Trial by DRM

I received Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, among other things, as a gift a few days ago. It looks like a pretty neat game, it appears to be pretty much Neverwinter Nights with a new graphics engine, better storyline and a Star Wars theme. My good friend Alex recommended it highly.

Of course, Alex has only played it on Xbox. But the PC version can’t be too different, right? Well, one would hope. Little did I know what path lay ahead. Would I stick to the happy, legal, light side? Or would I succumb to the dark powers of software piracy?


First off, I insert disk 1 of 4 into my DVD RW drive. Wait. The drive makes unusual noises and sounds uncannily like a floppy does when it is read. This worried me, so I popped out the disk and checked for scratches. Clean. If I’d been thinking, I would have guessed something was up, but just pretend that I’m your normal clueless consumer here.

Eventually, after a long period of humming and grinding, the following message appeared:

The background image could not be located.

Please check your CD for dirt or damage

“Now that’s kinda strange”, I thought to myself.

A brief perusal of the BioWare forums brought several FAQs to my attention. One of them mentioned that a little company called SecuROM makes the copy protection that KOTOR uses, and that problems with DVD drives are not entirely uncommon. I contacted them with my problem. A brief struggle of wills ensued (myself vs. a bunch of form letters) but I emerged victorious and eventually got a response from a real person.

Dear James,

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately this error is not SecuROM related. SecuROM has no influence on the installation of the game.
Please contact the software publisher for further support options related to issues specific to the software.
Sorry for the inconvenience.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Best regards,

SecuROM Support Team

Right. Now, why don’t I believe him? Let’s see.

  • I traded in the game for another copy at WalMart, but I get the exact same results.
  • I went around and tried the disk in two other systems. Same result.
  • I can read disks two, three and four just fine. Guess what? They don’t have any copy protection on them.
  • It says “The background image could not be located.” LucasArts’ support department emailed me to inform me that this was a CRC error. Are you kidding me? Why does it need to check the entire CDROM before even lauching autorun? I mean, the installer checks the quality of the data files already. This sounds a whole lot like copy protection.

The anti-piracy mechanism has prevented me from reading the CD, period. I can’t even copy off the troubleshooting document.

I was forced into “piracy” and a life of crime. I installed Alcohol 120% and attempted to circumvent the evil SecuROM protection. I got errors stating that my drive was unable to rip the disk. I tried anyway and got a ton of errors at the 88% mark.

I embarked on plan D. (or maybe it was E, I’ve lost track at this point.) After hunting around for a while, I found a half decent KOTOR torrent. Sixteen hours later, I had downloaded the image for disk 1. I mounted it using Alcohol 120% and opened autoplay. Guess what? It worked.

Let me repeat that. Some software pirate called “Razor1911” packaged KOTOR better then LucasArts. You can argue that LucasArts needs to protect their property, etc. but the fact remains. The pirated software worked. The official, real, ligit stuff didn’t. The pirated package even included a patch so you don’t need to mount the CD image every time you play.

I’m not condoning piracy. But look at it. Pirated software is easy to install, it’s less hustle, and it’s just less frustrating overall. People should step back and look at just why torrent sites are prospering. Because, as I’m learning, the commonly used “They just want free games” argument is only one side of the coin. The software industry would be wise to investigate the other.

Advertisements

26 Responses to “Trial by DRM”


  1. 1 Emries May 9, 2006 at 3:36 am

    I have run into the exact same problem with KoToR, including the run-around from LucasArts and SecuRom. I have never committed an act of computer piracy, but I do plan on following the steps you took to get the durned thing to work. I have made sure that I know where my proof of purchase is for when the men in black knock on my door. Wish me luck.

  2. 2 JD June 3, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    I am running into exactly the same troubles. Could you point me in a more specific direction.

  3. 3 James June 5, 2006 at 12:49 am

    JD, Sorry but I kinda have to be vague about it. It’s not illegal for us to use software we paid for, but using BitTorrent to obtain it is sort of a grey area, since you are uploading to other people at the same time you are downloading it, therefore providing bandwidth and assisting illegals.

    That said, there is a torrent floating around. I shall not name it, but it includes a complete copy of disk 1, minus the cd protection.
    There is also a no-cd patch that is required. This torrent includes the patch on disk 4, or you can search around several seedy sites to find it. Just keep your virus scanner active, ok?

    I would also encourage anyone who has this problem to try and get some attention. Maybe if we shame LucasArts enough, they’ll switch to something that works.
    I hear that cd protection has been dropped from Neverwinter Nights altogether, simply because so many people were having the exact same problems we’re experiencing with Knights of the Old Republic.

