Code wheel? ...But I downloaded the game! DAMN IT!
When a player purchases a videogame, how does the developer prevent them from simply making an illicit copy of the software and giving it away to a friend? Unlike physical merchandise (such as books), videogames exist as electronic data, which is quite easy to make perfect copies of.
This has been a concern for gamemakers even from the start, so throughout the years they've come up with a variety of ways to verify that whoever is playing their game has fronted the proper cash for that privilege. A few examples:
- "Key disc" method: The game prompts the user to insert their authentic installation or game disc, checking for some kind of identifying signature that they've carefully hidden in the disc format itself, in a way that would not (generally) be preserved when the player simply makes an electronic copy of the software code and files.
- "The Dongle": A variant of the "Key Disc" method mostly found on professional and enterprise level software, although it's starting to see use in consumer games as well (ie Steel Beasts Pro PE and the DJMax Trilogy). Software that uses this method will only run if said dongle (either USB or Parallel port) is present, and presents an error message followed by immediately quitting if the dongle is absent. Another variant of this is that the software is tied down to a particular piece of hardware and will not run if the hardware is absent (ie copies of Nero Burning ROM Professional bundled with certain CD writers).
- Passphrase method: The game prompts a user to input a word or phrase from a specified page of the game's manual, trusting that only legal owners have a copy of that. Another form is a "code wheel": a set of physical cardboard or plastic wheels that have to be dialed to the specified settings (somewhat like a combination lock or a decoder ring) to reveal the answer that the game wants.
- Puzzle method: As a more subtle, elaborate version of the above, the player encounters an in-game puzzle that is generally not solvable without supplementary clues and information included either in the game's manual or its Feelies.
- Activation: The software key is registered and paired with your computer's hardware somehow. On first install, information about your computer is sent back to the developers, and on subsequent installs the information is checked and you're blocked from proceeding if the information doesn't add up. Privacy concerns aside, this method is gaining ground on every single piece of software in the market, from Operating Systems (infamously, Windows' activation) to productivity (much of Adobe's, AutoDesk's and Microsoft's wares use it) to even consumer games (the download version of all of Pop Cap's titles).
Unfortunately, all of the above methods are beatable (sometimes trivially), slightly intrusive on the end user, and if they malfunction they can even lock a legitimate player out of their own game. Instruction manuals can be photocopied (despite efforts to make this difficult) or just plain lost, physical game discs age and eventually go bad (making perfectly-legal archival/personal backup copies won't help if the game uses a key-disc method), and so on. Sometimes, a method becomes viewed as so intrusive that the player may simply choose to avoid running the game at all.
This has resulted in something of a vicious cycle between game publishers and unlicensed copying ("piracy
"), where when one copy-protection system is cracked or beaten, the publisher must switch to (or create) another, stronger method, which is itself beaten (sometimes quickly), and so on. Where does it end?
In the early days, the physical game media itself (game cartridges, CD-ROM) was sufficient to ensure that it was a legal copy, on the grounds that the equipment to produce them was difficult (if not impossible) for the general public to obtain. This is no longer the case these days, especially with the Internet where it's fairly easy to find not just downloadable copies (legal or otherwise) of the software itself, but any and all of the pass phrases, manual clues, or the entire solution to a copy-protection puzzle.
The Internet itself has brought the latest version of copy protection: Client-server verification, where the player is the "client" and their legal right to play the game is recorded on a central server database. The server is the central authority on who is (and by extension, is not) allowed to play the game, and can easily verify this with any given client, either during the game's initial installation or first time startup, or sometimes every time the game is run. While this comes naturally to certain genres (i.e. MMORPG
), it can be a problem for others; for example, even if the game doesn't have any online features, it may still refuse to run without an Internet connection, or if (for any reason) the central servers are down.
