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Steam Evolving

By Shamus
on Wednesday Apr 8, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games


A couple of people have nudged me, asking how I can be such a huge fan of Valve games and such a long-standing critic of Steam. I’ve been avoiding this post because the conversation always goes the same way:

Gamer A: I hate Steam because it denies me resale rights, which I value highly.

Gamer B: I don’t value resale rights at all, therefore you are wrong and Steam is awesome.

But it’s a fair question and deserves a reasonable answer…

About four or five years ago I drew the line at online product activation, saying I simply wouldn’t buy games that used it. Since then this line has been scuffed and blurred by the constantly shifting policies of developers and publishers. They keep finding ways to complicate or obfuscate the very simple transaction in which I am interested: My money for their game. What if we give you unlimited activations? What if we give you the right to install the game on as many machines as you like? What if we let you make backups? What if we give you the ability to re-sell the game? What if…? They took away all of the freedoms that customers once enjoyed by default, and then they tried to bribe people into accepting the deal by offering them back a subset of those freedoms.

Steam began as little more than another stupid system of online activation with some nice digital distribution ideas thrown in. I was a harsh critic of the platform after release, but they’ve been steadily adding value to it for the last several years. They cured the launch-day headaches that locked customers out of their game when Half-Life 2 came out. They removed the need for a disk to be in the drive in order to play. They fixed (by removing) the lengthy and tedious “decryption” phase of installation that was part of their disk-based games. They got offline mode working reliably. They’ve added a robust community system that offers more features than Xbox Live, and they offer it for free. Along with this is an achievement system that adds replay value to games. They have the backup system working, so that you can play Steam-based games anywhere you have an able PC with net access, and all you need is your login. This means you can take your entire catalog with you wherever you go, without needing to carry around any media. They have dispensed with the need for disks, so that once you have activated the game you never need to worry about something happening to the disk. For the last couple of years they have been offering games at irresistible discounts, pretty much exactly according to the system I proposed a couple of weeks ago. (Although the boxed copies are still priced according to the ancient traditions.)

At some point they crossed the threshold where the hassles were low enough and the value high enough that I was once again open to doing business with them. For some people they have not yet reached this point. For some they never will. Doing business with Valve means making concessions about rights and ownership, and I don’t blame anyone who refuses the deal. Like many people, I try to limit how much of my library ends up on Steam because I don’t like having that many eggs in one basket. Chris Livingston (of Concerned fame, which I mentioned yesterday) has many of the same complaints that I do.

Still, Steam stands in stark contrast to the activation schemes offered by 2kGames and EA, which boil down to a way for you to ask for permission to play their game. Their systems are even more restrictive than Steam. You lose the freedom to install on whatever machines you need, to resell the game, to backup the game, to install (or even play) without a net connection, to keep your privacy, to play on multiple users accounts on the same machine, and to loan the game to a friend. And unlike Steam, all these publishers offer in return is a free copy of SecuROM, installed without your knowledge, consent, or ability to purge it from your personal computer. I remain adamant in my opposition to these systems.

But the future I truly fear is the one where companies like 2kGames and EA get their act together and start offering a Steam-like service. You boot up your computer and then your system tray starts filling up. Steam. Impulse. EA Manager. 2kGames Nanny. The Activision Activator. Take-Two GameAction! Ubisoft UBehave. Eidos Eipod. Codemasters Master Decoder. THQ Launcher. Microsoft PC Live Launcher Suite for Windows 7. Lucas Arts Game Hutt. Capcom’s Resident e-Ville. SEGA System Master. A stupid program for every game. A login for each one. All of them crowding around in the bowels of your system, downloading patches and updates and hopefully not sharing too much personal data. (Or you can set a policy of forbidding them to start, and then when you go to play your game you can sit there and wait while it updates.)

This is not a direction which enriches the hobby.

Comments (99)

1 2

  1. Jattenalle says:

    I hate steam for a different reason.

    The platform itself is a steaming pile of shit, takes forever to start and makes my beast of a computer cringe under the insanely heavy load of displaying a list of games (Which is nothing more than a picture with some text after it)

    I fail to see how steam could possibly require all these resources from my poor computer.

    End result is that I try to avoid buying games on steam, and the few I do have I almost avoid playing, just knowing I’d have to suffer starting steam is a huge turnoff.

    As an interesting side note:
    Steam takes longer to start and sign me in than most other games take to go from double clicking the icon to killing mutant-space-Nazis-from-outer-space-and-the-future in glorious Bling Mapped, Parashaped and Shine buffered next-gen 3D

  2. “A stupid program for every game. A login for each one. All of them crowding around in the bowels of your system, downloading patches and updates and hopefully not sharing too much personal data”

    That is something I really dislike. Overlapping and conflicting DRM. I lost a lot when my last system collapsed and managed to take the back-up drive data with it, having corrupted that as well. “Reach out and touch someone” DRM.


  3. scarbunny says:

    I honestly think I could like Steam, just right now I hate it with a passion.

    I purchased a nice physical version of DoW2 a few weeks back brought it home stuck it in the drive and had to wait nearly 5hours for the game to install. Actually thats a lie it took 10 minutes for the game to install. It took Steam 4 hours 50 minutes to update its self. I could have downloaded installed and been playing a pirate copy in less time than it took me to get into my reatil version.

