ALChemy

Creative Labs: Where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

by Joey deVilla on March 30, 2008

Creative Sound Blaster Audigy/Vista Incompatibilities

A “Screw U” patch with the Creative Labs logo overlay.

The Audigy series of Creative Labs’ Sound Blasters lost some functionality with the release of Windows Vista:

  • EAX: “Environmental Audio Extensions”, a set of digital signal processing presets that are meant to make sound in games seem more realistic.
  • 3D Audio
  • Sampling rate conversion
  • Audio mixing

Creative’s story is that Microsoft removed “the ‘Vendor Extension mechanism from Vista’s DirectSound implementation,’ which is what Sound Blaster Audigy relied on to generate EAX effects and other audio processing.” Without this bit of code, Sound Blaster Audigy cards produce regular 2-channel stereo sound and not the supposedly more realistic-sounding, spatially-localized sounds for which people bought Audigy cards in the first place.

If this development wasn’t enough to upset Audigy owners, Creative stirred the pot last July by charging $10 for software called Creative ALchemy (that’s not a typo — the first two letters in “ALchemy”, when referring to the software, are supposed to be capitalized). Here’s the description from its page on Creative’s site:

Creative ALchemy (Audigy Edition) restores your Sound Blaster Audigy’s ability to process EAX effects, 3D audio, sampling rate conversion and audio mixing for certain DirectSound3D games in Windows Vista.

Quite predictably, some users were quite annoyed at being asked to pay for this software. In the words of this Gizmodo article, Creative was effectively “charging 10 bucks to fix something that should work in the first place.” A commenter in this CrunchGear article on the issue made a point that the charge could reflect the extra development effort required in making Audigy cards work under Vista, but also suggested that Creative could’ve eaten that cost “for PR purposes”.

For more commentary on Creative Labs’ charging $10 for what some saw as functionality that they had already paid for, see this ZDNet article titled Creative charging $9.99 for Vista EAX update?.

The Good Deed and the Punishment

In the comments for the Gizmodo article I cited earlier, there’s a reference to a free software workaround that enabled the features lost with a Vista upgrade. The workaround was posted to Creative’s forums and the commenter felt it necessary to note that the post “surprisingly, hasn’t been removed yet”.

It’s quite likely that the workaround in question was a solution posted by one “Daniel_K”. Here’s what a Gizmodo article posted yesterday has to say about it:

Developer, good-guy and all around hero, Daniel_K stepped up to the challenge, putting together his own drivers and asking for non-obligatory donations in recognition of his effort. Daniel_K’s drivers restored functionality, and added some extra features to boot.

You might think that Creative would be pleased: here’s a user with the will and the skill to develop a software fix that restores functionality to their hardware under Vista — essentially crowdsourcing at its best.

However, they were not pleased. Here’s a message posted to their forums by Creative’s VP Corporate Communication, Phil O’Shaughnessy. I’ve emphasized the part of the message that really grind my gears:

Daniel_K:

We are aware that you have been assisting owners of our Creative sound cards for some time now, by providing unofficial driver packages for Vista that deliver more of the original functionality that was found in the equivalent XP packages for those sound cards. In principle we don’t have a problem with you helping users in this way, so long as they understand that any driver packages you supply are not supported by Creative. Where we do have a problem is when technology and IP owned by Creative or other companies that Creative has licensed from, are made to run on other products for which they are not intended. We took action to remove your thread because, like you, Creative and its technology partners think it is only fair to be compensated for goods and services. The difference in this case is that we own the rights to the materials that you are distributing. By enabling our technology and IP to run on sound cards for which it was not originally offered or intended, you are in effect, stealing our goods. When you solicit donations for providing packages like this, you are profiting from something that you do not own. If we choose to develop and provide host-based processing features with certain sound cards and not others, that is a business decision that only we have the right to make.

Although you say you have discontinued your practice of distributing unauthorized software packages for Creative sound cards we have seen evidence of them elsewhere along with donation requests from you. We also note in a recent post of yours on these forums, that you appear to be contemplating the release of further packages. To be clear, we are asking you to respect our legal rights in this matter and cease all further unauthorized distribution of our technology and IP. In addition we request that you observe our forum rules and respect our right to enforce those rules. If you are in any doubt as to what we would consider unacceptable then please request clarification through one of our forum moderators before posting.

Phil O’Shaughnessy
VP Corporate Communications
Creative Labs Inc.

Simply put, Creative is saying that by fixing stuff that they’ve broken on purpose in order to gouge more money out of their customers, you’re stealing from them. It’s just another case of a vendor seeing its customers as “batteries for their Matrix”, or a Jay Michalski puts it, gullets that live under the end of the distribution system’s conveyor belt, where they gulp down products and crap out cash.

Oddly enough, there are a couple of commenters to the Gizmodo articles who come to Creative’s defense, one of whom brings up the fact that if Daniel_K did any reverse engineering of Creative’s drivers for Audigy cards, he broke the EULA. These people are the sort that Dante was thinking of when he wrote about that part of the 8th Circle of Hell reserved for evil counselors.

Pig labelled “Creative Labs” gorging on food in a bucket.

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