See also Digital Piracy Is Evil
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- Infogrames' original Alone in the Dark series had this, and notably ratcheted it up in the second game. The first required two objects from the game to be entered, which was already saying something given the large number of one-use clutter. The second, however, was a bit more complex. When you entered the first screen, it had a message something along the lines of "Protection Ace of Hearts over Three of Clubs First Hole". This could be disregarded, and if one tried to enter the hedge maze without inputting a code with the F keys, the game would say "YOU DIDN'T ANSWER THE QUESTION" and smite you. It turned out the manual told what the question is, and the game came with a number of hole-punched playing cards. Only by correctly laying the cards over each other and examining a hole could you figure out the required code to get on with it.
- The DOS game Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse featured copy-protection in the form of a question whose answer you needed to look up on a page in the manual in order to start playing. Not only does it give you the page of the manual and what number word it is, it also gives you the heading of that section of the manual and the first letter of the word. Unfortunately, one of the copy-protection questions used an answer that was directly related to the heading and extremely easy to guess: "On page 19, under the heading Sound, enter the ninth word: (first letter is m)" (unsurprisingly, the answer is "music"). If you answered the question wrong, it would simply let you try again with a different question as many times as you wanted, so even if you lost the manual it was easy to just cycle through the questions until you got one you knew or could figure out the answer to (not to mention having the first letter of the words made brute force guesswork much easier).
- Interplay games also has this form of copy protection, albeit less forgiving (it only bluntly tells you to look at the manual page and word number, with no other hints). Interplay's DOS port of The Lion King and Aladdin are among the offenders.
- In The Bard's Tale Trilogy:
- In the original game, the actual spells you cast used magic words that you had to type in, and were present only in the manual and never given in the game (you would see only the 'thematic' name of the spell in-game, not the magic word used to order your characters to cast it.) This made playing the game without the manual extremely difficult. Most ports of the games made the spells selectable by menu, eliminating this issue.
- Also in the original game, whenever you leveled up, the Review Board would ask you to name a street in the city. The map that came with the game had the streets misspelled - the Grand Plaza was labeled "GRAN PLAZ", and Hawk Scabard was labeled "HAWK SCABBARD". You had to use the map's spelling to pass; if you didn't have the map, you could never get past the first level.
- The third game of the trilogy, Thief Of Fate, had dimension-hopping as a crucial plot point. In order to travel from the main world to one of the seven other dimensions, the player had to not only cast the correct spell (see above), but then input the correct number from a three-layer card stock disc included with the game, similar to the Disney example given in this trope's description.
- The BattleTech PC game, The Crescent Hawks' Inception, had two series of copy protection: one early on in the game, when you had to look up (or memorize) different Battlemech components to continue training at the Academy in your ersatz Doomed Hometown, and one very near the end, where you had to look up some stuff on a star chart in order to get your father's Phoenix Hawk Land-Air Mech (AKA VF-1J Valkyrie, but that's another trope). Woe betide you if you lost the physical copy of the star chart.
- The Carmen Sandiego games each shipped with a large tome: a copy of that year's World Almanac and Book of Facts, a history book or Fodor's guide, from which information could be requested. Several problems occurred with this: although it was intended to get kids interested in using an almanac, it wouldn't help if the book was lost at school, or if some schools used a newer edition of Fodor's (which meant that none of the hints corresponded to the correct pages, meaning going up in rank was impossible).
- In the first Civilization game, there would be two instances in the early parts of the game where you had to look up a civilization advance in the manual: you were shown a picture of a random one, then given a large set of multiple-choice answers of which two advances were its direct prerequisites. (The in-game justification was that "A usurper claims you are not the rightful king!") If you were wrong, you lost all the military units you had outside of your cities.
- Ironically, all the advances were also documented in the in-game "Civilopedia" (though it was, of course, inaccessible during the challenge), and even if you didn't read that, the answers could often be worked out logically anyway.
- Dark Sun Shattered Lands has your party accosted at the end of the first dungeon (the Absurdly Spacious Sewer) by the mental projection of a dragon, who wanted to know the words on on a page in the manual. Failing would crash you out of the game.
- Dune II. You were asked for a piece of information that you had to look up in the game's manual, such as "What type of structure is a Wind Trap?" (answer: it's a Power Plant).
