StarForce – the ultimate evil

Yesterday I downloaded and attempted to install the demo of X3: Reunion, and the whole process has left me incredulous…


The X3 demo turned out to use StarForce copy protection, which failed to install on my machine running 64-bit Vista, even after applying the X3 hotfix and the StarForce Vista update. By this point I had scoured Google along with several support forums, which lead me to believe that StarForce is completely incompatible with 64-bit Vista.

I had been very much looking forward to giving the game a spin, but at this point i was stuck, so I uninstalled the demo, and figured that would be an end to it. I never should have figured that StarForce would give up so easily – when I tried to boot up the machine this morning, Vista refuses to startup because the uninstaller had left the broken StarForce drivers in place.

No big deal, boot up in safe mode and delete the problematic drivers, right? No such luck, StarForce had even managed to install these broken drivers in safe mode.

Next stop, the Vista installation disk, which has a repair feature. The repair went as expected, showed success, but when I tried to reboot, the problem was still there.

Luckily I had a Knoppix Live-CD lying around from some old experiments, and this was able to boot the machine into linux. A couple of driver downloads later I was able to access the files on the main hard drive, and delete the offending StarForce drivers by hand, which fixed the problem.

Time wasted: ±3.5 hours.


Now, these things do happen, once in a while, but a couple of complete mysteries remain, starting with the most obvious: why does it need StarForce to be there in the first place?

In case you haven’t heard of it, StarForce is a copy protection software which installs a custom driver for your CD drive, to make sure you are playing with the original game CD in the drive (i.e. not a copy). Aside from the many technical problems associated with this process, and the inability to make backups of your games, two major WTFs are immediately obvious:

1) This is a demo meant to be downloaded from the internet – it doesn’t come on a CD, so why in hell’s name does it need CD copy protection?

2) This is a demo – a free product intended for promotional use. Note the words ‘free’ and ‘promotional’, which imply that any copies distributed are actually beneficial to the publisher, as they represent the potential for future sales.


I asked a few friends who had been following the similar issue surrounding DRM in the demo of Spore, and they commented that the publisher’s justification for the presence of DRM in the demo was that having a non-DRM demo would help hackers to crack the DRM on the full game.

If the publisher was totally out of touch with reality, this might actually have been the reason, but it was obviously a failed initiative, as the piratebay shows no less than 5 separate cracked versions of X3 for download.


As for the future? I am joining the StarForce Boycott, and won’t be buying any games that use it.

Amusingly enough, the publisher of X3 has released a patch that removes StarForce from the game itself – but not the demo. I don’t as a rule buy any game without playing the demo first, so I am afraid that despite the game’s excellent reviews, they too have lost me as a customer.


  1. I think there is a good reason to include DRM with the demo. Consider what would have happened had the demo came to you without DRM.

    Let us assume you enjoyed the demo, and went and bought the game. Now you install the DRM and find it is unusable.

    Essentially, by including the DRM you get a realistic test of whether the game will actually run on your system. Which is one of the two things you generally want to know when using a demo, the other being ‘will I like this game’.

  2. The demo was probably made from an older version of X3. Starforce is woven into the games engine and usually takes a pretty severe rewrite to remove (Trackmania Nations still uses starforce, and it’s a free game) so it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to leave it in because it wasn’t worth the cost of removing it.

  3. Pingback: Windows 7 doesn't start after installing a game with StarForce protection

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