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What Is SecuROM?
SecuROM is a popular digital rights management software. Digital rights management software is included in some games in order to prevent piracy, and it comes in a variety of forms. Some games simply require that the player insert a serial key at installation, while others make more active attempts to verify the authenticity of the game by performing checks while the game is being run.
Currently SecuROM is extremely popular with software developers, and it can be found protecting some of the best games on the market, such as Fallout 3 and Crysis. If you're a gamer, you're probably going to run into it sooner or later. And considering the potential restrictions the software can put on your experience, it is important to understand what SecuROM does before buying a game which uses it.
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How SecuROM Works
At its core, SecuROM works by checking the density of data being read from a disk. Normally, data density of data accessed from a DVD would degrade from the inside of the DVD to the outside of the DVD, but SecuROM allows a vendor to add a specific pattern to the degradation of data density. If that pattern isn't found, then SecuROM will determine that the DVD is not valid and the game won't operate. This means that the large majority games which use SecuROM will require that the disk be in the drive whenever the program is used.
SecuROM is a modular program however, which means that different vendors can add different restrictions on the way a program can be used.
One of these restrictions is online activation. If online activation is enabled, SecuROM will have to verify the authenticity of the software being used with a server whenever the program is installed. In some cases, SecuROM will also authentic the program online whenever the program runs. This is meant to ensure that the version of the program being used is an authentic copy, without any modifications that might attempt to bypass SecuROM. Obviously, having this option activated will mean that you'll need to be online to install and/or run a program.
Another restriction that can be enabled is a restriction on the number of activations. If this is enabled, an activation will be used up every time the program is installed. If the number of activations exceeds the limit, then the program can't be installed again. Typically the activation limit can be reset, but only if the customer contacts the vendor's customer service.
Other restrictions such as limits on the amount of time a program can be used, or the number of times a program can run on a single activation are also available. These restrictions however, aren't commonly used in games.
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Problems With SecuROM
SecuROM - like any other software - isn't perfect. Bugs exist in any program. And since SecuROM protects software, any bug related to SecuROM tends to disable the program SecuROM is protecting. Controversies have sprung up regarding several recently released games, such as the PC release of Grand Theft Auto IV, due to problems with SecuROM. For example, many people who have purchased GTA IV for the PC have run into problems with the online activation process, and they have also ran into errors which prevent the game from launching after it has been installed.
More problematic is the potential for damage to a PC as a whole. Players of The Sims 2 and related expansions have reported problems with their PCs after installing the SecuROM-protected game, including instability, disabling of software and hardware capable of burning CDs, and interference with anti-virus programs. These problems tend to be relatively rare, and it is difficult to pin down why SecuROM is causing these issues. Some have accused SecuROM of installed a rootkit, but evidence backing up that accusation remains thin.
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Should I Buy a SecuROM-Protected Game?
It is ultimately up to you to decide if the potential problems presented by SecuROM will prevent you from purchasing a game. Many games protected by SecuROM work fine, and there are also SecuROM protected games which use relatively tame versions of the software. Fallout 3 for example, only performs a DVD check.
Considering the number of very good games which are protected by the software, you will probably at some point decide that the trade-offs are worthwhile, but before purchasing any game that uses SecuROM, do your home-work. Remember that activation limits - if implemented - will probably interfere with your ability to run the game years down the road, and that online activation will be difficult to deal with if you don't use an always-on internet connection or your are installing on a laptop which isn't wirelessly connected.