    I dont get why it forced my to update in the first place, most of the fixes were aimed at multiplayer, why not keep me disconnected until I update? Xbox Live lets you opt out of updates. Any way until they sort out updates I will avoid anything Steam related.

  4. Ron says:

    I have to agree with you. Steam isn’t that great. I have stayed away from it for the most part. The only time I have use it, is if there is a really really good price deal, such as under $10.

    The electronic distribution site I like is Gamersgate. Now I could be naive and I’m missing the big bad DRM on the site, but I just don’t see it. You can download the games, they give you the “cd key”, if it’s required. You don’t need to install some “client” (they did do this in the past, but no longer).

    On a side note. Shamus, when was the last time you sold one of your used PC games?

  5. Ingvar says:

    My main issue with Steam is “does it work through a protocol proxy”. As far as I can tell, the answer to that question is and will remain “no” and I am NOT letting my windows machine(s) talk to the network without a sanitising protocol proxy in-between. It keeps the machines healthier and in the case of a subverted machine also keeps the Internet from having to deal with the spoor generated.

  6. Jeremiah says:

    @Jattenalle: That sounds pretty terrible. I’d never bothered with Steam until recently to try out the demo for Left 4 Dead and haven’t loaded it since. I don’t remember there being any real loading problems at all, and my desktop is 3.5 years old. Makes me wonder if something else isn’t going on.

    As far as Steam goes, I think I can mostly stomach their way of doing things, but they just don’t have anything that really interests me, so it isn’t something I’ve had to make a real decision on.

  7. -F. says:

    Personally, I love Steam. It’s fast, reliable, and witout a hassle. I don’t care about the community features, and Steam doesn’t force them upon me. I can play the games I want to play wherever I am (if there’s a connected pc).

    If you ask me, the only on-line distribution system that beats it is Good Old Games. They just allow you to download the installer file whenever you want, wherever you want, and how often you want. Without any registration once you’ve left their website.

  8. Mari says:

    I live in horror of the same future, Shamus. Already I’m forced to root through my system periodically and turn certain programs that defaulted back to “auto-load at startup” back to “sit there and wait for me to ask for you” at every update. You know, QuickTime (one of the worst offenders) and a slew of Adobe products for enhancing my interwebz experience and such.

    I rule my system with an iron thumb, forcing it to beg permission to do anything except update virus/malware definitions. But more and more that terrifying vision of the future is coming to pass.

    Once upon a time we had a joke about computers. It went something like, “Power it on, go take a smoke, come back and launch a program, go take a smoke, come back and start working. Save, go take a smoke, come back and work…” The reference to smoking was how long it took the PCs of the day (and their evil OSes) to perform tasks. Now that I work on other people’s computers I face those same lulls in activity as the plethora of auto-loaded crapware sorts itself out and slowly relinquishes control of the hardware back to the user. So far the games industry has “lagged behind” in the race to see who can suck up the most resident resources the longest but I know that when they join the race they’ll do so with a fanatical zeal. And it terrifies me.

  9. Robyrt says:

    Gas Powered Games already has their own slow, intrusive “GPGNet” service that handles DRM, patches, multiplayer, etc. In their defense, it doesn’t start up automatically, but mostly it’s just a collection of features (like global chat or auto-updates) that other games can manage just fine without having to run 2 programs at once.

  10. Steven Jones says:

    I’ve accepted the role Steam plays for years now, and am likely to always check if a game is on Steam first before buying it elsewhere. I like the auto-updating, patching and even the community features. I guess I’m their target audience. And I’m quite happy to run both this and Impulse on my machine.
    That said I agree completely that things could get out of hand real fast. I already have Windows Live (DoWII Demo) and EA Downloader.. that’s one too many for my liking already. It may get to the point where before I buy a game I have to check I can get it on a service I don’t mind running else I won;t buy it at all. I’d like to assume this would force the players to get their heads together and decide on a communal way to deal with this.. some meta client that can be used by all but history tells me otherwise.

  11. Jattenalle says:

    @Jeremiah: I had a long rant here, even a screenshot.. But then Steam crashed and all my arguments were replaced with:
    It just doesn’t work!

    I just want to play my games! I don’t want to suffer slow sign in and start-up processes just so I can be spammed with random shit from the steam store.
    I don’t want to run TWO browsers (One for the store, one for community) because the Valve engineers figured it was a neat solution to their horribly slow HTTP servers.

    I just want to play a nice game of Left 4 Dead.

    Which I can’t. Unless I start steam and watch it sign me in, slowly…

    It takes steam ~1 minute (50-70 seconds) to start when started for the first time since computer boot.
    After that it takes about 30 seconds.
    It takes me 30 seconds to load a map in Left 4 Dead for the first time.
    And about 10 seconds on subsequent loads for that map.

    Really, it takes the generic list up to three times longer to load than it does a full 3D map with lighting AI etc.

  12. Deoxy says:

    Whoa – DoW2 is requires Steam? Ick. I had been interested in that game, too… Oh well.

    Put me in the “I don’t want to waste my computer’s resources (or my time) on that crap” camp.

  13. JT says:

    2kGames Nanny. The Activision Activator. Take-Two GameAction! Ubisoft UBehave. Eidos Eipod. Codemasters Master Decoder. THQ Launcher. Microsoft PC Live Launcher Suite for Windows 7. Lucas Arts Game Hutt. Capcom's Resident e-Ville. SEGA System Master. A stupid program for every game. A login for each one. All of them crowding around in the bowels of your system, downloading patches and updates and hopefully not sharing too much personal data.

