Breaking The Chain: Bioshock DRM Now Less Evil

Those tattoos are the metaphor that keeps on giving

Gosh, all that hoo-hah about Bioshock’s limited number of installations and activation process seems like a long time ago, but I suspect it’s still an open wound for some folk. A vocal portion of Bioshock’s players were angry – “Ken Levine personally kicked my girlfriend to death” angry. Will they be any less angry now 2K’s lightened its infamously ruthless DRM (as promised many moons ago)?

Oh, probably not. Nevertheless, it’s progress.

“all activation restrictions, including install limits, have been removed from BioShock PC as of today. You don’t have to patch or install anything for this to go into effect for your copy of BioShock – it’s already done!”

So say they, and hooray say we.

Regardless of how crazy-harsh the DRM seemed at the time, removing it just 10 months from the game’s retail release isn’t bad going in the grand scheme of things, really – at least if you compare it to something like Blizzard removing the CD-check from Warcraft III 5 1/2 years on from release. [Edit – that bit was written before I ascertained the Securerom checks were indeed remaining in Bioshock. Leave me alone, meanies.]

Seems as though the game will still phone home when you install it before you can play, however – let’s hope the activation servers aren’t quietly switched off in a couple of years, or that 2K eventually provide an executable to bypass ’em.

Edit, as there’s more to this story. So much for a quick, sleepy Sunday morning post to keep you bickersome lot fed until normal weekday service resumes. Sigh. 2K’s community manager Elizabeth Tobey, battling against the bellows of a number of Angry Internet Men, clarifies the situation further down the thread:

“Our other methods of copy protection remain. You will still have to activate your copy, and you will still need to keep the disc in the drive. SecuROM has not been removed — just the activation limits on number of installs and number of computers you can install BioShock on simultaneously.

As I promised that the activation limits would go away, I can promise that if we ever stop supporting BioShock in the ways you speak of, we will release a patch so that the game is still playable. I believe, as you seem to, that BioShock will be the kind of game we will want to revisit 5, 10, 15 or more years from now. I want my copy to be playable, just as you do, and so does 2K.”

And later still:

“I am not 100% certain that BioShock will be playable until the end of time, but I am very confident that our company knows how amazing this game is, and will respect that, and our loyal consumer base who loves this game right along with us.”

Well, it will be definitely playable until the end of time (or at least until a future version of Windows drops DX9/10 compatibility, or lizard-men take over the planet), but that’s because of third-party cracks that bypass the activation nonsense. I sorely hope 2K drops the online check come the budget release – it really will be silly to have to dial up the mothership for a £5 copy of Bioshock circa 2009.

As a sidenote, I also hope the PC version gets a patch to include the new levels, foes and introduction reportedly in the upcoming PS3 port. I couldn’t give a hoot about the extra Plasmids in the last patch, but more Rapture would be many splendids.

Anyway, I haven’t revisited Rapture in a while because I’m forever having to reinstall Windows for my tech writing, so had no idea where I was up to in Bioshock installations and really had no appetite for phone calls to 2K tech support. Perhaps this sudden unchaining may be my cue to see how the thing feels almost a year on, now free from the distractions of hype and backlash.

This seems a fine opportunity to post the below again. We don’t necessarily agree with the sentiment, but we definitely agree with the funny:

(Its creator is unknown to us, but we pinched it from here).


  1. JJ says:

    Just hope they still have the activation-server online in a couple of years…

  2. zima says:

    So…it simply has less restrictive DRM, not “DRM-Free”, right?

    BTW, Diablo2 recently also had requirement for CD in the drive lifted. That would be 8 years?

  3. Alec Meer says:

    Yeah, fair point. Think about your titles more, Meer.

  4. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Well “Now Less Evil” sounds drier, at least. Which, coming from a British journalist, is also inherently more fun.

  5. Sucram says:

    Comparing it to Warcraft III is a bit iffy.

    It still requires the disk to be in the drive as well as internet activation. So it’s not yet down to the common garden DRM Warcraft III had on release.

    All the change means is, if you dare reinstall the games several times, 2K won’t send anybody round to burn down your house and run over your dog any more.

  6. Rook says:

    I think this was the important quote, rather than the one you gave which makes it sound like they removed the activation

    2k Elizabeth
    Our other methods of copy protection remain. You will still have to activate your copy, and you will still need to keep the disc in the drive. SecuROM has not been removed — just the activation limits on number of installs and number of computers you can install BioShock on simultaneously.

