• Dragon Age 2

    Back in 2011 we had looked at Dragon Age: Origin as part of an ongoing excercise to map out the PC Gaming and DRM landscape via. Project RYG 2.0. What we discovered with Bioware and EA at the time was that they gave PC Gamers a degree of power and ownership of their game. To know what was being installed/uninstalled on their PC, to have that power to transfer ownership of that game - to appreciate what Dragon Age was and to support who made them - that's what made Dragon Age: Origins such a consumer-friendlier game.

    However, that spark of goodwill left from Dragon Age: Origins was appeared lost in Dragon Age 2. The root cause, as we found, outwardly points to the DRMs implemented: EA Core and SecuROM. Inwardly, it was the lack of information, the poor followup and overall complacency of their DRM strategy that really fell in Dragon Age 2.

    Feel free to download our one-page PDF report of Dragon Age 2.

    1. DRM and Publisher ratings
    2. General concerns for consumers
    3. Thoughts from the PC Gaming Industry
    4. Our thoughts
    5. Concluding assessment
    6. Related reading
    7. Related DRMs
    8. How we evaluated Dragon Age 2
    9. An invitation for the PC Gaming Industry
    10. Update history
    11. Care to comment?
    DRM | Publisher ratings

    Note: Yellow Cogs denote DRM Vendor; Joystick denotes Publisher. These ratings represent the level of care these companies/departments have for this PC Game. The greater the rating, the more care they have for this PC Game, for PC Gaming and for PC Gamers.

    We suggest you visit your favourite gaming news sites if you’re interested solely in the gameplay of Mass Effect 3. Here, we review Dragon Age 2 as a product and on the merits of its consumer friendliness and consumer satisfaction.

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    General concerns for consumers
    • Part of activating Dragon Age 2 online and through EA Core DRM will involve using SecuROM's Release Date Checker. This isn't made known in the EULA(s), Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for Dragon Age 2.
    • Reading through the EULA(s), Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for Dragon Age 2 will take more than 90 minutes. Or, the total amount of words to read your gaming rights is roughly 20,000 words.
    • EA's Privacy Policy, as dated on 5 December 2011, states in explicit terms that their data centres, whilst reliable, are not 100% safe nor secure. This may impact upon those that have DLCs stored on EA's Amazon Web Servers.
    • Customer Service is issue-centric driven, inaccurate and distant from the customer and their gameplay-related concerns.
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    Developers and Publishers thoughts

    At the time Bioware had presented the pretense of understanding the concept of a competent DRM strategy and, at the time, they had communicated that strategy with clear effect:

    DRM is always a topic of much debate, even internally. It requires a delicate balance between providing some level of IP protection while minimizing the inconvenience or intrusion to a player’s experience. These decisions are not made lightly - and a lot of time and effort was dedicated to ensuring that the system for DA2 is skewed to the player side of the experience.
    - Chris Priestly, Internal PR, Bioware.

    At least, it seemed, they understood and gave the impression that their strategy in making games has been for the (emotional) interests of PC Gamers. This confident streak, however, seemed like a distant memory given its run of PR issues in the subsequent days after its launch of Dragon Age 2.

    What made this a significant lesson for them and for us is their directive stance on the semantics behind the terms "SecuROM" and "Sony Release Date Checker".

    As for the site claiming this (again, I admit I haven't had the opportunity to check yet - I did a while back but just got 403 errors on the page), if that is what they are claiming then sadly they are doing a great disservice to their audience. Anyone that has ever actually used/installed SecuROM DRM and this, and is reasonably impartial in their assesment (ie. is not jumping to conclusion because they see the word 'securom' on the pop up) should be able to clearly tell the two things apart - and appreciate how far apart they actually are.
    - Fernando Melo, Internal PR, Bioware.

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    Our thoughts

    As we mentioned quite recently, it's rather insulting to think that it's okay for EA and Bioware to defend a mistake and then later backpedal thinking no one would notice the error of their ways.

    From our perspective, the issue isn't one of gameplay as we had evaluated because, like many other games we've evaluated, they pass with scores of near-90% and above.

    Take note: Almost 95% of the PC Games we've evaluated scored 90% and above in the "Gameplay" portion of our evaluation. That means when developers are making the actual game, game world and the mechanics involved, they are doing a damn fine job!

