Categories
DRM

Spore DRM controversy too one sided?

Anyone who knows me (or read the old blog before my host deleted it) knows I hate DRM.  I read with interest, then, about the backlash against the heavily-anticipated Will Wright game Spore thanks to EA’s use of DRM.  As many of my friends have been raving about Spore and using its online creature designer on the run up to the game’s full release, I thought I’d ask one of the more knowldegable of them about the fiasco.

Being a sensible web-user, unlike me, this fellow protects his online identity, so I shall call him AnonyMaster.  Here’s our conversation of this morning:

Me:

Bad rumblings on Spore’s DRM http://fredbenenson.com/blog/2008/09/07/spore-drm-and-disorganized-activism/

The Amazon situation seems to have got worse since that post, with the average rating 1.5.  I’d be interested to see if this issue bothers you at all, or if you just shrug it off.

AnonyMaster:

The fact is Spore was hacked and made available on Torrent 2 weeks before it was officially released.

I bought Spore instead of downloading it for free because I like Will Wrights games and I wanted to own a copy of it. Same reason I buy DVDs I like instead of just torrenting a pirate.

If I didnt appreciate Will Wrights games I might have torrented this one and played it for a while, then liked it (it is fucking awesome) and then went out and bought a real copy.

Simple fact is DRM doesnt work. I wonder why companies continually spend money using it.

Basically its a bunch of people whining because some skiddie says that DRM software is teh evil man whilst none of them know what it is and what it actually does. Amazon fad will die out in a matter of weeks and they’ll all be playing spore. Most of the one star reviewers are likely already playing it.

Me:

That’s makes sense, but what about the 3-install issue.  Doesn’t that mean that in real terms you don’t actually own the copy?
AnonyMaster:

The 3 install is just some nonsense people who have no understanding of how SecuROM works have been spreading around.

Spores version of SecuROM validates your system against the EA servers which host Spores content online. To do this it requires matching your system to the installation code. (The old passwords system is shit, just ask Blizzard on WoW accounts get hacked every day, thats why EA chose DRM)

You can install the game as many times as you like on any 3 PC’s you choose. If you install a new operating system however or change your hardware and if you’ve used your 3 different machine installs already, then you wont be able to access the online content, only play offline….

…. But all you have to do is email EA support with the account details and they add to your install count so you can install again on your new/modified machine.

Its not very draconian at all tbh, and much better than having your sporepedia account hacked and not being able to play the game because some guy in Russia is using your account and changed the password.

Me:

Cool.  Can I quote you (anonymously, of course) on my blog to bring these arguments to the world at large?

AnonyMaster:

Of course you can,

Remember and make clear, when you buy Spore, you are essentially buying 3 licenses to run the game on any 3 machines you choose. You can uninstall and reinstall on any 3 machines as many times as you like.

The only issue is when, you change the hardware and/or OS on one of those machines, if you are already using your other two licenses then you need to contact EA to get them them to un-enable your old license for the PC and enable a replacement license to work for your modified machine. EA will do this as on a case to case basis.

So there you go.  My interest in bringing this to you, believe it or not, is to further the case against DRM.  When I read the Amazon reviews, it struck me as a bit hysterical.  I don’t think the case against DRM will be helped much by arguments that are over-egged.  It just makes it easy for people like AnonyMaster here, and by extension companies like EA, to brush aside the issue.

If we keep our head about us we increase our chance of success, surely?

I agree that the DRM on Spore sounds like a bum deal (I’ll never know first hand because it’s really not my kind of game), and I’m glad EA are feeling some heat over it, but if we’re not careful we’re all going to be labeled anti-DRM nuts and won’t be taken seriously anymore.   Especially as I suspect that the Amazon thing will not stop Spore being a huge seller, which will in turn discredit the one-star reviewers in the eyes of the industry.

In short, when arguing against DRM, lets simply be right and not succumb to hyperbole.

Disclaimer: I can be hypocritically hyperbolic if I want when discussing Windows, because I’m not trying to win an argument — that ship’s sailed, I’m just pissed off about it.