- The old Gold Box Dungeons & Dragons computer games by SSI requires the use of the included a thick manual not only to log into the game ("In the manual section on page 45, paragraph 2, line 10 - what is word 6?"), but also to understand the plot (you have to refer to the journal part). In the brilliant move by the company for its Anniversary set, they included the spin wheels for some of the games' copy-protection, but forgot to put in the manuals for Gateway and Treasure of the Savage Frontieer, rendering those two games unplayable.
- The Elder Scrolls: Arena, the first game of the series, requires you to answer questions about spells in the known Spellbook part of the manual before leaving the first dungeon. Recently, Bethesda allowed the game to be downloaded for free, and while they did not remove the Copy Protection, the official download includes all the required information in a text file.
- The Amiga game Elvira: Mistress of the Dark had you hunting for six keys hidden in the castle, and one was hidden in a dark passage, requiring you to have Elvira cook up "Glowing Pride" to find it. However, you couldn't find any recipes inside the game; all of them were in the manual. In other words, you could play most of the game on a pirate version, but to complete it you needed the original version. (At least, until GameFAQs was invented.)
- F/A-18 Hornet had you answer a question from its rather large flight manual before starting a mission.
- F-19 Stealth Fighter: if you failed to identify the plane (from the manual) that the game showed you, the game forced you to go on a "training mission" with preset equipment instead of allowing you to choose your mission, plane or ammunition.
- Hired Guns for the Amiga. The programmer responsible summed it up best himself: "One week I came up with a cunning plan. I figured anyone who cracked the game would take out the manual protection, play the game a bit and leave it at that. But I included a routine that detects if the game has been altered, it then does nothing until you make a certain amount of saves at which point it messes up your save files, just when you're getting into the game."
- In the classic adventure game adaptation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Marcus would ask Indy to translate some symbols for him, which would need to be looked up in the manual. Failing to do so would let the game continue as normal - until a crucial point where Indy, at Donovan's place, would fail to translate a tablet concerning the Holy Grail (Indy mistakenly translates it as "Holy Grain"), prompting Donovan to say "Seems you're just an illegitimate copy of the man I thought you were."
- In Leather Goddesses Of Phobos, the copy protection feelie was the map through the obligatory maze. Considering that the maze was pretty much instantly deadly if you didn't do the right things in the right places, this was rather irritating when the map invariably got lost. Also, the comic book included unguessable clues (such as what actions you had to take while splashing through the maze, and the key to a cipher message).
- Several Level 9 games used a method called "Lenslok". Using a graphical pattern, a passphrase was rendered unreadable. A color filter provided with the game, similar to those in the Milton Bradley Jeopardy games, could be placed against the screen to render the text legible, but this failed with exceptionally small or large monitors.
- The Interactive Fiction game The Lurking Horror deserves special mention of its copy protection. Getting anywhere in the game required you to log into an in-game computer; the necessary information was included with the Feelies. However, while the password was clearly marked, the login was not (and, to complicate matters, was not on the same page as the password).
- At first glance, the computer game Master of Orion used a simple "What spaceship is this?" manual copy protection. However, if the game executable was modified to remove the protection altogether, the game would detect the alteration of its code and become so difficult as to be virtually unplayable!*
- Metal Gear has always featured copy protection measures:
- The NES Metal Gear also had some rooms that couldn't be completed without the game manual, unless you used abug to skip parts of the game.
- Metal Gear 2 used "P23 tap codes" at certain points in the game, and the Colonel would instruct you to look at the manual for information on how to interpret tap codes. This was a frequency you needed to continue, and while brute-forcing it was possible, it was far more annoying than brute-forcing Meryl's frequency in the sequel due to the MSX's criminal slowdown and Snake's insistence on starting every conversation with "THIS IS SOLID SNAKE. YOUR REPLY, PLEASE...". Even more annoyingly, the version included in Metal Gear Solid 3 Subsistence (the first release of the game in English) did not come with tap codes in the manual. Konami eventually provided a downloadable online manual with the tap code chart in. The European version of the Subsistence manual also omits the tap code chart, but does tell you the frequency, albeit without any context as to when it's required.
