You hear them whine and complain. PIRACY IS KILLING THE GAMING INDUSTRY.
Yet they’re more than happy to take the community’s supposedly illegal work and make money from the pirates.
The regressive, malignant, and increasingly unproductive Rockstar Games has revealed just how hypocritical and immoral they truly are.
What am I talking about? Well, it was revealed by GTA content creator Vadim M that Rockstar has been selling illegally cracked copies of Manhunt and Max Payne 2 through Steam.
Think about that for a second. Rockstar Games. Subsidiary of Take Two. These are two of the most hardline anti-piracy companies in the gaming industry. They cited the DMCA multiple times to take down the community made reverse engineered port of classic GTA games. Ports that only financially benefited them.
That same company violated the DMCA – against their own products – in order to allegedly make illegal copies of their own games commercially available through Steam.
Let me say that again. Rockstar Games has (allegedly) been selling illegal copies of their games through Steam. Those are some pretty bold claims, but I’m here to tell you that the evidence is pretty strong.
And the details are pretty damning. So first of all, Manhunt is a game created by Rockstar that had two layers of copy protection. The first is SecuROM which required you to have the game’s original disc in your CD drive in order to play the game. Yes. This game is that old.
The second is custom anti-crack protection that makes the game unplayable if SuckuROM is not detected in the game’s executable.
Back in 2004, when the game was first released, the cracking group Razer 1911 was able to produce a crack that essentially removed SecuROM DRM while tricking the game’s anti-crack protection into thinking it was still there. Essentially, the custom anti-crack protection was left untouched because it couldn’t detect that SecuROM had been removed.
That was until Windows Vista, when additional security features in the OS allowed the game to detect that cracked executables had had SecuROM removed.
At the time, Manhunt had been made available on Steam, and people started to notice that the game wasn’t working properly on Windows Vista. Doors wouldn’t open. Levels wouldn’t load properly. Save files were being corrupted…
Well, in 2010, a headline set the internet ablaze when people noticed that the logo for another cracking group MYTH existed in the executable file for Max Payne 2. Why would that be there unless Rockstar was distributing a cracked version of Max Payne 2 through Steam?
And following that, Rockstar renamed Max Payne 2’s original EXE to testapp.exe and distributed another version of the executable. And a few days later, they did the same thing to Manhunt.
So Manhunt’s testapp.exe contains an
RzR watermark when looking at the executable in a hex editor. Later on in the same file, we see “Razor 1911: Sharper than a blade, or your money back!”
What does this all mean? Well, assuming everything we’ve seen here is true, it means that Rockstar Games have been selling illegally cracked copies of their games on Steam over a decade.
And since so many gamers who legitimately purchased Manhunt have experienced these anti-crack measures that deliberately break the game, I think we can assume this is the case.
But it goes even further. See, game modder and reverse engineering legend Silent got to wondering: has Rockstar done this with other titles? The answer: it seems so.
Silent analyzed Midnight Club II, which is a game that’s no longer for sale on Steam, and found that the Steam version also includes a testapp.exe
When he opened that up in a hex editor, wouldn’t ya know… there was evidence that it was yet another illegal RAZOR 1911 crack.
Now, it’s pretty hypocritical of Rockstar to sell illegally cracked copies of their games. But honestly, the hypocrisy here is the least of my concerns.
No, what’s worse is that according to the DMCA it’s illegal to distribute cracked copies. It shouldn’t matter if you own the copyright to the work or not. A crack is a crack. It’s an circumvention of a technological measure that controls a work. And… according to 17 US Code Section 1201:
No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title
It’s plain as day. It seems to me like Rockstar broke the law here. They commercially distributed (and continue to commercially distribute) cracked versions of their software. They are continuing to expose Steam to some pretty extreme liability, too.
Am I calling for Valve to de-list all Rockstar and Take Two titles from Steam? No. But should law enforcement hold Rockstar and Take Two criminally liable for the kind of activity that these two companies would press charges over? Absolutely.
The thing is, though? This is barely scratching the surface. See, as it turns out, all these AAA gaming companies comprise an immoral, disreputable, and corrupt industry that needs to have serious regulation imposed.
Now if you were naive, you would expect that companies like Microsoft and Sony and even Nintendo would have higher standards than the likes of Rockstar and Take Two, but you’d be wrong.
Nintendo, specifically says on their website:
Can I Download a ROM If I Own the Original Game?
No, downloading ROMs from direct download sites, linking sites or other illegal sources, even when you own a copy of the video game, is not allowable under the Copyright Act.
Yet back in 2017, Eurogamer analyzed the Wii Virtual Console’s release of Super Mario Bros and found that it contained identical ROM headers to those found in so-called pirated copies of ROMs freely distributed online.
So not even Nintendo have clean hands here. This is just the tip of the iceberg and these companies need to have a come-to-Jesus moment. They can’t keep pretending they’re the victim of people downloading their old, de-listed games for free while also monetizing the very activity they claim is illegal and hurting them.
These companies want to say that “piracy” is killing the industry, but their antics here prove the opposite.
“Piracy” is CRUCIAL for the preservation of video game history. These companies use pirate tools because they’re too lazy to do the hard work of game preservation on their own.
As such, it’s up to us to maintain legacy software support into the future. And while Rockstar and Take-Two want to opportunistically use and abuse their loyal fans by their own fickle whims, the fact is: they need us more than we need them.
I’m so sick of the whole industry. The gambling, the unethical monetization, the corruption. And that’s where you come in. What can be done about this?