    As horrible as that future sounds (hopefully there’s still time to avoid it), those are hilarious names – well done!

    @Ron: On a side note. Shamus, when was the last time you sold one of your used PC games?

    I’m not Shamus, but my objections to DRM are similar to his – focused on First-Sale and Fair-Use rights more than whatever issues SecuROM can tend to cause all by its lonesome. It shouldn’t really matter “how often” a game owner sells his games, it’s the principle of having the authority to do so at any point (or to do a “hand-me-down” to a son/daughter, kid brother, or niece/nephew). But in my anecdotal case, just last month I sold LotR: RotK & MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries on Amazon Marketplace, and traded two more (The Two Towers, BF2:Special Forces) to other Goozex users (with about 15 others in the queue waiting for my turn to pop up) and got two others in return (Full Throttle & Red Dead Revolver [XBox]). So yeah, there are some of us who actually are active in the P2P used games market (haven’t set foot in GameStop in years).

  14. Luke Maciak says:

    @Shamus – I keep Steam off at all times just like most of other things on my Windows box. The only app allowed to start at boot time is my AV Suite. Whenever I install something new, I fire up Autoruns (sysinternals.com) and remove all the startup crap unless it is critically important for it to run when I boot my machine.

    Truth be told, the longest I had to wait to play a Steam game so far was around 30 minutes – that’s approximately how long it took Steam to download and install TF2 on my box. From scratch. Updates and patches are usually done in 5 minutes – tops. Maybe I’m just lucky with this. Other people in the comments had major issues with this – I never really did have issue with the speed at which it actually patches itself. So it really makes no sense for me to run the bloated Steam tray app at all times.

    My issue is with the responsiveness of the UI itself. Whenever I use steam I feel like I’m interacting with a remote application via 56k dialup connection. I press a button, and then wait 2 seconds to see the “button press” event actually trigger and register in UI.

    God forbid I dare to switch tabs – then Steam seems to go into “emulate rendering a JPEG image using a 1 baud modem” mode and pretty much refreshes the screen one scanline per second. I exaggerate, but it amazes me that the damn thing can patch games really fast in the background, but chokes on something as simple as displaying a list of buttons on the screen.

    So I’m with Jattenalle here, Steam is outrageously slow and I can’t figure out why. I mean, all they are doing is displaying very simple dialog windows on the screen. So either their UI is just very tightly coupled with the back-end that does the decryption/authorization logic or the library they use to paint these dialogs on the screen is just a POS.

    It’s probably a combination of the two. I really wouldn’t mind if the damn thing used standard windows widgets (you know, boring gray windows with default OS styles applied to them) if that meant better performance. In fact, I’d prefer it.

  15. Rattus says:

    What i really like is the community overlay in games, so you can check/chat friends, invite to games, auto join their games, and browse random internet stuff while waiting for respawn..

    I’d launch most of games through steam just to get that functions.

  16. LintMan says:

    I like “Microsoft PC Live Launcher Suite for Windows 7”.

    Also, that reminds me of this: What if Microsoft designed the iPod box?

    I generally don’t mind Steam too much, but I have a big problem with their “only one person at a time” policy where one of my kids can’t play a Steam game on one computer while I (or another of my kids) plays a different game on a different computer. I find this preposterous. But we’ve already hashed that out here before, so I won’t belabour it. It’s worth just mentioning because most people aren’t aware of it. (My own resolution for this was to not buy any more kids games on Steam, and to buy my games elsewhere unless Steam has a fantastic deal or is the only way to avoid even worse DRM like EA’s crap)

  17. Rutskarn says:

    I was like you in that I didn’t want to do business with Steam right out the gate. I put off buying HL2 for years, until a few posts (including one of yours) about the improvement of Steam convinced me it was worth a shot.

    It’s a hassle, sometimes. On the other hand, it’s easier than buying a meatspace copy, and there’s tons of free updates.

  18. Picador says:

    As horrible as that future sounds (hopefully there's still time to avoid it), those are hilarious names – well done!

    Ditto. Very funny.

  19. Shamus says:

    Ron: The stores stopped taking PC Games in trade years ago.

    So, years.

  20. Praecorloth says:

    I’ve been using Steam since about the time it came out. Back then I didn’t really give a rip about DRM because the way I got in to Steam was registering my copy of Counter Strike with Steam. Since I had the CD I could install again without registering with Steam. No problem.

    But what it offered was an answer to multiplayer nightmare. Making sure that everyone has the same version of a game. The same maps and addons. What about hackers joining the fray? Now go out and find your friend’s server if Windows doesn’t have some issue with network settings between your computer and your friend’s server. (You wanna crab about something? How about Windows? There’s the REAL steaming pile of crap.) No more. It was a beautiful thing.

    By the time I started getting concerned about DRM, Steam had already offered enough service that I could plainly see that I was getting a service with some DRM attached, rather than DRM with some service attached. Subtle but important difference.

    Now there’s talk about performance and how it affects your computer. Since we’re all talking about our setups here, let me share mine. I have a Windows desktop. I don’t run anything on it other than games. No AV software, no spyware detectors, nothing. Just games. Why? Because I learned long ago that you don’t put anything you care about on Windows. Anything I care about runs on my home Linux server. I highly recommend trying this. People ask me how I can deal with having only 1 gig of memory. I say, “Just fine.” ‘Cause nothing is running and taking up even more memory!