- Metal Gear Solid had a character, early in the game, who "forgot" a vital communication frequency and mention that "it's on the back of the CD case," referring to one of the images on the back of the game's plastic case. If you rented the game, moving beyond that point was impossible. Better yet, Snake has a CD case in his in-game inventory. Many, many gamers tried to figure out how they were supposed to look at the back of that case. When they couldn't figure out the solution to the "puzzle", they turned to GameFAQs. However, this ends up being negated when the player can still receive the frequency by contacting Campbell enough times - even though he still ends up telling you to check the non-existent case, the frequency ends up added to the list either way. The remake The Twin Snakes eliminated this altogether by having the character say that the code is on the back of "the package", since there's no package item. The only other option for players was to try every radio frequency in sequential order until they reached the correct one.
- Ni no Kuni comes with the spellbook the character uses in the game, which it makes you use to get through the challenges.
- Pathways into Darkness included some copy protection near the very end of the game. Your mission is to detonate a nuclear device at the bottom of an ancient temple that will bury an Elder God in debris for a few thousand years. When you can finally arm the device, it asks for a launch code - which can only be found in the manual containing your briefing. Future distributions of the game left this part out. But both versions left in your fellow squadmates changing part of the launch code because they thought you'd been compromised - if you don't ask them for the new code, you're still screwed! To start the game, at least in older versions, you also had to enter a code found on a randomly given page of the manual.
- Der Patrizier (The Patrician) had a beautiful hand-drawn map of the North Sea and Baltic Sea area surrounded by dozens of town names with corresponding arms. These were in fact the copy protection: You had to enter the name of the town to which the displayed city arms belong. The catch: Not only were color copying machines hard to come by and color facsimiles outrageously expensive back then, but the sheet was simply too big to be copied (larger than DIN A3). And no, you could not simply look the town or the arms up online because "online" pretty much didn't exist yet.
- A curious bit of copy protection was in Infocom's only romance game: Plundered Hearts. The feelies in the game consist of facsimiles of the heroine's starting equipment, one of which is a banknote. The note shows the game's villain posing dramatically... but would you believe he's showing the solution to a puzzle? Grab his hat, try to grab the book he's carrying and press on the same part of the globe where he is and presto! Secret door!
- The original Prince of Persia had manual-based copy protection which set several apparent vials of poison over which hovered several different letters; a variant of the "Page/Line/Word" index. Drinking the wrong one three times in a row would result in death; drinking the right one caused the door to the next level to open. The second game had you select a symbol from a certain page of the manual between levels.
- Professor Layton and Pandora's Box (or the Diabolical Box in some countries) came with a train ticket needed to find the location of where the last half of the game takes place. It required a code to be deciphered and the answer had to be inputted into the game. The ticket was also shown in the game when it got to that puzzle. The puzzle required folding it, so it was a bit of a pain to envision how it folded from just the picture and without the physical ticket, but by no means impossible.
- The original Railroad Tycoon had you identify a railway engine (seen in the manual) at the start of the game. If you chose the wrong name, the game would confiscate all but two of your trains and make you unable to run more normally (though - perhaps due to a bug - clicking at the bottom of the train list actually allows you to view the lost train and buy it back by replacing its engine).
- Of course, railfans barely needed the handbook because they already knew at least some of the locomotives, and after playing the game for a while, they got to know the few they didn't. Those who happened to be in possession of Brian Hollingsworth and Arthur Cook's Great Book of Trains had a good chance of knowing all locomotives in the game because they were all picked from this book, livery and all.
- The 1988 Microprose game Red Storm Rising would give you the profile view of a ship and ask you to identify it; all the requisite information was in the manual. Of course, if you're as big enough of a naval geek... guns in back, smokestack, missile pack, Krivak. Or you could just use Wikipedia nowadays.