By Kenny Park

Kenny Park, pro video editor in Avid and Final Cut for over a decade.

16 replies on “Spore DRM controversy too one sided?”

The problem with EA’s Securom implementation is that it does not allow the three install tokens to be revoked. Additional tokens will be allowed on a “case to case basis” will require the consumer to call a premium number, effectively incurring an additional cost per install for the consumer once the three install tokens have been exhausted. EA have therefore eliminated the resale of the product and therefore controls the pricing of the product (i.e. no loss of sale due to trade-in purchase, casual lending of the product and planned obsoleteness through install limitation) in the marketplace.

I have forwarded Consumer Rights? points to AnonyMaster and he has responded. I thought long and hard about posting them here, essentially as they are not my points and I feel I’m starting to play Let’s You and He Fight. What’s more I have been accused by a Boing Boing reader of being a “shill” out to sell the idea of DRM.

Nonetheless, I think the discussion’s the thing. I have AnoyMaster’s permission to post this, so I will. He says:

“He’s correct about the premium number, and many people take that route however, contact to EA support can also be made free via email, there is no need to phone to get your license count refreshed. I cant defend EA support however as I have never had any cause to contact them and have only heard bad things about them so it may be that some consumers see the only viable means of contact is via phone.

“Dont get me wrong I’m not for DRM software like secuRom, I see it as a waste of money on a companys part and some times a hassle for the consumer, but I also find the online whining about it very funny, its not evil and its not going to cost you a million bucks to play a game. The only thing that it has going for it however is account security. If you want to see security in account and a pile of whining, keep an eye on Blizzard and see what they are about to introduce into WoW is all I can say…

“On resale value, what we are talking about here is not just a game that installs on your PC. Its almost like a MMORPG, EA have servers running sporepedia content and they pay for the upkeep allowing people to share content that they create in the game, also creating content themselves.

“Again to take Blizzard as the example, Blizzard will ban anyone they catch trying to sell their account. Theres not much difference with Spore, your not just buying a game your buying your also buying access to a service this is why.

“And yes I do agree it would be great if you could sell wow accounts, trust me I’d have got a couple hundred bucks for mine before I quit, and also if you could resale on Spore, but unfortanately thats not the way online content is going at the moment.”

Any thoughts on that? Anyone…?

The fact that this will be a paperweight when EA stops authenticating the game installs is a problem as well.

Sure, you’re welcome to skip thru candyland thinking EA will treat you fairly, but I think your faith is misplaced. Just like Sony, when EA needs another revenue stream, you, the purchasing owner, will take it in the shorts.

The game is probably a blast to play, even dumbed down, but remember, it can and will be taken away from you, as soon as EA feels like making you cough up another $50-$80 bucks for SPORE 2.

I have had about $300, maybe a bit more, in PC games that didn’t work because SecuROM was buggy. NWN2’s developers even acknowledged it was the copy protection — when a patch suddenly crashed, hard, on AMD chips, they said “yup, and it only happens with the copy protection, so we’ll have to wait for a patch.” After a week or so, I stopped waiting, and just wrote it off.

Authentication systems like this are, in actual fact, draconian. If I can buy a game, and then not be able to play it unless EA happens to still feel like offering authentication service, then I haven’t really bought the game, have I? I’ve just bought a temporary rental of it until they lose interest in supporting it.

I don’t buy software with “activation” like that. I have some left, but it’s never getting updated or replaced. If EA ever wants to sell a copy of Spore — that is, *sell* it, so I can play the game I have purchased, whenever I want, without a need to load more Sony rootkits on my machine, without having to call them and promise I’m being good, I might well buy it.

But I’m sick of being treated like a thief. I probably spend a couple thousand dollars a year on video games. For my trouble, I get games that can’t be played, while the people downloading warez get fully functional games. I get “copy protection” schemes which end up crippling my computer, make my DVD drive fail, and requuire me to reload the OS — at which point EA shuts me down until I contact them, and if they happen to want to allow me to reauthenticate, then they can. But if they don’t, what recourse have I got?