  21. LintMan says:

    Oops – I forgot to add that usually for me Steam is pretty snappy – I don’t noptice any delays switching tabs or loading the games list – but it does seem to “go off into the weeds” occasionally. Usually, I don’t wait to see if it recovers and just kill it and restart, and the problem is solved. Maybe that would help you guys? Or is it always slow?

    Also about Steam, I just came across this guy, Jason Schklar, yesterday over at RPS. He’s a game useability expert/consultant with a blog where he discusses the useability isses he sees in games. Some of his thoughts seem to touch the same topics as Shamus’s. Anyway, he wrote a bit about his experience making a Steam purchase: http://jackalshorns.blogspot.com/2009/03/i-purchased-with-effort-world-of-goo-on.html

  22. Duffy says:

    Quick note to the slow loading people (which is odd in my experience, Steam is by no means lightning fast, but more then 10-15sec sounds like extraneous issues), you guys do know that if you create a Shortcut for a specific Steam game it skips loading the main Steam browser and just logs you in and runs the game?

    It’s noticeably faster to log in since Steam doesn’t have to load it’s net catalog and check for updates. (I can’t recall if it still tries to auto-update when you use a shortcut, but as far as my memory serves it has not for me. I feel like it asked. I may be wrong or it may be a per game publisher enabled feature.)

    I pretty much only see the Steam browser if I’m buying a game.

    As per all the other gripes, most of them are personal and I generally agree or understand everyone’s positions. It comes down to personal value.

    My only worry is if Steam collapses tomorrow, my single-player games are useless. (Ok, I have the know how to get the cracks and what not for them, but it’s the principle of the matter.) Due to that, I refuse to buy SP games from Steam when I can, the only real exception to that rule are Valve games.

    If Steam comes up with a method to give me a burnable install/.exe I would probably switch to using Steam for everything they sell that I want. I’m hoping that’s the direction some of their recent tech announcements are heading.

  23. Yar Kramer says:

    I don’t mind Steam that much, to the extent that I don’t have any of the Big Problems that some people have in terms of functionality, and none of the Little Problems bother me personally that much.

    But y’know … I really wish there was a “sell”/”return” option. I mean, it should be simple enough (as you can see from the previous phrase, I have no idea what I’m talking about) — just keep track of how much someone paid for a given game so they don’t buy a “75% off” game for $5 and then sell it for $20 when the price goes back up, and they can pick and choose one of any of a dozen different means of recieving the money like eBay or Amazon (or Second Life, for Bob’s sake), and then Bjorn Stronginthearm’s your uncle.

  24. Pederson says:

    I like Steam. It saves me a lot of effort tracking down where shortcuts are to the games I’ve installed, gives me access to an IM system for most games on the system, and nearly eliminates having to track down media to (re)install old games (as long as they’re in the Steam catalog and I have purchased/registered them with Steam).

    It certainly isn’t perfect. If Steam dies, there are a number of games I ‘own’ that will go with it. Achievements are stupid (fun, but stupid). I’ve had Steam break games for me in ways that required deleting files to fix (clientregistry.blob). I’ve had evenings severely degraded because one or other friend’s Steam install wasn’t keeping his games up to date (20 minutes while TF2 updates, 10 more minutes while the update unpacks, decrypts, installs, lathers, rinses, brushes its teeth, etc) or was updating other games while he was playing whatever the evening’s diversion was (that was Monday: L4D with 1.5second pings! Hilarious, but not something to want to repeat).

    I like Steam because I am lazy. But, it’s going to bite me on the tuchus some day, and hard.

  25. Mordiceius says:

    Throw me into the “Never had a problem with Steam” pile. It has never been anything but fast for me and I have never had a problem with it (I had even used it to pre-order HL2 years ago). Whenever buying games, I always check if they are on Steam first before I pick them up.

    The application doesn’t start with Windows and it always seems to update really fast for me. I am a happy Steam user. (Now if Microsoft could only steal the steam community tools for XBox Live).

    EDIT: Also, Valve has said before that if Steam and Valve were to die, they would release the information needed to play the game without Steam.

  26. Braitx says:

    They took away all of the freedoms that customers once enjoyed by default, and then they tried to bribe people into accepting the deal by offering them back a subset of those freedoms.

    I’m not sure if this is exactly true. I think people assume that anything they were capable of doing before DRM was also something they had a right to do. In other words, they may have enjoyed some of these freedoms only in as much as they were capable of violating the EULA with impunity. (The resale right doesn’t fall into this category, of course.)

  27. JT says:

    @Shamus: Ron: The stores stopped taking PC Games in trade years ago.

    So, years.

    Allow me, kind sir, to formally invite you to join the massive legion of peer-to-peer game traders/sellers/buyers who have no need for middleman brick-and-mortar “stores” to perhaps-or-perhaps-not “accept” what you have to offer, and instead use other services to connect us directly to each other, with different levels of assurance & fraud protection, according to personal taste. We meet daily, nay, hourly at any of the following – all are welcome!

    Caveat emptor: most of these do not specifically call out any license-limiting DRM on the newer games that have it and which would constitute an extra risk on the part of the buyer as to whether or not the buyer would have an “install credit” available (the Goozex community is trying to control for this, being so specific to games they’re in the best position to be reliable in this regard).

    P2P – Peer-to-Peer, Power to the People, baby.


