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I have a two questions about video games I'd like to ask that I bet you can answer.

  1. Can someone embed a separate free-standing program or separate tool inside of a typical video game that would be downloaded on-line simultaneously to the game installation?

  2. If so, is this a common practice and could you give me any examples of these?

The idea I am exploring is a tool that already exists that would create $$ for non-profits and large charities at no cost to any company. player or to the non-profit.

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closed as off topic by Byte56, Trevor Powell, Maik Semder, Josh Petrie, Nate Jan 14 '13 at 17:35

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IMO this has nothing to do with games, as any executable (word processor, game, music software, etc.) can include other executables. –  Tim Holt Jan 11 '13 at 23:15
    
Typically, nations reserve exclusive right to mint their currency, and do not allow random citizens to do so. I suspect that "create $$" is not actually what you meant, since that would be illegal almost everywhere. –  Trevor Powell Jan 12 '13 at 3:54
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4 Answers 4

Yes, this is possible. It's actually something people do regularly. You would probably better know the strategy by the name Trojan Horse. This is a method that hackers and other people with ill intent do with their software to install programs that the user doesn't actually want. The extra software they install is typically used for collecting information the user doesn't want to give, installing a bot net client or some other harmful software.

It's highly recommend you don't participate this this activity. Users could easily see this as an attack. If you want to distribute software with a game, allow the user to choose to download the software separately.

Strategies for implementing this functionality is most likely off topic for this site.

Do keep in mind that if this is a tool that utilizes the players computer resources or internet, it does indeed cost them money. Processing takes electricity and some people have caps or pay-per-gigabyte data plans for their internet. It's always best to get full consent for any software you install.

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Well, conversely, there's something like steam's in-game popup that also acts like a trojan horse. –  CobaltHex Jan 11 '13 at 23:03
    
I think the redacted "Note: The idea I am exploring is a tool that already exists that would create $$ for non-profits and large charities at no cost to any company. player or to the non-profit." points to something like Folding@Home rather than something malicious. –  Jimmy Jan 11 '13 at 23:04
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@Jimmy To my knowledge Folding@Home is installed with consent of the user, not hidden within other software online. A botnet for charity is still a botnet :) I replaced that portion of the redaction though, as it is probably best to keep it. –  Byte56 Jan 11 '13 at 23:06
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Note: The idea I am exploring is a tool that already exists that would create $$ for non-profits and large charities at no cost to any company. player or to the non-profit.

Anything you install on the players computer that isn't the game is a "cost." It's not a physical monetary cost that comes out of their credit card at the time, but it potentially costs the user bandwidth, electricity, and experience degredation.

That being said, "professional" games do sometimes bundle adjunct software. Here's one offender (note that if you see what people on the internet are saying about PMB, the chatter is mostly about "how can i remove this annoying software I didn't want that is chewing up my costly bandwidth".

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Can other programs be included in a game? Sure. They can be included in MANY programs.

Many (most?) modern software installations (and definitely games) are composed of multiple files in a hierarchical file structure. Typically for a game these are sound files, images, model files, levels and such. And considering that an executable is simply a file like any other file (but one that can execute), there's no reason why executables can't be part of an installation.

Is it common practice? Yes, but not in the malicious way that some think.

Many installations of software include multiple executables. One common extra file you may see an uninstaller. My Photoshop directory has 3 executables in it, only one of which is the actual program. MS Office has over 20. My "VIM" installation has 8. iTunes has two. And for games it's not unreasonable for the installation to include tools or SDK programs.

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1) Can someone embed a separate free-standing program or separate tool inside of a typical video game that would be downloaded on-line simultaneously to the game installation?

It's possible to "embed" software to appear as though it's not getting installed along with the primary package, but it's sneaky and wrong.

It's also possible to request that users install additional programs in addition to the one they're currently installing. This isn't "embedding" per se, but rather is a request for the user to install an additional program.

The mechanism for requesting this differs by platform. On non-AppStore-like environments, the two software companies can make a deal where one agrees to include the other's installer along with their own.

In a modern consumer computing environment (such as the AppStore for Mac and iOS and the new Marketplace in Windows 8) this kind of application behavior won't get approved. You need to present some sort of request to the user indicating that you'd like them to download this other piece of software.

The "request" part is important. The AppStore and Windows Marketplace are enforcing this because installing software without a user's permission is a characteristic of malware. It's like somebody bringing an uninvited guest into your home without your consent. Sure, there's enough people doing it where it's not uncommon, but we all find that guy to be really irritating.

2) If so, is this a common practice and could you give me any examples of these?

This isn't as common as it once was. Commonly you would get the Yahoo Toolbar or the Gator Toolbar bundled with an application that you wanted to install. These programs typically sucked up a lot of resources, or introduced vulnerabilities that compromised the security of user's computers.

If the software you are requesting the user to install has a valid reason for being there, and you are up front about why you want it installed, users may check out the software out of curiosity. Honesty is key.

Download any games by Zynga or Atari or EA and similarly large companies on a mobile device. They will frequently show you popups asking you to download other software.

Update

Pulling up Qqwy's comment into the answer because it's important for Travis to readr:

Important to note: There are still many programs that include other optional programs in their installer. Indeed these are not 'hidden', but because the users will need to úncheck the checkmark, many people still end up with installing the google toobar, yahoo toolbar, etc. even tough they don't really want it.

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Important to note: There are still many programs that include other optional programs in their installer. Indeed these are not 'hidden', but because the users will need to úncheck the checkmark, many people still end up with installing the google toobar, yahoo toolbar, etc. even tough they don't really want it. –  Qqwy Jan 14 '13 at 10:24
    
@Qqwy That's a good way to put it, pulling your comment into the answer. –  michael.bartnett Jan 14 '13 at 18:14
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