Why Starforce Sucks: DRM CSR Idiot Pirates

A brief history: for those of you who aren’t into video games, you might not have heard about Starforce, a Russian company that has become infamous amongst the gaming community for an extremely invasive and draconian copyright protection system that has, according to numerous forum posts, completely broken many customer’s computers. Starforce denies these claims and smugly mention that they recently held a contest for $10,000 dollars to prove in their office that Starforce breaks systems. According to them, no one won. The problem? They required you to demonstrate it in some Muscovite office complex, under their supervision. We doubt many people were twitching to fly to Russia just to lose a $10,000 bet on some dreamed-up technicality.

But we digress. Recently, Stardock Software released their video game Galactic Civilization 2 and decided to perform an experiment: they wouldn’t alienate buyers with copy protection schemes, but simply trust them to pay for a good game. According to Stardock, this has worked out extremely well for them, and numerous people have written telling them they have specifically bought their product just to send a strong anti-DRM message.

In response to this, Starforce did something so sleazy it boggles the mind. They actually pirated Galactic Civilization 2 and then posted a list of torrent sites where one could warez the game. Their point is about as reprehensible and idiotic as you’d expect: without DRM, people can pirate Galactic Civilization 2.

No fucking shit, assholes — we hate to break it to you, but you can pirate Starforce games too. The only people copy protection systems like Starforce prevent from warezing software are casual pirates — guys burning a CD for their pals. The organized piracy movements will crack almost any system within hours.

Anyway, that’s the brief history. Now sit back for reader David S.’s excellent email, in which he talks about some of the above and details a truly atrocious customer service exchange with Starforce that has caused him to vow never to buy another product using the system again. We’re not surprised — it’s like reading an infinite recursion of idiocy.

David’s email after the jump…

Dear Kotaku and the Consumerist,

I’m a regular reader of both your blogs (websites? purveyors of fine news?), and though I’m not usually the type to weight in, I feel strongly about the good and the bad (oh so bad) headlines recently circulating about copy protection.

You’ve probably heard the news about StarDock’s excellent sales for GalCiv 2, despite- or because of- its lax copy-protection scheme, and about StarForce’s rather unprofessional (illegal?) response to their success (http://forums.galciv2.com/?ForumID=161&AID=106741). I won’t rant about how every pirated copy is not equivalent to a lost sale, or rave about how pirated copies actually introduce people to game and induce some to buy it. There’s argument enough for both points but not enough conclusive evidence for either.

The new and interesting point here is that a serial number is not required to activate the game, though it is necessary for updates and patches. Normally a serial key provides both activation and updates, but in this case Stardock has seperated the pirate monkeys who quickly grow bored of the game from the pirate monkeys who may actually want to pay for the added value to the basic game.

Pirates crack games for fun (sticking it to the Man) or profit. Stardock’s garnered a lot of goodwill for what they’ve done so the former is unlikely (although the fine folk at StarForce have stopped one step short of that). Second- where’s the profit in cracking a game that doesn’t need to be cracked? A lot of warez is dodgy in the first place; who’s gonna risk sending their credit card info to the Russian Mafia just for some patches?

Speaking of the Russian Mafia, StarForce is a prefect example of how to a) prevent legitimate paying customers from running the game, b) imply they’re pirates, and c) have them swear off buying any game with StarForce (such as the upcoming HoMM V). By “legitimate paying customers,” I mean “me.” (I added a copy of the whole sordid exchange below, if you’re morbidly curious, but would appreciate if you removed any identifying info before using it.) I bought an import copy of Space Rangers 2 from gogamer, registered the game, and StarForce kept me from running it on my computer. It worked fine on my dad’s laptop, and I don’t appreciate being called a pirate when StarForce can’t figure out what the problem was. Maybe that’s how they can claim legitimate users have no problems- imply everyone else is a piriate (http://www.firingsquad.com/features/starforce_interview/page4.asp). The really Kafkaesque thing is, I could’ve just downloaded a pirated version to begin with, or downloaded a crack to run my copy of it…

Anyway, it seems Stardock has struck the right balance in their bold new experiment (treating the end-users decently! gasp!), and I wish them success. Instead of clinging to their IP and living in the past like music companies, they’ve accepted reality and found a working solution for it.

Cheers,
David

The Whole Sordid Exchange (from the bottom up)

Hi Yvonne,

Can you generate a new rescue key since the old one didn’t work? I’m not sure what he means by “licensed CD is not inserted into customer’s drive”- the DVD is in my external drive when I run the program, and I purchased the game from gogamer.com, which I assume sells licensed copies of your game. The order number is 058-0220973-0406151; their number is 888-948-9661 or 949-609-1680. You can confirm my purchase with them, and check your records to see that I have registered my product. I appreciate all your efforts so far, but this is becoming frustrating- all I want to do is use the product I purchased weeks ago!