  28. pflorian says:

    This makes me wonder if issues like this are going to provide a market for remote-play services that have been announced like OnLive. With something like that, it doesn’t seem like a player would have to worry about dealing with activation software. Of course, a service like that would impose other compromises, but they could be ones that some people might find more palatable.

  29. the Jack says:

    I really like not having to put a CD into the machine to make the game work.

    I also revel in not consuming paper products I would otherwise shelve and allow to collect dust.

    It may take hours to get the game onto the system, but that’s what patience is for.

    Sure, a company like Steam may go bankrupt. But your house may also burn down, or someone might break in and steal all your CDs. Or you might just lose that stack of activation keys you’ve had to keep kicking around. Zero sum, in my view.

    P.S. Digitally-distributed games cost less, and if anyone is that paranoid about having their private information shared over the interwebs, they really should get out of the pool.

  30. Randolpho says:

    I guess I fall into the Gamer B category — I honestly couldn’t care less about being able to *sell* my game to somebody after I’m done with it, and that’s the long and short of it.

    What I really like about Steam (and the reason I wish more games were on it) is being free from CDs and DVDs. With Steam, I can easily install or uninstall any game I want without ever having to go back to the CD, and I never have to have it in my drive. If my CD gets scratched (thanks a lot, kids!), I’ve got a nice pristine copy sitting on some server somewhere, good as new.

    I wish Steam would start adding some of those older games to it like Gametap does. I’d gladly pay a dollar or two to be able to play some of those older games whenever I want.

  31. Braitx says:


    That would be bizarre but somehow not surprising. I’m always confused at people who say they don’t like DRM, and then switch to something like a console (much more limiting and basically locked down by default).

    In another article about DRM, Shamus used a great metaphor to illustrate one of the problems with DRM for PC games. I’m probably getting the specifics wrong, but it was something like “the development of DRM for PC is like putting increasingly powerful locks and steel doors on a grass hut.” Switching to a streaming service or a console because of DRM hassles is like replacing the grass hut & steel door with a modern prison. You get rid of all that pesky “access to the code and control of your machine” nonsense that makes DRM on the PC such a failure.

  32. krellen says:

    @Braitx, #26:

    People could violate the EULA with impunity, because EULAs are not legally enforceable. There is nothing in an EULA that a court will uphold that is not already part of the implicit “You get one (and only one) of these for your money, do with it as you will” transaction that is the default of all commerce.

    What companies have been doing of late is using software and other tricks to enforce rights they don’t have. They’re demanding far more control of how you use the software you purchased than they are entitled to.

  33. Vladius says:

    Steam is a nice fit for me. I have too many CDs as it is, and the games are much cheaper and all in one place. I see how the system could have some problems, though. I started using it after they were all resolved, it seems. I’m kind of worried of what will happen if any kind of earthquake or some kind of other minor disaster overtakes the Valve servers, but that doesn’t seem to be a plausible enough concern.

    I really don’t like the overflowing tide of companies trying to make a Steam clone. They’re clearly going about it all wrong, as you mentioned. And the permission thing is very annoying. When you mentioned LucasArts and that other bunch having one I started raging. (They already put their focus on making games for consoles; why make their PC games even more hard to play?)

    Mainly I just play the various mods for the Source engine, which can be more fun than most “real” games. I recommend Pirates, Vikings, and Knights, which is exactly how it sounds.

  34. Braitx says:

    I don’t know where you heard that Krellen, but even if you think they should not be enforceable, courts do regularly enforce the terms of “click wrap” licenses in the United States (with some exceptions). They are evaluated in the same way as any other contract, and although some are invalidated as contracts of adhesion, that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.

    I have to say, I see a lot of legal assertions regarding copyright on the internet that bear little resemblance to anything I remember from law school.

    “You get one (and only one) of these for your money, do with it as you will” transaction that is the default of all commerce.

    Even without a license, your rights are significantly more limited than that.

  35. krellen says:

    Links, Braitx. I’ve done a lot of research on this, and I’ve never found an instance of upholding a EULA that was not actually a violation of something else altogether. If you’ve got evidence, I would love to see it.

    And no, my rights are not more limited than “This is your one copy, play with it.” I can take that one copy and use it wherever I like. I can give it to whomever I like, for whatever compensation I like. I can take parts of it to make derivative works in a variety of ways. So long as I’m not doing anything that takes it beyond my one copy – copying it and giving it to others; decompiling it, changing the source, and passing it off as my own; passing off chunks of it as my own work, for profit or not – my rights over what I do with that one copy are unlimited. This is true of any product you buy, not just software.

    Some people seem to believe that software requires more restrictions and our purchase thereof does not entitle us to the same rights as any other purchase. This is not true; the purchase of software is the same as the purchase of anything else. I buy my one copy, and it’s my one copy to use, trade, or discard as I see fit. The purchase of software is no different – for good or for ill – than the purchase of more tangible goods like blenders and books.

  36. Bourne says:

    That list of service names, taken together, is funnier than the rest of the internet combined.

  37. Braitx says:

    The basic case is ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg, 86 F.3d 1447 (7th Cir., 1996). You might argue (if you know the case) that copying and distributing the phone numbers would have been a violation of copyright regardless of the agreement, but you would be wrong. In Feist Publications vs. Rural Telephone Services Company, the Supreme Court addressed this exact issue and held that directory information like names and telephone numbers is not copyrightable.

