ByteShield DRM Gets Reclaim Your Game Seal of Approval

Reclaim Your Game (RYG), a self-proclaimed DRM watchdog organization for the gaming community, released results of its testing of ByteShield and Sony SecuROM DRMs last week.  The San Francisco-based ByteShield achieved RYG’s highest rating of “End-User Friendly”  in each of eight categories, thereby meriting RYG’s Gold Seal of Approval.  SecuROM DRM, on the other hand, garnered an “End-User Friendly” rating in only one category, a “Tolerable” in another, and “Unacceptable” or “Unfriendly” in the remaining six.

RYG established itself in May 2008 in response to uproars over SecuROM in games such as Spore and Mass Effect.  It has evolved a rigorous testing methodology that rates gaming DRMs by looking for these signs of consumer-unfriendliness:

  • The DRM installs hidden files.
  • It installs without the user’s knowledge and consent.
  • It performs online hardware activations.
  • It blacklists (restricts use of) hardware and software on the user’s PC.
  • The DRM remains in the Windows Registry after uninstalling the game.
  • It “phones home” (reports data to a server without a user’s consent and/or modifies PC firewall settings).
  • It leaves DRM files behind after uninstall.
  • The vendor’s website information, customer service and tech support are unacceptable.

To earn RYG’s Gold Seal of Approval, a DRM must score over a threshold in each of the categories ranging from 80 to 100 percent.

Other major gaming DRMs including Ubisoft’s StarForce and Trymedia ActiveMark (RealNetworks) have yet to be tested.

It is truly refreshing to see an organization like this conduct what appears to be rigorous testing of the consumer-friendliness of DRMs rather than just declaring DRM to be unacceptable in any form.  RYG deserves much credit: it attracted lots of attention in its initial days with a site called “SecuROM Must Be Destroyed,” then parlayed the traffic into something of practical value for the industry instead of yet another source of cheap ranting.

The Federal Trade Commission, which held hearings on consumer labelling of DRM features last February (which RYG attended), would do well to look at what RYG is doing.  A consumer protection agency, not what appears to be an all-volunteer organization, should be doing this type of work.  The only other serious attempt I have seen to do this was the Center for Democracy and Technology’s 2006 white paper, Evaluating DRM: Building a Marketplace for the Convergent World.  But even that was a set of guidelines for reviewers and not a source of reviews itself.

ByteShield has apparently been working with the folks at RYG to design its DRM to maximize its RYG test results.  If so, that’s a good thing.  It means that RYG is becoming a representative of consumers’ interests in the market in a real, palpable way, not just through rhetoric.

3 comments

  1. Chris Brand · ·

    That’s a pretty decent list of “features”. What strikes me, though, is that five or six of the eight sound like they should be illegal, rather than just unacceptable.

    Installing software onto somebody’s machine without permission ? Hiding files there ? Deliberately leaving files or registry settings behind after the machine’s owner has uninstalled it ? Using the network without authorisation ? And “restricting the use of software on the user’s machine” could certainly fall in that category, too.

    That leaves online activation and information on the vendor’s website.

    So what exactly is the difference between software that does any of these things and a rootkit ? Why is software that does any of these things legal ?

    If I sold software to a games company that had any of these hidden “features”, I’d expect them to have me prosecuted, not give me a bad review…

  2. Yes Chris, these ‘features’ do not make anyone feel very comfortable. Unfortunately, the reason ReclaimYourGame includes them in the testing is that they are prevalent in many DRMs.

    As tested by ReclaimYourGame, ByteShield does not include any of these ‘features’ and therefore earned their Gold Seal of Approval.

  3. Chris,

    I think it’s worth pointing out that there are plenty of differences between DRM behavior that RYG flags and “rootkits.” (I was rather hoping that Jan Samzelius from ByteShield would explain this in his reply, but he didn’t, so I will.) A rootkit is a special case of files, registry entries, or firmware installed or modified on a user’s PC that make the PC a hospitable environment for viruses and other malware.

    RYG documents its testing methodology extensively; here, for example, is the 33-page document detailing the Sony SecuROM test results. RYG’s criteria do not distinguish between rootkits and other types of modifications to users’ PCs. RYG dings a DRM technology if it leaves anything behind after the game is uninstalled, and dings it harder if the files or other artifacts left behind are hidden, difficult to remove, or even unexplained in its documentation.

    So, one could argue that RYG’s criteria are broader and thus tougher than determining if a DRM installs rootkits. I suspect that’s because, among other reasons, reasonable people will disagree over what exactly a “rootkit” is, in the same way that reasonable people disagree over what is spam. Clearly, rootkits like the one installed by the First4Internet XCP DRM software included in some CDs from SonyBMG Music (now Sony Music, and a distant corporate relation to the Sony division responsible for SecuROM) are user-hostile and just plain wrong.

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