Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Flustered gamers use Amazon.com user reviews to protest Spore's DRM measures.

Amazon.com's user review page for Spore has become ground zero for a fomenting virtual protest surrounding the game's digital rights management measures.

That the SecuROM DRM software (which Spore utilizes) brings with it some baggage shouldn't come as a surprise. Last year's PC release of BioShock left many early buyers reeling from bad experiences due to onerous activation requirements and inaccessible customer support. Today, the more than 700 1-star Spore reviews on Amazon (a number steadily growing as of this writing) reflect a common sentiment among PC gamers -- one that's been amplified following EA's decision to implement the SecuROM package amongst its entire line of PC games: "Don't treat legitimate customers as prospective software pirates."

This isn't the first time gamers have expressed unhappiness with a PC game's copy protection scheme. Mass Effect's PC release earlier this year saw a similar outcry against SecuROM, though one that was muted in comparison to the current protest. In that case, the majority of the debate -- as well as BioWare and EA's partial capitulation -- was mostly contained to BioWare's official Mass Effect forums. Prospective Mass Effect players were mainly concerned about SecuROM's need for regular Internet authentications; if the PC in question happened to be suffering from an Internet outage when the check was being performed, the game wouldn't boot up. That implementation also imposed a limit of three installations, with further ones requiring an approval from EA's customer support. EA and BioWare conceded to some of the community's misgivings prior to the game's release and removed some of the periodic authentication requirements (although the install restrictions remain).

Amazon.com: a battlefield for the hearts and minds of prospective Spore players.

These same restrictions appear to govern Spore's DRM implementation, and given how frequently players will utilize the game's online functionality when compared to Mass Effect, it's not difficult to understand why most of the authors of the 1-star Amazon reviews are so livid. "DRM is a showstopper," said one user in an Amazon.com review. "I doubt this game will work for me after a few years given my habit of new hardware purchases and system snapshots." Another user paints a more colorful picture: "The DRM on this thing is less friendly than my recent colonoscopy," he says. "You install it three times, then you're out $50."

At the time of writing, EA had not responded to any requests for comment. The company describes its stance on SecuROM-imposed authentication limits on its customer support site, in its Q&A index for Spore Creature Creator:

This system allows you to authenticate your game on three computers with the purchase of one disc. EA Customer Service is on hand to supply any additional authorizations that are warranted. This will be done on a case-by-case basis by contacting Customer Support.

PC gamers were once empowered by the permissive goodwill that informed the business models around which the industry was born. But in the post-BitTorrent world, traditional publishers are typically more motivated to batten down the hatches than wager sales on Stardock-style magnanimity. When a high-minded game like Spore is asked to confront what EA would assure the public are the base realities of the market, it seems gamers are apt to respond the way they might be expected to: to scream loudly via the most effective channel. Today, and for Spore, it's the Amazon.com user review page. Think of it like an Internet petition, but one that people might actually read. via GameSpy

Jason Kiwaluk

Mower & Shoveller,

Ecommerce | Adtech | Innovation | Strategy

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