Bioshock 2’s release on Steam for pre-order has prompted mass outcry from its fans, as the game’s Digital Rights Management came under intense scrutiny in a 61-page thread on the game’s official forums.

(In a break from the usual articles, I’m handing this rant over to Mel Rodriguez, a Potential Gamer reader who has a word or two to say about the issue – Simon)

According to publisher 2K, the information on Steam’s Bioshock 2 pre-order page is erroneous and will be updated, suggesting it was also incorrect information for the retail version. While it remains unclear what DRM the Steam version will employ, a slightly less foggy picture has formed of the retail version from information disclosed by 2K’s community manager. Well, about as clear a picture as can be gained as a result of ineptness, evasiveness or intentional misleading. That the forum thread is 61 pages long is partly testament to the inability of 2K staff to concisely detail what the retail DRM on their own game actually is.

After the furore over the original game’s DRM, you might have thought 2K would have consulted loyal fans this time around. You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment! Yesterday’s official statement suggests though that the forum storm of the previous days prompted a rethink – a “scaling back” of Bioshock 2’s DRM. If the previously detailed DRM scheme is 2K’s “scaled back” version, Lord knows what the planned DRM was. But even this purported incestuousness with the community is meaningless posturing of the worst kind.

So how is Bioshock 2’s DRM different from its predecessor? The short answer is not very.

Bioshock had a SecuROM disk check, a 3-activation SecuROM install limit (later changed to unlimited) and required download of an executable.

2K have removed the unlimited SecuROM install limit and have transferred activation duties to Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live service. You can activate the game 15 times – necessary for multiplayer – before you have to call Microsoft. Games for Windows Live has a dubious reputation among PC gamers, as well as only supporting 26 countries. Personally I have no problem with it, but the fact remains that many people who buy Bioshock 2 may not be able to use the multiplayer element of the game.

Bioshock 2 incorporates SecuROM too, although fans were initially misled as to what extent by 2K’s community manager:

“SecuROM…is only a disc check, and nothing more. What SecuROM is doing is checking to see if your disc is in the drive. It is not the same implementation that we used for the first game. It is much, much less.” Source.

However, it’s now been clarified that on top of a SecuROM disk check, Bioshock 2 authenticates with SecuROM servers to ensure you’re not trying to install the game before release day, and downloads an executable. So it’s not “only a disc check, and nothing more” and it’s not “much, much less.” It’s near identical DRM to the original, relying on the same SecuROM server technology!

In a previous announcement 2K’s community manager stated that Steam’s information was incorrect because it was copied from a retail version of the game. She also describes how the game uses Games for Windows activation and again mistakenly says, “We are using SecuROM only as a disk check method for the retail copy of Bioshock 2. That is it’s (sic) only use.”

A peek at the Steam Bioshock 2 page (supposedly incorrect, but taken from retail packaging) tells us “initial installation requires one-time internet connection”. Something doesn’t add up here; either the DRM 2K have introduced allegedly in response to community concerns is exactly the same as the one they intended to use anyway – or it’s worse.

In their statement yesterday, 2K says they listened and devised a friendlier DRM inspired by the system used with the retail version of Batman: Arkham Asylum – a game that does not require connection to the internet to install and play! Prize of the biggest faux pas in gaming public relations goes to…2K, as they appear to not realise the difference in types of DRM, or understand what their fans say they are willing to accept. Making such analogies is also downright misleading, as is pretending to change a game’s DRM in response to community concerns.

2K say a lot of things – that they’ve scaled back their DRM and listened to their community – but have they really? Or are they once again acting as the masters of manipulation that the first Bioshock game rallied against?


jon_hill987 · January 25, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I fail to see why they have gone with GFWL, they licensed UE3 for the game so why not use the brilliant Multiplayer capabilities (including dedicated servers) that has built in rather than a third party P2P system that (nearly) everyone hates.

WunderSmack · January 25, 2010 at 7:28 pm

SecuROM was confirmed as being in the Steam version of BioShock 2. For disk-check and date-check purposes.

Which, you know, Steam does anyway. Why is SecuROM still in there if that’s the case? It makes you wonder what else it’s doing.

Simon Jones · January 25, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Indeed, the inclusion of GFWL bothers me more than SecuROM. SecuROM does pretty much what you’d expect it to do: be annoying. GFWL, on the other hand, has the potential to be a cool service but fails so utterly abysmally that it makes you wonder how on Earth it’s developed by one of the most experienced software companies in the world.


Mel · January 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm

@jon_hill987: good point! I’ve read people suggest (but don’t know if it’s true) it’s cheaper for 2K to do an Xbox console-ised port for the PC. I like what EA do (I say that a lot). They don’t need 3rd party mp software and you can login with a single ID and get achievements if you want them. GfWL appeals to people who want to dazzle people with their gamescore girth and achievement length; my small achievement list in Dragon Age gives a bit of personal satisfaction but that’s as far as it goes.

Rockstar Social Club with GTA4, anyone?

@ WunderSmack: yeah, there’s no need for SecuROM at all to be in the Steam version…or GfWL when Steam has its own multiplayer/achievements engine.

@ Simon: its interface is similar to MS Zune audio software, which is pretty light, so it is surprising it’s so slow and bloated.

Oh dear… « How to Play · January 28, 2010 at 10:12 am

[…] still going to find that annoying? A person who I found by accident posted a thing all about their views (And gives much more information about the real anger if you care about the Bioshock situation). […]

Eon Gaming – Oh dear… · December 3, 2010 at 12:32 am

[…] still going to find that annoying? A person who I found by accident posted a thing all about their views (And gives much more information about the real anger if you care about the Bioshock situation). […]

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