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Ken Levine And The BioShock Fracas

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As most of you know I have been doing a lot of traveling lately and unfortunately it has left me with very little time to play games. BioShock, probably the one game I have been the most excited about in years, has had to take a backseat until I could find time to play. I was able to sit back down with it today and find myself once again wandering the halls of Rapture and being reminded of what a truly remarkable game it is.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Ken Levine at E3 and a nicer guy you will never meet. He emailed me with his support during the time of our site hack and when I saw him again at the BioShock launch party he treated me like an old friend and even introduced me to his lovely wife. So when I received an email saying he wanted to talk to me while I was at PAX, I made sure to make some time to speak with him. He asked if I had heard about the flack they had been getting over the whole widescreen issue as well as the issues with the copywrite protection on the PC version. I said that I had and then he proceeded to give me his side of the story.

Now, before I go into exactly what he said, I'd like to give you my stance on these issues. In my personal opinion, the widescreen thing is a complete non-issue. The game that you are seeing on your TV, whether widescreen or 4:3, is what the artists intended for you to see. If the designers chose to give 4:3 viewers a little extra sleeve and ceiling to make up for the loss of the sides of the picture, so be it. Not seeing those bits certainly hasn't ruined my experience with the game and if someone hadn't posted that image on the internet, you would have never known what you were "missing" anyway. It all seems rather silly to me for people to refuse to purchase the game based on something so minor.

As for the PC issues, I will admit that I am not a big PC gamer, but the opportunity to load the game up to three times on two different computers seems like plenty. I mean, yes, it's an amazing game but how may computers do you really need it on? That said, I do understand the frustration of PC users who were not able to activate their game due to server overloads on launch day, but this is more of a 2K issue and not really something that has anything to do with the game itself. The other thing that really seemed to set people off was this root kit that was installed with the PC version. Well, I hate to break it to those that complained, but every game that uses Sony's copyright protection does this. So the big question is, why target this particular game when it's certainly not the first or the last that will use this method.

Like I mentioned earlier, Ken Levine is a nice guy and this niceness extends not just to people he meets in person, but to anyone who purchases and plays his game. When I spoke to him, the poor guy was supposed to be on vacation, basking in the knowledge that he had just put many years of work to rest and that people were loving it. Instead, he's scrambling around trying to satisfy the needs of some vocal, angry gamers. He did admit that the PC issues were something that shouldn't have happened and he has done everything in his power to help resolve these issues to people's satisfaction. They upgraded the install to five installations on up to five different computers which in my mind is more than generous. He also mentioned to me that it was his idea to offer the orchestral soundtrack for free download on the Cult of Rapture website. "Moby is great and all," he said, "but I didn't feel that it was what the game was about. We had such a beautiful soundtrack, it seemed a shame not to make it available."

This attitude of customer satisfaction is something that has surrounded BioShock from the beginning. From the voting by players for the contents of the Limited Edition to the added bonuses of the art book and downloadable soundtrack, the former Irrational Games has bent over backwards to accommodate gamers. Their launch party was even billed as an "appreciation" party and the guests were not just people who worked for the company, but members of the press and long time active forum members from The Cult of Rapture. Customer relations are important to them because they are important to Ken Levine.

To wrap this up, I'll just say that I think it speaks volumes about the quality and artistry of BioShock as a game that people could find nothing to complain about other than these (in most cases) minor technical issues (and non issues). Ken Levine and his crew have created a great game that people will still be talking about in ten years, long after people have forgotten these minor bumps in an otherwise smooth and beautiful road. I'm sure some of you may be thinking that only a fanboy would spend this much time soapboxing for a video game, but once you play BioShock I think you will see that the experience it gives you far outweighs any perceived notions of what you may be missing.

17 Comments

jafala said:

I do feel bad that Ken has had to bear the brunt of these issues - especially after your rave review.
However, I am concerned at the increasingly guarded route that developers are taking in PC gaming. I realize that measures need to be taken to guard your game from being pirated. However, as a consumer, I'd like to think I'd be able to have a non-limited installation (I'm often uninstalling/reinstalling games on my PC's meager disk space). Having endured the plethora of previous anti-piracy methodology (e.g. starforce's CPU crippling crapness), I think there needs to be a limit to the protection companies can put on their wares. When protection starts to affect software on a usability/quality scale, we need to stand up for our rights as a consumer.

croxis said:

I'm not fully up to speed on the exact extent of the DRM issue as I don't have any serious desire to play the game, but my understanding is this:

As a power user I often poke and fiddle with windows and, usually every 6 months, break something to the point of needed to at least reinstall it, if not reformat.

Why should I, as a legally paying customer, have to go through the hoops if I broke windows one time too many? Or more importantly, what happens if I want to install the game 10 years from now and the company no longer exists? Why should I, as a legally paying customer, hunt for and download validation cracks to play the game I legally bought?

