September 10, 2008
Since the highly anticipated PC game Spore was released earlier this week, there has been a sustained campaign among Amazon.com's users to disparage the game for its inclusion of copy protection technology, also known as DRM.
But Electronic Arts (EA) defends DRM and claims that it is necessary to prevent people from copying its game and distributing it online.
As of Wednesday afternoon, out of 2,086 customer reviews posted on Amazon's Web site since the title launched, 1,918 have rated the game with only one star out of a possible five. The reason, the game's reviewers say, is the digital rights management software that gets installed with the game.
Comments like this are typical: "My husband and I have been excitedly anticipating the release of Spore for years, watching early game demos and reading any news about the game that we could get our hands on. We were initially thrilled to learn that Spore would finally be released this September '08. But after learning about the awful DRM that comes with the game, in particular the 3 install limit, we have decided NOT to purchase Spore."
Spore, nonetheless, is the second-most-popular PC game title on Amazon at the moment in terms of sales.
Other top-selling PC game titles on Amazon have been reviewed dozens or, at best, a few hundred times, though with far more favorable ratings.
"There has been a lot of discussion about the DRM in Spore, and the team at EA and Maxis wanted to clarify how the system works, and why it's in place," an EA spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. "Our system works just like online music services that limit the number of machines you can play a song on. This system is an effort to control piracy. You can install the game on three computers -- at your office, at home, or for your family. What you can't do is make and distribute a thousand copies online. If you feel like your situation presents special circumstances, contact our customer service and we'll talk through it with you." EA's effort to control piracy appears to have been defeated before Spore launched, however. A week prior to Spore's official release, a "warez" group cracked the game, removed its copy protection, and made it available over BitTorrent. One of the major complaints about DRM is that it only inconveniences law-abiding customers.
During a Webcast of a Merrill Lynch investor meeting on Wednesday, EA CFO Eric Brown said that to date, the Spore launch had gone well. He said that Spore has been getting more Google queries than either of the two major presidential candidates recently.
"[Spore] is getting certainly a lot of attention," Brown said, adding that it was too early to comment on sales. He also said that "awareness and participation by user community is looking very good."
It's not clear whether Brown is counting the awareness and participation of Spore's detractors in his assessment of the Spore user community.
But perhaps any attention is a good thing online. Either Amazon or Electronic Arts sees the Spore anti-DRM campaign as a marketing opportunity. A Google search using the keywords "Spore DRM" returns an AdWords ad that reads, "Spore DRM Revolt? Spore Is still The Top Selling Game. Get Your's [sic] Now While It's In Stock. www.amazon.com."
Google declined to identify the company behind the ad, and EA didn't respond to a query about whether it had paid for the advertisement.
Lazard Capital Markets analyst Colin Sebastian expects that Spore could sell as many as 2 million units this month, according to Gamasutra.
In 2005, when a Sony CD copy protection scheme installed a rootkit on PCs that loaded the discs, customers were similarly outraged, but their complaints on Amazon appeared to have no impact on sales. It was ultimately legal action against Sony that changed the company's position on DRM.
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