The Grouchy Gamer

Yeah, I'm cranky. That's kinda the point...

Don’t Discount the Voice of the Gamer re: DRM

SPOREBack in July, I wrote about the plans EA had to include the SecuROM “Digital Rights Management” rootkit with Spore when it shipped.  I was not the only one who wrote about this to be sure, but the voices of the masses got EA to back down.  A little bit.  In the end, they went ahead and limited you to 3 installs of the game and included SecuROM.

Well the gaming community has spoken with one voice on how it feels about EA and SecurROM.  In spite of Spore being, by all accounts, a wonderful product it now has a user rating of 1 out of 5 stars on amazon.com.  Looking at the Spore review page, it appears that over 1000 people have rated the game with 1 star due to the included DRM. A cursory view of some of the reviews found them to be thoughtful and well-reasoned.  Some examples;

First of all, the game incorporates a draconian DRM system that requires you to activate over the internet, and limits you to a grand total of 3 activations. If you reach that limit, then you’ll have to call EA in order to add one extra activation. That’s not as simple as it sounds, since when you reach that point EA will assume that you, the paying customer, are a filthy pirating thief. You will need to provide proof of purchase, reasons why the limit was reached, etc, etc (it has all happened before with another recent EA product, Mass Effect). EA, of course, is not obligated to grant you that extra activation or even provide that service. In a couple of years they might very well even shut down the general activation servers, because “it’s not financially feasible” to keep them running. What you will be left with is a nice, colorful $50 coaster. And you will be required to pay for another copy/license if you want to continue playing.

Also, another reviewer writes;

I just got through a massive headache dealing with DRM for Adobe Photoshop CS3. I’ve dealt with massive headaches from DRM from Civ3 gold. All of this is on a very high end vista PC. Thanks, but no thanks. I was excited about the concept of this game for many months. That is until I found out about the DRM it uses. I will not buy software with DRM ever again, particularly if they limit the installs to something ridiculous like 3.

I’m not unsympathetic to the game industry’s piracy problem.  I believe it’s overstated, but they deserve to be paid for their work.  The fact is that it’s easier to get a cracked copy of the SecuROM version than it is to secure a licensed copy of the game.  EA has actually disincented me to buy the game by making it riskier to do so than to pirate it.

As long as companies treat their paying customers as criminals, they will continue to lose real money, not imaginary “lost sales to piracy.” They have alienated people like me and my 1000 friends over on Amazon who say “we’re sick and tired and we’re not going to take it any more!” One other point on this.  People who pirate software NEVER buy it, especially if it has copy protection.  I have been in and around the software business since 1987 so I know of what I speak.

I’m going to have to live Spore vicariously through the bloggers that I read.

As long as Spore includes SecuROM, they aren’t getting my money for it.  And I’d encourage you to vote with your wallet on this subject as well.

14 Comments

  1. Update: The count of 1-star reviews is now over 1600.

    That’s $80,000.00 real USD that they aren’t getting from this small group.

  2. Its obviously got me concerned about buying and making me think twice. I’ve installed and uninstalled other games on my computer since I have lots of games and dont keep ones on I dont frequent enough. My daughter is excited about spore but at this point im in ‘wait and see a bit’ mode.

  3. Sadly.. You have convinced me also to not buy it. I was teetering on the edge for a while but not I am going to NOT buy it in protest of EA’s evil. I’ll already be shoveling them some money with Warhammer so it may be a rather feeble protest since they own half of the gaming industry. Still I try to avoid sending them a dollar in the mail whenever I can.

  4. Hmm.

    I bought the game to see Will Wright’s latest creation. Honestly I didn’t even know it had SecuROM.

    Ahh, well, good luck with the crusade!

  5. As of 9:37 PM Eastern time (updated hourly), Spore was ranked #2 behind Warhammer and ahead of the Mario Kart and Wii Wheel bundle, on Amazon.com.

