'Gears of War' bug not SafeDisc DRM's first

The anti-piracy technology was also implicated in a 2007 bug.

The anti-piracy technology that locked out players of the popular Gears of War game on Thursday was also implicated in a 2007 bug that was allowing hackers to take control of Windows PCs.

In November 2007, Microsoft revealed that copies of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 were being exploited due to a bug in SafeDisc's digital rights management (DRM) technology, which is meant to guard against illegal copying.

Legitimate owners of the PC version of Gears of War, a third-person shooter and sci-fi game, were blocked starting Thursday, according to numerous reports.

Blocked players would either have to re-install the game or set the date of their PC back to Wednesday January 28 or earlier.

Gears is developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios. The maker of SafeDisc DRM is San Francisco-based TryMedia.

Formerly owned by licensing software maker, Macrovision, TryMedia was sold to Real Networks, in February 2008.

The customer support section for Gears of Wars players at TryMedia's Web site did not have any information on the bug.

Representatives at TryMedia's parent company, Real, did not return a request for comment.

But Epic said on its user forums that it is working on a fix with Microsoft.

SafeDisc's DRM was popular for almost a decade though it has been supplanted in the past year by Sony's SecuROM.

Last fall, players of the widely-anticipated Sporevideogame complained so vigorously about the burdens imposed by the SecuROM DRM that EA eventually removed it.

Pirated owners of Gears, ironically, were not affected since the SafeDisc DRM had been disabled.

Both incidents give ammunition to DRM critics, who argue that DRM is ineffective and actually hurts paying users more, said Acacia Research Group analyst Michael Arrington.

"When it becomes such a nuisance to users, you can bet that pirates will circumvent it," Arrington said.

While game developers typically have no love for DRM because of the fear of embarrassing incidents such as with Gears or Spore, publishers still insist upon it, said Arrington. And despite the rise of subscription-based online gaming, publishers won't make games free or dump DRM anytime soon, he said.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld (US)
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