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Rainbow Six Vegas, SWAT 4 unplayable due to disabled ad server (twitter.com/_eezstreet_)
293 points by danso 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 117 comments

Imagine not being able to rewatch movies from the 50s-80s because "the servers were shutdown".

This is what's gonna happen to a whole lot of modern games. What a waste.

Only pirates can help them.

A lot of really old games were unplayable without the manuals - most of these have gotten fan-patches to disable the security checks. I imagine we'll see something similar with more modern games but for the always online features.

Usually with enough dedication you can track down and hack out the activated code - and if an old DRM system falls into disuse a lot of companies will just release the details on it making it even easier to patch out.

An example I ran into recently is Far Cry 3. It's not that old either. It has a coop campaign that's now unplayable due to server disrepair. Invitations to lobby do not work.

How many games didn’t get these patches? Let’s not forget cracking an 80s game is significantly easier than a modern title, too.

Most games get cracked within 1-3 months after release. For specific deep denuvo integration titles it can take a bit longer (or it might never happen if the game is bad or nobody cares about it, but that rarely happens). For smaller titles that use off-the shelf DRM related to a specific store, there are general-purpose bypasses that work fine in basically every case.

In summary I would say that the coverage is a lot more complete than you'd expect :)

Does it matter? The game developers I've talked to are well aware that they're trading some aspect of long-term historical significance for short term gain, and it doesn't seem to bother them.

To use a sports analogy here, do you think it really matters to football coaches that the players can't go back in time and play the game exactly as it was played 100 years ago, for various reasons? The equipment and safety practices have changed, the old fields have been rebuilt or destroyed, the minutiae of the rules have changed quite a bit over time, etc. People could try to do a historical re-enactment of sorts, it wouldn't be the same, but that's okay because the game would still be fun if it was done the right way.

But there are movies that you can't rewatch because the company didn't release them and isn't playing the film anymore.

Neither of you are wrong. But this isn't good context since the game was in their hands. Your example means the movie isn't in your hands.

Pirates, modders and reverse engineering tools.

When piracy is more user friendly than a paid service, the service owners should take a step back and rethink what they're doing.

Piracy is almost always more user friendly than a paid service, and has been for as long as I can remember - at least as far back as when DVDs had unskippable "don't pirate this" messages which didn't appear on the pirated version

I mean.. netflix had a point... install an app, pay some low fee, choose a show, and watch. Compared to this.. installing a torrent client, finding the torrent file, choosing a right "download" button on non-adblocked browsers, waiting,... it's a pain in the ass.

But now... 5 different subscriptions, and still unable to get the show you want,... yeah, not anymore.

For contrast, try out Plex sometime.

and Hollywood acted so surprised when Popcorn Time became popular. Imagine that.

> Only pirates can help them.

I remember the Battlefield 2 community tried to revive the multiplayer servers after GameSpy shut down.

EA sent them a C&D.

This might happen, the technology to put ads in old and new movies already exist.

OTOH these innovations in creating artificial scarcity is what enabled the games to be funded in the first place. At least this way they exist, and can (and will!) be rescued by the hackers of the world.

EDIT: it's impossible to make money off of digital goods without artificial scarcity. This is because data is naturally not scarce. In the beginning, physical media allowed data goods to piggy-back on the retail structures already in place. Personal computing and the internet has mostly eliminated that form of scarcity. New forms of scarcity have been invented, some better than others (from the end-user perspective). Note that this truth applies to FAANG as well. Facebook and Google's fortunes have been built on the scarcity of ad space. Gaming companies have invented ways to create scarcity ranging from account-bound DRM (Steam, Battle.net), dongles, and always-on phone-home requirement for the runtime. And more. All of these technologies exist to extract money from something that is naturally not scarce. And rather than hate that fact, consider that without the ability to extract monetary value, these projects would not have been executed in the first place. So what's worse: a world in which we have excellent games hobbled by money extraction mechanisms, or a world in which we don't have excellent games? I know which one I prefer.

