Page last updated at 08:02 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 09:02 UK

EA 'dumps DRM' for next Sims game

The Sims 3
Many users feel that DRM unfairly punishes legitimate customers

Electronic Arts have confirmed that the next version of The Sims will be free of Digital Rights Management (DRM).

The firm came in for considerable criticism last year, when the copy protection limited users to three installations of the game Spore.

The Sims division head, Rod Humble, said the game would use traditional serial code copy protection as "this is a good, time-proven solution".

DRM was introduced to combat game piracy but proved unpopular with users.

"The game will have disc-based copy protection - there is a serial code, just like The Sims 2," said Mr Humble in a blog posting.

"To play the game there will not be any online authentication needed."

"We feel like this is a good, time-proven solution, that makes it easy for you to play the game without DRM methods that feel overly invasive or leave you concerned about authorization server access in the distant future," he added.

Fighting pirates

The issue of software piracy is one that has dogged the games industry since its inception.

One of the earliest attempts - and still the most popular with users - is a serial code check. Users have to enter a code, made up of numbers and letters, printed on the back of the game manual before installation of the game can complete.

Other copy protection methods include CD check, dongles and DRM.

The problem for software developers is that hackers usually crack the copy protection system within a few days of release.

The issue came to a head in 2008 when EA release Will Wright's Spore. The SecuROM DRM restricted users to a maximum of three installs and required online verification before the game could be played.

Valve logo
Valve's digital distribution system - Steam - launched in 2003

But despite the DRM, Spore was cracked within 24 hours of release and consumers felt they were being penalised for buying a legitimate copy of the game, rather than downloading a hacked version.

"It's such a shame that the distributor of the game treats its own customers as criminals and attempts to do their best to prevent you from actually playing the game," one user wrote on Amazon.com.

Speaking to the BBC, Tiffany Steckler, a spokesperson for EA, said a final decision on the future of DRM for the company has yet to be made.

"There is always going to be a level of protection for games and this solution [DRM free] is right for The Sims 3.

"How these things roll out in the future will be down to the developers and we will make announcements in due course."

Fighting back

But developers may be making progress on solutions that obviate the need for DRM.

At this years Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Valve - the developers behind the Half Life series - unveiled a new set of features for its Steamworks platform - saying its distribution system had "made DRM obsolete".

Steam's new "custom executable generation" technology makes copies of the games for each user, meaning players can access their games on multiple machines without install limits.

The only restriction is that users need to log onto their account to actually play.



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SEE ALSO
Spore at top of the piracy charts
10 Dec 08 |  Technology
Spore copyright control relaxed
22 Sep 08 |  Technology
Copyright row dogs Spore release
10 Sep 08 |  Technology

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