Thank you,
David

Yvonne Williams wrote:

Yvonne Williams
Contact Sales Ltd
Customer Services Manager
01869 338428

For product information: http://www.contact-simulations.com

From: StarForce Support – Abramov Anton [mailto:support@star-force.com]
Sent: 16 February 2006 11:46
To: yvonnew
Subject: RE: [TRACK-0000007640] RE: Space Rangers Customer

Hello Edward,
This error takes a place when registered profile for entered rescue key was not found.
You can solve this problem by generate a new rescue key.
By the way, licensed CD is not inserted into customers drive.

Best regards,
————————————
Anton Abramov
Customer Support Group
StarForce Technologies
———————————–
+7 495 967 14 53
ICQ# 303596863
MSN: anton.abramov@star-force.com
————————————
The information of this letter is confidential and must not be disclosed to third persons

—– Original Message —–
From: Excalibur
To:
Sent: 16 February 2006
Subject: [TRACK-0000007640] RE: Space Rangers Customer

Hi Kirill

Thanks for helping us. Unfortunately the customer is still having a problem, as the old rescue key I generated seems not to work if I generate a new rescue key would this solve the problem or do you have any suggestions?

Thanks.

Best regards

Edward

From: David S [mailto:blah@blah.com]
Sent: 15 February 2006 23:46
To: Yvonne Williams
Subject: Re: FW: [TRACK-0000007640] RE: Space Rangers Customer

Thank you for your reply. Holding down the shift key does allow me to enter the key. However, reentering the original key changes nothing, while entering the rescue key generates this message:

ERROR: Failed locating the product authorization information in the system registry. Verify the Disc Key or press the “Information” button to obtain a new Activation Key.

The information should be in the registry as I’ve reinstalled it several times… I’m really not sure what else I can do. I’ve run “Information” again and have attached the data. Any further guidance would be appreciated.

Yvonne Williams wrote:

From:< /B> StarForce Support – Kirill Lazarev [mailto:support@star-force.com]
Sent: 15 February 2006 11:15
To: yvonnew
Subject: [TRACK-0000007640] RE: Space Rangers Customer

Hello ,
For some reasons we didn’t receive this email from you. In order to enter the rescue key, the user should run the game holding down the key Shift pressed.

Best regards,
Kirill Lazarev
Customer Support Group
StarForce Technologies

ICQ#135762596
MSN: shumba@inbox.ru
Tel: +7 495 967 14 53

The information of this letter is confidential and must not be disclosed to third persons!

—– Original Message —–
From: Excalibur To:
Sent: 15 February 2006
Subject: Space Rangers Customer

Hi

I sent this email las t week, I’ve been away on business and wonder if I missed your reply…

Best regards

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I wonder if you can help us. We are using StarForce Professional to protect Space Rangers 2. A customer is having problems with his key. Basically we generated a recovery key but he is not getting the opportunity to enter it.

The Story…

===============================================
However, after installing it and entering the registry key correctly, Star Force w ould not let me launch the game! StarForce tells me to “insert the Space Rangers disk into another drive and retry”- but this is impossible, as the DVD drive on my laptop is broken. The external drive I used to install SpaceRangers is apparently forbidden to launch Space Rangers. I tried reinstalling the game but I am still locked out of playing it.

Any help would be appreciated. Below is the information Star Force generated.

—————————— Information ——————————

[Error Information]
Code: Z7KBX-E6QP8-PC4AJ-NNE7Y-56QN6
Key: N8MF6-86QVE-ENMNH-E542E-YHXJ2
3.4.76.0; 3120; ES: 10003, F, C, 1002E, 183, 1002D, 10028, 1000A, 10006, 10005, 10004, 10002, 1, 10003, F, C, 1002E, 183, 1002D, 10028, 1000A, 10006, 10005, 10004, 10002, 1, 10003, 0

[Protected Product Information]
CompanyName = Contact Sales
ProductName = Space Rangers
BuildSignature = 3.04.076.000, 16.05.05
ProductGuid = {CE8622B9ABE0DFA54B2600197D0723C8}
BuildGuid = {586cb0ec-c7d0-412d-a242-de513518f5dd}

[Report Information]
ReportDateTime = Wednesday, Februa ry 01, 2006 16:55 PM
ClientTimeZone = Pacific Standard Time
ClientTimeBias = 480

[System Information]
System Information was not obtained because of “msinfo32″ execution error.
===============================================

From this I generated a recovery key…

G55C5-J5SVH-D587T-ST6D4-R7H8U

Unfortunately he is not able to enter it…

===============================================
Hi

Thank you for your prompt response. Unfortunately, I can’t get to your step 4.. Here is a rundown of what happens:

1. I insert the disk into the external drive
2. The autorun menu appears (install SR 2 or 1 or exit); I select SR 2
3. I select “Run” from the SR 2 menu
4. StarForce protection appears, and it checks the disc
5. I get a message saying “Insert the Space Rangers disc into another drive then press ‘Retry’ “; menu options are Retry, Information, and Exit
6. I hit Retry, which leads to a loop of 4. and 5. Information just gathers my system information, and Exit exits.