That view of things denies the possibility that people would have found alternative solutions to problems if the abusive solution didn't exist. In a word, it's short-sighted. Competition tends to drive otherwise viable strategies to extinction if a much easier one exists, and getting rid of that dominant strategy can allow alternative strategies to thrive.

The production costs of digital goods are naturally scarce. We "just" haven't (yet) figured out a good way to compensate people for those, so we turn to artificial scarcity.

Design is naturally scarce; the goods themselves are not.

Yeah you'd need data to back that up. Game conglomerates are making bad decisions left and right and yet are swimming in profit.

That is a speculative argument, not data. While games haven't increased in price the addressable market is exponentially larger. In fact they have probably benefited from keeping the price low.

The reason you see alternative monetization is because it is so damn profitable, not because it is needed simply to fund the games. Look at Warzone, brings in $5.2M per day. There are countless other examples.

Investors want to go where there is maximum profit. But that doesn't mean we need these schemes just for the games to exist.

I think the other reason, besides micotransactions being more profitable, is it's just a better business model for most companies. Having a reasonably predictable regular income is preferable to a one off hit or miss of a single player AAA game.

Companies like Sony still do it, but Sony gets a cut of every transaction on their platform, so they have their regular income as well.

Microsoft has sort of figured out a solution with gamepass where they can make large offers to devs in order to minimise their risk.

Whole industry is shifting towards it.

It's not speculation. The data is NDA'd, but the authors of that video are industry consultants who can give a general opinion.

If the data is not visible, for an outsider there is no difference between someone making something up and someone making a well-founded argument. Given historical examples, it is more reasonable to assume they are making stuff up. This is what the industry as a whole has always done.

> OTOH these innovations in creating artificial scarcity is what enabled the games to be funded in the first place.

Maybe I haven't had enough coffee, but I don't think I understand.

Modern AAA games are incredibly expensive. This isn't a few devs doing late nights for a few months, it's hundreds of designers, artists, level designers, developers, testers, marketers, and more for long timelines. All of those people need plenty of hardware, and they all collect salaries and (hopefully) benefits.

You can't just quit your day job, live off your savings for a bit, and make a game like this. You need a big team with funding set up ahead of time, and that finding won't be released - either by external investors or management at a studio - unless you expect to make a return on that investment.

I don't understand what artificial scarcity has to do with it.

Are you saying that if old games didn't eventually break because people didn't maintain them, new games wouldn't be made?

"Artificial scarcity" - which here is code for in-game ads and DRM - helps encourage people to purchase the game and guarantees revenue even in pirated copies. It doesn't mean guaranteeing the game will eventually break, but it does mean guaranteeing it will get a certain number of sales/revenue for a period of time.

I was active in gaming in the early-mid CD-ROM era and saw this in practice. If something can be trivially pirated (copy the files on the disc to a new one) it will be copied like wildfire. If it takes a bit more effort (bad sectors that make naive copying fail, etc.) then piracy won't go away but will become rarer. As the effort to pirate becomes more intense, if buying it is easier people will. If ads let you drop the price to a point where it's more affordable, more people will choose to pay it. Etc.

I don't understand how in-game ads contribute to artificial scarcity. It's just another source of funding for the studio.

Games are also in a weird position compared to other things that are expensive to develop, because a large fraction of their target market either doesn't have a lot of disposable income. Adult gamers with lots of money are probably not abundant enough to justify raising prices.

That said, I'm not sure "artificial scarcity" is the right way to think about this. No company is making money off of five year old games. The fact that they connect to an ad server has nothing to do with creating artificial scarcity, it's just another revenue stream for the game company.

> No company is making money off of five year old games

GTA 5 came out in 2013 and sold 20 million copies last year. Several games sold better after 5 years than most others at release.

Speak to some gamedevs at various sizes of studios. You'll hear stories like "We can make this game with ads/microtransactions/DLC to fund part of the development, or we can not make this game at all due to lack of funding."

