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Windows 10 Won't Run Games Using SafeDisc Or Securom DRM

Windows 10 won’t run games that employ SafeDisc or certain versions of Securom DRM, rendering hundreds of old disc-based games potentially unplayable without complex workarounds. Games which used these forms of DRM range from Crimson Skies to Grand Theft Auto 3, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 to the original The Sims. Yet despite this change coming in Windows 10, blame can’t likely be placed at Microsoft’s feet. For one, SafeDisc is notoriously insecure and Microsoft’s decision to block it from their new operating system will likely protect more users than it hurts.

More details below.

This issue was touched upon by Microsoft’s Boris Schneider-Johne at this year’s Gamescom. The video is in German, but in the segment at the timestamp linked above he says:

“Everything that ran in Windows 7 should also run in Windows 10. There are just two silly exceptions: antivirus software and stuff that’s deeply embedded into the system needs updating – but the developers are on it already – and then there are old games on CD-Rom that have DRM. This DRM stuff is also deeply embedded in your system, and that’s where Windows 10 says “sorry, we cannot allow that, because that would be a possible loophole for computer viruses.” That’s why there are a couple of games from 2003-2008 with Securom, etc. that simply don’t run without a no-CD patch or some such. We can just not support that if it’s a possible danger for our users. There are a couple of patches from developers already, and there is stuff like GOG where you’ll find versions of those games that work.”

There are also specific reports of users encountering this problem. For example, according to user Gamboleer on the Microsoft support forum, the SafeDisc issue relates to the file SECDRV.SYS. This file is present on older versions of Windows but isn’t in Windows 10 and attempts to run the file, or the games that depend on it, fail.

PCGamesHardware.de reached out to Rovi Corporation, the creators of SafeDisc, for a statement regarding the incompatibility. There’s no direct quote from Rovi and again the resulting story is in German, but translated into English the “update” section at the top reads:

“Safedisc DRM hasn’t been supported for a few years now, and the driver has consequently not been updated for some time. Microsoft should have migrated the existing software since Windows 8. We don’t know if that’s still possible with Windows 10 or if they simply didn’t care about it.”

It seems more likely, based on Schneider-Johne’s comments above, that it was a deliberate choice to exclude SafeDisc. The software was one of a number of on-disc digital rights management solutions employed by PC game publisher and developers in the early ’00s in an effort to stop piracy and it was a pain even then. Eventually a security hole was discovered in November 2007 which allowed for “elevation of privilege” and for attackers to execute unrestricted kernel-level code, effectively taking complete control of a PC. This security flaw was patched by Microsoft, but the problems it caused became part of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s arguments against DRM.

Despite this arguably being good for security, it’s still bad for people who want to easily play old favourites. In many cases, official patches may have already removed the need for disc checks, but otherwise you might need to resort to dual-booting into an older version of Windows, riskily (and ironically) looking for a no-CD crack to remove the check, re-purchasing the game from a digital distributor that employs modern or no DRM such as GOG.com, or test-signing for the SafeDisc driver yourself. This last option is the fiddliest, but legal and free: you can download software which will apparently do it or learn how to do it yourself. If you choose this route it’ll leave a watermark, though you can also read how to remove that here.

I wouldn’t blame Windows 10 for this, but it’s another example of the harm done by restrictive or draconian DRM.

Thanks to reader Marcus Hoffmann for the tip and Thomas Faust and Martin Vigneron for the German to English translations.

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Graham Smith

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