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    PQ | Features | Mailbag | Dec 17, 1999

PQ Mailbag
Week of: 12/17/99

Help Me I Am In Hell

Do you have any idea how much e-mail was sent to feedback this week? I'm guessing, as a conservative estimate, at least 300 pieces of e-mail. Now I see why crispy went insane. On other topics, on Monday, I finally picked up Quake 3 Arena, and I must say, it's awesome. I just finished the first match of Tier 5, and I've been impressed by everything in the game so far, with the one exception being having me fight 5 bots at once.. can we say chug? But hey, I'll leave this for PQ in Review..

CD-Keys Galore

These editorials are killing me. LeeMon stirred up 290 e-mail messages of controversy with his "I WANT My CD-Key" editorial. Read the cream of the crop of the messages, and see what I have to say at the end! By the way, this first letter here isn't in response to the CD-Key article, but a response to our interview with Graeme Devine on copy protection.

From: William Night
Subject: CD Keys - re: Graeme Devine - for the mailbag

There's a lot of noise about CD Keys, and id is making their share of it.

GD: ... and we know who is running cracked servers.

Do they? He says this like Santa, "and you'd better watch out..." There's no law against running a 'crack' on your programs. It's no different that applying a patch, except one's made by the company and the other isn't.

GD: A lot of the keygen programs are really Trojan Horse programs that snag a users Q3A config and email it off to an anonymous email account.

Seems strange that a pirate would waste his time writing a trojan to steal keys from users who are guaranteed not to have them... I can see the Q3-ZBot being a trojan, but not a keygen. Sounds like a little misinformation to keep people from trying one.

GD: On reflection we should have client side encrypted the key and we may elect to do just this in a future point release of the game.

That, and simply sticking it in a file called SecretKey.cfg would have helped. Many Q3 users don't read the quake sites, are they going to know q3config.cfg isn't safe to share where q1 and q2 configs were? The overzealous protection was put in without considering what it would do to users.

GD: So far the CD key system has been a big success, the idea is to make this painless for legal users and a hassle for pirates.

This they accomplish by making the message for a mistyped key be 'Someone appears to be using your key' instead of 'invalid key'. Seems like making it a hassle for pirates is more important than making it easy for newbie users.

GD: (hacker attempts outnumber real customers with keys, or probable mistyped keys by more than 2:1)

Well, of course. Assuming a keygen can try 50-500 keys per second and a real user averages one authentication every 30-60 minutes... Ten pirates with keygens could easily generate more responses than all the legitimate users. This is just a "Pirates are terribly bad, you should put up with crap to let us try to stop their evil plans..."

The truth is that the CD Key is an invasion of privacy and a way for your game to suddenly stop working for reasons beyond your control.

In this system, you have to *ask permission* before every use of the game that you bought and paid for. If the authentication server goes down, like it did a few times during the demo release, your game is suddenly singleplayer only. If the backbone between you and the authentication server goes down while you can still reach quake servers, you won't be able to log onto them. If the authentication server overloads, you won't be able to play multiplayer. I sure hope you like bots because you're going to be playing a lot of them waiting for multiplayer to start working again.

The whole thing is a lot like DIVX, where you'd buy a DVD-like disk, but only be able to play it by authenticating (and paying) with a master server. If those servers go down, your collection of disks becomes useless. And what happened with DIVX? The company cut it's lossed and decided to stop running the authentication, so everyone who bought in has a bunch of disks that will be useless when the company finally takes down the authentication server next year.

If id software wants to run their own servers, they're perfectly welcome to check any ID they want, after all, they're footing the bill for the server. But if a user who legally purchased the game wants to run a server, what right does id have to tell them how to do it?

Then, there's the whole precedent it sets. If we let one company make us authenticate to use their product, so they can log IPs and usage times (as Graeme has admitted doing, to watch for his patterns) then what's to stop Microsoft from doing it? Or Real? Real was recently flamed into submission when it was discovered that they were covertly collecting and recording information about users based on what was on the users HDs. How can you ever be sure what's going on when your program sends a packet of encrypted information off to a master server?

Is the evil spectre of piracy worth giving up our freedom for?

GD: In future products we will probably continue to use a CD key system, but perhaps multi-tier it so that there are “levels” of users that play the game. “admins”, “sysops”, and so forth, or even people paying us a subscription would have different access to the game, and it’s servers than normal players.

Oh, isn't that charming. Now, beat the pants off some guy and the worst he can do is insult you, or if it's his server, kick you. But with Quake4, if he pays for the platinum subscription, will he be able to institute a global ban until you can prove you don't use a bot? Just what we need, more people with control over what we can and can't do with a product we legally bought.