And speak to the recotd labels during the Napster era to hear thar no music would be made without CD sales.

The games industry is more profitable than the movie industry. I think they can figure out how to make games that don't rot on people.

Tangent: SWAT 4 still has an active community including actively developed mods. It's arguably the peak of the tactical shooter genre (at the very least for indoor urban combat). It's also still for sale on GOG.com.

MS fixed this. Also in the meantime the community created a DLL that changed the server to localhost.

Which I’m sure many players will forget to remove.

I played through Elite Force a few months ago, it was great.

I'm actually glad this came up into my feed, because I see Elite Force had a new release this summer. My tactical gaming group would love to do another playthrough.

I find this funny when just a short while ago, Microsoft was having issues loading ads into Windows 11[1].

[1] https://www.ctrl.blog/entry/windows11-empty-taskbar.html

Ubisoft has been really, really bad about game preservation. They're up there with Activision/Blizzard with complete indifference to their core audience. The 'right' thing to do would be to open-source this game like iD did with the Quake series: nobody is actually buying this game anymore, and if you really wanted to be a frugal bastard you could make the asset/map files proprietary while releasing the engine to the community. The current state is that nobody can really play this though, so nobody wins.

Side note: is it possible to fix this by routing through a custom DNS and spoofing the ad server? This seems like a pretty rudimentary issue, and could probably be solved with the technological equivalent of Krazy Glue and duct tape.

While I agree with you in principle, its often not as easy as just releasing the code. Modern games are built upon many different third party libraries handling anything from the user interface through to physics, and I can see it not being worth the legal wrangling to get licenses for those that allow republishing.

Doom/Quake are a bit of an exception because iD have always implemented basically everything themselves, dramatically limiting how many third parties they'd have to negotiate licenses with.

And that exception doesn't really apply anymore: I'm pretty sure the new Dooms have commercial middleware like anything else, and they're no longer open-sourcing them. They haven't even commercially licensed out the engine to anybody in forever.

To release Doom 3 as OSS, Carmack had to rewrite patent encumbered parts of the code.


Replace "id" with "Carmack". This is discussed in Masters of Doom; Carmack's programming was so far ahead of their competition and he was willing to live at the office nearly 24/7.

> is it possible to fix this by routing through a custom DNS and spoofing the ad server?

It says in the thread, they already fixed it by having the madserver.net server reject connections.

Previously Microsoft parked it by having it handshake and send empty replies, which worked for other madserver-seeking games but choked these two.

Since switching to TCP rejects cleared the issue, a custom DNS entry was probably a viable workaround before the upstream fix.

To this day I still can't play far cry 4 that I paid for on windows 10.

Even if no one is buying the game anymore, if they are playing it that means they are filling their gaming “need” already and are less likely to buy the new products being sold.

I don’t agree with it, but I can’t think of a single game company that is not incentivized to obsolete their games much the same way phone manufacturers are incentivized to obsolete their phones

I read elsewhere that they have fixed it: blocking connections succeeds where blackholing connections failed.

> nobody is actually buying this game anymore

I think there are more than enough people who would pay a few euro for the convenience of installing an old game on their phone, console or modern OS straight from an App store or website instead of going through instruction on Github for free.

Haven't you just described GoG? They're taking preservation seriously, and as far as I know they're able to make a profit doing so.

Would be great if they started pushing to release the source-code of more games, but they're still much better than nothing.

That's why I suggested they go the Quake route, forcing you to own a copy of the game legally for you to dissect the map/asset files, but also not blocking you from performing rudimentary research on the engine if you so desire. They didn't release the source so that other people could compile their own versions (although ostensibly you could), but moreso to encourage people to read the code and learn how such a large, interconnected system functions. You can still buy Quake 1 and 2 on Steam, and they'll probably run just fine (Windows support is shaky these days). They're the same as they were 20 years ago, so nobody is really getting gypped when they pay for it. I personally think it's the best way to distribute game source.

Unfortunately the industry norms have moved in the opposite direction. It's rare to even get modding tools these days. Publishers view modding tools as a support burden and potential source of competition to their DLCs.