So I can’t get the window with the old key to appear to enter the rescue key, your step 4. I have tried to uninstall and reinstall the game a few times, in addition to using the program sfdrvrem to remove the StarForce system and hopefully create a fresh install. The really strange thing is, after each install there is no chance to enter any key, just the situation above.

Any further help would be appreciated.

===============================================

Any suggestions?

Best regards

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We apologise for the delay. We are chasing Starforce for a reply

Yvonne Williams
Contact Sales Ltd
Customer Services Manager
01869 338428

For product information: http://www.contact-simulations.com

From: David S [mailto:blah@blah.com]
Sent: 14 February 2006 23:31
To: Yvonne Williams
Subject: Re: FW: FW: Follow up

Hello Yvonne,

Sorry to seem impatient, but have you any word from your contact? I hope your company will reconsider using StarForce in the future. If I had known all of this would have happened, I certainly wouldn’t haven’t purchased this product. Who ever heard of a copy protection system locking out legitimate users?

Yvonne Williams wrote:

Hi

We’ve sent your info over to our contact at StarForce to see if they have a solution. Will write to you once we hear from them.

Sorry for the hassle.

From: David S [mailto:blah@blah.com]
Sent: 03 February 2006 20:31
To: Yvonne Williams
Subject: Re: FW: Follow up

Hi Yvonne,

Thank you for your prompt response. Unfortunately, I can’t get to your step 4. Here is a rundown of what happens:

1. I insert the disk into the external drive
2. The autorun menu appears (install SR 2 or 1 or exit); I select SR 2
3. I select “Run” from the SR 2 menu
4. StarForce protection appears, and it checks the disc
5. I get a message saying “Insert the Space Rangers disc into another drive then press ‘Retry’ “; menu options are Retry, Information, and Exit
6. I hit Retry, which leads to a loop of 4. and 5. Information just gathers my system information, and Exit exits.

So I can’t get the window with the old key to appear to enter the rescue key, your step 4. I have tried to uninstall and reinstall the game a few times, in addition to using the program sfdrvrem to remove the StarForce system and hopefully create a fresh install. The really strange thing is, after each install there is no chance to enter any key, just the situation above.

Any further help would be appreciated.

Sincerely,
David S.

Yvonne Williams wrote:
Hi

Sorry you are having problems with the StarForce protection system that is used on Space Rangers 2. Thanks for sending us the error report, for some reason StarForce is having problems reading the DVD in your external drive, however by sending us your error report we have generated a Rescue Key for StarForce.

G55C5-J5SVH-D587T-ST6D4-R7H8U

So…

1. Place the Space Rangers DVD into your DVD drive and try and run the game again.
2. If the DVD disc check doesn?t pass and the error message appears.
3. Hit the “Retry” button.
4. The window with the old key appears.
5. Input the Rescue Key instead of the normal disc key and hit “Check”.

Note: The Rescue Key is unique for each computer. If the Rescue Key generated for one computer is used to run the application on another computer, an error message about the wrong key will appear.
Hopefully this will resolve the problem.

————————————————-

From: David S [mailto:blah@blah.com]
Sent: 02 February 2006 02:00
To: yvonnew
Subject: Follow up

More specifically, StarForce tells me to “insert the Space Rangers disk into another drive and retry”- but this is impossible, as the DVD drive on my laptop is broken. The external drive I used to install SpaceRangers is apparently forbidden to launch Space Rangers. I tried reinstalling the game but I am still locked out of playing it. Right now it appears I have paid $40 for nothing except frustration.

It angers me that I cannot use the product that I’ve paid for. Attached is the full “system information” scan that StarForce collected. I hope you can help me solve the problem, or at least refund my purchase. Thanks.

Dear Support,

I was very excited about Space Rangers after reading reviews about it and immediately ordered an UK Import copy from gogamer.com. However, after installing it and entering the registry key correctly, Star Force would not let me launch the game! Any help would be appreciated. Below is the information Star Force generated.

Dear User!

This file contains detailed information on the problem occurred.
Save the file and forward it to your product Customer Support.
E-mail: support@excalibur-publishing.com
Web page: http://www.excalibur-publishing.com
Phone: 01869 345928

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Paul D says:

    I don’t know of any crack or warez groups that advocate piracy. Almost all of them admonish the user “if you like it, buy it!” when you install any software they’ve cracked.

    It’s important to distinguish them from the street-corner CD/DVD bootlegger.

  2. AcidReign says:

    …..What’s likely happened is that the copy protection thing that’s installed is a rootkit, and it has permanently locked the game from ever playing off that drive. It MIGHT be fixable by unplugging the drive, removing the drive in Device Manager, then reinstalling the drive.

    …..More likely, it’s a back-up, format the C: drive, and reinstall everything situation. The copy protection folks probably don’t want to give out enough info so that a home-user could actually bypass the protection!

  3. BenP says:

    …seems like yet another reason to abandon PCs (and Macs) as gaming platforms. At least my Xbox doesn’t ask for a serial number. Yet. I do miss the red cellophane paper and decoding words on page 22 of the instructions to install games though.