This is in stark contrast to Supreme Commander and X3: Reunion as well as game published by Stardock (Galactic Civilization II and Sins of a Solar Empire) the former two which removed all DRM in patches and the latter who never had any to begin with and not treat their customers like potential pirates.

Maquis said:

re-installing is not theft!
paying customers are not the enemy, just because they re-install some games (or apps or whatever) a dozen times.
Keep your DRMware, and keep your game too.

...how many missed sales? might be millions...

Fruit Brute said:

I don't think anyone is saying that re-install is a crime, but the people making these games have every right to protect themselves and their hard work. One thing I forgot to mention in the article is that prior to BioShock, Ken Levine and a friend worked on game that was entirely funded by their own money. The game ended up getting pirated a week before the game came out and the sales suffered greatly because of it. The result was years of work and money lost.

I don't think you can blame developers and publishers from protecting their works in some way. Maybe we haven't hit on the most ideal way yet, but there needs to be a balance somewhere. So, millions of sales lost due to people being upset or millions lost due to people pirating a game? Which is a better scenario?

The fact of the matter is that piracy is a real problem for the industry especially since PC games are so easily ripped and then torrented. I don't think anyone can deny that piracy runs rampant on the internet and is used by many people whether they like to admit it or not. How many songs do you have on your computer or iPod that you didn't pay for?

Again, I think game makers have every right to protect their work, but I agree that some method that is satisfactory to both sides needs to be found. In many ways this is still an industry in it's infancy and right now we are experiencing some growing pains. Hopefully as the industry matures better methods of protection will surface.

asterick said:

I would like to point out that the re-install thing only affects ACTIVE installations. You're allowed to re-install the game as many times as you like, you just have to uninstall it (and receive the ticket) from the SecuROM server.

No one in their right mind should need to install Bioshock on more than 5 machines. If they do, they are pirating or giving copies to friends. Plain and simple. Two might be a little low, but they did up the number.

Are they losing money on this? Most likely not. Usually if someone says "I don't like DRM, I'm not buying it", then chances are they are out to find an illegal copy. Not to say this applies to everyone. There are several people that legitimately dislike DRM. The idea behind someone researching the security of a game before they purchase it only really comes in those two flavors.

They also said that they are not going to be leaving the SecuROM in future patches. It is just there for the "meat" period of sales.

It is inconvenient, but they do have every right to protect their IP, and they have been nothing but ingratiating to their fans since day one.

jafala said:

I don't think it's a good thing when it's implemented at the detriment of the user-level. There is no excuse for implementing a system where a finite amount of installs are in place. If rules like this become standardized, where's to say it ends? With the vast amount of wealth popular gaming industry earns, it has the monopoly in which to impose such ridiculous structures. During it's relative infancy (25ish years?), I think the PC gaming community is old enough to have established that ephemeral media is not a good thing. The amount lost by the few PC games that are available on the shelves nowadays would be a drop in the ocean. Still, the publishers do have the chance to make up the lost revenue with honest citizens who have installed Bioshock more than 5 times, eh? ;P
I have no malice to the developers in this scenario as I'm sure these matters would be imposed by the middle men involved.

BTW, great site FB - you do good work.

Matthew said:

While I agree that each company has a right to protect its intellectual property - being an aspiring photographer, I know and understand this greatly - I have a problem with the companies who are building and supplying the copy protection to these gaming companies and (almost always, now days) requiring a fix before a good number of paying customers can even play the game just once.

I don't think anyone out there can disagree with you about Bioshock being a wonderful game - and Ken and his group should be millionares for such beauty - if only to convince them to make more unique, fun, original(!!!) games. But companies like Sony and Starforce are quite illegally destroying machines. And at the same times, games like Galactic Civ II, which proudly proclaim no copy protection whatsoever - are selling millions of copies.

I hate to be the one to say it, but the industry does NOT lose millions to piracy - the majority of those pirates wouldn't pay otherwise for those games. Even today, companies like GameFly and Gametap allow anyone to play for minimal (or no) cost many new games. The tighter the security put on the games, the harder people will try to break it.

The argument today for copy protection is the weakest it's ever been. While I'm fine with wanting to limit piracy, these companies should also realize that the securoms and starforces turn many people off to buying the game altogether.

-m.

game-boi said:

"I hate to be the one to say it, but the industry does NOT lose millions to piracy - the majority of those pirates wouldn't pay otherwise for those games."

That's a total blanket assumption about the "majority of pirates", but... even if a fraction of the minority that pirated games actually bought the games in question, you *would* still see millions in sales returns (just look at the number of people using Torrentspy alone!).

