I was chatting with a friend about this online, and because I'm lazy, I'll just copy in my parts of the conversation (they're the best parts, really):
It's mind-numbing that the Steam version of Bioshock should require you to activate with both Steam *and* SecuRom...
[friend asks me to explain previous statement]
All right: Steam. It's main problem is the online activation part. You install a Steam game, you need to log in once to turn it on. Not so terrible; they let you install on any number of computers at a time, make physical back-ups, etc. Also you get the benefits of Steam, like downloading any program you've ever bought from them to any computer you feel like. There is some thought that, if the Steam servers go out, you'll be kinda screwed in the future. Not great, but I can deal with it.
Next up: SecuRom.
SecuRom was first designed to keep you from copying the game it came with, and to prevent you from bypassing anti-copy measures.
This is tricky, since computers are sort of built on the principle that bits are bits.
What SecuRom does is essentially install some very low-level drivers.
Of course, SecuRom gets installed with any SecuRom-protected game. Uninstall the game, the SecuRom stays. There is no way for non-technical users to remove SecuRom, once installed.
Once installed, the SecuRom program kind of takes over certain things. Copying a disc? Your computer asks SecuRom for permission. SecuRom makes sure it's not a SecuRom disc you're copying.
Of course, that's what you hope. You've now got this thing wired into your system at a very low level; you just have to hope everything works. Most of the time it does, but a for a small fraction of people, it can cause system instability, etc. If it does, um, good luck.
SecuRom also watches your system to make sure you're running programs they like. If you're running any of a number of system utilities, including one provided by Microsoft and several anti-virus programs, SecuRom won't let you play your games.
Because those utilities allow you to poke at the internal bits of your computers, and I suppose only pirates would do that.
But wait -- invasive software isn't all you get!
SecuRom has also started doing their own software activation process. When you install, and possibly whenever you start the game (they're not very forthcoming about how this stuff they're putting on your computer works), the SecuRom software checks in with the server to see if it will allow you to play.
And here's a fun part -- you only get two installations! That's right, try to install it a third time, even on the same computer, and SecuRom says no.
This is hardware based, by the way. If you change your computer config -- maybe by getting a new video card, for example -- you have to activate a new installation! It could be that a video card alone won't trigger the change; of course, SecuRom isn't telling.
SecuRom also says that, if you run through the "uninstall" process, the activation server will allow you to install again. But if your hard drive crashed, or you just forget to deactivate your software before selling it or formatting and installing a new OS, you're screwed, because you don't have the program to uninstall.
If this happens, you are free to throw yourself to the tender mercy of SecuRom tech support. One guy who has done this already said they demanded he take a picture of the DVD and the manual for the game and send it to them. He may have been lucky; others have said that SecuRom referred them to 2K games, the makers of Bioshock. Of course, 2K games refers you to SecuRom.
In the past, there have been games with SecuRom that made deals to be distributed via Steam. They all removed the SecuRom software from their game, because Steam handled that part. But no such luck with Bioshock; if you get it from Steam, you get two DRM systems for the price of one.
That's right, your software contacts both Steam *and* SecuRom for permission to run.
Making it more likely that something will screw up, and indeed many people have had problems getting Bioshock started. Of course, it still works fine for most folks, so those in the minority who are having problems don't get much help.
Personally, I don't like software activation in general, and I really don't like the SecuRom activation, but I can deal with it. Installing the crapware on my computer, though -- that's why I'm thinking I might not install one of the greatest games ever, though it's in my favorite genre of game, and I have a shiny new computer waiting for it.
I'll probably install it anyway, and feel bad for being a jerk consumer.
So, that's the story. I'm not as outraged as some of the online geek community, though I suppose I should be: none of what I described above is mentioned on the box, and the average buyer will find out some of these facts the hard way. I'm just sad that if I want to play this game, this fantastic, scary, thoughtful game that many people are hailing as a work of art, I have to let some company screw with my computer to do it.