    It's what we expect from professionals such as game developers and designers.

    In saying that, the real issue we had with Dragon Age 2, back then, was the way the information surrounding its DRM was handled haphazardly and with such carelessness.

    a) CONTEXT: What EA officially published before general release

    In leading up to the worldwide release of Dragon Age 2, EA set forth and published their DRM implementation strategy within their Product EULA page for all Consumers to see. Their most recent and visible description is as follows:

    Online pass serial code expires March 31, 2012.

    EA Account, registration with enclosed single-use serial codes, Internet connection and acceptance of End User License Agreement required to play and to access bonus content (if any) and online features and/or services. Serial codes are non-transferable once used.

    EA online privacy policy and terms of service can be found at www.ea.com. You must be 13+ to activate software and register for an EA account. EA may retire online features after 30 days notice posted on www.ea.com/2/service-updates.
    Source: EA’s EULA Product Page and Dragon Age 2 Gaming Package

    Their PDF EULA, which is consistently found within Dragon Age 2’s disc, has a clearer description of the DRM implemented as described within Section 1 (B): Technical Protection Measures. It states that:
    • An EA Activation DRM is implemented (EA Core).
    • An EA Account is required and,
    • That Serial Key will be verified online through this EA Account and EA Activation DRM.
    Irrespective of the disparity in description, nowhere does it state the words "SecuROM" or "Sony DADC" anywhere on their EULA Product Page, Downloadable EULA, in-game EULA or even on the gaming package of Dragon Age 2.

    b) CONFUSION: What Bioware said before general release

    Two weeks before the release of Dragon Age 2, Chris Priestly, working as an Internal Community Representative within Bioware, had confirmed with respect to the implementation of a Release Date Check DRM for non-Steam releases that SecuROM will not be used. Moreover, he makes further claims on the Release Date Technology:

    Dragon Age 2 Release Control (non-Steam Versions)
    • Does not use SecuROM.
    • It does not install anything to the PC.
    • Sole purpose is to check with a server to validate whether a game release date has passed or not.
    • It completely removes itself after the game release date has passed.
    Source: Chris Priestly from “Dragon Age 2 Final DRM and FAQ

    Less than a week before Dragon Age 2 is released in Australia, Fernando Melo working as an Online Producer within Bioware’s Senior Leadership Team in the development of Dragon Age 2, had responded to some queries regarding some issues with its Release Date Technology:

    The Release Control Software is also made by Sony DADC, the same team that makes SecuROM. But it is not the same product – for instance, it does not install anything etc just as we’ve stated before. They have the same support site through which is the URL you’re seeing.
    Source: Fernando Melo from “Dragon Age 2 Final DRM and FAQ

    Notwithstanding the secondary comments about the Release Date Technology implemented, there is clearly an obvious disconnect between what was said by one Bioware staff-member and another a week later and within the same thread.

    From our perspective, only a clear, consistent and practical DRM strategy would have prevented even the simplest of PR mistakes.

    c) OBSERVATIONS: What EA/Bioware never confirmed

    Dragon Age 2 attempting to connect to a Sony DADC Server through its SecuROM Release Date Control.

    As described in detail within our analysis of Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age 2 Consumers using a Software Firewall will receive a notification that a file found in /AppData/Local/Temp/ will attempt to communicate to a remote server.

    The filename is dragonage2_activation.exe
    The Remote Server is Sony DADC

    For those unsure of Sony DADC and its connection with SecuROM, Sony DADC is a DRM Vendor with SecuROM being its parent product. You can look up and confirm the IP address of Sony DADC via. Whois.NET.

    Once the user accepts the connection it will then take the user through a process known as "Release Date Check". What this involves is the server verifying that the game installed and ready to be activated is a legitimate game that was purchased after a certain date. In other words, it is to prevent zero-day piracy. In this instance, it would be the day Dragon Age 2 was released for sale (in Australia).

    Once the user agrees to the Release Date Check they will start seeing the process in action, albeit behind closed doors. A success will take them straight to the EA’s “in-house” Activation portion (as described above in Section 1); A failure will take them to a screen that advises them to visit SecuROM’s Support Website for further instructions.

