DRM Jams the Gears of War: Crysis and GTA IV Next?

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Players of the PC game Gears of War have a problem that means they are currently unable to even load their game. The reason – a hard-coded shutoff date in the DRM that prevents the game from playing. Yet again, DRM prevents an honestly purchased game from working. Will Crysis and GTA IV break next?

We’ve covered DRM problems in the past, but we’ve never come across DRM before thats deliberately designed to terminate a game regardless of the consumers actions – until now. The Microsoft published Epic Studios game, Gears of War, is now unplayable to all purchasers, due to its DRM.

The DRM in question involves a certificate with a hardcoded date – January 28 2009 – as its time to expire. Now that this certificate has expired the game will not load, giving the following error message.

[installpath]\Gears of War\Binaries\wargame-g4wlive.exe: You cannot run the game with modified executable code. Please reinstall the game

Of course, reinstallation does nothing, as the certificate has still expired. Of greater interest is why there is a certificate with expiration date in the game at all, especially as it’s expired just 15 months after the games release.

After this was pointed out on Epic’s forums, joeGraf, a ‘super moderator’ (and presumably staff member of Epic) stated that they are now aware of this, and “are working with Microsoft to get it resolved.” Just what form that resolution will take is also not clear; be it an updated certificate with later date, an open ended certificate, or removing such certificates. If a new dated certificate is issued, then it can only be expected that we will have the same problems again when it too expires.

This may also raise a question mark over other ‘Games for Windows’ titles released since Gears of War – which include Crysis and Grand Theft Auto IV – over their inclusion of such certificates, but only time will tell.

In the meantime, those of you that wish to play can do so by setting your system date back to January 27 or earlier. Also, in between playing, remember you can drop the FTC a line and tell them about this experience with DRM.

DRM only usually punishes legitimate purchasers, so this screw up with Gears of War is quite unique. We’ve just discovered that the pirated ‘razor1911’ release is also affected, meaning that it’s taken down every copy available. Great work. It must be well hidden if the usually alert crackers didn’t spot it, begging the question “how many more games have an expiration date?”


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