Brad Wardell is right. EA is wrong. Your source has totally missed the point. If I buy a game, I should be allowed to play it. Period. No requirements, no authentication, no loading secret and undocumented stuff on my machine. If they can’t make their business model work that way, they need to ask why Stardock makes money selling games with no copy protection at all; my guess is that it’s because Stardock makes better games, and spends less time harassing and insulting its customers.

I think that’s the root of the problem for me too, Seebs. Not being technical, it’s the idea of ownership that most concerns me in this debate. That and the fact the legit ‘owners’ get hassled like criminals while the pirates get left alone to enjoy the product.

Many thanks for commenting.

And, Rahn, thank you, too. EA are putting their loyal customers over a barrel.

Boycotting is the best answer, it seems to me.

Although I don’t really play games, I dislike DRM in all its forms. The same point of ownership has come up several times and is certainly a key. Media companies would love to get us to the point where we accept that we only have a “licence” for a film/book/game/whatever and remove all the rights that we’ve grown used to. As you say, we need to prevent this from happening, but without becoming a fringe “lunatic” group.

I remember the furore there was over WinXP’s activation, but in practice it’s not been that bad. It requires several changes to your hardware in quick succession before requiring re-activation, although, of course, you don’t have the same issues with the second hand market, if you’re selling the whole computer.

That might be the answer:

For Sale: a copy of Spore. Used but good condition. Comes with free MacBook.

While I haven’t kept up-to-date, all EULA’s that I can think of specifically state that you /haven’t/ bought the program; you have only purchased a license to *use* the program. The difference is that if you /buy/ the program, you can do whatever you want with it, including making copies and selling it (which is how _I_ ended up out over $40,000 with my first commercial software; my agreement was for the *sale*, not for just licensing. They turned around and resold it, and there was nothing I could do.)

Because /they/ still own the software, /they/ can do whatever they want with it, including stopping all support, shutting down the servers, etc. It sucks, but they have the power to do it, and there is simply nothing we can do about it. Well, nothing except crack it, write private-server code, etc. 🙂

Good point, DeadlyDad. Here was me thinking that they’ve started treating us like licencees instead of owners when in fact they’re just exercising the rights we’ve been signing over to them for years.

For a good way of combating EULAs, check out http://smallprint.netzoo.net/reag/

As much as DRM and other anti-piracy measures piss me off (cause they hurt the legal consumers and not the pirates, much like anti-gun laws and gun crime), I bought Spore. In fact, I pre-ordered Spore, something I have never done before. As much as EA is really getting slammed with this, you also have to realize that the developing team, from Will Wright himself down to the lowly code monkey working on the programming for one action, deserve our money. It is a great game, made by great developers. It just so happens that they work for a huge corporation which doesn’t care if they slap a DRM on the thing. And with all the people pirating the game, the people who lose the most are those developers, not EA. EA puts out a whole mess of games, including console games, ranging from shooters to sports. Pirating one game isn’t going to damage them at all. I’m all for trying out something before you buy it. I’ve downloaded music and video for years, but I support those people if I like what I see or hear. Games have the power of demos, and everyone loved Spore’s Creature Creator. So go out and buy the game, people. Support Will Wright and everyone else at Maxis.

#14: Developers are paid by publisher for the product, not for sales. Maxis got their money, now it’s EA job to get that money back and make some revenues

This is not really an issue about piracy. I don’t mind companies protecting their material. In fact, I think Steam does a very good job of it, and I use that service all the time.

My problem is with the matter of principle: you do not pay full price for a rental. Would you rent a film on DVD for $30? Of course not. That’s ludicrously overpriced.

All we want is to be able to actually own what we buy. The argument really is that simple.

Action is not difficult either. I disagree with EA’s policy, so I do not buy their games. This is a recourse everyone has, and I advise them to use it. Don’t cave in and buy the product and moan uselessly. Once they have your money, what incentive is there to change it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *