Origin, Electronic Arts’ online store and license-check-in system is a hilarious study in how to build a platform to serve legitimate customers and identify infringing copies of the game that both inhibits legitimate customers and misidentifies what is an infringing copy of a game. Add to this the fact that the Origin platform has in the past been found to be in and of itself a massive security exploit and one wonders how the service is still around today. But around it most certainly is, and still screwing with legitimate customers, too, as a group attempting to run benchmark tests on EA’s Battlefield Hardline found out.
Guru 3D writer Hilbert Hagedoorn has discovered some pernicious DRM in Battlefield Hardline while attempting to do a “VGA graphics performance” test with the game for a feature article (thanks Blue’s News). Apparently the DRM monitors hardware changes – something Hagedoorn was doing a lot of when testing different cards with the game – and when it hits a certain threshold it locks the user out of the game.
“Here’s what EAs DRM is doing,” Hagedoorn writes. “They don’t just verify the number of PCs you work on slash use, nope .. they dare to monitor hardware changes now, which I am sure is a privacy breach on many levels. So once we insert new hardware (graphics cards) the hardware id # hash changes and if that happens a couple of times they are rendering your activation invalid.”
For the record, EA has already responded to Game Politics with a wonderfully silly answer: it ain’t our DRM, it’s the Origin DRM, yo!
“Origin authentication allows players to install a game on up to five different PCs every 24 hours,” the EA spokesperson told us this morning. “Players looking to benchmark more than five hardware configurations in one 24 hour period can contact our Customer Support team who can help.”
Hoo-boy, EA, that’s quite a trip of a rebuttal, considering Origin is your platform and the check-in system you’re describing is in fact a form of DRM. So a statement that essentially boils down to, “It wasn’t our game DRM, it was our platform DRM!” is absolutely useless. Is the Origin authentication that lets customers install on five different machines in a day fairly lenient as these things go? Sure, except for a couple of things. First, it clearly doesn’t work all that well, since simply swapping out a GPU suddenly counts as a whole new machine. Second, why have this restriction at all? If your platform can’t be relied upon to properly determine legitimate copies of games, then ditch the platform. Don’t back that failure up by annoying paying customers with restrictions designed to buttress your failed attempts.
But all of that may end up being besides the point, because Hagedoorn’s early point is the key: why is EA sniffing around our hardware configurations? The company had damned well better be sure that there is something in the EULA that allows for them to sniff out hardware swaps, something quite common amongst PC gamers, nevermind benchmarkers. But even if the EULA allows for this… what the hell?