    As I promised that the activation limits would go away, I can promise that if we ever stop supporting BioShock in the ways you speak of, we will release a patch so that the game is still playable. I believe, as you seem to, that BioShock will be the kind of game we will want to revisit 5, 10, 15 or more years from now. I want my copy to be playable, just as you do, and so does 2K.

  7. ZenArcade says:

    I think Ken Levine is a good guy at heart really – Watch any interview with him and you can tell he’s super enthusiastic about whatever it is he’s doing. I think the activation issues people had should have been aimed at the games publisher. When it comes to the real power in video games, the publisher has the power over the developer. It wasn’t Ken’s fault. I’m sure if he wanted to he’d have left it activation-free.

    Be honest people, while Bioshock may not hold a candle to SS2, it’s still a million miles better than most of the shit they pumped out last year.

  8. much2much says:

    Those people who were whining abuot how disgusted they were at being treated like criminals now are more likely to buy it.

    Oh wait hang on they all downloaded a pirated version because the betrayal entitled them to a free version.

  9. Lorc says:

    Balls. You got me all excited, only to find out that it still had Securom; I really don’t want that shit on my computer.

    I suppose I’ll end up getting an Xbox 360 at some point though, and I’ll probably be able to pick the game up cheap by then. In the meantime I’ll just have to remain Bioshockless.

  10. Lucky says:

    “Be honest people, while Bioshock may not hold a candle to SS2, it’s still a million miles better than most of the shit they pumped out last year.”

    Indeed it is. Basing claims of its crappiness on the last third of the storyline is sorta like saying that the original Star Wars trilogy is bad because of Ewoks.

  11. SBF says:

    That sig thing is shit as fuck.

  12. Rob says:


    Now I’m curious, how shit is fuck?

  13. Jonathan says:

    Oh god shut up.
    Shut up.
    Shut up.
    Shut up.

    Each activation was refunded when you uninstalled the game. So unless every computer you own catches fire immediately in a magnet shop the securom business wasn’t much hassle. Also this is a world with aids, uncommon tigers and bloody bastards. My point is shut up.

  14. Fat Zombie says:

    Hey, don’t badmouth the Ewoks.

  15. Rob says:


    Pleas for a wider perspective are somewhat out of place on a site dedicated to PC gaming, no?

  16. Dreamhacker says:

    Now all we need is to have the DRM dropped from Mass Effect and Spore, and the world will be a better place…

  17. Petrushka says:


    Those people who were whining abuot how disgusted they were at being treated like criminals now are more likely to buy it.

    Well, I for one am now giving it serious thought for the first time since the game was released. Securom can be dealt with by legal no-CD executables.
    As for your contempt for people who made the same choice I did, and your assumption that people like me are ipso facto pirates — well, the obvious response is inappropriate in a forum as civilised as this. Basically, speak for yourself, not for others.

  18. VFIG says:

    I also held off purchasing Bioshock due to the DRM. I also did not download it.

    I might buy it now, but seeing as the SecuROM crap is still in it, if I do I still won’t install it off the disc, but will instead download the much more customer-friendly cracked pirate copy.

  19. Andrew says:

    Like mentioned, the comparison with CD-in-drive-checks is ridiculous – even more so since that check still exists with Bioshock right?

    If they went belly up tomorrow, and took the servers down, there would be no way to install the game by my reckoning. That is the problem. There are very few developers who live long into the future – if SS or SS2 had this on it, the original developer went down the tubes and you’d no longer be able to play it.

    It’s always an issue, there is simply no good argument for it if you look into the future, rather then just the short-sighted immediate present. Sigh.

    That, and by most peoples reckoning (and probably, if it was ever taken to it, the courts reckoning too – at least outside of America – ie; places without DMCA stuff), once you buy the game it is your copy you can do what you want with, on your own computers. Needing to connect to the internet and get “permission” to do anything with your own property is borderline ridiculous, and very dodgy still. We’ll all see how it goes on in the world I guess.

  20. The Hammer says:

    Hope you don’t take this as a provocative challenge, Andrew, but does that problem include companies like Valve, too? You can’t install HL2 without an Internet connection after all. I understand that Steam is useful for updates, community features and all that, and I for one cherish it, but is it right for 2K to be lambasted and Valve to go scot-free?

    Also, was gonna chalk up another one for the bad comparison to Warcraft 3, but seems Alec has rectrified that. I feel like an awful meany now. :(

  21. Thundara says:

    Only 5 1/2 years on WC3? That’s nothing! Starcraft only got its official no-CD patch by Blizzard released this year, around 10 years after the initial release.