This isn't the argument of a mad pirate who can't play Q3... I've got Doom2, Quake, Quake2, the Hipnotic mission pack, legit copies, all sitting here next to my desk. I've got $60 waiting for me to get to the store and buy Unreal Tourney, and I've got another $60 for Quake3, as soon as id removes the CD Key nonscense. I'm a legitimate user of these games and I wish to continue this trend, but I wish to be able to use *my* computer and *my* software as I see fit, not merely as I am allowed by a company putting their interests ahead of mine.

I urge everyone to hold off on purchasing Quake3 until CD Keys are removed and replaced with a form of copy protection that doesn't interfere with legitimate users.

Hellchick: A well-written letter, William. As Spyke said, we got an incredible amount of feedback on both the CD key editorial and on the interview we did with Graeme Devine. And apparently Graeme received a lot of email personally about it as well - he told me the day after the interview that people were emailing him in an uproar about the idea of id doing a subscription-based game. But think about it: subscription-based games like Everquest and Asheron's Call are hugely popular; most people are thinking in terms of Quake. What if id's next game is nothing like Quake (and Graeme has said that it won't be)? Think about it.

From: Nayan Ramachandran
Subject: WOW! I salute you

Dear PQ,

Wow, I really have to say, I salute you. Leemon, you took the words right out of my mouth. I live in a dorm where if you let a cd out of your sight for a second, you're likely to see the game on everyone else's computer by the end of the day. I drew the line at Unreal Tournament. I decided not to let anyone copy it off anyone. The problem was though, that I really wanted to play it, but my computer was in the shop. So, I decided to play it on my roommate's computer to try out the new weapons.

Needless to say, I made a mistake, forgot to delete the sucker, and by nightfall, everyone I knew had it, and LAN games were springing up everywhere. I almost broke down right there. I shouted at my roommate for about 2 hours telling him to grow up, get money of his own and buy the game. He just said "screw you, this is a game I like, but it's not good enough to buy" and went back to playing. I could have said "THEN DON'T PLAY IT," but I knew that it was a futile attempt. I decided instead to let it be this time, but stick it to them next time.

My next attempt was Quake3Arena. My roommate and I bought it because we both wanted the tin boxes (as well as the game, of course). This was my chance to tell him not to give it to everyone in our dorm. He asked why. This is what I told him this:

"If you give it to everyone, and someone with your cd key comes online while you're playing, both copies of Q3 will be null and void. No more gaming for you two."

Sure it was a fib, but it worked damn well. Instead of hearing that half the dorm was having a frigging Q3 warez party, I was hearing that they wanted to come watch as me and my roommate gibbed each other in Q3Tourney3. Eventually 3 more people actually bought the game, and we started playing more and more. Sure that's not a lot of people, but I play more Internet clan matches than LAN games, and on top of that, we managed to stop piracy in a passive way without any Torjan horses or viruses teaching them a lesson. After all, they're my friends, and I don't want them learnign the hard way.

Sure I used to be a warezer when I was younger, but ever since I started working at a software company programming about 3 years ago, I realized how much work these people do, and how much they do to make a buck. So, I reformed, and I'm totally straight now. I don't even have mp3's of cd's i don't have. :P

Anyway, thanks for such an eye-opening article. Ill make it a point to copy and email the URL of the article to some of my dorm members so they'll shut up about Q3 warezing. :)

Thanks PQ. Keep up the excellent work. Btw, is there an article writing job in it for me? :P

- Nayan "Trin" Ramachandran

Hellchick: I can't say that I'm squeaky-clean when it comes to warez stuff...if a friend gives me a program I don't have but need, I often tell myself that I'll do the right thing and buy it as soon as I have the money, but of course that doesn't always happen. But even so, my basic philosophy is this: the people who made Q3:A are hard workers and deserve compensation for their work. When you pirate the game, you don't give them the compensation they deserve, and you quite possibly take away some of their incentive to make another good game. And if you have any doubts as to whether or not the guys at id are hard workers, just watch the time stamp on their .plan updates and notice how late they stay up nearly every night just to make the best game they can make for you. Oh, and Trin, about the article job - you need to use the word "ass" more.

From: John Dick
Subject: CD-key article

I must say that although I support IDs decision to protect their work, something had been nagging at the back of my brain. Near the end of your editorial on the issue, you casually mentioned the nazi-like copy protection measures of the late 80's.

I Do not want to ever see it come to anything even remotely close to that ever again!!!

The hacker proof issues of ten years ago made gaming an utter chore. What scares me is that the small CD-keys and authentications of today may very easily turn into the dongles and red cellophane of tommorow.