    The case specifically holds that clickwrap licenses are evaluated using the same standards as any other contracts, and that contracts entered into after money has changed hands are common and legally acceptable.

    The other limitations on your use of copyright material are laid out in 17 U.S.C. Section 106. In addition to not being able to copy the work you may not prepare derivative work based on the material, perform the material, or display the material.

  38. Braitx says:


    I typed out a response to you, but it looks like it was lost in the ether!


    OK, retyping (with a 15 minute limit, eep!)

    The basic case is ProCD v. Zeidenberg.

    You might argue (if you know the case) that it was a violation of copyright law for the defendant to copy the database contents and distribute them at all, but you would be wrong. The SCOTUS held in Feist v. Rural Telephone that information like telephone directories cannot be copyrighted.

    The case specifically holds that clickwrap licenses must be evaluated based on the same law governing other contracts, and that contracts entered into after money has changed hands are common and enforceable. Absent unconscionability, a EULA is enforceable like any other contract.

    The other limitations on your rights regarding the use of copyrighted material are laid out in 17 U.S.C. 106. Of course you cannot copy or distribute copies of the work, but you also cannot display the work, perform the work, or prepare derivative works based on the work.

    Please forgive my lack of proper citation. I didn’t want to start a whole new comment, but working with this one only gave me a 15 minute window.

  39. Carra says:

    Getting Beyond good and evil, far cry and dark messiah for the price of €10 was too good to pass.

    But somewhere on the back of my mind is a small red flag saying “you loose all your games when steam decides to just ban you for no good reason”. Still, for those weekend deal prices I don’t mind Steam.

    I do have one Major problem with steam: their payment system. I paid €10 for that package while an american pays $10. It’s 30% cheaper, it makes me feel ripped off! At €10 we’re talking €3 but at €100 for the entire Ubisoft package we’re talking €30. Simply unacceptable for me.

  40. JT says:

    I’m with Krellen on this, courts have found that software is to be treated exactly the same as any other copyrighted work with respect to ownership rights of that one single copy passing over to the purchaser, especially in the case of physical media being sold (you buy a DVD with a movie printed on it, you own the disc and its contents and can do what you will with it, up to even making a backup copy or playing it on multiple devices; likewise, you buy a DVD with a game printed on it, you own the disc and its contents and can do what you will with it, up to even making a backup copy or playing it on multiple devices).
    Here’s a couple of links to peruse:

    That last one provides a contrast between shrink-wrap licenses and click-wrap licenses and provides examples of various courts that have decided the issue in contradictory ways (that is, a higher court needs to resolve those disagreements).

    EDIT after seeing Braitx’s post: I’m just a layman, but I’ll try to grok the two cases he referenced – also doesn’t 17 USC 106 cover the rights of the copyright holder, not the purchaser of a copyrighted work, vis-a-vis Fair Use?

  41. Zwebbie says:

    I don’t think Steam is particularly troublesome – it used to give me some problems back when my Internet connection had trouble and it tried to log on, but couldn’t, forcing me to manually disable Internet. But nowadays, it works fast and without problems.
    That said, the benefits aren’t particularly good for me, either. I have all my games within arms reach and I enjoy going out to the store to buy an actual product.

    In the end, I still like it, though. It sold Dawn of War Soulstorm for €3,75 (= $5), got me into the DoWII beta and convinced me to definitely not buy it ever. Saved me a good €50! It also doesn’t have shelf space, so it should remove the need for a Good Old Games eventually.
    Secondly, it cuts a lot of people in between you and the developer. No more money for retailers and stores, that stuff is going back to the publisher/developer. It might not be of personal benefit to me, but it’s still good to see the creators get more money for their creations, especially when so many developers go bankrupt.
    Finally, Steam makes me feel special. Maybe it is a tad slow and troublesome in some cases, but it has the best of intentions. Once it recognises that you are you – which requires a *one time* log on for every computer you have. Steam, at least, trusts you. I recently bought a new computer and I can get any of my old games on here. Heck, I could be in China with a laptop, thousands of kilometres away from my stash of games and I could still install Portal if I felt like it. Not that I’d ever be in such a situation, but it’s the thought that counts… Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot of trouble with Autodesk Maya – €300 (= $400) piece of software that I need to *pirate* if I want it on another computer. But I just like that in a world where software says “You’ve got it legitimately, but I still think you’re a pirate”, Steam says “I know you and I trust you. Let me try to make gaming as easy as possible for you!”

    “… right after I finish this lengthy update.”

  42. moondance says:

    My solution to steam has always been one account per game. Then I sell the steam account with that game. I can give it to friends when I am finished. I can have my 2 daughters play 2 different games both from steam. In all respects it is just easier to handle . I just have an account with my usual name + game name. With a regular steam password. The only cost is when I want to switch games I need to switch accounts which isn’t a big deal for me.

    Hope this helps :)

  43. Braitx says:

    @ JT

    I’m a woman. :)

    Section 106 lists the rights that are *exclusive* to the copyright holder. (In other words, they are rights that you, as a consumer don’t have). If you were running a bootleg operation, you would be violating the copyright holder’s section 106 rights. Fair use (Section 107) covers exceptions to the section 106 rights.

    And though I went to law school, I am not a practicing attorney. Please, take it all with a big grain of salt!

  44. Braitx says:

    Apparently I’ve convinced Shamus’ system that I’m a spambot.