  22. KindredPhantom says:

    I remember that end picture from a post in the 2k forums. IIRC it was from one of the popular DRM rage threads, i may know who said it. Good times. :D

  23. Duoae says:

    As for this Bioshock nonsense… What’s the point of removing the three install limitation when all’s you had to do was contact 2k anyway to get your licences renewed? Or you could just uninstall the game properly and it was supposed to renew that licence automatically.

    There’s effectively no difference between the DRM now and then only that it’s less hassle for them having to not deal with the consumer all the time.

  24. RichPowers says:

    “If you would like to watch [movie] on more than three DVD players, please contact [studio] support at 1-800-fuckyou. Have a nice day!”

  25. Jonathan says:

    Reply to RichPowers
    Yeah that isn’t how it works. How many computers do you actually own? Any chance of comments from people who actually used PC version of Bioshock.

    I think I’m especially lenient in Bioshock’s case because it was the first and of course last truly successful Irrational game that has actually turned hella profits. It was damn brave for the publisher to back such a developer let alone provide them with a huge budget for both the game and for the promotion. It’s easy to see why they wanted some insurance. Also you forget it’s £20 cheaper than the Xbox 360 version, pirates always seem to forget that.

  26. ascagnel says:

    @zima: Starcraft also had its DRM removed, about 11 years after release. That, however, required you copy some files from the disc(s) over and ballooned the SC+BW install from ~600MB to ~1.1GB.

  27. Joe says:

    One benefit of DRM that I actually believe in, is that is stops zero day piracy. The DRM included with Bioshock and Mass Effect managed to keep cracking groups busy for a few weeks, during which time a purchased copy was the only way to play the game.

    With this in mind, wouldn’t a good compromise be to have a policy whereby all DRM is disabled a year or two (say) after release?

    Because right now, if I want free Bioshock, I can get it without much hassle. At this moment in time, the only effect of the DRM is to bother legit users, and to stop casual copying.

    For a publisher, any “lost sales”, presumed or otherwise, would be more than made up for by the gain in credibility.

  28. wcaypahwat says:

    Well, I never had any troube at all. I bought it, installed it on the one PC in my house that could run it…. and when I feel like playing, I pop the disc in…. just like you need to do with 98% of all the other games out there.

    Maybe I just don’t think about my rights as a human being or something, but I honestly don’t see how even on day one it would have adversely affected anyone using the game in a normal capacity.

  29. Ether Hat says:

    wcaypahwat – I didn’t have internet for 6 months when it came out (moved house), so couldn’t have played it. The activation limit is only going to hit you if you upgrade your computer, your hard drive fails or your OS needs re-installing or upgrading repeatedly, but that does happen, and is 100% guaranteed to happen given a long enough time. And personally I still play Doom etc 15 years later, I’d expect to be able to do the same with other games I buy. Theoretically that’s no longer a problem, but it’s still contingent on them keeping the activation server running indefinitely or patching out the activation. Day one is not the problem, day 4000 is.

  30. Al3xand3r says:

    No software is without bugs wcaypahwat, dodgy DRM is yet another thing that can go wrong with PC games, as if we didn’t have enough problems already. Anyone remember StarForce? Yes, I’m sure you do. The fact it worked fine for you and many others doesn’t nulify the fact it never enabled proper activation to other paying customers.

    Otherwise, some people look @ the future possibilities when they buy something so even if it would work ok for them in the first few weeks, or months, or even years, they still feel insecure about the extent they actually own the software they purchased when such measures are taken so they opt to not buy at all (and yes, not pirate either) in order to make a statement and you can’t really blame them, even if publishers would still blame lost revenue on piracy or even the actual game and so never deliver a sequel or whatever else their flawed disconnected from the truth logic tells them.

    Not to mention that the costs of DRM are always passed on to us, even though the majority of them are useless even for zero day piracy (but really, would a pirate be so needy as to pay for something if he can’t pirate it on day 1? I’m sure that’s not the case for most) so that’s another reason to be against their use as a whole. Maybe it worked good for you, but are you happy with paying for it when knowing it really did nothing to aid you (and was never meant to), and did nothing to aid the developers (as told already, it’s pretty ineffective against piracy)?

    Hopefully Stardock’s no DRM policies will start affecting more and more companies that start working with them thanks to Impulse now. If a relatively small company like that can keep surviving and growing when in theory their games can be pirated and shared as easy as any demo then all other companies can follow suit instead of force yet more dodgy software down our pockets (in place of our money).

    Edit: And yeah, what Ether Hat said also :P

  31. cHeal says:

    Hopefully they’ll get rid of the activation soon, then I might buy.

  32. Jonathan says:

    Reply to Al3xan3r
    Stardock are able to survive because a) they’re independent so don’t have to share their profits and b) because their games don’t cost many millions of US $.

