Way back in 2005, Will Wright got on a stage and proclaimed the future of gaming did not have to include ultra high resolution graphic, overly flashy animations and scripted environments. He described his vision of a game which was by its very nature, procedurally generated from the textures to the very mechanics themselves.
He got a standing ovation – not just from the crowd, but from me as well which probably looked a bit peculiar to those around me, seeing as I was watching this on youtube. As time went on, gamers were tantalised further and further from videos of Robin Williams creating his own creature to more recently the Spore Creature Creator. All was not well however, unknown to the larger gaming community, storm clouds were forming behind the scenes, the weather system was called EA.
Fast forward to today, the game has been released and for the most part it lives up to Will’s original promises. It is fun, imaginative, very configurable and different. So why have I and many others not bought it?! Why is the rating for the game on Amazon so low? DRM has hit land.
DRM, or digital rights management, is a mechanism or system by which control and access to something (MP3s, DVD / Blueray video, Games etc) is restricted to predefined parameters. Despite countless examples of DRM not working companies still convinced it is their only method of protecting their products press forward with more and more limiting restrictions. Whilst I can understand a system which stops someone buying a game and then installing on ten computers belonging to their friends DRM has gone a lot further. Depending on implementation, it can install hidden software on computer systems, deny owners of legally purchased content (e.g. music) to play it on all their devices and generally inconveniences loyal, legal customers.
But thats all well I good, I hear you say, these companies are stopping people from stealing their work which they are perfectly entitled to. If that were the case, I would agree (despite my reservations.) However such is not the case, you see DRM doesn’t work. Copy protections are circumvented typically quicker than they make it to market. With a bit of know-how, anyone with a reasonable internet connection can illegally download copyrighted music, videos or games which have this copy protection entirely removed. Even more absurdly, in some cases, at a better quality than could be purchased legally! I could go on and on for a while backing up my claims, presenting examples but I am getting off topic.
So why have I yet to buy Spore? Simple, its not that I don’t want it, the converse is true, Spore uses SecureRom coupled with an activation system that allows the game to be installed three times. No more. So if you need to rebuild / reinstall your system or you buy another computer, that’s another install gone. After three installs, the game will no longer work.. that is until you buy another copy. Ludicrous huh? And Spore is not the only game to have such a draconian system, Bioshock and Mass Effect had similar ‘controls’ bundled with them. I did not buy Mass Effect for that reason, luckily I managed to buy Bioshock on steam without such restrictions.
So what is the point of all of this, have EA saved money from people not pirating their game? Quite the contrary, you see, this copy protection system EA seem to be dry humping was cracked and a completely unprotected version of Spore was released to P2P sites before the game was officially released. Turning legitimate users who paid money to buy a game, only to find they were just leasing it, are being driven to piracy sites just to install a game they legally own and others are simply not bothering to buy it, or worst still for EA and Will Wright, pirating it. DRM does not work, certainly in this case EA have lost money than they would have had they released the game with no copy protection. In fact, it made me smile today to read on slashdot that they are being sued because of this tomfoolery.
EDIT: Just found an article with EA relaxing the restrictions slightly. Now you can install the game five times and ‘deactivate’ installed copies. I know someone who installed the game on three PCs when it came out. He is still waiting on EA to de-authorise two of the copies. I will buy the game but only if I can get it without SecureRom and this activation nonsense.
EDIT 2: Ars technica as a great article on this topic, claiming that, despite EA’s stupid DRM Spore has been downloaded more than half a million times. I wonder what percentage were protest downloads?