- SimCity came with a four-page code sheet with codes to enter after starting or loading a city. If you didn't enter the correct code, the town would be destroyed by permanent disasters. The sheet was dark red paper with a darker red print; back in those days, it was near-impossible to duplicate it because drawing all the codes by hand was tedious as they were so many (although it didn't stop some people from trying anyway), and the old black-and-white facsimile machines failed at copying dark-red-on-dark-red. Mind you this was before easy access to scanners and color printers.
- The Spellcasting Series used various methods of feelies throughout the trilogy, including inputting information from included registration forms, or maps that were required for navigation in certain areas. The most inspired method was in 201, which included a set of sheet music you needed to play the moodhorn properly.
- An early-90's Spider-Man computer game asked the player several trivia questions before starting. The answers were supposed to be looked up in the manual, but they were also available in any of the Spidey comics of the time.
- The original Star Control required players to answer questions with the help of a copy of Professor Zorg's Guide to Alien Etiquette. The answers were located on a code wheel which shipped with the game. This code wheel required the alignment of three alien words, some of which became actual alien races in the sequel. Subsequent software releases have disabled this copy protection, but only if played with the CD in the drive.
- Star Control II had the Starmap Trivia Quiz. The answers were located on a physical star map included with the game.
- The Starflight series:
- The original Starflight had a code wheel.
- Starflight II asked you to look up a code on a code wheel every time you left the starbase. If you entered it wrong you could still play the game, but a few hours in, your starship would be pulled over by the Space Police. The accused you of software theft and gave you one more chance to enter the right code; failing caused them to blow up your ship. The game also had a fold out star map and a viewer to isolate 3 inch sections of the map. The game would then ask you the number of certain colored stars in the 3 in section once you placed the viewer at certain coordinates.
- Star Trek 5 included a Klingon dictionary in its manual, which had to be used to advance past certain points.
- StarTropics included several feelies in the box, one of which happened to be important. About halfway through the game, you are asked a question about a letter which is actually a physical prop included in the box with the game. You are asked to dip it in water in order to find a code to use in the game itself. Nonetheless, it is only a three-digit decimal code; the most bored of NES players could eventually brute-force it even if they didn't know how to look it up.
- The Ultima games were particularly prone to this, forcing players to look up the Feelies for information from "Beyond the Portal" before being granted the right to save, leave the starting town, and so on.
- Introversion Software's Uplink featured a code table printed in glossy black ink on black card, which could generally only be read where the light reflected off the ink. However, this was also turned on its head when the developers later admitted it was designed to be a nostalgic nod to old-school games, and it was admittedly useless as copy protection (seeing as the game was massively profitable anyway). They later posted a PDF containing the entire table on their site, saying it was not intended as a means of copy protection.
- In a bit of a twist, the "copy protection" was designed to protect something else: on the game CD, there is a zip file that is ominously labeled and password protected. The readme provides a cryptic hint as to the password. As it turns out, entering the codes on the copy protection sheet as hexadecimal and then converting to normal provides the password to the zip file (TOOMANYSECRETS), which is the dev diary for the game.
- In Vette, you are a given a question whose answer is in the manual. If you incorrectly answer three times, the game allows you to play, but with severely crippled gameplay (e.g. you can't go above 80 mph), and after a certain time, it ends with the message "You are driving a stolen Vette".
- Wizardry II had a small booklet of "spells" composed of four-letter nonsense words. The player at times had to consult this booklet and enter the third word of a spell. Unfortunately, the booklet was black text on dark red paper, making it difficult even for those with proper eyesight to read.
- Worms came with a code sheet printed in glossy black ink on matte black paper.
- The otherwise freeware Oxyd has "magic tokens" start showing up at Level 11, for which you need to purchase a code book.
- Done particularly elegantly by Star Trek: 25th Anniversary. Whenever it's time to go to warp, you're told quite clearly what system you need to go to. However, your navigational map is unlabeled. The manual has a copy of the map, with the labels added this time.