  33. LionsPhil says:

    PiracyDRM is killing PC gaming? Who’d have thought?

  34. Al3xand3r says:

    Jonathan, it’s only ever the bigger companies that complain about piracy, if it was tougher on them to be so big then they could always just produce in-house stuff and ditch publishing others’ software you know. They publish or fund others’ projects because it’s profitable for them, not because it can spell their doom, obviously. Ubisoft for example, they’re both developers and publishers like Stardock. If that was not profitable for them then they could easily quit that side of the business and only develop in house products, becoming one giant indie.

    Not to mention that games like Gal Civ II and Sins of a Solar Empire don’t really lack in production values compared to similar titles by much larger companies so if they cost multi millions for some and only a few or several thousands for others then I’d think the former need some better budget management.

    Also let’s not forget that such large companies that usually complain also have much broader audiences thanks to either making more mainstream games or thanks to having the ability to market them much better, or both, therefor much higher profits.

    Stardock’s games on the other hand are lesser known niche titles for the most part. But they’re also a publisher you know (retail and digital), and also fund others’ projects at times (Sins of a Solar Empires) so they’re growing to be one of the big boys actually.

    Let’s wait and see if their policies change as they keep growing, but I honestly doubt that because it’s those policies that allow them to prosper like this with PC software in a time period where most every other big publisher or developer states there’s no potential for profit thanks to all sorts of claimed factors (and those factors never question their software quality or lack of respectful to the consumer policies).

  35. malkav11 says:

    Call me when they’ve actually removed the activation. The disc-check I don’t care about. Not only did I buy the Steam version, but that’s something you can no-CD if you must. Getting rid of the install tokens system is unquestionably a positive step (are you listening, EA?) but insufficient for the game to be viable long term.

  36. Cigol says:

    @Al3xand3r; expect your opening statement to be drilled into submission by Cliffski :D

  37. Al3xand3r says:

    I don’t get the humour in this case I’m afraid… I’m aware of some of Cliffy B…. Err, I’m sorry, Cliffski’s ridiculous statements but I haven’t really been following him (had enough bs I guess, the sooner he realises he’s not a rock star, or divine entity, the better) so, care to elaborate? :P

  38. Lucky says:

    “Hey, don’t badmouth the Ewoks.”

    My apologizes. I don’t personally have anything against Ewoks.

  39. Alex McLarty says:

    Bizarrely I’ve been trying to install Bioshock for the last two days on my new machine and this is the damned, evil issue that has been lurking behind me, preventing, blocking, watching….I’ll go to sleep now.

  40. cliffski says:

    “but will instead download the much more customer-friendly cracked pirate copy.”

    You think? It amazes me that people don’t trust securom (its on my machine, causes no problems here) but trust an exe they get from some Russian hosted warez site run by a bunch of underground hackers. Yeah, there is just NO WAY they could have bundled anything nasty in when they hacked out the DRM.
    If securom hoses my machine, I know who to blame and sue. If some dodgy exe from the web hoses it, I’m fucked.

  41. Al3xand3r says:

    Oh, *that* Cliff then. I feel like such a fool now, I thought it was B’s new “adult” nickname lol. I’m sorry I misunderstood. Never played (or heard of really) their games though I think I’m pretty big on indie gaming (look at my currently installed games, though there are plenty I haven’t reinstalled yet).
    link to

    Is Starship Tycoon good? That’s the only one that I’m slightly interested in from their current list, I guess I will get the demo once I finish some of the games in that list – if I don’t buy yet more soon, mmmmm SoaSE, yummy… [/off topic]

  42. cliffski says:

    Please never confuse me with someone from epic games. I LIKE PC gaming… :D

  43. Jonathan says:

    Holy cow!
    It’s like the candy man. But you only need to say his name twice because Cliffski does not fuck about.

    I still haven’t heard more than 3 first hand accounts of Securom not working in the months since it came out. Is it by any chance morons working each other up into a lather?
    Need I repeat, we get games at about 33-50% discount by buying the PC over the console version. Thats worth a tiny exe file that. Does. Absolutely. Nothing. To. Your. Computer.

  44. Al3xand3r says:

    We don’t get a discount, they get an increase.

    Cliffsky, first, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. Secondly, sueing attempts didn’t work very well in StarForce’s case, it’s almost impossible to prove certain software borked your computer, not to mention that it doesn’t have to bork your computer to be bad, it can just bork windows requiring a reformat, or make you unable to play the game or whatever else. So, it’s not that simple at all.