TxCub420 said:

I agree with FB that these completely seem to be non-issues. It seemed like a lot of the copy protection discussion stemmed from misleading Digg articles falsely claiming rootkits were found in the demo and retail Bioshock discs. What they were finding basically was the SECURom protection service, explained best at http://www.corpnews.com/node/177

While people certainly should have their concerns heard and addressed, I hope Ken and his team keep it all in perspective. They have produced an outstanding game experience that is practically unparalleled.

MuddBstrd said:

Of course PC game makers have a right to protect their property. Unfortunately, the game makers are going so far as to treat their customers like criminals. It just makes me that much less likely to purchase a game when I have to go through more hurdles set up because the game makers expect me to be a game-ripping bootlegger.

Do the makers of Bioshock have a right to install safeguards to protect their property? Of course. But as a consumer, I'm also exercising my rights to not purchase products because they are simply not worth it. This cumbersome anti-piracy protection they've installed, on top of the game's steep system requirements, have discouraged me from purchasing it, and I know that I am not the only one who has come to the same decision.

Coherent said:

When copy protection methods infringe on the legitimate user's ability to enjoy the game that he paid full price for, they're going too far.

Limiting the number of installs is simply going to drive people TO piracy. I've bought Bioshock for the Xbox, but as we all know, the mod communities for successful games tend to be very compelling on the PC.

I was considering buying a second copy for use on my PC. However, the restrictions on installation are unreasonable considering I might be uninstalling it after playing only to re-install after the mod community produces interesting content.

Not to mention that I will undoubtably desire to install the game onto multiple hard drives should I be interested in JOINING the mod community.

As a result of the draconian copy protection on this game however... I think you can imagine what alternatives I will seek.

Why punish your biggest fans?

Fruit Brute said:

Coherent: I don't know if you read Asterick's comment above, but it has been stated that the limit does not apply if you un-install the game and then re-install it.It has also been stated that the copywrite protection will be removed via a patch once the initial sales of the game are done with.

MiBeau said:

With all the minor PC issues presently 2K Boston/Australia is addressing, please let this not be a deterrent for your decision to buy this one of a kind game. It is a must own.

Flood said:

Yes, the publisher has the right to protect his property, but not by affecting other software on my computer, or even preventing other software from working properly.

The music industry is already learning that treating the PAYING customer with respect has advantages. More and more major publishers are releasing their music catalogs without DRM. Just consider that even your grandmother could copy MP3 file illegaly -- copying a game, even one without any copy-protection, is much more difficult. I don't think that music publishers would be doing this if they didn't think they could bring in profits.

The game publisher has to pay for getting the copy protection for their games, there are licensing fees involved, the development is also more difficult because of such considerations. It costs the publisher money to do this. I don't blame the companies that make the copy-protection, be it Sony or whoever else. It is the game publisher who is to blame for seeking such nonsense.

The publisher is basically punishing people that pay for the game. I am definitely not going to be one of those people.

John said:

Stop punishing your honest customers to try to protect yourself from the dishonest people. Trust me...the dishonest people will find a way around this copy protection so all you've done is make it hard for those of us who just want to enjoy the game. Of course I got the Virus warning and then wasn't able to play the game after that. I uninstalled it and will try again this weekend but this isn't what I paid $60 for. Wake up to the world and realize you'll be making plenty of money on this game....go after thieves in ways that don't punish the honest people. Nuff said.

jeremiah said:

NEVER meet a nicer guy, Angry gamers, sounds like secret kill orders to me.
"Who will revenge me of the injuries I have sustained from one turbulent programmer?"
-King Henry II

audioeric said:

"I hate to be the one to say it, but the industry does NOT lose millions to piracy - the majority of those pirates wouldn't pay otherwise for those games. "

Wow.. Your statements are probably a good indication of the majority of immature gamers' mindsets.. Once you reach adulthood and are actually supporting yourself; joining in on the whole 'responsible person' thing, you realize that nothing is free... I'll say it again, nothing is free. There is always a cost; maybe not a direct-associative cost to you, but someone is paying.

People like a musician's work, so they download it... People want to try a game, so they download it.. They want to see a movie but think that $9.50 is too much.. There is this sick sense of entitlement that is running rampant and it's sad. Just sad. They say that if they like it, then they'll pay for it.. Because that makes WAY more sense.. Think about doing the same thing in the grocery store, or a restaurant.. You take a few bites of something and decide, eh, it was okay.. The owner comes running out to have you arrested for stealing and you say, if I liked it, I would pay for it.. Yeah, that would work..

Seriously, quit the whining, and at least look into the facts before you start in on something. If you seriously need this game on more than 5 pc's at one time, you're pirating or 'sharing'.. If you mess up your computer every 6 months because you like to tinker, then learn what you're doing or stop tinkering (or buy a mac :) ) Ken and Company made an awesome game with a great story.. They listened to their CUSTOMERS and they should be reaping the rewards, not wasting time on petty crap like this.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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