back to article Gears of War grind to halt

A digital certificate that expired Wednesday ground Gears of War to a halt last week, leaving many unable to launch the original PC-version of the first person shooter until Epic Games works out a fix. The online cheat detection used in Gears relies on a Windows digital certificate that expired January 28, 2009. Gamers …


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  1. Lol Whibley

    i don't care

    who uses their PCs for that sort of thing anyway?

    they're sooo much more capable of much more important things.. folding protiens and SETI and that lovely Flurry screensaver

    mine's the one with the bandanna in the pocket..

  2. Sooty

    what the hell!!

    not only are they using drm, but they are using drm with a programmed in killswitch that stops the game working if they don't keep updating it !

    after a year, why not just release a patch that pulls the drm, it's not like it's going to massively impact the sales figures after that time

  3. John Latham

    It has to be said....

    Epic Fail!

  4. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    Sure it's DRM

    Sure it's DRM.. it's not the usual rights restriction code that is meant to prevent copying, but signing binaries and disallowing "modified" binaries to run is indeed DRM. (I would think at least you should be able to mod them all you want in single-user play.. I can of course see not allowing modded bins in Internet play, due to the near-100% probability the mods are for cheating.)

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  6. Pierre
    Thumb Down

    Simple workaround

    Just use a pirate version.

    Funny how all these "DRM" features invariably end up breaking the games, thus pushing the gamers towards IP infringements instead of deterring them.

  7. Paul Murphy

    How long does a digicert last?

    Since they all have to have an end date I guess this will keep on popping up every so often.

    So how many more customers will be driven to pirated versions I wonder..


  8. Ed
    Thumb Down

    I'm not the first to say...

    Epic Fail!

    Exactly why DRM is bad. If the Epic had gone out of buisness, nobody would have been there to fix this when it was noticed, and Gears of War would have been lost to PC gamers forever...

  9. tom
    Black Helicopters

    Is/is not DRM?

    Is this an example of a Digital Rights Management system making life difficult for the consumer? Let's see... it's a problem with the supervisory system that manages whether you have the right to run the code, and ... hmm ... and of course it's running in a digital computer. Let' me think; this means that there's a problem with the Computational Permissions Supervion, that's a CPS, not a DRM. So, no. DRM conspiracy theorists can relax.

  10. JBR


    date expiration DRM that can be circumvented by putting your hardware clock back? No really, seriously? LMAO

  11. Christopher Ahrens

    Don't these Certs usually last a lot longer?

    I've seen code-signing certificates that have an expiration date of at least 10 years from now, most are even 30+ years, so why didn't they just pony up the cash to have a 50+ year cert created for this game, especially when it raked in several million...

  12. Paul

    Malware by any other name

    Whether you want to call it DRM or not, it's hostile code. If it's designed to get in my way, not help me, I don't want it on my computer.

  13. Rune Moberg

    expiration = bad

    On one hand, it is good that they put some effort into keeping people from cheating. Cheating ruins the fun for most customers. Quite obvious I think.

    But this sounds like a very bad idea. An expiring certificate?

    One of the common complaints about DRM is that it makes it less certain that a particular software title will run in the future. There was a problem with DRM when Windows 2000 was released. Same with XP. There were definitive problems with 64-bit Windows, but at this point Microsoft seems to have started adding some of the DRM device drivers as part of their OS distribution.

    Games are part of our culture. Last year I bought a rereleased collection of the old Space Quest games that came with a ready-to-run emulator. Great stuff. 20 years from now, I might want to play one of today's games again, but I doubt I want to keep the old hardware around.

    Game publishers should be more sensitive to such issues. I used to buy many games, but now I seldom bother. FS:X was one exception, because it does not even require me to hunt down the DVD before launching the game. That was a good customer experience. (and no, I did not subsequently let all my friends have a copy too)

    Playing games should be convenient and easy. But the publishers want us to become librarians first, so we can keep intimate tabs on our collection.

  14. Dale Morgan

    nothing to do with DRM

    The failure isn't down to a system preventing piracy, this was a failure of the mechanism used to prevent people cheating online.

    If they didn't have these systems then online play would only be won by the people with the best aimbots.

  15. smeddy
    Thumb Down

    There's 4 games I havn't bought because of DRM

    And this was one of them. I don't need or want it on my PC

  16. frymaster

    @seriously, paul

    "date expiration DRM that can be circumvented by putting your hardware clock back? No really, seriously? LMAO"

    no, because it wasn't the date part of the DRM that was circumvented. It was the date part of the in-built MS crypto, which is meant to protect the user from external threats, not stop the user accessing their own data.

