[Politech] Half-Life 2: Test bed for Internet licensing techniques [ip]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Thu Jan 06 2005 - 06:51:50 PST

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Half-Life 2: Test bed for Internet licensing techniques
Date: Tue, 28 Dec 2004 11:04:34 -0600
From: Rick Russell <rickr@private>
Organization: Rice University Information Technology
To: Declan McCullagh <declan@private>

This might be fodder for Politech. Long time reader, first time
contributor :-)

Half-Life 2 is a new computer game for Windows PCs. Unlike most games, HL2
uses a network-based licensing and update client that is tightly
integrated into the game itself. This client is called "Steam".

Valve, the maker of Half-Life 2, can disable or "ban" users who sign in
with falsified or pirated authentication keys by refusing to serve out a
valid license for the game. When that happens, all Steam-enabled games on
the user's computer become inaccessible, even for standalone single-player

An example of Valve's policies in action can be found here:


This is nothing new, and it's much the same as the Windows Activation
method that Microsoft has employed for two years. It may also remind you
of the banning issues in other multiplayer games like Ultima Online or

The new twist is that Valve has quietly threatened to use Steam to enforce
other license policies, not just for anti-piracy measures.  There are many
reports on the Steam user forums that legitimate game owners are being
banned for using cheats or hacks that modify the behavior of the game
(even the single-player game!), and a Valve staffer says explicitly that
the Steam system will be used to enforce violations of the Steam/HL2 


How do politics and technology come in? I think for the first time we have
a major consumer product which can dynamically enforce the precise letter
of the shrinkwrap license agreement, including the more obscure
prohibitions such as "don't modify the locally stored program code".

We've all debated the validity of shrinkwrap license agreements in the
past, and you may remember the debate about the Uniform Commercial Code
revisions a couple of years ago that included specific provisions to allow
remote enforcement of licensing. Well, Valve is doing it. Now. And with
gusto, it seems.

Personally, I have mixed feelings. I've tried multiplayer games in the
past with mixed success, and in many cases my experience was absolutely
ruined by cheaters. So part of me is happy to see cheaters get the
righteous come-uppance they deserve.

But another part of me is a little worried by this turn of events. Will
all software on my PC eventually follow this model, with a dozen or more
license clients running all the time, conflicting with each other, and
instantly disabling my legitimately purchased software when something goes
wrong? Who has time to review complicated license agreements? What if the
"agreement" changes after I purchase the products? What are my options for
redress of abuse by the company? It's a minefield for consumer rights,
that's for sure.

Rick R.

=> Rick Russell
=> Rice University Information Technology, Helpdesk Supervisor
=> For computer help, call xHELP (x4357 or 713-348-4357)
=> OpenPGP/GnuPG Public Key at ldap://certificate.rice.edu

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