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Copy protection - how do I do?

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I want my game to be released with some kind of copy-protection, like the Aktivemark, something that needs online activation. Problem is that my game is will primarily be consting of 1 large EXE-file (and numerous other script files), and I also want to include an SDK with my game. However, if I include the SDK, it is basically the source code for whole game. The problem is that people might then easily remove the copy-protection code within the source code, them compile it and then they have a copy-protection free version they can distribute to everyone. I've thought removing the most sensitive functions and procedures from the source code that makes up the EXE-file and place them in a DLL-file. But that still doesn't solve my problem. So do anyone know how Aktivemark works? Or any other way of copy-protecting my games? Is Activemark implemented in the EXE-file?

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Quote:
Original post by dktekno
However, if I include the SDK, it is basically the source code for whole game.

There's no reason to do that, just distribute the library and header files (assuming C/C++).

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Original post by dktekno
However, if I include the SDK, it is basically the source code for whole game.

That would be a very badly designed SDK, then... The entire idea of an SDK is to not ship any source code, besides abstract interfaces in header files, and precompiled libs.

Quote:
Original post by dktekno
The problem is that people might then easily remove the copy-protection code within the source code, them compile it and then they have a copy-protection free version they can distribute to everyone.

Well, doh [grin]

Seriously, what's up with all this newb run on copy protection systems lately ? Look mate, large publishers put millions and millions of Dollars into the development of cutting edge copy protection systems, and they still get cracked within days by some Russian or Chinese cracking groups. Do you really think you can do any better, without any prior experience ?

Let's settle that once and for all, shall we ?

Implementing your own copy protection scheme is a completely futile effort. The more energy you put into making it crack-proof, the more time you'll waste. It will always be cracked, often within only a fraction of the time that you invested into developing it.

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any other way of copy-protecting my games?


Dont bother.

If your game is great and popular - it will get cracked, no matter what you do. Its a hard cold fact. Nothing ever works. Not online activations, not anything.

If your game is below average and not popular at all - there's even less need to bother with copy protection.

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Yann I can see where your comming from in respect:

Newbie uses gamedev
Newbie Pulls resources from gamedev for free
Newbie uses concepts from open source games in his/her software
Newbie becomes pro
Pro doesnt want to share what hes learned with others as he has been helped along the way

Sad but Ive found it the way of the world.

Just to try and be objective though Im guessing learning how to copy protect your game would be educational. The way I see it I would rather concentrate on making a good game and then if by some big miracle a big publisher showed interest they would probably have a team putting protection on it. If people want to do copy protection would it not be more useful to get into the conputer security side of things since any project I know of that has decent protection is done by specialists in that field that dont touch the game code.

I also agree with the above that protection is a wasted effort since you have dedicated cracking teams that have been doing it for years and software by its very nature lends itself to being reversed. Online activations are just as crackable, the only decent one I know of and its regarding multiplayer only restrictions would be steam and Im guessing people in the know will still manange to get around even the MP aspect.

Just to finally say Im not trying to cause trouble here :) thats the last thing I would want to do but you should get your project running great, put out beta tests or something then when you eventually get good feedback from the vast majority of testers , maybe then would be the time to consider such a move?

Also good luck :)

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If you're serious, sign up with Steam, and distribute your game through there.

It's as close to good copy protection as you can get.

The other option is to make a console game.

Third is to have your game run on server (actually have part of game on server only).

Anything else, here and now, is a waste of time, and will merely annoy the legit users while not providing you any safety.

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Original post by Antheus
If you're serious, sign up with Steam, and distribute your game through there.

It's as close to good copy protection as you can get.


Yeah, related to that I'm intrested to see what comes out of this Steam Works thing which Valve announced a short time back (although with virtually zero details which just annoys me...) and as to how useful it'll be for Indie game makers...