  4. 4 Frustrated Jedi June 23, 2006 at 6:43 am

    James,

    I am getting that same error message and thus far have been misled, patronized, lied to and generally scoffed at by some of the LucasArts tech support. Your blog reads almost exactly like what I’m dealing with. At this point, I would just rather get a refund (or even just store credit) from the retailer or LucasArts, but LucasArts has already misled me about their policies and giving me runaround. They’re claiming they’ve “never heard” of this problem, which has to be b.s. I have KOTOR II and it will install fine. (I got it as a gift but decided I wanted to play the first game first.) Anyway, do you have any advice for dealing with LucasArts?

  5. 5 James June 23, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Sorry, FJ, I honestly don’t have a solution for dealing with LucasArts. I seriously doubt that they’ll admit they have a problem, and this game will be obsolete soon anyway.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that publicity is the best way to deal with it all. Maybe we can shame them into sending us working copies.

    They obviously have gotten a lot of complaints about it though, as KOTOR II doesn’t have this issue. 😉

  6. 6 Frustrated Jedi June 23, 2006 at 9:32 pm

    James,

    About how many other people have you heard from with the same problem? Do you think they could actually send me something that would work? I’m afraid no matter what copy I get, it’s going to do the same thing.

    Tech support had promised me a call today from a supervisor. It didn’t happen. Imagine that….

  7. 7 James June 26, 2006 at 8:09 am

    Aside from some folks people on the BioWare forums, only the comments you see here. However, use blog/forum people make up only a small percentage of those who bought the game. I can only imagine the number of kids who received it as a present, only to find it didn’t work.

    Only the first CD of the bunch has copy protection on it. You can browse the files on the others, image them, whatever, with no problems. If you can get your hands on an *ahem* unofficial version of the first disk without copy protection, KOTOR will install just fine. Once running, however, the game checks the cdrom drive for the copy-protected disk every 5 minutes or so, and bails out if you’re not using the real deal. I leave it to the readers imagination as to how this can be circumvented.

    While I’m not very happy at all with LucasArts (BioWare claims to have nothing to do with the DRM), at least they seem to have eased up a bit on copy protection with the sequel, which you are lucky enough to own. Afaik, KOTOR II has little bearing on the plot of the old game, indeed, it has little plot period. However, my friend Alex raves about how much fun it is to run around, killing or destroying everything that moves, so I suggest you give it a play-through as you continue to badger LucasArts. Even the unjust customer service representative may eventually give you justice. (~Luke 18:1-8) 😉

  8. 8 Highly dissatisfied KOTOR owner July 2, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    Blah. The samething just happened to me. I just found this place in a google search.

  9. 9 Frustrated Jedi July 3, 2006 at 8:26 pm

    James,

    Thanks for the info. My KOTOR saga has come to an end. Not the ideal conclusion, but one I am content with. I contemplated locating an “unofficial” version of the game but ultimately decided not to go down that route. Not for any moral reasons, I was just concerned with spyware, trojans and being able to get a playable copy and the subsequent updates, patches, etc. Also didn’t want to deal with the long download time and take up all my allowed GB of Internet usage for the month.

    Anyway, I went back to Best Buy again and gave them the whole story and politely asked for store credit. There was much hemming and hawing, but eventually they asked me to try one more time, promising that they would “take care of me” should the THIRD copy in six days not work. The tech guy really tried to sell me on the idea that the third time would be the charm. I didn’t give them much grief because this isn’t their fault. (Although they did tell me that they have to eat the cost of the game, that it doesn’t go back on LucasArts; I’m not sure I believe that and either way I hardly feel bad for that megamillion dollar retailer.) Well, this time the nice young lady who helped me DIDN’T break the seal on the new copy of the game. I walked out with an unopened copy.

    I pondered what to do — try it again, hoping against all odds that it would actually install? Return it for store credit? Or try to return it for my money back? As much as I wanted to experience this game that I’ve heard so much about, I couldn’t convince myself that the game would ever install correctly. As much as I wanted to continue to badger LucasArts, I knew I was likely fighting a lost cause. And I figured that my two exchange receipts were linked to the original’s receipt in BB’s database, so I decided against trying to get my money back. Luckily, I don’t have any trouble spending money at that store. So I went to a different one in my area and said I got the game as a gift, but that I already own it so could I PLEASE get store credit? I got it, no questions asked. Take that LucasArts!!!