    As for trusting random exes, well, I used cracks often to remove the disc check from my retail bought games (of which there are very few now, I buy most everything digitally nowadays) and there were certain providers with a good reputation you could more or less trust as much as you can trust guys who regularly post their freeware games on the web for us to play (you play at least some of those, right?), but of course it’s always advised to wait for the public’s response to provided executables to make sure they’re safe. If people were *that* scared of potentially harmful files then we wouldn’t be buying indie games at all, at least not from newly founded or lesser known teams (or individuals)…

  45. Robin says:

    Judging by these comments there is still a lot of misinformation floating about. (Most of the following is in response to Al3xand3r.)

    Bioshock’s copy protection fulfilled it’s intended purpose. It was impossible to download and activate the game before it went on sale (and for a period afterward), which is something that can’t be said for many other high profile PC games released in the last few years, which routinely attract 5- or 6-figure torrent swarms before they’re even shipped.

    As to whether this benefits the developers, well, you don’t see Take2 and Valve moaning about PC sales like Epic, EA or Crytek. As to whether this is passed on to the consumers, Bioshock is guaranteed to get a sequel, and Valve have been able to support games like TF2 with dozens of free updates.

    The copy protection strategy most prudent for a highly anticipated, highly publicised game with a multimillion dollar budget is going to be different to Stardock’s moderately budgeted special interest games.

    The comment about budget management is a bit fatuous. Gal Civ II wouldn’t benefit in any meaningful way from a mega-budget; Bioshock would be literally impossible to make in any recognisable form on Gal Civ’s budget, probably not even if you outsourced the whole process to China.

  46. Andrew says:

    The Hammer; no, Valve is just as bad, if not more of a problem. I am afraid as a partial video game historian, that and other systems (GameTap, whatever) are problematic. However, I do recall, you can make a backup of an install and reinstall it off that backup later or something. I’m not entirely sure, I’d need to check it out.

  47. The Hammer says:

    Alright. I wasn’t accusing you of contradictions, just was curious of your thoughts on the matter. I’m not entirely happy with the Internet connection requirement either (I’m a relative newcomer to the Internet, and a credit card isn’t available to me) on any game but an MMO (which is sorta obvious :P).

  48. Al3xand3r says:

    I don’t see what Valve’s free updates have to do with this discussion. Or the fact Bioshock gets a sequel. Games without DRM or at least without so intrusive DRM as Securom or Starforce also get sequels or content updates so that proves nothing.

    As for your last paragraph, it’s the reason I didn’t compare Gal Civ II to Bioshock or other such titles, instead I specifically talked about production values “compared to similar titles by much larger companies” to be clear. All I can see their games lack in is perhaps the quality of the movie sequences but heck, such games don’t even really need those anyway (though they’re always welcome when done well enough).

    Stardock’s titles however are anticipated by fans of the genres and SoaSE actually gathered quite a lot of attention in a larger scale than usual. The fact the fans are smaller in number doesn’t mean that the bigger companies’ theories of what DRM is needed wouldn’t apply. In fact, they should apply even more, since with smaller potential profit, minimising it further because of having no DRM would be suicide, even considering the smaller costs (and more rampant piracy thanks to no DRM). But it’s clearly not the case as Stardock keeps growing, showing that’s a flawed logic.

    Or should we accept that somehow fans of such genres have a higher percentage of moral people and that’s why piracy is not such a big problem for them? Somehow, I doubt this so the fact Stardock have no problem selling their (good) games even though they’re so open to piracy should mean a lot to the industry as a whole.

    And again, with how Stardock is growing as both a developer and a publisher they will soon be among the “big boys”, able to produce higher budget titles and then we’ll be able to see if that will really make their games cost millions or if that will change their DRM policies, justifying the way the currently large companies treat the subjects. But again, somehow I doubt this.

    Anyway, I’m not against DRM in general, I’m against DRM that has the potential to cause problems to paying customers, and the best way to show them that kind of DRM is not necessary is to show them that even no DRM whatsoever is viable, which is why I promote it so. Many indie developers use nicely developed DRM that does its job properly without hassle. Look @ Mount & Blade’s activation codes, or Introversion’s (even in their non-Steam versions of the games) for examples. I’m fine with such systems. Valve’s online activations of CD keys were also alright and sufficient before Steam came to be too. And I’m actually okay with Steam also since it doesn’t do stupid things like limit my reinstallations (in fact Steam does the opposite and lets you know you can install your games on any PC whenever you want, without having the CDs). But I still prefer Impulse for having the bonus of not being required to run in order to play your games (so you don’t need dodgy “offline modes” to play single player etc).