How to *not* license software

3 minute read

One of the perks we offer at Telligent is the ability to expense copies of Half-Life 2 for the purpose of “team building” — yes, it’s a stretch but Counter Strike and now Day of Defeat are really fun games you can play with a group of people and it works well over the Internet (our team is scattered around the U.S. and U.K.).

Half-Live 2 is produced by Valve, definitely a talented set of software developers. They distribute their products through something known as Steam. Steam is a software application you run on your PC that can both download and update you copies of Valve’s software; including allowing you to easily purchase new software as it’s released. However, when using Steam you also have a “Steam ID” you use to login … and it turns out that Valve can shut-off accounts that are pirating it’s software. And so our story begins….

About 2 weeks ago all of our Telligent Steam accounts were shut-off. Meaning no one could login to Steam or play any of the games we purchased and had paid for. As it turns out since we purchased all our accounts through the same American Express we were automatically flagged as “pirates”.

Below is an example of one of the email replies we received from the Valve support team after opening a support ticket (they only offer email support – which is frustrating too):

You will need to send photos of all the cdkeys on each account and also the full billing information and contact phone number for each card that was used on your accounts.

Huh? Isn’t that why I created a “Steam” account? We considered faxing some pictures of some “other” items, but our reply:

That’s absolutely ridiculous. We can’t keep up with every CD key and every receipt for every purchase we’ve had.

Yes, we have 20-40 accounts but luckily whatever ridiculous algorithm you guys used for disabling all these accounts didn’t hit everyone’s accounts, and you’ve actually reinstated a few already.

The fact is we paid for everyone one of these accounts and can pull our own credit card records and such to show it. We’ve spent thousands of dollars now on buying this for our employees (either directly or through expensing it for them) and now they’re worthless. You guys didn’t do an ounce of investigation or confirmation before closing us down, and now you ask for unreasonable information to be shown in order to reinstate the accounts.

After countless emails back and forth with support people at Valve our accounts were re-enabled. No apologies from Valve though. Just a reply, “Your account is now re-enabled.” <sigh/>

I’ve done a lot of thinking about how you license software recently. Techniques like this, i.e. the ability to “zap” software, is just wrong. I used to take issue with how stringent Microsoft’s licensing policy is with hardware configuration changes possibly causing a license to become invalid, but I’ve also never had a problem with it. Valve’s policy is over the top and from reading their forums we weren’t the only ones affected. Hopefully they’ll change as aggresive software licensing like this only hurts their paying customers.

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