I am sure EA will be squirming as they are given the dubious honour of having the most pirate game ever. According to torrentfreak, Spore has been pirated 17 million times since it’s release in September, that is a staggering amount of lost revenue. Spore is currently selling on Amazon for £29.99, that equates to nearly £51,000,0000 of lost revenue for the company. Now I am no huge fan of EA, but that amount has to hurt especially in the current financial climate.
One has to wonder however, what percentage of that 17 million were gamers who simply rebelled against Spore’s draconian DRM which I ranted about previously? Moreover, how many people just skipped buying Spore altogether? There will always be piracy, but by making it harder for ordinary users (and not affecting pirates at all) EA and other companies are merely shooting themselves in the foot. I don’t blame them for trying to protect their interests, however I think they have things sadly backwards.
I neither pirated nor bought the game out of protest and, a few months on, I don’t feel a need or desire to reverse my decision. Which is a shame and a lost opportunity for EA and a waste as I think I probably have enjoyed it.
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?
There is no doubt about it, the screenshots released from the GDC look simply stunning but therein lies the game’s weakness if we believe the review from wired.
When they got a chance to play the early multiplayer mode they found that, rather than sticking to the ‘thinking’ type of first person shooter, EA have essentially tried to copy Call of Duty’s approach making a game that is far more reliant of graphical polish rather than semirealism or strategy. This is a shame as there are already many great games that do this well; CounterStrike, Unreal, Team Fortress, Farcry/Crysis as well as Call of Duty to name just a few.
I have sunk quite a few hours into both of EA’s most recent offerings, Battlefield 2 and 2142, founding them both fun and fairly unique. Indeed, when Battlefield 2 came out it was amazing the kind of scale that could be offered to an FPS online game let alone the amazing (and previously unseen) use of vehicles and this was reflected by the huge buzz surrounding the release and by the fact that BF2 is still widely played online. I was not as impressed by 2142 which seemed (apart from some very obvious changes) to be just BF2 with a new coat of paint and I was wondering prior to reading this brief preview what EA were planning on doing with Bad Company. It seems they were faced with two choices, firstly to take the same route as their previous games (i.e. ‘massive’ maps and ticket based game style) or secondly, to switch and focus on more a pedestrian FPS type game in order to do something different and or appeal to a greater audience.
Of course they could have realised they were unable to bring anything new, gameplay wise, to the table and decided rather than make another BF2 with an update engine, to try something bold and new. If this is the case then they do deserve recognition for not falling into the trap other game companies have. I hope this game turns out to be a bit more than just EA’s stab at Call of Duty 4’s success.
One thing not covered in the preview was any aspect of the single player mode. This is something I am looking forward to as hitherto all recent Battlefield games have been multiplayer only. The very thought of the possibilities of single player, even on some BF2 maps is an exciting one and I hope this is the approach they have taken, if they have adopted the same linear play style of Call of Duty 4 I will be annoyed.
It seems the last couple of days have been filled with exciting game news. EA have officially announced their intention to release a Command and Conquer Red Alert 3 game. Almost seven years on from Red Alert 2, this game has been on the drawing boards over at the Allied Tech Center for a number of years.
Firstly, I can’t think of a reason not to welcome this news. The Command and Conquer series is a popular RTS-for-the-masses type of game which broad appeal. If EA manage to pull of a good sequel then I will be the first one quing up on the release day. However, from the early indications, it sounds as though EA might fall into the trap of making the same mistakes they made with C&C 3.I personally am a huge fan of both the GDI/NOD C&C universe and the ‘Timeline gone wrong’ Soviets vs Allies of Red Alert. When I got hold of C&C 3 I was initially impressed by the visceral graphics and the big names in the FMV cut scenes… but this quickly cooled when I got into the single player missions and found them dull, uninspired and really lacking in any strategic depth. The inclusion of a third race made for an interesting and exciting game play change particularly as their tech tree was completely different (exactly as one should expect.) However EA made the mistake of making them ‘War of the Worlds’-esque which made player hanker for larger, towering, practically indestructible creatures. Instead, the Scrin were given watered down units which had just enough resemblance to make players think ‘War of the Worlds’ but neither looked, sounded or acted menacing enough. C&C 3, for me was a big disappointment with tedious micro management and a complete lack of sophistication making the single player experience dull.
Now lets look back to September, 2000 when Red Alert 2 was released. In many ways it was a great step forward from Red Alert 1. Graphically it was wonderfully polished, the introduction of better and more exciting super weapons and an array of imaginative unit types and tech buildings really shook things up and made for a highly enjoyable experience. The Yuri’s Revenge expansion pack did a great job at introducing a completely new type of playable faction as well as a variety of tweaks whist keeping the much loved ‘tank vs tesla coil’ approach intact. The biggest downside to Red Alert 2 is that it looked far too much like a cartoon and although there was a greater scope for strategy, it was largely overlooked due to poorly balanced units like the Prism tank or Kirov Airship.
There is a lot of talk about how EA are going to introduce a third side to spice up Red Alert 3 etc etc. I think this is primarily what will be their down fall if they are not careful. In the beginning when the first C&C and Red Alert were released, there was a clear divide between them. C&C was set slightly in the future with a completely fictional universe, units and resource. Red Alert was completed different in that it took the same RTS elements, but brought in a realistic (i.e. factually accurate-ish) universe. That differentiation was good but now it seems, especially with what EA did with Red Alert 2, that they prefer the to set their games in a far more fictional universe. I have nothing against this concept (Terror Drone FTW but units like the Squid/Dolphin take it too far) I hope they do not ruin RA 3 like C&C 3.
The biggest criticism that has always been brought against the C&C franchises is that they are prone to tank rushes. Command and Conquer Generals knocked that on the head by beautifully tweaking damage levels by unit type. No longer could a single rifle soldier take down a heavy tank or a building (given enough time) nor could an aircraft unload several bomb loads at an Infantry unit only to have them get up and look around as if they had been taking a nap. If I was in charge of making Red Alert 3, I would make it a mixture of a Red Alert 1/2 technology universe (minus Yuri’s faction) with the Generals damage engine focusing primarily to game-play rather than making it look pretty. To quote Abe Simpson “Just don’t screw it up.” :)