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As for Steam. Steam has been cracked over and over again and it'll be done again as long as there'll be games that people want on it. And yes you can play online on cracked servers, at some point you apparently could even play on legit servers which I found to be kinda ridiculous. Until that point I thought MP with serial key was the only somehow working copy protection but I fell in to my own trap, if it can be programmer it can be cracked.

As for copy protection overall as Yann put it, it isn't worth the effort. Even the best copy protection schemes get cracked under no time if there's enough demand for it. I've done enough reverse engineering to know that it's too easy (some really simple copy protections for educational purposes, mostly other stuff, but it's fair to say that I'm no match for the people doing that) to get what you want. As long as there has been "a war on piracy" the pirates have been winning.

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Copy protection for the most part will only stop the casual pirates, at least until a cracked version is released on a P2P network. It also has the undesirable effect of irritating honest users. Honestly, it's really not worth the time and effort. As agm_ultimatex points out some companies are releasing patches to undo some copy protection, the requiring the CD be in the drive.

ActiveMark is proprietary so Macrovision isn't very fourth coming with it's inner workings. My guess it is raps the game executable and data in encryption and uses an activation/verification scheme with Macrovision's (the parent company of TryMedia which uses ActiveMark) servers.

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If this is an online game then protection is a mute point because if it was properly designed then most of the critical features would be server sided in the first place.

If its a single player (be it rpg, fps or w/e) then who is it hurting if people want to make trainers or other hacks for the game. There is a big reason why allot of single player pc games let you type ~console or some version there of in the short cut to launch the game. This lets you basically 'hack' anything in the game you would normally use a trainer for in the first place.

I'll be honest, any time I play a single player game and beat it. I go back and play again with the console. If the game doesn't have a console feature i hack the hell out of it until i have all the features that the console would have given me in the first place.

Why do i do this. Because its fun to put the game on 'nightmare mode' and run trough it in a couple of hours with all weapons, inf ammo and god mode. Why not i bought the game, I beat the game. Why not have fun with it.

The point is i like many people got into programming by reverse engineering other games. I have cracked almost ever 'protection' type out there. Including game guard. And if i could do it when i didn't know jack about programming then what is stopping expert programmers from doing it to your game.

Protect your files (maps, characters, textures etc) by using your own compression or file types. But if people want to get to them they will too. But people don't normally mess with that stuff anyway.

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Quote:
Original post by Feralrath
Protect your files (maps, characters, textures etc) by using your own compression or file types. But if people want to get to them they will too. But people don't normally mess with that stuff anyway.
Well that's one of the areas I did get in to while I did more reverse engineering and I'd dare to say most custom encryptions are variations of commonly known encryptions in which case they're piece of cake. If people come up with their own it's still easy a) you can see how the code decrypts it b) it probably isn't as good as proven encryptions. All encryptions have weaknesses, the ones that have been around the longest and are still good are good encryption algorithms they're the ones that have stood up to the test of time and still hold their ground.

And yea people do mess with that stuff too if they're required, if they can fool the software to do it for them then no (if we're talking about cracking, people will mess with anything for fun [smile]).

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Online verification is good base for copy protection.
MMO's benefits from this, there is no way to crack a mmo, since you really need an online account AND main part of the game (playability) is on the server.
So having only the client won't be enough.

Now, for single player game (or applications), one could adopt the above system and have the users to authenticate against a server. Since people could remove the protection on the client side, you should have some important parts running on the server, then the only way to remove copy protection is to set up a server which simulates the behaviour of the real server.

This is what i did for my application, online authentication and running some critical code parts on the server (loading an encrypted DLL from server into the memory).
So the only working copy protection is to make a hacker's life hard to "break" your protection.

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Quote:
Online verification is good base for copy protection.
MMO's benefits from this, there is no way to crack a mmo, since you really need an online account AND main part of the game (playability) is on the server.
So having only the client won't be enough.


This is only true as long as you host the server in a secure environment.
If you don't want to host all servers then it's just a matter of days before cracked server versions shows up. Need I say that it's quite expensive to provide servers for a wide user base.

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