    It was a bittersweet victory but I’m glad to have that off my back. Of course, a LucasArts tech support supervisior never called me back. I’m tempted to continue to breathe down their necks. God help them if I have any problems with KOTOR II.

    I have been told that I’ll be able to play Sith Lords without any noticeable loss from not playing KOTOR. But it would’ve been nice to play the original. I may still find a way to do so, but for now am enjoying a BioWare game that installs just fine — Neverwinter Nights. Probably won’t attempt Sith Lords until I need a break from NN.

    James, thanks for all the info and tips. You should launch KOTORinstallproblem.com, or something like that. I will keep you updated with any continued conversations with LucasArts. But any that do happen will have to be about KOTOR II, I’ve decided to never again buy one of their games. Which is really frustrating, because I want to play Jedi Academy.

  10. 10 loic July 7, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    Hi,

    You can add one more on the list… Same game, same story… Sad.
    What drives me nuts is that neither Lucas or Bioware will recognize that they released a defective mechanism.

  11. 11 James July 7, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    Don’t blame Bioware – they just made the game. A customer support type person told me that they h/ad/ave little say about LucasArts decision to use such restrictive DRM.

  12. 12 Aars July 22, 2006 at 9:27 am

    I hate this. Same problem. And I cant download it does anyone know how to bypass the securom security

  13. 13 James July 27, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    It has come to my attention that there is a forum thread which is driving traffic to my blog. Specifically, to this post. I would take part in this discussion, but registration is turned off. Therefore, I’m gonna post my response here and hope someone will be good enough to either give me access or quote it over there.

    First, Leviathan: get off your high horse. Only the first disk is protected.* The protection is so severe that I can’t even read the help files off it. I’ve gone through two legit copies of the game, and the protection is identical on both of them. If you think about it, it’s only the disk one that needs to be protected anyway, the other three disks contain cryptic data files that are no use without the first one. At any rate, the issue is severe enough to prevent large numbers of people from playing the game, so I’d say the DRM is effective enough.
    From what I see, this seems to be a problem with an extremely buggy version of the copy protection software. It has trouble with DVD rom drives, CD-RW drives, cd drives more then 6 years old, etc.

    Anyway, that’s beside the point. It really dosen’t matter.
    The real issue is, no one at LucasArts or Securom will take responsibility for this. They must know of it, I’ve had hundreds of people find this single blog entry with search terms like “kotor drm problem”. This suggests a widespread problem. Yet, they say that we must have gotten a defective version and tell us to go return it where we bought it.

    I wonder who shipped hundreds of defective cds? Certainly not LucasArts, the publisher of the game. *cough*
    A program that’d let us swap out for fixed CDs, or even an “Oops, we goofed” message would do wonders for my opinion of the company.

    * …And I can prove it. Look, if all the disks were supposed to be protected, and this was why installation was failing, why does the DRM check fail midway through the first disk? It dosen’t even ask for a second disk to verify. And I can tell you for a fact that the installer has no trouble using the legit non-protected data disks.

  14. 14 richard July 27, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    I bought Kotor II. While I did not get the same error message, I have had difficulties installing and playing. First, the installation of it freezes between the 3 and 4 cd. However, I have been able to overcome that problem only to find that once installed, the game does not run. It uses memory but no operations. Any ideas?

  15. 15 James July 27, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    Sorry Richard, no clue. From what I’ve heard, KOTOR II has less copy protection, if anything. Have you gone to LucasArts for tech support yet?

  16. 16 richard July 30, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    Yep. They walked me through 3 different things and still no luck. I’ve been given to research.

  17. 17 Ridean August 3, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    KOTOR2 does not have the same copy protection. I have KOTOR 1 and 2, and KOTOR 2 works just fine. I am forced to torrent KOTOR 1 because I cant get it to work. I exchanged and tryed on several systems and no luck.

  18. 18 Darth Dave August 12, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    I got this same error…blah, blah, blah…pretty much the same stuff already said in this thread including frustrations and a multitude of forum searches. However, after trying to access the files in about every way imaginable, I tried it on my laptop. To my surprise, it worked!! That surprise is multiplied seeing the messages of you guys doing the same thing but getting the error.

    What sucks (as there always has to be something), is that my laptop wasn’t meant for playing games. Darn those wives and their comprimising rules.

    Anyway, it doesn’t really seem that it’s worth trying to get a new copy because: 1) it won’t solve the issue; and 2) it ain’t worth the gas money to drive over and hour and a half. Torrent, here I come. *sigh*

  19. 19 SchwarzerWind August 19, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    This is so incredibly sad that LucasArts is once again screwing over the consumer with KOTOR. A buddy of mine and I both bought this game brand-new from Best Buy just one week ago, and neither of us can get it to work on our PCs. In fact, I tried the same CDs on another PC I own and got the same exact error messages all the rest of you have.

