Rock stars Max Payne 3 is now 70% off as part of the 2014 Steam Holiday Sale, but fans of neo-noir crime stories were denied access to the cynical world of the drug-addicted detective yesterday due to a glitch in the game’s third-party authentication and matchmaking system. Starting early on Friday, December 19, the Rockstar Social Club part of the game would only respond with “Error contacting activation server” when players tried to launch the game for the first time.
although Max Payne 3 players only use the Rockstar Social Club for multiplayer games, the Social Club is also a DRM system, which functions as an activation gateway and validates new users’ product keys. PC users who purchase the game through Steam will still need to log into the Social Club before they can play multiplayer or single player.
The issue popped up at a particularly bad time, as Max Payne 3 was featured as a Steam sale item. It sparked a vitriolic Reddit post and numerous threads on the game’s Steam discussion sub-forum, with frustrated customers immediately jumping to the conclusion that Rockstar had disabled or shut down the game’s Social Club service. Max Payne 3 was released on PC in June 2012 and disabling activation services from a 2.5 year old title would have been an extremely hostile move indeed.
Luckily that wasn’t what happened. Ars reached out to Rockstar for comment on Saturday evening, and the company responded quickly, assuring us that the issue was temporary and a fix was being worked on. A few hours later, at around 10:35 p.m., Rockstar informed Ars that the issue had been resolved and the Social Club servers were accepting connections again.
While this was a temporary issue and not an actual shutdown, it once again raises the question of what customers should do if companies decide to discontinue their mandatory DRM authentication and matchmaking services. Several other companies have pulled the proverbial rug out from under paying customers, denying them the ability to play “unsupported” older games. In many cases, customers have no legal remedy as reverse engineered solutions violate the anti-circumvention provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The original Max Payne title was released in July 2001 and remains perfectly playable (with a little tweaking for modern versions of Windows) more than thirteen years later. The first sequel, which was released in late 2003, is also still playable. It is impossible to predict whether Max Payne 3 with its Rockstar Social Club dependency will be as playable as it is the same age as its predecessors today.