- Amusingly, warping to the wrong system gets you attacked by Romulans, Klingons, or pirates — but it's a fair fight. Players who want to ignore the plot and just keep on having starship battles have been known to intentionally warp wrong.
Dongles and keys
Proprietary media and other media-based protections
- DJMAX Trilogy came with a USB dongle that must be plugged into your computer to run the game. It also contains your profile, which has your usernames, unlocks, etc., so a fortunate side effect is that you can carry your unlocks across multiple machines. On the downside, lose the dongle and you're screwed.
- The Parallel port/USB "key". Enterprise class specialist software tend to be the most common type of software to use this, although many arcade cabinets as well as certain home release of games do use it as well. The dongle typically holds the license, ensuring that the software only works on the computers which the key is attached.
- The most well-known key to date is the Parallel port key that ships with most earlier versions of AutoCAD.
- KeySIGN, a traffic-management software that creates road signs, has a dongle attached to ensure the licence is installed on a particular machine. (AFAIK, this is based on info from the link).
- If you've worked in the IT department of a large manufacturing enterprise, chances are you'd have dealt with a type of key known as the HASP. Many specialist applications ranging from chemical work to asset management uses one of these for DRM.
- Some arcade games also required "Licensing modules", which are a separate ROM board that holds only the decryption key of the game. Many newer games, since they're run on machines based on PC hardware, requires a USB dongle to run. And of course the USB dongle could hold an expiry date instead of the game, adding to the planned obsolescence method mentioned below.
- Pro Tools, an audio-editing suite currently used by the majority of the music industry, has gone back to the "piece of hardware" method. You can pirate the software all you like... But unless you have an "MBox" plugged into your computer, the program will start to load, put up an error window that says something on the order of "ha ha ha", and close again. Used versions of the MBox 1 go for something like $200 on the secondary market; MBox 3s are worse. Oh, and, let's not even start on the "iLok" dongle.
- Starting with Pro Tools 9, Digidesign/Avid allowed the usage of third-party audio interfaces (even one's own sound card, perhaps), so copy protection was shifted to the iLok. They'll still recommend their own equipment, of course...
- Steel Beasts Pro PE had protection in the form of a USB key. This key must be plugged in while running the simulation! (And it's not the only example...)
- The Biggest Boon-Dongle in the World: adding a dongle for software that already requires a huge expensive piece of hardware to begin with.
- Cactus Data Shield uses slight quirks on the disk designed to disrupt some speakers or cause read errors. The result was that it hung on some CD players, or caused other players to repeatedly play a given track.
- The Commodore 64 had a truly nefarious form of protection instigated by several publishers. It involved placing a deliberate error on a game disk, which, being that it was an error, could not be reproduced by the copy software. However, this also caused the head of the system's disk drive to knock repeatedly against a stopper every time it tried to load the program. Over time, this would cause the head to become misaligned and be unable to read anything anymore until the drive was repaired. That's right, a copy protection scheme that caused legitimate customers (and legitimate customers only, as this required pirates to hack the software and eliminate the need to read the error — hardly unlike today's cracks that remove pesky DRM) to experience actual hardware failure. Yikes.
- The Sega Dreamcast could use a proprietary disc format called GD-ROM, which was essentially a dual-layer (1.3 GB) version of the CD-ROM format (multiple-layer discs would not become common until DVD); the system could load games off CDs, too, though, and many games could be fit on a standard CD or the game itself compressed to fit. Dreamcast piracy involved first ripping the GD-ROM using special hardware (often the Dreamcast itself via hardware plugged into the modem slot), then some tricky work involving a boot track and multiple burn sessions for the CD-R. Once created, though, that CD-R could be easily copied and used on any Dreamcast.
- It wasn't meant to be able to load games off of CDs, they just screwed up royally while implementing the code for "multimedia enhanced CDs" in their music CD player firmware. The result: a no-mod-required method of playing copied discs.
- Adding to the inanity, the copy protection that was pressed into the official CDs was on the outer edge of the discs. As in, the most heavily touched and, as a result, the most easily damaged part of any optical disc format. So even if you have a legitimate copy, if you play it a lot, you could damage it through no fault of your own and not be able to play it.