> You can still buy Quake 1 and 2 on Steam, and they'll probably run just fine (Windows support is shaky these days).

Aren't there various actively-maintained forks of the engines that will run perfectly on modern Windows?

Reminds me of the great video from Nick Robinson talking about Ubisoft pulled Driver: San Francisco from all digital storefronts:


I've been trying to replay Ghost Recon Future Soldier recently and strongly agree. The hoops you have to jump through to get co-op to work are ridiculous, including removing all but one network interface (virtual or physical).

Note: the last tweet in the thread said they emailed Microsoft and they fixed it. So the games work again.

> In September of 2021, the content server for Massive Ads (http://madserver.net) started delivering blank content to anyone that requested it. Presumably, Microsoft shut down the service. Of course, this had the effect of knocking a few games offline that couldn’t understand the responses they were getting. I sent a few emails to Microsoft and they were helpful enough to refuse connections to the address. So as of now, you should be able to play SWAT 4 again.

Neat fix - presumably an empty response blew up the XML parser but ECONNREFUSED escapes to safer code?

It would have to handle ECONNREFUSED etc to work in offline scenarios or on firewalled networks, I suppose?

This makes sense since "rendered unplayable while connected to the internet" sort of implies if you disabled your internet, everything started working again.

Neat fix for a solution that was flawed to begin with. Sending blank 200 response is a bad idea. If your service stops, stop sending 200 status responses to any client.

As I understand it, the blank 200s were needed for other games which didn't handle the connect refusal as gracefully .

Right, the game shouldn't have crashed regardless of the response from a web service, let alone an ad one.

Bit unrelated, but I really like that domain name. Looks like "mad"

At least the games didn't blame the customer. I've hit several websites that instructed me to disable my ad blocker, because the ads they tried to serve failed to load.

Thanks for increasing my list of examples why this is so bad.

Ads in full priced videogames. Lawful evil in its simplest form.

This clip from the latest (full-priced) entry in the NBA 2K series has been going around the last few days. Truly pushing boundaries in in-game advertising. You can visit a State Farm retail outlet and talk to an employee who says what a big fan he is and gives you a State Farm employee uniform you can wear in the off-court parts of the game.


I picked up 2k18 a while back. I'm not really a sports fan, but I do remember sports games being pretty fun when I was younger.

Holy hell, I'm not even sure I'd call that a game. I swear it took 20 minutes to actually start a match because of all the explicit ads, then ads disguised as ceremony. And 30 seconds into play, it crashes.

I can't imagine why people actually pay for these games year after year.

> the explicit ads

as in "THIS IS AN AD" or as in "this is a porn ad"?

This is borderline Onion material

If memory serves, the nominal price of most video games has not changed in about 30 years. US dollars are, at least officially, worth 2.5x less now than when Mario came with Duck Hunt. I’m not that shocked that alternative monetization strategies are employed (micropayments are a big one).

Seems like there could be a demand for an independent standards committee that certifies games as shenanigan-free. My children are starting to play games themselves, so I’d like a service like that. I would pay a premium to know my kids aren’t going to be prompted to put in my credit card information and won’t be assailed with toxic marketing ploys.

A very old argument. The counter is: the audience for videogames has massively expanded. The secondary counter is: $70 is merely the entry point into games. Even before you look at microtransactions, you have battle passes, dozens of deluxe versions, and season passes.

If this was really an issue - game prices not keeping up with inflation - publishers wouldn't be posting profits (not revenue, profits) in the billions of dollars.

And on a more explicit point: God of War, a game with no microtransactions or any other BS, made their company over $500M in revenue in a year, for a game that cost them under $100M to make.

So while I'm not surprised these multi-billion-dollars-of-profit companies are so ready to squeeze as much money as they can out of us, I don't attribute it to Tiny Tim begging for enough money to live, but to Ebenezer Scrooge hording as much money as he possibly can, no matter the societal cost (or cost to himself).