Nobody likes crackers (except maybe warez doodz who are an even lower life form) but they are here to stay. There will always be crime. I just hope that it doesn't come to the point where protection schemes alienate honest consumers like myself.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that it's inevitable.



Hellchick: Booger...? You play with the handle "Booger"?! I guess I've seen worse.

From: willcifer
Subject: Response to "I WANT My CD Key"

I'm glad to see that someone has the guts to talk about this very controversial subject. There seems to be a big ethical debate about issues such as software piracy, so on and so forth.

As for my own opinion, I understand that the $40-50 cost of Quake III comes from R and D, packaging, marketing, etc., and that when I think about it, I get a helluva lot for that money. After all, my Quake II directory is over a gig, only half of which is taken up by the actual game. I can definitely say that I get my money's worth, I enjoy the games a lot and that it's nice to know that I'm investing in Id's next product. I've been playing them since Doom shareware, the first game to actually make me paranoid. :) And Quake III is awesome, I am really impressed with the product. I just hope they do some small things to make it better, like making it easier to play and record demos, show scores at the end of a Tournament game, show accuracy with weapons at the end of a game (a la OSP Tourney Mod for Quake II), as well as including the option of a warmup and a countdown preceding a game, etc. I know someone will probably do all this stuff anyways, it would just be nice if ID included it in the game to lessen the headache of working with some of these plugins.

It is wrong to pirate software, I know this and understand how free market capitalism works. I want Id's people to be rewarded for their efforts, they deserve it. They must work their asses off to turn out the kind of games that they do. However, I would opine that even given the amount of piracy in the past, Id has certainly not seemed to suffer much, fiscally. I have heard the stories about J.C. having too many Ferraris to fit into his garage, etc. Maybe those stories are wrong, but I somehow doubt that they are far from the truth. Software development is extremely profitable partially because so little money needs to be spent on actual production of physical product and maintenance, in contrast to most industries. The obvious example, of course, is Microsoft. And Bill Gates, yes, is worth what I consider to be a sick amount of money. Quite frankly, I don't understand, at in my opinion, how anyone who actually believes in living under a truly representative democracy would not have issues with how much that man has at his disposal.

I know this is PlanetQuake and not necessarily a philosophical forum, but we all know that sometimes editorials make for philosophical forums. Well, in my opinion, I don't think that software piracy is right. However, part of me does not feel so sorry for Id, either. They seem to be doing allright, thank you. Their genius and foresight to come out with the right game, with the right graphics and gameplay, at the right time, seems to have been awarded. Remember, though, some people's thoughts on what "awards" are can be a little different. Just because someone invents or innovates, and creates a highly successful product line, doesn't mean that it is ethical to have 20 or whatever sportscars and a mansion, while other people in this country can't tap into existing resources to do simple things like send themselves and their kids to school and live somewhere without roaches and crime. At least, in my opinion. Lest you think I'm being melodramatic, let me tell you, it does exist. Certainly it is not dominant. But poverty is always too common, in my opinion. Looking at it in any other way would seem incredibly calloused to me.

But don't think I'm some stupid pinko out to "get the man back". Naw. I just would like to see a more reasonable balance, that's all. Do I mind spending the $50? Actually, I'm poor right now, a friend bought me the game, for me and partially cause we love talking about Quake, how can we talk if I don't own the game? But I wouldn't have minded paying for it, no. Just be a little more careful when you tell me to imagine how Q3 would have been if Id had "two, even three times the money" to put into the game. The game itself is amazing. And, although I could be wrong, I've never spoke to J.C. or anyone at Id myself, they don't seem to be getting up on any crosses and sacrificing themselves for software pirate's sins. Twenty Ferraris , three Ferraris, 60 Ferraris? I hate to quote Gene Simmons, I don't even like KISS, but he once said that there is no way that an individual can really feel the impact of whether they are worth 100 mil as apposed to when they're already worth 10 mil. Seems to make sense...


Hellchick: Well said, Willcifer! You know, I had no idea that the Quake community could be this eloquent and well-versed. Not that I think all of you are idiots, but I've come across my share of real-life Jeff K.'s, and it wasn't pretty.

From: Patrick Cody Cannon
Subject: CD Keys, and the people who love them....


I just read Leemon's insipid editorial on cdkeys and central authorization. It sounded like a cut and paste editorial from Graeme Devine's .plan file.

I have payed for every piece of software I use. I do not support software piracy. However, I support the rights of the consumer. Copy protection to the extent that it interferes with the rights of the consumer is BAD BUSINESS.

