E3Expo 2005 Friday’s Report Day 3 Page 8

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Enter StarForce, a Russian-based company formed in 1998 as a self-described “international safety solutions provider”. The aforementioned piracy losses can be due to a variety of causes, including the use of older, ineffective or outdated protection, outright theft at various points in the production or manufacture cycle, or accidental release of different versions.

The StarForce solution includes code protection binding technology which prevents copy and unauthorized use of a software product no matter what the distribution method, CD / DVD, Internet, etc. Now, I’m not by any stretch of anybody’s wildest dreams an expert on this stuff, but I gather that it accomplishes this by certain encryption technology and license-based activation that marries the end-user license to the configuration of the computer being used. StarForce offers its product in different levels, which are configurable to some degree to allow the purchaser — the publisher/developer — flexibility to fit their production, volume, and distribution requirements. Keep that last point in mind, more on it later.

Whew. So far, so OK. We know that the software/gaming industry has a piracy problem costing them money and that StarForce is one of several vendors offering a set of solutions to that problem. Where do the end-users, us simmers, the purchasers of the software fit in all of this? Further, are the problems which we have mentioned legitimate or blown all out of proportion? Have the problems been communicated to StarForce and have they either been resolved, are being resolved, cannot be resolved, or were not StarForce’s problems to begin with?

Take another slug of that beverage and read on. Realize that StarForce exists to serve the software side of the business, that’s who their customer base is, not us. So, the relationships are: Software publisher/developer and StarForce, Software publisher/developer and us. Does that mean we don’t matter to StarForce? Well, no, but I think it does mean that they have to make the connection that ultimately we influence the publishers/developers by what we buy and more importantly, what we don’t buy.Rome never looked this good.And that will eventually make it’s way back to them, but it’s not a direct link. We definitely got the impression in talking with them that they understand the implications and are looking into the issues that simmers and gamers have with their product, but it may be very early in that process. To the extent that we could, we wanted to impress upon them the importance of listening to the end-user point of view, to hear our problems, and to correct what they can, as much as they can, as soon as they can.

Are there legitimate problems with the implementation of StarForce in these recently released simulations? I’d have to say yes, there are, based on what I’ve seen. I have Flaming Cliffs and SH3, and consequently StarForce on my PC and I have not had problems, but as we all know, people have a vast diversity in their rigs and the uses they put them to. It appears that there can problems with the burn capability of CD / DVD drives. Perhaps limited to making copies of another disc, but still a big issue. Other reported problems include instability problems, inability to install the software, activation problems and limitations, and the very real “fear factor” that a lot of folks have about the potential effects on their systems that they have paid very real and significant dollars for. I must state that I think the problems are a small percentage of the overall number of StarForce users, but if you’re one of the few and you have a problem, is it insignificant?

Here’s something important that was pointed out to us by StarForce and which I have seen first hand with Flaming Cliffs. Some of the issues here are not StarForce’s issues, but rather a result of the options and flexibility I mentioned earlier that the publishers/developers have when they implement StarForce. The best example I know of is the “5 activations and you’re out” limit imposed on the early buyers of Flaming Cliffs. Simply, if you bought FC from Eagle Dynamics via the Internet download (which I did), you were limited to 5 activations of the StarForce key, which could be triggered by any combination of the typical “software won’t run-delete and reinstall”, or PC problems we all experience from time to time. Another big one is if you made a significant change to your hardware configuration, StarForce doesn’t like that. Well, the point is that the 5 activation limit was not done by StarForce, it was done by ED. And they heard about it, believe me. It is now corrected, with a small mod you can download going backwards, and the downloadable and CD versions of the sim don’t have the same small limitation. Good on ED.

So where are we now? As I said, we had a very worthwhile meeting with StarForce. I believe we have their attention, and we are going to follow up with them to get our questions asked and see what the answers are. I am heartened by the positive response we had from them, that they understood the situation we simmers are in, that there are people not making a purchase because of their concerns and that this does ultimately have an affect on their business.

A couple of final observations. Security, no matter whether it’s your personal security, an organization’s security, or governmental security, is a balancing act, a tradeoff between absolute freedom with little security on one extreme and a high degree of safety and security but with very limited freedom on the other. Given any general or specific threat, there are a variety of security measures which can be brought to bear. I could make you very, very safe, but your freedom would be impacted big time. You would rarely venture into the public or have many public contacts or do anything that makes life worthwhile.

I was reminded of this today while going through security at the Los Angeles International Airport. We all know of the vast changes in security since 2001. I had to take my shoes off, put my carry-on bag through an x-ray machine, take out my pocket change , walk through a metal detector, and be subject to the critical eyes of many TSA personnel. It wasn’t so bad, some people had a little wanding or more close-body searches done. They could have strip-searched every single passenger traveling out of there today or by contrast let everyone just walk right on the aircraft upon showing their boarding pass. Maximum security / minimum freedom versus minimum security / maximum freedom.

Where does StarForce fit on that scale? We’ll find out, but please be patient. We don’t have a timeline for this, we haven’t even asked the questions yet. So let’s give StarForce the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to hear us out and research the matters and then get back with us. Frankly everybody, and I don’t want to toot our own horn too loudly on this, but I think SimHQ is on the front-line with this, which is exactly where we need to be. So hang tight, when we have something to tell you, we will.

Toot! (sorry, couldn’t resist that one…)

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