> And on a more explicit point: God of War

You're taking the most succesful game on the most successful platform as an example, not sure it's very relevant for the thousands of games that get released every year...

And yet it's not the thousands of games that are released each year that include extra advertising, but the the largest and often most successful ones, because they know they can get away with it, and they're the ones with a built in audience to sell to advertisers.

Not every game is going to find success. We could do with a lot less of the major publishers ideas of "pay us $80 after the battle pass for the same shit you've been playing for 4 years with a new paint job".

If an independent company like New Blood can find success simply by making good games and being a good company then major publishers can follow suit or die off.

Another data point is inflation-adjusted minimum wage, which has mostly stayed steady over this time [2019 post though].


A lot of people who buy games aren't on 6-figures.

The user base has grown exponentially since then and it is far easier to impulse buy games than ever before (30 years ago I had to drive to a store to buy a boxed copy). There are far more gamers than before. Steam has also shown that by giving deep discounts even though per-unit profit goes down they are able to make tons more money.

The monetization schemes are mostly just a way to squeeze every drop out of the customer possible. They use them because they work, not because they aren't profitable already.

Exponentially is definitely the wrong word here

My real estate agent said home prices were increasing exponentially and I said I really hoped my house wasn’t going to be worth billions next year.

> If memory serves, the nominal price of most video games has not changed in about 30 years.

They have. Mario was $50, games generally run $60+.

The big difference? You don't need to manufacture a cartridge anymore.

No, Mario was $25 MSRP. See here[1] for some old copy showing prices, the majority at $25, a few at $30 and $35.

1: https://www.quora.com/How-much-did-the-game-Super-Mario-Bros...

I think the first Super Mario was unique in that sense (given it came included with most consoles). I specifically remember asking for video games and my dad responding with disbelief that they were fifty bucks. It was a super common price point for NES.

I recall specifically SMB3 retailing at $55 at Walmart.

If you look at the link, it's not the majority of locations selling SMB for $25, it's the majority of launch titles for NES games being $25, with a few slightly more expensive.

I see some reports online that the average price was $50 in 1990, and others that say $40-$50, and maybe slightly higher for select titles. I think it's fairly safe to say that Nintendo priced their launch titles low to attract people, and third party titles were likely averaging $40-$50 within a few years.

I also think it's safe to say that most people's memories about this are fairly faulty, given 30+ years. There's numerous reports online about people saying they paid $60 for all their NES games. In addition to that, there were probably some places that sold above MSRP, and some people bought from those locations.

The other big difference is that the typical AAA title isn't made on a budget of < $200,000 anymore.

And yet, somehow, they're still making billions in profits. That implies that sales are still sufficient to pay back the development and marketing process, and still make profits.

My example I've used elsewhere in this thread: God of War, a game without microtransactions, making $500M in the first year for under $100M in development costs.

You have to correct for inflation. 1986 Mario would be $120 today.

The generation-specific costs (cartridges) and margins (physical retailer cuts, boxes, licensing fees) would have also been corrected for inflation.

A bit of research shows an approximate $7 for developer cut of each sale at the 1988 figures. Given the approximate inflation adjustment, that becomes $18.20. Given that cartridge, physical retailers, and boxes are mostly gone, and even even with the deep licensing fees of the platforms today (30%), a $50 game will make the developer almost twice as much revenue as it did in 1988.

The 60$ price point as a solid, immovable object appeared during the PS2 era. Everyone was on cheap discs, and it sort of happened.

You're ignoring how much bigger the market is today.

Cars have increased in price while the market has increased...

Cars are waaaaaaay fucking better than they were in the past. My dad had a Mustang in the mid 90s, paid about $20k for it, it had 225hp, cloth seats, crappy stereo, got like 16mpg, handled like crap with skinny 16" tires, and was a completely unsafe tin can of a car.

I have a newer one that I paid $35k for, it has 460hp, leather interior, a banging sound system, dozens of airbags, computer-controlled wizbangery that makes the car a breeze to drive, massive tires, and somehow gets 20mpg.