    The only difference is I looked at the back of the box, saw the message that said “this product uses software intended to prevent copying” and knew -right away- I’d just been boned by LucasArts YET AGAIN.

    Why do I say again? Because I bought KOTOR on it’s ship date for the XBOX years ago. I was one of the unfortunate hundreds who got the bad first-run discs that were buggy as hell, would blue-screen the XBOX and would save corrupted game files (or not save them properly at all). I know this for a fact, because several hundred people had these bad discs, and I verified mine was one of them by a batch run number on the inside ring of the disc.

    I was forced to take it back to EB Games, where I got it, and demand another copy. The sales clerk there didn’t want to do it, and I let loose one hell of a rage (I’d paid $50 for this thing) and told him I knew I wasn’t the only person who was having this problem. He gave me one of the few remaining copies very hush-hushed after that, from the new production runs. The game worked beautifully for years after that, till I traded it in.

    I wanted this version on my gaming PC, because despite how badly LucasArts treated its customers, it was a great game, and I knew extras had been added into the PC version, as well as looking better. So I bit the bullet and paid $20 for a brand-new copy, only to find the mo’fuggin SecureROM wouldn’t let either of my PCs read the damned thing. Once again, LucasArts released a batch of bad disks, and once again they told the customer they’d never heard of this problem, and that it was the customer’s fault (bad equipment, etc) and not theirs.

    This is the last time I’m ever going to buy a LucasArts product. Period. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, I’m a damned fool, but much wiser now. I suggest you all do the same after you BitTorrent a WORKING copy of the game that LucasArts just mugged you for.

  20. 20 Disgruntled_Do_Gooder August 24, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    Wow, total diasaster. I guess they just pretend like it’s not a problem and hope it goes away.

    I guess I’ll just bt it.

  21. 21 Jay Christopherson August 27, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    Yep I had the exact same thing. Bought it at Best Buy, brought it home, stuck it in, and got the “background image” message. So I took it back the next day to exchange it and when I got home I had the exact same message. So obviously it wasn’t just one defective copy. My computer is fairly new so I was actually in the process of contacting the manufacturer to tell them that I thought my DVD/CD drive was defective, but I googled the error message to see if maybe it was something that a patch would fix. Imagine my surprise to find multiple identical stories about this product.

    I really can’t say whether Lucasarts or SecuROM should be footing the bill on this, but it looks like they just decided to throw a piece of garbage to expectant customers for $20-$50 a pop (depending on when you bought it) and then not bother to make it work right. I find that a extremely insulting as a customer….

  22. 22 Godzilla September 15, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    Well here is a work around that works and is legal to boot. Find someone who has a system that can read CD#1 without the error message and copy the contents to their hard drive. Then they can burn you a new CD#1 from the files on the hard drive. Now here is where it gets tricky. You can now install KOTOR using your new CD#1 but when you go to play the game you have to use the original CD#1 that came with your software. Occasionally it locks up your system and you have to reset it but you can play and enjoy the game this way.

  23. 23 Lazor December 26, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    I have used torrents for games that have been lost, or just didn’t work ,many times. Most copy protection hurts the legit consumer more than anything.
    While were on that subject, CD keys make me angry. For Command and Conquer: The First Decade, not only do you have to enter a key for The First Decade, but for EVERY game that you install(that used keys back in the day). Keys prevent piracy like “Wash Your Hands” signs prevent disease. I don’t want to go through the trouble of losing my Manual/CD case, and have to find a CD key gen.

  24. 24 James December 27, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Lazor, CD keys are probably one of the least intrusive means of copy protection, and I understand that they are fairly effective for games which have online play. Blizzard uses them for everything, and I don’t blame them for it.

  25. 25 Lazor December 29, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    Thing is, it’s only a matter of time before a keygen is made, so it doesn’t really prevent copy protection.

  26. 26 Eric January 5, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    If it uses that crappy copy protection I wouldn’t use the game, I would just screw the game and go with a company that doesn’t use such strict DRM tools, after all, DRM doesn’t mean people are not going to copy the software, it usually means that people will take longer with the cracking process, usually only a few more days. Send me some mail at mrkesik@hotmail.com. Have a great day and I love your blog.


Comments are currently closed.



RSS Status

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Del.icio.us

Creative Commons License
This stuff is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

%d bloggers like this: