Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Steam and 3rd-Party DRM - Risen and Tages Activation

This past Saturday morning, I decide that I'd like to play Risen, the latest game from Piranha Bytes. I check on Steam, and they have it for $49.99. Amazon has it for $46.99. Boo, digital distribution! You aren't going to ship me a box, and you are still going to charge more? Still, I've been pretty happy with Steam in the past, so I was willing to spend the few extra dollars to get it quickly.

So, I make the purchase. A half-hour or so later, my download was complete. Yay, digital distribution! I launch the game, and it brings up an activation check that needs to authenticate to a server online. When I proceed, it pops up an error saying that it can't connect. There is also an "offline" activation mode, which involves entering data on a webpage (not really "offline", but whatever...), but the website can't be reached.

I check the Risen forum on Steam, and a handful of other people are having the same problem.. Turns out that all this is Tages DRM being applied to the game on top of what Steam does. And it looks like their authentication servers are down. Lovely. If you buy a physical copy of the game, it doesn't authenticate online (it uses a disk check). Boo, digital distribution! I fire off a support ticket on Steam (after having to create a support account, which is different from my Steam account).

10 or so hours later, I try again. Still not working. I'm thinking that if you are going to require online authentication, your authentication server bloody well better be up. And if it isn't, someone better be getting paged. And, of course, I had no response from Steam support. They are happy to take my money on a Saturday, but don't seem inclined to provide support on a Saturday.

The next morning, the authentication server is up, and I can play the game (which is pretty good, by the way). Still, the whole incident left me with ill will toward all parties involved. Tages, for their broken DRM. The publisher, Deep Silver, for using it. And Valve, for allowing 3rd-party DRM that is out of their control to be used on a product they sell. And for having crappy customer support.

Speaking of their customer support, I just got a response from them (3 days later) - a useless canned response about running Steam as administrator if I'm using Vista or Windows 7. Thanks, Valve!