    I don’t know what the actual numbers are and I can’t seem to find them. Somehow, given the success of Mario Kart, I think the number of people who have bought the game is substantially greater than the number of people who’ve posted negative reviews. There are quite a few other places that are also selling Spore, such as Walmart, and its highly unlikely that those customers are in the habit of reading Amazon reviews before purchasing things.

    The bottom line is, as much as I hate DRM, Electonic Arts probably doesn’t care about a “loss” of $80,000 in sales. (I’m quoting “loss” because of the anti-DRM-piracy argument that a company can’t lose what it never had.) For me, the time to start celebrating is when Spore falls off the entire top-100 list. That equates to a potential “loss” of tens of millions of dollars and that would make EA sit up and take notice.

    It’s too premature to celebrate.

  6. The simple fact is, SecuROM is a failure at what it is supposed to do. It is supposed to stop piracy, but a cracked version was available in (correct me if I am wrong) under a day. This has been true of every copy protection for some time now, and before that it sometimes took a week or if you go back a few decades you might find a time when it took a month for a crack to proliferate, but that was probably due more to the slowness of the internet than with the crack being completed.

  7. Piracy is a touchy subject for me.

    Perhaps people should be bitching at their government to do something about it and protect one of the few industries that still has a sturdy foot in North America (okay, so it’s not as sturdy as it used to be). And then companies wouldn’t have to make (futile) attempts to protect their software.

    At the moment, piracy is much easier than it was when you actually had to get your hands on real media vs. just some torrent online. It’s made so easy to go and find pirated versions now. That’s the main issue.

    Start with governments mandating that ISPs filter connections – I’m not talking reading emails or personal stuff but checking torrent contents, downloads and such. Kick and report abusers and actually blocking out connections from countries that aren’t on board for this. That’s really a big part of the problem, people aren’t taking it seriously.

    Imagine legitimate sites getting authorization from your ISP to send large items. Video from iTunes? Sure. Movie from Amazon? Sure. Video games from Steam, Direct2Drive, etc.? Sure.

    Yeah, it likely wouldn’t catch small cracks and so on, but then cracks wouldn’t be needed if people couldn’t get their hands on the software as easily.

    This sort of stuff wouldn’t affect anyone who legitimately purchases software or digital media.

  8. I was going to boycott as well, based on the DRM, but that damned JoBildo eroded my willpower.

    In practical terms, I don’t think I personally have ever installed a game three times, so that wasn’t a big deal to me (personally…I’m not saying it isn’t a huge factor for other people). And the silver lining is that the DRM means I don’t have to have the disk in the drive.

    Which isn’t defending the choice to use DRM, those are just the reasons I used to rationalize my purchase. :)

    We all have to pick our battles and in the end, this one wasn’t important enough to me to outweigh the fun of playing the game. I wouldn’t hesitate to d/l a crack if I ever hit the 3 install limit though.

    And in the end, I really doubt they prevented any piracy by adding the DRM, and they definitely lost some number of sales because of it, so all in all it was a bad call.

    The online component, and the need of a key, are (IMO) “DRM” enough.

  9. Thanks for the heads up. I was planning on getting this game, but now that I know about the DRM it is on my boycott list.

  10. Stardock proved that pirate protection is unnecessary with Sins of a Solar Empire. They have the right philosophy.

    And I hate it when companies talked about piracy as lost revenue. They never had that revenue.

  11. Rampant Coyote’s take on DRM. He says it better than anyone. The trick is to make the legal product superior to the illegal acquisition.

  12. I actually bought the game and then installed a securom crack on the retail copy. My machine was crashing like crazy when playing it and it turns out it was being caused by Securom freaking out. Ever since I circumvented the protection the game is stable and I can still use all the online content.

  13. @Captain Angry

    That’s a great example of what they have driven their customers to do. We have to break the EULA in order to effectively use the game in your case. Technically, they could now shut you off from the online stuff if they detect that you cracked the copy. The copy that you bought. The license that you own. Grr.

  14. Oh my. That’s bad. You see, that mode of sharing content is also an attempt to evade piracy.

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