    Is the root cause of this a fault in the DRM? No. Is this because of some "killswitch" in the DRM - No (DRM which stops you using the software before a certain date does so by going online and checking for it, it doesn't take your word for it). Do either of these "No"s matter? Also no, because it's still an example of how a DRM system can leave you high and dry. If the certificate had been for 5 years, there's a half-decent chance that no-one would have been able, or bothered, to fix this

    "Whether you want to call it DRM or not, it's hostile code. If it's designed to get in my way, not help me, I don't want it on my computer"

    No, it's code designed to make the game run. You can uninstall, say, starforce, quite easily. It just does you no good, because it's needed. As long as people to resort to hyperbolic statements like "DRM is malware" then the issue will be treated as seriously as "meat is murder", ie it DOESN'T HELP

  17. John O'Hare

    @Christopher Ahrens

    "why didn't they just pony up the cash to have a 50+ year cert created for this game, especially when it raked in several million..."

    Even if they did fork over the cash to get a 50+ year cert, it would still be a nuisance. If I buy a book, I'd expect to be able to use it until it literally falls apart from use (which is a LOT longer than 50 years if it's a hardcover). If I buy game software I wouldn't expect a kill switch after any amount of time, even if it is 50 years.

    Software is digital information, which in itself is not limited to the lifetime of the media it was distributed on. Usually using DRM and binding the information to the media (i.e. the customer is unable to copy this information), the lifetime of the information is artificially reduced, because the CDs and DVDs *do* have a maximum lifespan.

    Though this (seems) not to be the case here, this situation is actually even worse, since the software loses all value to the customer once the company who sold it in the first place goes out of business.

    Using DRM is only a nuisance to your PAYING customers. By using this, they just managed to piss off their entire customer base (Only people who use the pirated version will likely have no problem whatsoever and wouldn't be a paying customer anyway).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I hope they get...

    One big fucking class action suit. Gamers are entitled to get their money back for buying a deliberately broken product.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Good, now maybe all of you will do something productive with your lives, like play World of Warcraft ;)

  20. Stephen

    @frymaster, meat is murder...

    from the cow's perspective... and DRM is malware from the user's perspective.

    it was put best by Paul: "If it's designed to get in my way, not help me, I don't want it on my computer."

    Yes, this implementation was meant to stop people from cheating online (Epic's bugs are enough they don't need people making new problems).

    however time and again it ends up punishing the legit user...

    somewhere along the line big corporations stopped giving the consumer what they wanted, and started telling the consumer what they could have... and that is not the nature of business.

    it needs to stop, or many more people will, like me, become disenchanted with the idea of owning (oops, licensing) things...

  21. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Epic Crash ...... with More to Follow ITs Lead

    "I'm not the first to say... Epic Fail!

    Exactly why DRM is bad. If the Epic had gone out of buisness, nobody would have been there to fix this when it was noticed, and Gears of War would have been lost to PC gamers forever... " ...By Ed Posted Monday 2nd February 2009 21:12 GMT

    Losing the mindless numbing dumb games which program for Wars is no bad thing for DRM.

  22. P. Lee

    Is it DRM?

    Of course it is! The mechanism is designed to restrict code modification rights to the publisher only.

    In many cases this is a bad thing, but in this case its a good thing as it helps prevent cheating which directly and negatively impacts other users, by taking away their fun, which is the product's sole purpose.

    It isn't a conspiracy, its a code re-use error. There was no need to quash execution if the certificate had expired, but its a general part of PKI infrastructure which wasn't ignored.

    Oh yes it is also a demonstration of why DRM in general (i.e. the offensive kind) is worse than its proponents would have you believe.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Yet another Reason

    Why Pirated gamnes are better then DRM infested piles of poo.

  24. Dave

    Reactionist baiting 101

    Reactionist baiting 101: post an article on the register about DRM or Vista or hinting that Linux might *not* be the OS crafted by Ghandi and Jesus themselves.

    Get a grip. Read the article. Think. Post, if it's something new an relevant to the conversation.

    This isn't about DRM stamping on peoples rights to own and play software. I do absolutely agree that it's absymal to have this kind of killswitch (lucky it was while the player base was large enough to still warrant a fix), but throwing in the buzz words just to incite the reactionists is weak.

    Myself, and my friends, have been known to dig out the amiga to play the old classics - it would be a great disappointment to discover we couldn't through this kind of thing. Also, it brings to mind Unreal Tournament, who I believe patched the game when the sequel came out removing the protection... maybe early for GoW but I think games developers should consider this when setting up time limited features...

  25. Oliver Mayes

    Give them a break

    Firstly, it's not DRM, it's a security system that stops idiots from cheating in online games and ruining it for everyone else.

    Secondly, it's just a mistake. They've admitted that they did something wrong and are working to fix it. It's not like they did it deliberately to annoy people, and I doubt that everyone here is a some sort of perfect being who has never made a mistake before.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Everyone who says its not DRM

    Digital Rights Management.

    The content provider has the final say in your access.