Adjusted for inflation, these cars cost the same, but the newer one is such an incredibly massive improvement in every aspect.

Games are waaaaaaay fucking better than they were in the past. …

It makes sense that games would get so much cheaper over time, considering much more sophisticated manufactured goods have improved considerably while getting cheaper after inflation.

Cars have a higher development investment, as well as marginal costs per unit considerations. Adding a feature to a car, like a carbon fiber hood over a steel one, incurs an added unit cost, while adding a level or something to a game has almost no marginal cost increase.

> Lastly, the growth in the car market is roughly proportional with the increase in population, while the gaming industry has grown at double digits per year for decades now.

It's not like I'm getting five cheap 2008 Fiestas in a Humble Bundle any time soon :-P

EDIT: I stepped away for a moment and just noticed that you edited your answer. I'll keep my reply intact anyway.

> while adding a level or something to a game has almost no marginal cost increase

ha ha ha

I'd rather see prices on games get raised than this sort of shit. The problem is every time prices go up everyone brings out the pitchforks, so we get this shit instead. It's largely turned me off of video games, especially big budget multiplayer focused games.

It's not an either/or situation. If publishers can raise the price of video games, they will NOT stop with ads and battlepasses and microtransactions etc. Why would they ever do that when those things make them more money than people actually purchasing the games in the first place?

I'm not hugely opposed to price increases: these things happen. But the reality is you'll just get both. Now that it's determined that players will accept ads, microtransactions, gacha, etc., why not raise prices and also get those revenue streams. FIFA costing $70 will not stop the all-encompassing focus on Ultimate Team. (For perpective, just the Ultimate Team modes in their sports games supply about a third of EA's total revenue.)

It's like when people say "if you're not paying for a service, then you're the product" to describe when user data is sold, when in actuality many services you do pay for happily sell your data all over the place.

I can’t remember the internet exact year but I do remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth when they went from $50 standard to $60 standard sometime after 2000. Other than that one exception though, I believe you’re correct on prices.

They're up to $70 now on consoles.

The barriers to entry for developing, publishing, and distributing a game have also plummeted, meaning there is far more competition in the gaming industry. This should lead to lower priced games.

Is this really true? Blockbuster games back in the day were universally made by tiny teams.

I'm not one of your downvoters, but these devs still had entire manufacturing, marketing, distribution, and executive teams behind them. Sure, developing the game could take a person a few weeks, but no one person was going to get that onto the shelves of Walmart alone.

That's the big difference today. A person can develop a good game in a reasonable time frame, but they can also put that game on a virtual shelve in front of about a billion gamers world wide.

A price drop is expected with an audience expanding from millions to billions, even if the cost of the average game has shot up.

The best video games back then sold millions... just like today/

Ads in full priced Operating Systems as well. I hate modern times.


It's absurd, really, how ads have become such an invasive part of our lives. To the point where you're looked down upon as abnormal for not appreciating ads.

Full priced non-IAP games do not make as much as F2P, corporate overlords demand games make up the difference somehow.

You are the product. Just because you paid is no consolation.

I'm not even sure we're something as well defined as the product - we're closer to an ATM that they keep making withdrawls from in exchange for some digital code.

Shouldn't there be some fallback in place when the game can't fetch the add from the server? I mean, it's one basic test scenario they should have thought of.

Can't connect != Receives junk from the legitimate server. In that case, "junk" was an empty response.

They did test the game with an unavailable ad server, but it was still brittle (as in: not tested with badly formatted ads)

This is something they want to explicitly stop when they can show ads to a user base, so why make a fallback that allows users to pihole the ads?

You're assuming their motivations. As stated in the Twitter posts, the issue only occurred when a connection to the server was established, but the server returned an empty response. Microsoft fixed the issue after being contacted about it by making the servers completely refuse connections.

Louis Rossmann talked about a similar thing in a recent video: https://youtu.be/DEP_7_gx6M8

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