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The violation of privacy and consumer rigths in the video game industry

Published on: January 4, 2021
By: Locky
English translation: Waffle


Steam and other videogame services use DRM to spy on you
So… Now what?
The 3 ways
The 1 Way: Piracy
The 2 Way: GOG
The 3 Way: The return of physical games

# Introduction

Do you remember when PC games were bought physically?. I didn’t experience these times, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t seen physical games. My Steam account was created around the year 2015 or 2016, it was born by my interest in playing Team Fortress 2. At this time I have many games on this platform, some of them were bought, and some of them were gifted. However, after the emerge of many other platforms and services such as Epic Games Store, Uplay, or Origin, among others, a problem was discovered, which we and many other players noticed but didn’t bother to understand. I’m talking about the heavily scary, hateful, and… maybe lovely…? DRM. Steam was the most popular platform that included this DRM approach, along with the annoying region-locked system. This method was a headache for many hackers and users from Wii, Wii U, and 3DS, and now, we can’t avoid this lockage on Steam. You may be thinking: “But, I bought these games, I own them, I don’t care about any DRM or region-locked.” Do you think that you own your Steam games? you’re wrong, this is something that happened unnoticed. People don't read the terms and conditions and simply accept without any judgment. After this, once their rights are violated and they start reclamation, they are silenced due to the agreement that they DIDN’T READ. So, let’s have a look at the Steam Subscriber Agreement:

“Steam and your Subscription(s) require the download and installation of Content and Services onto your computer. Valve hereby grants, and you accept, a non-exclusive license and right, to use the Content and Services for your personal, non-commercial use (except where commercial use is expressly allowed herein or in the applicable Subscription Terms). This license ends upon termination of (a) this Agreement or (b) a Subscription that includes the license. The Content and Services are licensed, not sold. Your license confers no title or ownership in the Content and Services. To make use of the Content and Services, you must have a Steam Account and you may be required to be running the Steam client and maintaining a connection to the Internet.”

According to this agreement, you accept the payment of a license, or, in other words, a permit or authorization to add, download, and play videogames and software to your Steam Library. This license can be removed from your catalog, this can happen due to three different facts: the expiration of the agreement between both Valve and the developers; the violation of terms and conditions of Steam; or simply the developers decided its software from Steam. Therefore, if someday you see that some games are missing in your Steam Library, it will be thanks to one of these things. This means that by giving you a permit or authorization to the software, you will have to be always connected to the Internet to play or run any software. Did someone cut off your Internet connection? They screwed you up since your favorite game has DRM and it must be verified that its use is “legitimate”. Something similar happened with Sonic Mania, you couldn't play it without an Internet connection, after this “polemic”, the DRM was removed. Valve calls this software “subscription”, the moment you buy a Steam product, you’re buying nothing but a “subscription”, where you can’t do relatively anything:

“You may not use the Content and Services for any purpose other than the permitted access to Steam and your Subscriptions, and to make personal, non-commercial use of your Subscriptions, except as otherwise permitted by this Agreement or applicable Subscription Terms. Except as otherwise permitted under this Agreement (including any Subscription Terms or Rules of Use), or under applicable law notwithstanding these restrictions, you may not, in whole or in part, copy, photocopy, reproduce, publish, distribute, translate, reverse engineer, derive source code from, modify, disassemble, decompile, create derivative works based on, or remove any proprietary notices or labels from the Content and Services or any software accessed via Steam without the prior consent, in writing, of Valve.”

Your customer rights are prohibited in Steam, and it’s something that came to stay. In the past, Steam was simply a tool or bridge to play online conveniently, you could still keep your games and have the rights of your games when they were sold in discs. After the release of Half-Life 2, the DRM was invalidated by Steam… Could it be because of the filtration of the game’s source code?

# Steam and other videogame services use DRM to spy on you

DRM, or Digital Rights Management, it’s a software or service installed in your computer, along with other multimedia material, such as music, films, or videogames. There are many different DRM types, some of them are more intrusive than others, but they all exist to verification that the content you’re consuming is legitimate, by using an Internet connection. Other services like Spotify, Tidal, Netflix, or Hulu, use DRM that must be installed in your browser to access these services, luckily, some other platforms sell their products without DRM, but this is something that I will explain later. The question is that many videogames use DRM that must have an Internet connection ALL THE FUCKING TIME, no matter if it’s a singleplayer game such as Sonic Mania (spanish source), or the old terms and conditions that the Xbox One had, which included region-locked and the prohibition of selling your used physical games. Luckily, these terms and conditions were removed, but region-locked is still a thing when talking about digital games.

