Will anti-DRM protests hurt Spore?

by Mathew on September 9, 2008 · 14 comments

Update:

Spore is apparently one of the most widely-pirated games in recent memory, according to a report at TorrentFreak, with many downloaders referring to the draconian DRM restrictions as a justification.

Original post:

One of the most hotly-awaited video games of the past decade, Spore — the new game from Will Wright, reportedly in development for 10 years — hit stores this week, and was promptly panned for what fans say is overly restrictive digital-rights management. The game checks with Electronic Arts headquarters after it’s activated online, and then again after a second or third activation. In order to activate the game a fourth time, owners have to phone the company and provide license codes, product details and other proof of purchase.

Electronic Arts says that such measures are required to fight rampant game piracy, while fans of the game say restricting them to only three installs amounts to making them rent the game, and they have responded by bombarding the review section of Amazon’s store with complaints. When I first came across reports of this activity, there were only a few hundred negative ratings, but when I checked today there were more than 1,600; the average rating for the game, with more than 1,550 contributions, was a single star.

As Mike Masnick at Techdirt notes, the DRM that Spore has is actually much less restrictive than was originally planned. The game was originally going to register the licence key — after checking to see whether it was official — and would then contact the EA servers 5 to 10 days after it was registered. If it couldn’t validate the game, it would try again over the next 5 to 10 days and then it would disable the game. Howls of fan outrage on various game forums and blogs apparently helped to convince the company that this wasn’t such a great approach.

So will EA care about a few thousand protests on an Amazon product page? After so many years of waiting, the pent-up demand for the game is likely to carry Spore pretty far — but I have to think that the criticisms are going to have an effect. If I were checking for information about the game before buying it, that kind of negative review would definitely affect my choice, although the reviews that mention the somewhat lacklustre gameplay probably aren’t going to help either.

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