    Expired cert? - Access denied citizen!

    What part of not being in FULL control are you sophists not getting?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "No, it's code designed to make the game run."

    Oh, the irony.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And nothing of value was lost.

    So overrated that game, with it's firmly average graphics, horrible square people, and pallete of 256 shades of brown.

    Muscly space marines vs. aliens? Yawn. See for more details about this title...

    But yeah, this isn't so much a DRM issue as one of those Punkbuster style things. It probably shouldn't have stopped the game from running though. Just stopped the Punkbuster style thing working.

  29. Dale Richards

    @Oliver Mayes

    I agree 100%.

    I'm as anti-DRM as anyone, but in this case far too many commentards have jumped on the "OMGZ DRM!!!11" bandwagon before they've read the article properly.

    The anti-cheat systems built into pretty much all online games *can* be restrictive and on rare occasions like this can cause problems for legitimate users, but at the end of the day they are designed and implemented to *protect* the legitimate user from cheats who spoil it for the rest of us.

    Anti-cheat systems could certainly be considered a form of DRM, but unlike most DRM it really does provide added value for the average consumer.

  30. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    DRM or not

    The countdown has started. Gears of War is a time bomb waiting to happen. One day, in five years or in fifty, someone is going to want to run it for old time's sake, and they'll be screwed.

    Might as well get used to it people, you never actually buy software anymore, you just rent it. If you're lucky, your lease is for longer than your interest in the game.

    Some companies still have enough honor not to saddle you with ticking killers like that. Blizzard, for example, is one company I very much doubt will ever do such a thing. But Blizzard is one of a kind.

    I wonder how many of the games I have contain this hidden kill switch that makes my purchase worthless ?

  31. Yorkshirepudding

    mega lulz

    hahahahahaha and this is why i switched to consoles at the beginning of the decade. you can keep your fancy graphics and 10 minute option tweaking sessions last great game on PC was tie fighter to me....

    mines the one coated in asbestos

  32. Mark

    re: nothing to do with DRM

    Hmm. Well, when Lexmark say that their chip that stops you getting aftermarket refills is a copyright restriction, or a garage door opener company says their remote is a copyrighted device, why is THIS not likewise copyright controlling device and hence, a Digital Rights Management issue?

    Seriously, pirate the bloody thing. Cheaper AND better. What more does a RATIONAL Free Market Consumer need?

  33. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  34. Inachu
    IT Angle

    NO WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    You do know by resetting the time clock that if you use some Virrus protection they will view this as time hacking to get more antivirus protection and many will void their virus protection.

    I am not sure though if this affects the current version of Norton 2008-2009

    But Norton Antivirus had a very bad history by users messing with their time clocks.

    Also not only norton but some software also uses the time clock for protection.

    It would be best advised to hold off on changing your clock and make sure your software is safe by doing this.

    But please go ahead if you just have bare windows and World of Warcraft,Age of empires and GEARS OF WAR then yeah you are most likely safe and can change your clock.

  35. Leo Davidson

    DON'T PANIC -- Code signing != timebomb (if done properly)

    DON'T PANIC! :-)

    As Harri Koppel says, the problem is that they forgot to (or didn't realise the had to) timestamp the signing/certificate.

    Timestamped certificates do not expire. If you want an example, bring up the Properties dialog on comctl32.ocx on a Vista machine and you'll see it was signed with a cert that expired many years ago but is still considered valid:

    See here for more detail on timestamping:

    The real problem here is how long it's taking a simple re-signed exe release to reach customers. I presume Microsoft are applying their ridiculous testing/certification requirements just in case the replacement exe somehow... what, is more buggy than an executable that cannot actually be run? I suppose it could delete files or something but surely there's no risk of that if they just re-sign the existing, pre-tested code??

  36. Inachu
    Thumb Up

    Certification faills?


    Lets role play this 50 years into the future and some nerdy teens want to play super old game and they find gears of war on their Holographic pirate CD that holds 5 terabytes of data.

    They try to play this game and can't because of the wrong time?

    But I am sure in the future game hacing will be fully automatic and there will be a hack database to have what ever game you have installed to make it playable.

    So when games reach END OF LIFE and no more support is given and the game company folds or is bought out then will these game companys install a kill bit in the games?

    This would be bad and set a bad precident on how the future judges past software or something similar. Maybe one day there will be an PC gaming meuseum.

    Games like GEARS OF WAR and World of Warcraft. To have these games live on would be a good thing.

  37. Mark

    re: Code signing != timebomb (if done properly)

    Well, there's no benefit for the company to DO it properly. By the time the custard finds out, the company has been bought sold, gone bankrupt and bought again. Several times. And it costs them more.

    So the "if done properly" is WHY "PANIC" is right.

  38. H

    Perspective Pedantry

    It's a third person perspective game, not first person.

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