    The "Failure Screen" noting SecuROM’s Support the point of Contact.

    d) OBSERVATIONS: Technical Observations linking SecuROM to Dragon Age 2

    As we had pointed out in the firewall notification above, the location of where these files are in relation to the SecuROM Release Date Check can be found within the /AppData/Local/Temp/mtka_tmp/ directory.

    The location and associated files linking SecuROM's Release Date Check to Dragon Age 2

    All consumers who have purchased Dragon Age 2 for the PC and have installed it can find the location of these files as described. In particular reference to two files, dragonage2_activation.exe and dfa.dll, yields further information in the Properties -> Details Tab:

    The file properties of dragonage2_activation.exe and dfa.dll

    While we had further attributed our findings using Notepad++ and ProtectionID, we feel that gamers with access to these freely-available programs and Dragon Age 2 can investigate this before applying Bioware's recent patch.

    e) INCONSISTENCIES: What Bioware/SecuROM said; What RYG Found

    When Chris Priestly stated in Section 2 above that the Release Date Check “does not install anything to the PC” and that “it completely removes itself after the game release date has passed” the context in which he said these comments came from SecuROM’s Release Date Control FactSheet found on their official website.

    In the windows temporary folder in the folder "mtka_tmp" also temporarily files are stored and deleted after the Release Control process is finished. One executable and one log file in the “mtka_tmp” folder are deleted after reboot.
    Source: SecuROM’s Release Date Control Factsheet, Section 4

    RYG’s evaluation, however, found that any removal of these SecuROM files would come from an uninstallation of Dragon Age 2. However, in respect of SecuROM only a partial removal is achieved both within the “mtka_tmp” area as well as within the registry entries situated under “HKCU/Software/SecuROM”.

    The issue here isn't about safety or reliability, but about delivering upon that expectation. Yes, it's a matter of principle and something we truly pride upon.

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    Concluding assessment

    There has been a severe disconnect between what EA published in its summarised and complete EULAs and in what Bioware’s own staff members have said (in contradiction to each other’s comments) with respect to the DRMs implemented in Dragon Age 2.

    They have both failed to properly inform Consumers of the implementation of SecuROM as a Release Date Check as a way to prevent zero-day piracy, which is seen in other SecuROM-protected games evaluated by RYG, such as Arcania: Gothic 4, BioShock 2 and GTA: Episodes from Liberty City.

    Irrespective of its intentions and its recent mistakes with Dead Space 2, EA and Bioware have grossly misled Consumers who have purchased the PC Disc Version of Dragon Age 2 by misinforming them of the DRMs that were actually implemented in Dragon Age 2.

    Some gamers may not care (and they have pointed that out explicitly). However, it matters to us and to our readers who actually believe in what we publish. To say we always publish the truth isn't a matter of arrogance or hubris. It's about setting things right and making sure games are produced honestly and with principled intentions.

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    Related evaluation reports:

    Thank you for taking the time to read our analysis of Dragon Age 2. Perhaps you may be interested in reading our assessments on other games:
    1. Dead Space 2 (Which was surreptitiously implemented with SecuROM in spite of EA's insistence that it was only implemented with SolidShield).
    2. Mass Effect 3 (Which was surreptitiously implemented with SecuROM in spite of EA's insistence that it was only implemented with EA Origin).
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    Related DRMs

    You might be interested in reading about other DRMs that similarly utilise some of the features in EA Core and SecuROM:
    1. ByteShield (User Account / Serial Key / Periodic Online Authentical / SSL Technology)
    2. EA Core / Origin (User Account / Serial Key / Online Authentication / SSL Technology)
    3. Steam (User Account / Serial Key / Online Authentication / SSL Technology)
    4. SecuROM (Serial Key / Online Authentication / SSL Technology)
    5. SolidShield (Serial Key / Online Authentication / SSL Technology)
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    How we evaluated Dragon Age 2

    We evaluate all PC Games on computer systems running Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems and bearing both minimum and recommended system specifications. Internet Connections simulated range from 512kb/128kb ADSL to 24000kb/1000kb ADSL2+.

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    An invitation to the PC Gaming Industry

    We love PC Gaming and we are passionate about improving how PC games are made and presented to the consumers. If you’re as committed, passionate and serious as we are, then please give us a call. We’re always interested in new work!

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    Update History:

    10 March 2011. Published evaluation report
    14 March 2012. Re-published evaluation report with additions to our findings of SecuROM in Dragon Age 2.

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