    Anyway, JT, I graduated from law school but I am not a practicing attorney. I don’t mean to over-represent my qualifications.

  45. MintSkittle says:

    Slight tangent here, Fear the Boot 142 is up, and Chad has a massive rant on modern video games, and they eventually bring it around to piracy and DRM.

  46. JT says:

    Ok, I can see where ProCD decided that clickwrap licenses are enforceable, regardless whether the material is copyrighted or not, due to the user clicking “I agree”, but I believe the cases that have decided that shrinkwrap licenses are not enforceable were due to unconscionability (which is a new term for me, legally speaking). At root there is the inability of a purchaser to return software once the shrinkwrap is broken, which needs to be done before the purchaser can see and agree/disagree with the EULA. Even the decision in ProCD assumes that Zeidenberg could have done that – but I can’t do it with Dawn of War II purchased from Best Buy. Once the shrinkwrap is broken, it’s only returnable for an identical copy of the same game (unless return policies have changed since I last bought at retail?), which does no good for someone who disagrees with the EULA.

    I suppose we should clarify what we’re really talking about as we gloss over the contents of an EULA. You’ve already stipulated that resale can’t be prevented by an EULA (whether click- or shrinkwrap), due to First-Sale (codified in Sec. 109 of the same code, as I just discovered), and I believe a single backup copy is covered by Fair-Use (only maintainable if the purchaser still owns the original). So what other consumer actions are we talking about that can be prevented by the terms of an EULA? Modding? Map/level creation? Installation on multiple PCs? You know, just to make sure we’re still having a relevant non-moot discussion here on the validity of EULAs.

  47. locusts says:

    @ Braitx

    Given your degree can you comment on how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has further muddied the waters in this matter. I have a degree in technical communication and in my classes it was implied that the DMCA removed the fair-use policies of the past when concerning digital media of any sort. Is this true?

  48. Chuk says:

    Thank you for the LucasArts Game Hutt.

  49. krellen says:

    Thanks for the links, Braitx. That’s interesting.

    To you knowledge, has ProCD vs. Zeidenberg ever been cited in other cases as precedent? There are often cases in court where the court decides something is clearly wrong, even when there isn’t really a legal reason for it to be wrong (and thus they make a reason). Zeidenberg was clearly in the wrong, blatantly stealing another firm’s work and distributing it for less even though it wasn’t copyrightable information, and the decision may have been based more on “that was a wrong-doing” than “the law clearly states this is so”.

    An example of this is the oft-stated Dodge v. Ford, from which the belief that “a corporation exists to make profit for its investors” comes from. Dodge v. Ford is not used as a legal precedent, is scarcely if ever cited in contract and corporate law cases, and exists as a single-time statement of “stop being a douchebag to your competitors”.

    • Shamus says:

      I saw the EULA argument coming the moment Braitx brought it up. Dang kids. You know, I can remember a day BEFORE EULA’s. I remember installing games off of floppies without entering into any sort of vague contract with anyone.

      At one time, we were free to backup / copy / gift / return / sell our games. Now those freedoms are seen as absurd, dangerous, and exotic.

      • Shamus says:

        Context: Some of Braitx’s comments were flagged as spam. (Grumble stupid spam grumble filter.) I restored them, but they will appear up above, using their original timestamp.

        I HATE this. It ends up re-numbering subsequent comments and confuses the conversation by having “new” comments appear before “old” ones. (From the reader’s perspective.) People using “@#30” to reply to previous comments will now end up pointing at the wrong comment. I try to catch these things quickly, but in a busy thread there’s no way to stay on top of it short of babysitting the spam filter 24/7.

        Anyway, Braitx had some missing comments which are now visible. Sorry for the mess.

  50. Braitx says:

    Once the shrinkwrap is broken, it's only returnable for an identical copy of the same game (unless return policies have changed since I last bought at retail?)

    They say this is their policy, but you might get a different answer if you say “I’m returning this because I don’t agree with the EULA / TOA.” It’s also possible that to get your money back you would have to go to the publisher and not the retailer.

    I don’t think the difference in treatment between shrinkwrap and clickwrap licensing is a result of this ability to return the product. I think it’s more about the fact that clickwrap licenses involve a more clear manifestation of assent. (You have to actually look at the contract and click the little “accept” button).

    You've already stipulated that resale can't be prevented by an EULA

    No, what I meant to imply was that most EULA’s in the past did not prevent resale. Whether a EULA *can* prevent things like resale depends on whether, when you buy a piece of software, you are buying a copy or a license to use a copy. That is a whole other can of worms. If you’re really interested in how licenses can limit users rights, I recommend reading Blizzard v. MDY and Wall Data Inc. v. Los Angeles County.

    I couldn’t give an opinion on all of the limitations you list, but I would say, generally, that a EULA can restrict rights that you normally would have under copyright (like copying the contents of a databse in ProCD) and they certainly can prevent unlimited installations (as in Wall Data).


    There is a way of checking that, actually, but since I don’t have a Lexis password anymore, I would have to go to a law library. What I’m saying here is that I can tell you exactly who has cited ProCD, but it might be a few days. I actually think it is often cited, but I’m sure you would want something more substantial than my vague recollections. :)

  51. Kevonovitch says:

    see, thats what i like bout steam, ofcourse not always, but seriously:

    its the largest and cheapest digital game store that i know of, no drm, no cd keys needed, no disks needed, the ONLY activation of a game is “eneter key X here…ok!” and “you bought this? ok, lets install ‘er!” and the best part, some games it will accept the keys of, and i wont ever need to woorry bout my disks/box of that X game anymore :)

    did i mention the no drm? yeah thats the best part too.

