Why Would a Game With No Online Play Require an Online Connection?

For some, the inclusion of DRM - "digital rights management" which prevents copying - is a provocative act. That makes requiring an online check-in for a game with no online component, like Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2, both perplexing and obnoxious.

PlayStation 3 owners buying the sequel to Capcom's show-stealing hit of 2008 were greeted with the message that "you must log-in to the PlayStation Network each time to play the game." Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2 has no online multiplayer component - unless you're counting the leaderboards for the game's challenge rooms. So the requirement, though Capcom first implemented it a year ago, is purely an anti-piracy move.

The question is: How exactly does one pirate a console game acquired from a download service?

The answer is, it's not piracy - not by the traditional definition covering piracy in PC gaming, or on illegally modified consoles. But it is file-sharing, specifically something called "PSN Sharing," which makes use of network users' privilege to download and install content they purchase on up to five different devices. This is meant to support the use of content across other devices like the PSP or PC.

What had been happening were, say, groups of gamers dividing the $15 or $20 cost of a downloadable game, and then one friend either installed it on the other four's devices, or gave them his login information to go fetch it. They would then be able to play the game offline. The PSN connection check verifies whether the account running the game and the one playing it are the same. The requirement to be logged into the PlayStation Network at startup forces that comparison.

That means multiple accounts on the same console - brothers in a family sharing a single PS3, for example - cannot play the same game. They'd have to check-in under one account and then play offline, which even for a game with no online multiplayer cuts off features like trophies or leaderboards.

This goes back a year. Capcom implemented the same requirement with Final Fight: Double Impact, a port of two arcade games from the 1990s. Capcom ran into trouble when it didn't disclose the online connection requirement in the game's purchase window on PlayStation Network. The publisher quickly apologized for that. Although Capcom said the protection measure had been included in previous downloadables, it also indicated its use in Final Fight: Double Impact would be a test case to see if it cut down on sales lost to PSN sharing.

This is not the same as the hated always-on Internet connection Ubisoft required for some PC games last year, and later abandoned, going only to a single check-in at the game's startup. The check on Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2 is made only when the game starts up. After that, one could sign out of the PlayStation Network and continue playing. Technically, sharing the game across multiple users still is feasible, but isn't convenient.

In a quick scan of the PlayStation Network's latest offerings, Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2 was the only one notifying users of an online check-in requirement. It could be that other publishers have different means of protecting their games.

It could also be that Capcom has identified "PSN Sharing" as a problem worth combating, despite the provocation to some gamers, while other publishers can live with it.