35 days against DRM -- Day 10: Spore -- EPIC FAIL

Mason writes...

I purchased Spore the day it came out. Normally, I try PC games before I buy them, but I was so excited for Spore I just went out and bought it. To my disappointment, the game was not only mercilessly crippled by EA's characteristic behavior of dumbing down games to appeal to a larger audience, but it contained the invasive and draconian SecuROM DRM. I kicked myself for not doing my research.

Thus, I am left with an average game and an evil system living on my computer that is nigh impossible to remove.

SecuROM so offended the filesharing community that a clean version of the game was available even before the game's release. Since then, it has gone on to become the most downloaded game of all time.

What is most disgusting about this entire ordeal is that while it highlights the very worst aspects of DRM, it will likely have just the opposite appearance to the ignorant executives at EA -- this game, a mediocre one at that, has achieved such large numbers of illegal downloads as a direct response to the steps taken to prevent its copying.

I doubt this irony will do little to change the unfair implementation of DRM used by the gaming, music, and movie industries against their customers.

A free software advocate brings us his position...

Dale writes...

Far back in the mists of time -- whilst waiting for Duke Nukem Forever to get a release -- I heard rumour of a game, a game so revolutionary and amazing in its concept that I knew I just had to play it. This game was going to be a life simulator, where you'd create a creature and you can guide its evolution through various stages, creating an amazing and unique creature with its own behaviours and completely uniqie appearance.

I knew that I had to play this game. Spore immediately went on my list of "must play" games, along with DNF. I eagerly awaited any news I could get on it.

Time passed -- years went by, and I became something of a free software advocate (mainly due to "Windows Genuine Disadvantage" refusing to activate my legitimate copy of Windows) -- I started using GNU/Linux primarily and only booting into Windows to play the occasional game I couldn't get running under Wine (something which has been happening with less and less frequency).

I had discovered lots of fantastic free software games: Tremulous, Alien Arena, and the brilliant Scorched3D to name a few. I discovered that one of my favorite games of all time, Star Control 2, has been released as Free Software and is now available for pretty much every platform under the title "The Ur-Quan Masters".

Information on Spore trickled in over time, until earlier this year, EA announced that Spore would be encumbered by a much-hated DRM system known as "SecurROM," with a particularly nasty set of rules applied:

Spore would validate itself by "phoning home" every ten days, and would only allow you to install it three times. There was a huge backlash, with many people saying that they would not buy the game.

EA responded by loosening the restrictions slightly. There was still a huge backlash, with many people, including me, saying that they would not purchase a game with any form of DRM, especially SecuROM, which is known to cause issues on some systems and is notoriously difficult to remove, even after you uninstall the game.

I decided I didn't want Spore any more.

Eventually, Spore was released.

There was another immediate backlash against the DRM which comes with the game: A campaign was launched to give the game the lowest rating possible on Amazon.com, with hundreds of negative reviews coming in saying that the DRM was unacceptable.

People filed lawsuits against EA, because nowhere in EA's documentation is there any mention that SecuROM will be installed along with Spore, which amounts to covertly installing extra software which cannot be easily removed and is known to cause problems onto people's computers without their consent or knowledge.

Despite it saying on the box that you could have multiple accounts on the same copy of Spore, this was not supported initially -- if my brother and I both wanted to play Spore on the same PC and each have our own profile, EA initially wanted us to buy two copies of the game!

Then the negative reviews started pouring in: It seems that all that cool stuff which made me really eager to play it didn't make it into the final game after all, and it was essentially four mediocre games in one, and evolving your creature in different ways made little or no difference to how things went in the later levels.

In my case, I wasn't burnt by Spore -- I was one of the lucky ones who knew to avoid anything with DRM attached, but I feel sorry for the poor saps who have had malware (SecuROM) installed on their system by EA -- all to play a mediocre game which didn't live up to its promise.

This week there was an article pointing out that Spore was the "Most Downloaded Game of 2008" -- there is currently vigorous debate over whether this is a direct response to the DRM included with the game.

People have pointed out that some people who have downloaded Spore are doing so in order to play a game they legitimately own due to problems with the DRM. One thing is made abundantly clear from this, however:

DRM doesn't work: It doesn't stop people copying the game, and in this case, it's actively encouraging it, because the copies work better than the legitimate version!

Spore is also a bit of a milestone title in that the huge consumer backlash against the absurdly restrictive DRM indicates that campaigns like Defective By Design are making headway in public opinion.

Hopefully if things continue in this way people will start abandoning the madness that is DRM. Some companies, such as Stardock, have already done so, realizing that DRM only makes things harder for legitimate customers.

I'd like to thank EA for putting DRM on Spore, they saved me a bunch of money, which I've put away to spend on a non-DRM-encumbered copy of Duke Nukem Forever, which might come out sometime before the sun goes into its red giant phase...

Not just Spore, too...

Michael Enger writes...

Spore may have been the biggest release to feature it, but everything that has been released after (Mass Effect, Dead Space, etc.) has DRM installed.

For now at least, it appears as though EA know they're making a huge mistake but still aren't willing to actually fix it.

Take Action

  • Boycott all EA and Maxis games.

Previous Spore coverage