- Sony has used this on several occassions with their gaming systems:
- The first PlayStation read a tracking pattern pressed onto the lead-in of official CDs, which cannot be reproduced normally. The PlayStation 2 uses a similar system. They will both refuse to read any disc that doesn't have a valid pattern. This made it impossible to burn a disc that would pass the protection. However, there were points exposed where people could solder a chip in to override the attempt to read the signature and replace it with a valid one. People could press pirated discs once they figured out how the protection really worked, though, yielding the boot disc. Worse yet, it turned out that by using a single valid Playstation game and some quick swapping of the burned disc any reasonably dexterous person could play burned discs on a completely unmodded console. It takes some practice, but it's not that difficult. The final evolution of this "swap trick" was the production of kits containing stickers to hold down the "lid open" sensors (so the console would not try to perform the security test again when the lid was opened to swap the discs), and boot discs that would pass the copy protection check, then stop the disc from spinning and wait patiently until the start button was pressed (so the user could swap in another disc at their leisure). Sony also tried to combat piracy for the PS1 by making the discs' undersides black, causing them to be transparent only to the infrared laser used in CD drives, and more difficult to copy correctly since at the time of the console's release, consumers could not buy CD-Rs like this. Unfortunately for Sony, pretty soon blank discs with black undersides became available, and this part of their copy-protection scheme failed.
- For the Playstation Portable, Sony used a proprietary media called the UMD for storing games and movies, reasoning that people won't be able to just pop the disc into a PC and copy it, among other forms of protection present on the game. Unfortunately for them, pirates tackled the PSP like they did with the Dreamcast- by writing exploits that attacked the firmware and using homebrew software that copied the disc onto a Memory Stick instead of tackling the issue of the physical media, taking advantage of the fact that the PSP could also run games from the Memory Stick. This laid out the precedent of a long war between Sony, homebrewers and pirates.
- Before the PS3s dropped backward compatibility altogether, this bit Sony on the ass - they had a hell of a time trying to read PS2 discs, to the point where most of the last-gen library was bugged out or failed entirely while playing on a PS3.
- The CD-ROM itself. When it was introduced in the mid-nineties, it was considered by the game industriy to be the be-all-end-all copy protection for one simple reason: It was nigh-impossible to copy. That is, the CD itself was impossible to copy. Furthermore, the installers on the CDs were either written without any "swap the floppy" mechanism (legitimately as they didn't run off of floppies in the first place), files were made larger than 1.44MB so that they couldn't fit onto floppies, and if that wasn't sufficient, and in case someone would use the old MS Backup trick, the game installer took up so much space on the CD that it would have taken dozens of floppies to copy it and ginormous hard drives to transfer it to — CD-ROMs have a higher capacity than most hard drives available (let alone affordable) back then. In those days, games were simply blown out of proportion for copy protection, and no actual copy protection was deemed necessary because whatever hardware would have been able to duplicate a CD-ROM was too expensive to use it for game piracy.
- Needless to say that the game industry was caught off-guard when the CD-R was introduced because pirating games had never been easier. It's fair to mention that early CD-Rs were expensive and the drives costs well over a thousand dollars when they were introduced, but the media itself were still much cheaper than games- meaning that to some, the ability to copy countless games borrowed from friends or the local library/rental place justifies the drive's exorbitant price tag. Also, the prices of both the media and drives dropped over just a few years.
- Robopon had an unintentional example. Since emulators can't emulate the TV remote interface and IR signals, opening all of the game's treasure chests and saving Princess Darcy become impossible.
- This was cited as the main reason Nintendo chose to stick with cartridges until long after their rivals have switched to CDs. However, showing that pirates not easily deterred, a company called Bong Enterprises came up with cart copiers and flash carts. And thus began the war between Nintendo and companies that support piracy, to the point where Nintendo actually tried to get injunctions to ban the devices in the US and took legal action against Bong Enterprises in several countries, only to have it blow up in the face when dozens of companies making similar devices sprung up in Bong's place upon Bong's defeat.