  52. Dev Null says:

    Ok, as usual I agree with just about everything you’ve said, but when you actually said it, it made me realise that some of what I want is a little inconsistent:

    I try to limit how much of my library ends up on Steam because I don't like having that many eggs in one basket.

    But the future I truly fear is the one where companies like 2kGames and EA get their act together and start offering a Steam-like service.

    I don’t like the idea of all of my games being tied to a single company and/or service… but I also don’t want half a dozen different Steam-bots running on my machine. Even though I stop them all from running on start-up, thats still an awful lot of updates to download. So it seems like we’re both asking for two different contradictory things (or maybe three different, if you count the fact that what we’d really like is just a disk that ran the game. But I’m resigned to that being phased out completely because the developers do need to make money if we want to keep getting games. Thank you very much pirates for ruining things for the rest of us!)

    I don’t have any answers other than compromise, but the contradiction seemed worth pointing out.

  53. JT says:

    Re: Wall Data – interesting analysis of that situation wrt Fair Use. If I’m reading it right, the main points that led to the court’s decision that Fair Use did not apply was 1) the commercial nature of the Sheriff’s Dept’s use of RUMBA and 2) the multi-thousand-unit scale of the Sheriff’s Dept’s overreach. I’d be interested to see a similar case if any exist that deal with how the Fair Use factors are applied to a non-commercial use by an individual consumer of a software product.

    The Blizzard link is broken but I think that case has to do with reverse-engineering, something that’s explicity prohibited in copyright law.

    Re: resale specifically, the First-Sale doctrine was codified into 17 USC 109, EULAs notwithstanding, and last year was upheld wrt digital content on physical media in UMG v. Augusto and wrt software products on physical media in Timothy S. Vernor v. Autodesk Inc. That last one specifically talks about how a software publisher can’t just take a transaction that’s clearly a “purchase”, call it a “license” and be on their merry.

    @Shamus: I remember installing games off of floppies without entering into any sort of vague contract with anyone.

    At one time, we were free to backup / copy / gift / return / sell our games.

    Amen Shamus – I remember that too and I wish we’d never left that time.

  54. Calli says:

    The EULA I would like to see:

    “You, the consumer, agree not to be a jerk. In return we, the publisher, agree not to be jerks either.”

    Sadly, I don’t think this is tenable for obvious reasons.

  55. Braitx says:


    My mind: she is blown.

    @Locusts, Krellen, and JT

    Maybe we should continue this conversation elsewhere, I think we’re starting to get off-topic.

  56. JT says:

    @Kevonovitch: Steam… no drm…

    JT’s pet peeve: DRM means Digital Rights Management, and there are myriad different approaches to accomplishing a publisher’s objective of Managing Digital Rights. That is, making sure that the one and true owner of a digital product is the one who’s using it. Some of them involve installing hidden and difficult to remove software, some of them don’t.

    SecuROM limiting installations is one way.
    SecuROM preventing copying by disabling your burner is another.
    Having to enter a unique CD-key is another.
    Having to enter the fourth word on the 10th page of the manual is another.
    Having to be logged in to your unique account on someone else’s system is another. Some would argue that tying a game irrevocably to an individual (First-Sale rights be damned) is the strongest form of DRM that exists today – a far cry from *not* being DRM at all.

  57. Braitx says:

    Can you delete the copies? Those are essentially double posts.

  58. Jabor says:

    Whether a EULA *can* prevent things like resale depends on whether, when you buy a piece of software, you are buying a copy or a license to use a copy. That is a whole other can of worms.

    The courts have generally upheld that if it shares all the properties of a sale (one-off payment, no further service, etc.), then it’s a sale and not a license, even if the seller wants to name it one.

  59. LintMan says:

    @Zwebbie: Steam is not a one-time login, at least not in my experience. Whenever Steam is run from my kids’ computer, I then need to provide a password for Steam the next time I start it up on my computer. And if I did that while my kids are in the middle of a game, they are booted out. So, Steam certainly doesn’t make me feel special. Unless you mean specially criminal.

  60. RTBones says:

    I am actually one of those folks that prefers to have a hardcopy (CD/DVD) of the game, so I buy relatively few from Steam.

    My biggest beef with Steam though is that it is slow. It takes an age to sign in, and selecting different tabs or updating an installed game makes designing a bipartisan act of Congress seem fast.

  61. moondance says:

    @LintMan: And the solution is an account per game so when you log to your game your kids are still logged in on thiers

  62. Mark says:

    Steam is the only copy protection system that adds features. And, let’s be honest, they’re some damn good features. The limitations inherent in the copy protection are the same as the limitations inherent in most of the accompanying features, except for the non-transferability of the licenses, and that’s not an issue for me.

    All the comments about performance issues make me wonder if I’m using the same Steam as everybody else, though.

  63. Cineris says:

    @JT: “That is, making sure that the one and true owner of a digital product is the one who's using it. Some of them involve installing hidden and difficult to remove software, some of them don't.”

    Don’t be silly, the one and true owner of a digital product is the company selling it. They are merely renting you the opportunity to use the product in exchange for the enjoyment you get while using their product.

  64. Braitx says:


    Have any case law?

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