Other DRM not only “verifies” the “legitimate” use of the products, but also take information for marketing without our approval or knowledge. Red Shell is one of this spyware installed on videogames. Usually, Red Shell can be installed on Unity (How curious, right? A spyware installed on another spyware), where it takes the information of its users, like the OS, the system language, IP address, the browsers we have, your time zone, and your resolution, among many other things. Unfortunately, it’s something installed in more than 2700 Steam games, where they take information without no one’s approval. If you’re a game developer who wants to use Red Shell on your game, you should be ashamed of it. (Source)

The DRM can check your archives on your computer looking for “Anti-Cheats” and “Malware”, this results on many things for your computer, like overworking your HDD, and making your CPU and software slower. It takes all your information kept in your documents, and analyze them. You still need Internet connection to play; a more recent case was Valorant, it has a software that analyzes all of your computer, and it doesn’t matter if you close it, because one portion of its malware is still running without you noticing, being able to alter the voltage of your graphics card (spanish source). Steam is the only shop with DRM that we have regularized, but unfortunately, due to all this regularization we gave it with all our purchases, Valve is has too much power now. This results in some changes of the Steam client, so now they also can spy on you, make a virtual profile depending on your localization and update without asking.(Source)

# So… Now what?

Even with all the garbage we can find in the videogame industry and its distribution, there’s still a light at the end of the tunnel, 3 paths, 3 stories, 3 new opportunities or 3 alternatives, that could help and protect the consumers rights, without any DRM. 2 of them will still help the developers, one of them… no…

# The 3 ways

# The 1 way: Piracy

Arrr, buccaneer! Welcome back to the black waters, hand hoy, take your hat, your patch, put parrot on your shoulder, and let's go for the links and shorteners!

Do you still remember when piracy started being uncommon thanks to the release of Spotify, Netflix or Youtube, among others? But it came back later because these streaming platforms didn’t stop abusing these services. This is what has happened with the digital videogame platforms, in my opinion, piracy is going through another golden age. The same way there are exclusive games in the Epic Games Store, you had to have Origin if you wanted to play any EA game. Fallout 76? Download the Bethesda launcher (now in Steam). Want to play some Microsoft games? Install Windows 10 and use the Microsoft’s store. Piracy came to solve these problems of abusive services, without the need of creating an account and buy the product. It has lots of advantages, such as:

Obviously, I can't send or show links to pages so you can download games, I recommend you to go around picture boards and ask, or open threads about it. “But piracy is stea-” No, The European Union investigated about the impact that piracy has on the economy, to show it hasn’t any . So if you don’t want to pay for your games, you travel a lot, you can’t have an Internet connection at all times or you can’t port and share your games easily, I completely recommend to use piracy with videogames. It doesn't result in any damage for the companies and economy, but it doesn't mean either that everything must be downloaded with piracy. When talking about films and music, there is still a difference between piracy and buying the products. Game developers, specially the indie ones, need support which is given by the costumers, so, if we need to help these indie developers or good enterprises without DRM, where do we buy games? Well… it’s time to go to the second way.

# The 2 Way: GOG

The paradise of all the wonderful games, old and not so old. is a game platforms, free from any DRM, created by CD Projekt, the same people who did Cyberpunk 2077, doing EVERYTHING that Steam should have done in the dristibution and sale of videogames online. All the games that you buy in the platform is YOURS, and YOU have the right to make everything you want with them. It doesn’t have any region-locked, so no matter where you are, you can still login and but in the shop. The moment you create an account on, the service warns you and asks what kind of information do you want it to recolect. In general terms, the shop and downloads are provided exclusively by the browser. So I recommend the use of Firefox mitigated (or its variants such as IceCat) or Palemoon to use this service. is also popular for selling old games that were rewrited, fixing the bugs and making it compatible with other recent versions of Windows and Linux. This way it’s certain that what you buy has been checked. Also, the shop has been awarded for helding the big indie games in the platform, being one of the bests ways to support them and keep you consumer rights. Here I give you a list of games with the respectives links:

Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami 2 Wrong Number
A Hat in Time
Cyberpunk 2077
Fallout New Vegas
Metal Gear Solid 2
My Friend Pedro
Horizon Cero Down
Metro Oxodus
Stardew Valley

# The 3 Way: The return of physical games

Going back to the beginning isn’t a bad idea.

Physical games are the only way in which we can keep the right of distribute and share the games we buy. It's something that the consoles like Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo keep doing. You can still buy the physical version, have and keep them, and if they are removed from the shop, either digital or not, you can still have them , ready to play. I completely recommend to look for second hand games where the physical format is cheaper, at least in my country Mexico. The thing is that it wouldn’t be crazy to go back to physic games in the PC, even though it would be more difficult, because of the constant updates that games have the release date, like Cyberpunk 2077 or Fallout 76. So, if you have a console, buy physical games, it’s not only cheaper than buying it in the online shop, but it can have a use for longer, they are kept easily and they revive the coleccionist feelings.

# Conclusion

Download your games with piracy or buy them on, if you want to support indie games, buying on this platform is the easiest way, and the most ethical one. If some game slightly old is not available in shops or physical format, you can still give an use to piracy, the question is where to search and how to download and install it properly. If you’re still a fan of old games, is the place that you will surely love, because of the control of the game you bought that it gives you. Many developers like the lovely Notch aren’t affected by piracy with their videogames, CD Projekt understands the problems and decisions that people make when buying a videogame. So what do we do with our Steam account? I’m obviously not telling to erase it, I understand that it hurts to erase an account were we have bought and spend so much money in the permits to play that software. So, if you see a game you like or you’re interested in, buy it in, either if it’s indie or from an enterprise. In the end, supporting will result in the motivation to many indie developers to sell and distribute their games with freedom, and you will make other developers sell their games without any DRM.

Thanks for help me!

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