Encryption Chip Will End Piracy, Says Atari Founder

By Aaron Linde, May 23, 2008 1:57pm PDT At yesterday's Wedbush Morgan Securities conference, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell claimed that a stealth encryption chip will "absolutely stop piracy of [PC] gameplay."

"There is a stealth encryption chip called a TPM that is going on the motherboards of most of the computers that are coming out now," explained Bushnell, according to a GamesIndustry report.

"What that says is that in the games business we will be able to encrypt with an absolutely verifiable private key in the encryption world--which is uncrackable by people on the internet and by giving away passwords--which will allow for a huge market to develop in some of the areas where piracy has been a real problem."

Piracy has been a hot-button issue in the PC gaming industry for some time now, with renowned PC developers such as Crytek, id, and Epic claiming that the high rate of pirated PC software forced them to put games on other platforms.

"I've seen studios close as the result of it, I've seen people lose their homes," former Ritual QA manager Mike Russell told Shacknews while discussing the effects of piracy. "I guess I'm more vocal than a lot of people because I've seen the personal side of it, and it's just sad that we have so many people looking for a way of justifying it."

Bushnell suggested that though movie and music piracy will likely continue unabated, game markets made previously inaccessible due to piracy issues will begin to flourish as the chip's install base grows.

"Games are a different thing, because games are so integrated with the code. The TPM will, in fact, absolutely stop piracy of gameplay," he noted. "As soon as the installed base of the TPM hardware chip gets large enough, we will start to see revenues coming from Asia and India at a time when before it didn't make sense."

After founding Atari and making Pong a household name, Bushnell went on to create the Chuck E. Cheese franchise, which mixed pizza eateries with arcades and animatronic stage performances.

Since then, he has moved away from the mainstream video game industry, and recently went so far as to label modern games "pure, unadulterated trash."

Click here to comment...


53 Threads | 174 Comments

  • It's getting to the point that invasive APIs (i.e. accessing memory in other process' address spaces) will eventually no longer be usable without specially signed and priviledged code. Disable the hardware component and the software simply fails as it never decrypts.

    Thus you can't say, grab the decrypted executable data as you can't access the memory access APIs to read it back to copy.

    Linux would still be Linux. The kernel would presumably ignore the chip (i.e., the kernel might just say "hi" and that's about it) and software running above that level wouldn't be encrypted/signed anyways.

  • I'm sorry but you can't ever expect 100% closure on piracy. No matter how good the system, you'll always have a few %'s that don't pay or get by without. Honestly, given the number of problems Atari has been in, with money, I'm not terribly surprised by this comment. However the idea he brings up is unlikely to affect any of us for quite a few years I should think. Maybe in the western world, but Asia and South America and Africa will most likely find ways around this and then sell boards manufactured without them. The money isn't in the solution... its in the treatment. I doubt there's a solution to be had here. :(

  • Too bad it won't work. There is the little problem called user-code. Unless it comes out syncronized with a new version of Windows that mandates security certificates for all programs that want to run (e.g. pay a license to Microsoft to get your certificate) then all the pirates will do it remove the protection check and release an unsigned binary which is user-code. The only way to prevent user-code is requiring certificates for all code and that would wreck everything that makes an open-platform like Windows worthwhile. It would turn Windows into a 360. The other issues include the difficulty of checking the operating environment as in how do you know you're not being emulated? A hypervisor type program could be pulling the strings and once all the checks have taken place takes a snapshot of the now unprotected code. Or snatches the keys when they're submitted to an emulated TPM. Hardware today may not be up to that but theres a lot of future ahead to sort that out.