Many consumers pirate Spore to avoid DRM

Spore, the new evolution game from Electronic Arts, is one of the most anticipated and hyped games to be released in recent memory. Electronic Arts implemented a strict DRM (Digital Rights Management) copyright protection called SecuROM that limits the number of computers the game can be installed on to three. This limit can be increased if a consumer calls customer support.

The fan backlash was very negative and swift as thousands of people rushed to to give the game a one-star ratings causing Amazon to temporarily disable its user review system. Comments such as “Draconian” and “Insult to legitimate customers” flooded the comments section.

Electronic Arts responded to the criticism in a Gamasutra article claiming the three computer limit was designed to address the needs of the majority of consumers while still limiting piracy. According to Electronic Arts own statistics, less than 25 percent have activated Spore on a second PC and less than one percent asked to activate on a third PC. As of September 12 -- when the Gamasutra article was written -- there were 453,048 activations of the Spore Creature Creator alone. 77 percent activated on only one machine, 23 percent activated more than one, and only 1 percent of users tried to activate on more than three machines. These arguments from Electronic Arts appear to miss the point as the backlash is occurring over the fact there is any limit at all and not the number of PCs you are limited to.

Electronic Arts also argues the DRM system saves consumers the hassle of having to have a disc in the drive using a onetime online authentication system as an alternative. In the Gamasutra article, Mariam Sughayer of EA's corporate communications said, "EA has not changed our basic DRM copy protection system. We simply changed the copy protection method from using the physical media, which requires authentication every time you play the game by requiring a disc in the drive, to one which uses a one-time online authentication."

Sughayer compared Spore's authentication to iTunes, which has a similar DRM system that limits the number of computers content purchased from iTunes can be played. She also stressed that installing the game doesn't transmit user information any further than as a "fingerprint" required to authenticate a user, and reports that it installs spyware or malware are "absolutely false."

In addition to Electronic Arts, Maxis also responded to the criticism on game website GamingSteve. Caryl Shaw, online producer for Spore sent GamingSteve a note repeating many of the same points pointed out by Electronic Arts:

  • We authenticate your game online when you install and launch it the first time.
  • We'll re-authenticate when a player uses online features, downloads new content or a patch for their game.
  • The new system means you don't have to play with the disc in your computer. And if you are like me, always losing discs, this will be a huge benefit.
  • You'll still be able to install and play on multiple computers.
  • You can play offline.

One ironic statement released to the gaming community by Electronic Arts stated, "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." This is exactly what is happening as stated in a Torrentfreak article; many would-be buyers have chosen to pirate the game because of the invasive DRM.

On Saturday, Torrentfreak wrote that the game had already been downloaded more than 500,000 times on BitTorrent sites. This download rate exceeds that of any other pirated game in history, and in a week or two from now it will be the most pirated game ever on BitTorrent based on Torrentfreak statistics.

For comparison Crysis, one of the best selling PC games of this year has only been downloaded 420,000 times since it was released in November 2007. Although the record breaking piracy of Spore cannot be attributed solely to consumers rejecting the DRM implemented within it, it most likely helped.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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