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Coders crack Oculus DRM in 24 hours, open door to mass piracy

The law of unintended consequences...

Dread Pirate Roberts

On Friday Oculus broke its word and instituted DRM (digital rights management) controls on its virtual reality headset, blocking non-approved games from its kit. The weekend wasn't over when coders struck back and their crack only makes Oculus' problems worse.

The Oculus DRM controls were supposed to kill off a popular piece of code called Revive, which allowed people to play games that are exclusive to the Facebook-owned VR vendor on other headsets, such as HTC's Vive platform.

Oculus' CEO Palmer Luckey had promised that Oculus would be an open platform, but the new code locked it down. Within 24 hours a new version of Revive was on Github and it has made pirating Oculus-only content even easier by bypassing the checks that ensure a VR game has been legitimately purchased.

"I really didn't want to go down this path, but I feel there is no other way," said Revive's author LibreVR.

"This release bypasses the Oculus Platform DRM in Unreal Engine games, so the entitlement check doesn't fail because the headset isn't connected. I still do not support piracy, do not use this library for pirated copies."

The VR community is likely to view that last sentence with a pronounced "meh," and get busy playing. No doubt Oculus engineers are working hard on the issue, but we're in a Red Queen race, with both sides running as fast as they can to stay in the same place.

This DRM war is doing Oculus no favors with fans. Many early investors are still waiting for their Oculus headsets to turn up after production problems delayed shipment. Meanwhile, the handset doesn't have handheld controllers yet, unlike its rival Vive.

This hack tried out the Vive over the weekend and it's as good, if not better, than Oculus' product. It's also a complete package – headset, controllers, and movement sensors all contained in a slinky black box.

Oculus certainly has the right to institute DRM on its platform. It has paid a lot of money for the exclusive rights to some good games, including EVE Valkyrie which looks stunning, and wants to make sure it gains from its investment.

But VR buyers, at this stage, are some of the more technically minded computer users on the planet and have no intention of being shackled by DRM – particularly when they were told Oculus would be an open platform.

The ball in now in Oculus' court – does it carry on fighting for its right to DRM or does it cave? The latter course is unlikely, so it seems the DRM wars have begun on computing's newest battleground. ®

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