- In the early days of Silent Films, piracy ran rampant. Projectionists would often "lend" prints to pirates for duplication. The pirates would replace original title cards with their own title cards and claim copyright if they were caught. To combat this, studios painted stencils of the studio logo onto the scenery in every shot so they could verify that they were the legitimate copyright holders.
- Brentalfloss uploaded an alternate version of his album "This Is The Album You've Been Waiting For" to pirating websites shortly before release. Every song on the alternate album called out the listener for stealing it.
- Legend has it that paper map publishers came up with a unique solution to piracy after the introduction of commercial-grade xerographic copying:
- On city maps, they added a fictional street with a fictional name to every four square inches of their maps.
- Likewise, on state or national maps, they added a fictional town or land feature to every four square inches of their maps.
- This is actually a fairly common practice among map publishers. Many map makers use trap streets to incriminate anyone who might copy their maps directly. These are single or non-existent streets with false names... which means any map that has that false street has copied their map.
- When Gousha still made maps, the state map of Minnesota included a huge non-existent bay along the north shore of Lake Superior between Duluth and Grand Marais. (It was obviously fake. Highway 61 ran over the 10-mile opening of the bay rather than skirting around its fictional shoreline.) No matter how many people complained, they never corrected the error.
- Google did something similar, inserting specific answers to nonsense queries in their database. When the same nonsense got the same results on a Bing search, they called Microsoft out for the theft.
- This video gives a cheesy rap song about why people shouldn't use floppies to copy games, followed up by several developers that explain how games are made and how they won't make certain games anymore if more people copy their products instead of buying them since they feel less sales = people did not like product. The boy trying to copy doesn't see why the whole thing is a big deal, saying "everyone is doing it" and "one copy won't hurt them." The girl convinces the boy to change his ways by the video's end. Of course, things have not changed since then.
- Lampshaded in the Fictional Video Game Only You Can Save Mankind, in the novel of the same name by Terry Pratchett: "Someone in America or somewhere thought it was dead clever to make the game ask you little questions like "What's the first word on line 23 of page 19 of the manual" and then reset the machine if you didn't answer them right, so they'd obviously never heard of Wobbler's dad's office photocopier."
- "Basically, there were two sides to the world. There was the entire computer games software industry engaged in a tremendous effort to stamp out piracy, and there was Wobbler. Currently, Wobbler was in front."
- Fictional example: In User Unfriendly by Vivian Vande Velde, the protagonists are playing a pirated copy of Virtual Reality RPG Rasmussem. Unfortunately for them, discussing the game in front of an NPC initiates an infinite loop in the relevant AI which can only be terminated by a customer service representative.
- Parodied in one trailer for the HD Remix of The Stanley Parable, where the Lemony Narrator claims that this version will start deleting stuff off your hard drive because there's a possibility that you downloaded the game illegally.
- American GI cards during World War II were printed with an intentional grammatical error. It is said that some German spies were outed when their German-made GI cards had the error corrected.
- The dreaded Macrovision protection on analog Pay TV signals. Some Pay TV providers have been known to erroneously apply the signal to channels that are supposed to be in the clear as well. Complaints have fallen onto deaf ears (or the blame being shifted to the contractors for the Pay TV company). And to make things worse, it's illegal to circumvent thanks to the DMCA. This has carried on to the digital age via HDCP.
- The Keurig 2.0 line of coffee machines has a "feature" that will only allow it to work with Keurig-branded coffee pods. Of course, there are workarounds.
- Nicholas Saunders, a figure in the London alternative movement in the '60s and '70s, published a book on the subject, Alternative London. On the title page of the first edition, he wrote, "In order to trace illicit reproduction of material I have included insignificant errors throughout."
- Wolfenstein 3D makes threats to erase the user's hard drive if the user got his/her copy through illicit means in the exit message of the full registered version of the game. It's an empty threat (as noted in the disclaimer at the bottom of the message), but it does effectively get it's message across.