CDRWin Vigilantism

Something that I have been wanting to complain about for a long time is CDRWin from Golden Hawk. Back in the days when CDs were still common (and most piracy was with CDs), burning CD images to blank CDs was a task that some people did often. There were plenty of programs and image formats, but CDRWin was a popular one that worked fairly well, at least that is, until version 4.0.

To deter piracy (which is of course a Sisyphean endeavor), Golden Hawk chose not to increase the complexity of their licensing system, but rather, to play vigilante and sabotage users’ system when they suspected an attempt at piracy.

What happened was CDRWin basically had three modes of operation:

  • Unregistered/evaluation
  • Registered
  • Vigilante

When you enter a serial-number/key to register CDRWin, if the key is invalid, then it will complain and remain in evaluation mode. However, if the key is valid, then it may accept the key and say thank you and display a Registered stamp in the titlebar and About dialog, but secretly be in vigilante mode whereby it pretends to be registered and appears to be in all manner, except that whenever you burn a disc, it corrupts it, resulting in a “coaster”.

This is unacceptable for several reasons

  1. The method that it uses to detect if the key was created using a “key generator” instead of from Golden Hawk themselves seems to be flawed because legitimate customers were incorrectly affected.
  2. The surreptitious nature of the anti-piracy tactic (it gives not warning whatsoever) prevented identifying the problem and made it look like the software is simply buggy, thus damaging the developer’s general reputation (imagine that, reviews from pirates having a big impact on sales!)
  3. This is essentially vigilante behavior, not anti-piracy techniques. If vigilantism is illegal in the real world, why would it be acceptable in the digital one?
  4. The sabotage it does is actively harmful to the user. By corrupting (apparently all) discs that are burned with the software, they are causing the user to have to throw them out because they are now useless. Would it be any more acceptable if the software were designed to fry a user’s CPU, burn out their monitor, or print hundreds of pages of solid black/color with their printer to waste their ink cartridges? Of course not! Wasting blank CDs isn’t any more acceptable.

GTA2 “Free”, DooM Not Free => Rockstar Games:3 2.5, id software:0

Last week Rockstar Games, in an attempt to boost PR and put a little Christmas joy in peoples hearts decided to release their not-so-old (1999) game Grand Theft Auto 2 for free. They have already released GTA1 last year and I hope they will do so for GTA3 and so on in the future. What happens is that instead of having to purchase this old game for about $10 from some bargain bin in some drug store, you can just download the full version game from their website. Moreover, the release is compatable with current hardware so it can run on newer machines whereas the original versions might not.

This is fantastic. I have lauded R* in several places—and personally—for this great move. It is great for PR and a wonderful good-faith gesture to their fans. Instead of clinging desperately to their IP for a few extra measly bucks, they release old stuff for free to garner future support and customers. They are not the only ones who have done this but are probably the best known since what they are releasing (GTA, GTA2) are such big successes compared to other now-free games.

In contrast id software is the antithesis of R*. id is like the aforementioned, uh, aforeimplied? miser. They have clung greedily to their old ancient games—which no longer work on modern computers—instead of releasing them to the public, even without bother to update them to work on todays systems. I’m sure many people would love to get a free copy of the full version of Wolf3D, SOD, DooM, DooM II, Heretic, Hexen, Quake 1, even Quake 2.

Of course id has no intention of releasing their games, in fact a quick check of their “id store” reveals another bizarre idiocy which relates to their classics. They have their very first FPS game Wolfenstein3D which is available only as a download—not delivered to your door on CD—priced the same as some of their newest games on CD. Another example is Quake I by download is more expensive than Quake I on CD. Maybe it’s just me but isn’t a download cheaper than a CD? I’m certain that the person in charge of the id store/pricing either has no idea about any of the games, or just doesn’t care at all.

Cheers to R* and jeers to id.

Ever since the news broke people all over the world have been scrambling to get it. Some how—I can’t seem to remember nor figure out, although it would be almost trivial to track my steps if I really wanted to—I managed to learn of this news only a couple of hours after it became known. As a result I was one of the first few people to attempt to download it. It did not work, their servers were bogged down, crashed, abducted by aliens, who knows. Needless to say I, and millions of people around the world were frustrated to no end since then hoping to get a hold of this great classic with no luck. Finally today by a sudden stroke of luck I managed to get their site to initiate the file transfer. It didn’t work. I only got a tiny bit of it before it messed up. I tried it again with the same results. I tried it a third time carefully and it began the transfer. Not only that but I was downloading it at a very fast speed. A few minutes later I had it, installed it, and even played it for a few seconds to make sure it was really real—playing it is more fun than a pinch. I figure they had sorted things out and it was now working. Not so. In fact I tried again and it did not work. I checked the several dozen places I had been watching to keep an eye on the situation—and people’s reactions—and realized that I may be the ONLY PERSON ON EARTH who managed to get it. A while later I decided to try to get their release of GTA1. I got it after a few attempts and still nobody else seemed to be able to get anything. I was really starting to wonder now.

Here’s the problem with this “freebie”. Instead of releasing the game on the BitTorrent network—like many others have done for example id with their Wolfenstein Enemy Territory—which allows them to diseminate it quickly and efficiently without using too much of their own bandwidth but rather other downloader’s bandwidith, they kept it as an HTTP transfer which puts the entire onus on their own servers. Then there’s the fact that they seem to have dedicated only ONE server for this knowing full well that it would cause a hurricane of traffic. Plus there’s an ominus message that your information that you enter in the form will be collected even if you are not eligable to download. All this adds up to the suspicion that R* is using this as a way of making a bunch more money from their old game. How? By getting gulible people to enter their email addresses in the form, give them something that’s not worth any money anymore and send them merrily on their way. Once they’ve got your email address however, they turn around and sell it to spammers who then send you 1,000,000,000,000,000 junk emails per day. This email harvesting puts a real damper on their goodwill actions. Of course this is all unconfirmed, although highly likely speculation.

I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and felt bad for everyone, including R*. Here they are trying to do something nice for people and it’s blowing up in their face. If you look at the posts people have made you’ll see a steady progression of happiness and thankfulness to anger and cursing. I decided I would help some people out. There was one obstacle though. On their download page R* has inserted a little blurb—among a whole bunch of other text—stating that even though this is now a free game, they are not permitting people to mirror it (make 3rd party copies available) without their express permission. Well, I was a little worried about that but then I saw that they had changed the download page. Now when you enter your information instead of attempting to present you with the EULA and try to begin the transfer, it just gives you an explanatory apology message, tells you to try again later, and mentions that your information was not collected. It sounds a little too suspicious for my tastes.

I don’t know if R* harvested email addresses or not, although I did recently see a sudden, massive jump in spam. I do know however that you do not actually need to enter any information to download—if you know how to get the direct URL.

*UPDATE – Mar.24.05*
I was at Futureshop today for a job interview and I saw a box of DooM. It had DooM, DooM II, and Final DooM in it. What really caught my eye was the $25 price tag. The worst part is that if someone is naïve enough to pay that kind of money for these ancient—yet still good—games, then they will be sorely dissappointed when they come to realize that the games do not run on their newer computers. The will have paid $25 for absolutely nothing. R* on the other hand not only released their old games for free but UPDATED them to work on current machines.

Cheers to R* and Jeers to id indeed.