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Steam: Friendly DRM?
DRM – Digital Rights Management – is a feature of more and more games for Windows as publishers take heavy handed steps to prevent their titles from being pirated. While there are plenty of arguments against this tactic (the number of pirated games hardly seems to have decreased) this hasn’t stopped major publishers from forcing buyers of their games to use online game activation.
This works to varying degrees, but in the case of some games (such as Half Life 2) it can result in problems for the consumer if the server managing activation is under too much pressure.
However the requirement for Steam to be added to computers as part of the Civilization V installation game as a big surprise to a lot of users when the game was released in 2010. As a result many have been looking to find a way of playing the game without using Steam. This is quite possible and there are many methods, from playing offline to finding and installing a Civilization 5 “no Steam" patch.
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Civilization V and Steam
Valve introduced the Steam system for activating Half Life 2 back in 2005, and over the intervening years this has evolved into more than a DRM system, becoming a digital delivery service for many games, hosting downloadable content, gaming communities and online support.
Although the requirement for and inclusion of Steam was made public prior to release of Civilization V, it’s presence on the disc as part of the installer has caused some consternation among gamers who have developed a dislike for publishers that treat personal ownership of a videogame with such disregard.
Of course, Steam has some considerable benefits, and for Civilization V owners this includes the provision of a wide selection of downloadable content for expanding the game, as well as access to the SDK and WorldBuilder utility.
In fact, if you’re happy to use Steam then you don’t even need to ever use your Civ 5 DVD – you can simply open the digital delivery service and add the game’s activation code and Steam will download and install the game.
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Steam – DRM Through the Backdoor?
A key argument for the Steam refuseniks is the requirement to rely on the DRM and digital delivery software. Civilization has a large and loyal following that in many cases stretches back to the first two versions of the game in 1991 and 1996, and none of the previous releases have required any such digital rights management.
However, all indications are that the requirement for Steam is limited to activation. There is little if any restriction on game modifications (Civ gamers have been modding since the title first launched over 20 years ago) and the title doesn’t require a constant Internet connection to allow you to play the game (unlike, say, Ubisoft’s The Settlers 7).
All in all, the use of Steam seems to have been a need to prevent piracy by taking advantage of the DRM, and to facilitate network play, a popular element of Civilization V.
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Disabling Steam with Offline Play
For users who accept the requirement of installing Steam for activation and recognise the need for the software for running Civilization V, there are a few things you can do to minimise its impact on your computer.
To begin with, you can put Steam into offline mode. This is easily done by opening the software (typically by right-clicking it in the System Tray and selecting Library) and then using the Steam > Go offline… option. Steam will inform you that this should only be used if you are disconnecting from the web and that online services such as the server browser will be unavailable.
If you find that Steam slows down your computer, you can disable this from loading at startup. You can do this by clearing the Steam > Settings > Interface > Run Steam when my computer starts check box.
Finally, if your issue with Steam is the advertising popups that appear when you exit a game, use the Steam > Settings > Interface > Notify me… option at the bottom of the window to disable these.
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Patches and Cracks
There will be some Civilization V gamers for whom the above suggestions simply aren’t enough – for them, Steam is an intrusion, and must be disabled.
The legality of applying a Civilization 5 “no Steam" patch is questionable. Any modifications to the .exe file and other files installed as part of the game is a breach of the user licence, but at least one of the patches in circulation replaces a DLL in Civilization that access the Steam API; this could be interpreted as acceptable use, but if you do opt to follow this path, bear in mind that there are particular dangers.
For instance, you might believe that you have found a suitable Civ V "no Steam" crack only to find that it has delivered malicious software to your computer, something that wouldn’t have happened by letting Steam run.
While Steam might appear intrusive, the steps listed in the previous section can prevent the DRM and digital delivery software from taking over your computer, and hopefully prevent you from feeling that a patch is the only answer.
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Author's own experiences.
Screenshots provided by author.