Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Games which use a CD-key include Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
Games which require online activation include Company of Heroes.
Games that set an activation limit include Mirror's Edge, Crysis and Spore.
Services such as Steam and Origin are examples of account-based DRM.
Games that require a constant internet connection include Diablo III.
OnLive is an example of cloud-based gaming.
GOG.com is a popular website which only sells DRM-free games. GamersGate also offers a substantial DRM-free catalogue.
One of the most common and longest enduring forms of DRM, SecuROM uses a variety of methods to verify the integrity of a game, as well as preventing disc burning of protected material. It is used on both physical media and digital downloads. SecuROM installs silently on a computer, and monitors certain system behavior, preventing the game from running if it finds anything suspicious. It must be manually removed from the computer with the Removal Tool if you decide to stop using the game and no longer want the DRM.
Another older DRM, StarForce has changed several times over the years. StarForce provides many of the functions of other DRM software, but installs itself as a driver on your computer. This along with a number of purported hardware and software issues made StarForce very controversial, and lead to a decline in its use due to user complaints.
See Update/Remove driver for removal details. If the game uses online activation remember to deactivate the license prior to removing the driver.
Some older StarForce versions are not supported on newer versions of Windows; see Technical support for end-users for details.
Offline features can be used with a local profile without entering a key or activating the game (any additional DRM such as SecuROM will still require online activation). A few games do not support local profiles (e.g. Bulletstorm).
Online features are only available in Xbox LIVE Countries and Regions and require a Microsoft account and online activation. Games with Server-Side Activation (SSA) ties the product key to the Microsoft account (no install limit) while the Legacy method has an activation limit (see the List of Games for Windows - LIVE games for game-specific details).
TAGES, like StarForce, installs itself as a driver on your computer. Tages uses multiple methods to prevent copying.
Use the Tages 5.5 Drivers to remove or update the TAGES drivers.
Uplay games require a client and login to play. Some games also require a constant internet connection (even for single player).
DRM is required by many games, which will not run if the DRM is removed. Removing DRM while these games are installed is not recommended; in some cases, running the game will reinstall the DRM. Circumventing DRM is illegal in some countries (unless you have the developer/publisher's consent). However, there are circumstances where it is possible, legal, and advisable to remove DRM.
If you uninstall all software related to the DRM, the DRM can typically be removed safely. Many DRM companies provide a removal tool, other programs can be uninstalled directly.
Occasionally a developer will remove DRM from a game with a patch after a long period of time. Patching the game in these cases is a legitimate way of running the game without DRM. For example, Civilization IV: Beyond The Sword was eventually patched to remove DRM and CD checks from the game, and the Civilization IV series was re-released as a DRM-Free game soon after.
Used software is very susceptible to anti-piracy measures. A number of problems can occur when buying used games, due to DRM or copy protection.
DRM presents an issue for long term games collectors as it can lead to games becoming completely locked out as CD-keys are lost, studios close or withdraw support, or online services discontinued. This can be resolved by studios issuing a patch that removes the DRM, though not all studios do this.
Another historic problem with DRM software is unexpected hardware and software problems. For example, early versions of StarForce sometimes caused strange behavior in optical drives, occasionally making Windows unable to detect and access CD-ROMs.
Online activated DRM, present in games such as Spore means that the game becomes useless when support for the servers is withdrawn. Existing installations may continue to function, but new installations will no longer function.
DRM is rarely disclosed on packaging, and is installed silently on computers, sometimes without user consent. Many people as an effect do not know they have DRM software installed on the computer. Some DRM installs in critical system areas (such as "Ring-0 DRM"), a behavior typically used by malicious software due to the control it allows over a system.
DRM also has potential to malfunction, flagging a legitimate game as pirated. For instance, The Battle For Middle Earth had a copy protection system that looked for signs of pirating that was known to trigger on legitimate installs, causing all the characters to die randomly. The only fix was to uninstall and reinstall the game.
The nature of DRM also makes resale of computer software difficult, in some cases impossible, which conflicts with the First Sale Doctrine many nations follow.
Purposefully deactivating or disabling DRM without permission of the rights holder may be illegal in some countries.
DRM tends to stay on a computer after the related software is removed, sometimes requiring a special tool to remove. Most people are unaware that the DRM remains on their computer. Removing DRM while a game is installed typically breaks the game.
Online-based DRM can be revoked by any reason. Also, online-based DRM has potential for errors and is susceptible to abuse from piracy. For instance, pirated/keygen produced install keys can be registered, meaning the legitimate keys are flagged as invalid. Some games have a history of key banning for trivial reasons. The problem of falsely revoked keys is particularly noticeable on Spore.
DRM may contain security vulnerabilities, as revealed in the Uplay DRM backdoor.