reasons PC gaming isn’t for everyone. Hell, sometimes I have a lot of trouble getting a Brand New game running.

      1. Per the first thing, I can’t do the patch manually because I can’t get out of the install app without it removing the entire install. Never tried just killing the process at that point; that might work, I suppose.

        On the second thing, I did find that page, but as a Chrome user, I was too lazy to see if I could translate the Firefox stuff they used there. I tried switching my browser default back to IE, but no such luck there.

  8. I’ve also experienced the same problem except that it was with Mass Effect 2. I bought the game when it first came out and had that god awful authenticator to make sure that it’s only installed on less than 5 machines. Long story short, the only way I could play the game again was to download a crack so that it wouldn’t have to do the stupid check.

  9. I have to say I’m a little confused…was the person referenced in your post your ‘Special Lady’ or your ‘Lady Friend’?

    Meanwhile, this is just another reason why I mostly play indie games or boardgames nowadays.

    1. Wow. I actually got caught in a Big Lebowski nomenclature misquote. I am ashamed. Let’s go with Special Lady. She’s aces in my book.

  10. “This is where PC gaming is headed”?……let me try and fix that for you! “This is where some gaming companies are trying to force the industry”.

    It has little to do with PC gaming itself or what it explicitly and individually is moving towards, imo.

    The reason I switched to PC more recently was because I can find ways around such issues on PC. When it happens to games during the next gen of MS or Sony consoles that don’t care to support the older titles or network bought games for last gen then no one will blink twice or care at all. In contrast, when it happens on PC, someone’s almost always already found a way around all the obstacles – if you didn’t buy it DRM free to begin with…and significantly cheaper.

    1. I stand corrected. You’re right that the PC will be the place where you can still play games without dealing with this sort of nonsense; it just won’t be games from the bigger publishers.

  11. drm stands for digital right management but what a bout my digital rights. drm f^%$ my digital rights.

  12. similar happened to me, so a mate that had a ISO copy, from less then legal sources installed it, which worked fine.

    then it was a case of manual patch and cracking as it didn’t like that it couldn’t/hadn’t called home at the install.

    i brought the game then had to use a pirate copy to play it, now thats good service right there LOL

  13. Dude that doll is creepy. So very creepy.

    I’m envisioning this as a new cialis commercial, just you, the special lady, two bathtubs inexplicably placed in the middle of nowhere, and a gaming rig suffering from DRM fail, installer fail, or Error 37.

    When the moment is right bioshock, will you be ready?

  14. I bought Splinter Cell Conviction on Steam, and I still get the stupid always online Ubisoft installer. So I play for like 8 hours, then I go on a trip and try to play off-line. I didn’t actually play offline, I just clicked yes on something, and then Boom! next time I boot up my game, sign in, and my save game is gone. Can’t find a forum post on where the save data is located on my local hard drive to safe my life. Thought maybe it would be stored in the cloud or something. But no luck, had to replay the whole thing. So basically I can only play after I’ve told sweet nothings to my computer and petted my router.

    1. That is so screwed up….this kind of thing is exactly the reason why this is so fundamentally wrong.

  15. News is that the “autopatcher” server is running again, so you might want to give that install another try.

    1. I can verify that the autopatcher server is indeed up (just tried it)! Many thanks SearchMe! I was in the exact same situation as the author ten days ago, when I decided to revisit good old Rapture.

      To clarify something regarding the autopatcher process – it actually downloads the bioshock.exe along with other required files from the server. No ‘patching’ per se takes place and definitely no updating. The game will get installed as v1.0 even though v1.1 has been out for the past 5 years. You’ll need to update manually afterwards – thankfully the update executables are still available.

      1. Good info (from both of you). Thanks so much! Also, that the autopatcher is actually grabbing the install game .exe and not actually patching the game is just so… appalling.

  16. I wouldn’t call that a ‘bummer’ in the first place. I have box/retail version of this crappy game and face the same issue. I installed it no problems while ago, recently i wanted to play it again, after 3 hours and numerous ideas like the author had f/w, wifi/lan etc. i gave up.

    The solution is simple, i’ll never ever again buy 2k game again, i’ll simply download it 😀 here is how your DRM is working for you – instead of increasing user base, 2k is killing it.

    1. Not sure what you meant to imply by “download it” but the context implies stealing it. As much as I appreciate the comment, that’s just never an acceptable option. The only responsible decision a consumer can make in this regard is to purchase and play or to not purchase and not play.

  17. Luckily I have the game pirated for PC. It’s great when a game just works, too bad the illegal copies work better than the official ones.

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