Without acknowledging LeeMon's pitiful counters to the legitimate concerns people have with the authentication scheme's, I must say I agree with those concerns.

Look at the problems Sierra has, and has had. Many people who purchased Half-life, were locked out of playing by the keys that were supposed to help them. Opposing Forces, and Homeworld both have CD protection schemes that lock out legitimate users.

What happens when the authentication server for Q3:Arena crashes? None of the people who gave id their well-earned money will be able to play.

There is a need for copy protection, but CD-Keys are not the way. Server authentication EVERY time you try to play is not the way. Someday, the development and publishing companies will devise a workable scheme. However, if no one complains about the current failed attempt, they won't know it's broken.

I don't support cracking, or software piracy, but I do support consumers standing up and protesting something that is bad for them. CDkeys are BAD. They must be stopped.

(I'll save my comments on the viral and contagious nature of EULA's.)


Hellchick: While this argument has some validity, it can't be proven until id's authentication servers (God forbid) go down and test it. Until then...

From: jesusX
Subject: I WANT My CD-Key! - By Lee "LeeMon" Montgomery

I agree 112%. Now, I admit, years ago, I got copy of Wolf3D from a friend. Later, when I got the shareware version of Doom, I loved it, and bought it. Then Doom2, Ultimate Doom, and then Quake came out. I bought the shareware CD, and registered it in two days. For real, not hacked. Yes, the cd-keygen for Quake was out by then, but I bought it anyway. And I went back and bought Wolf3D and SOD, just to make reparations. I also bought the mission packs for Quake. Earlier this year, I bought Quake 2, and then both Mission packs. Yes, I could have copied the CDs from people, but I bought and paid for them. I prepaid for Q3A, and the CDkey doesn't bother me AT ALL.

When I installed Q3A, I even typed the CDkey in correctly the first time. I haven't thought of it since. And until I read this article, I never knew that the CD check took two seconds. Yeah, it's a bit of a pain to have the disc in the drive, but I too have two drives. If the bitch is about music, right, use your CD player, or MP3s. Don't fed me ta line that you need the drive for other stuff while playing! The only gripes I have with the game are that damn id logo that plays every time you start up. That, and when I forget to put the disc in the drive, and it reminds me, it goes back to the main menu, rather then rechecking and continuing. That's it.

Like I said, I typed it in right the first time, and I haven't noticed it since. Anyone who's bitching about it is just bitching for the sport. Once you type it in right, YOU NEVER NOTICE IT AGAIN.

I agree with your editorial completely. I hope a working key-gen never gets made. They can pay for it like I did. It's worth a hell of a lot more than $50 bucks. Look at Q2. Folks have been playing it for two and a half years. At $50 for the cost of the game, that works out to about five and a half cents a day. Would you say Q2 was worth five and a half cents a day? I would. =-]

jesus X

And, now, finally, my favorite letter out of all of the letters we recieved on this heated subject.

From: Robert T. Baty Jr.
Subject: Q3A CD Cracks

50 bucks never killed anyone =)

Robert T. Baty Jr.

Amen brother. Time to put in my few cents. I bought Quake 1 shareware. I liked it. I found the crack on the net, and used it. Got some nice free Quake, Doom and other games. Then I got tired of them. I deleted all the games, and was content playing the shareware versions. I then bought Quake 2 when it came out, and have, as I stated above, just bought Quake 3 Arena. Not once did I think about warezing either Quake 2 or Q3A, because from my experiences, I knew I'd like them. That's not to say that I'm completely innocent. I've been known to warez games for evaluation purposes, when a demo hasn't been available. But I do think that CD-Keys are very important, and that the CD-Key system in Quake 3 Arena is the best example of copy protection in a product I have ever seen. It's terrific to see id doing this, and it sucks to see people get around it, but at least something's being done.

Hellchick: LeeMon was amazed at the amount of feedback we got from this, and he asked us to include his response to it all in this week's mailbag, so here it is:

"Wow. I still can't believe the response I got to this. Start talking about the moral implications of something many people consider a "right", and suddenly you have a war going on... ;^) I saw several good points for each side, and I'd like to see this debate go on further in the community.

Most agreed with me, especially those who have put time into their own projects. Those who opposed were still unable to present an argument valid enough to convince me. Yes, CD checks and keys are a hassle, but in the long run, they're worth it. Cracking down on game copying is the only way these restrictions will be removed. It happened once during the shareware craze of the late eighties... it can happen again. But it begins with you.

And for those of you who asked for my CD key... here it is. (wink)"

We'd like to credit MBoffin for the pic - very nice. :)

On Page 2: Nothing about CD-Keys!

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