Spore’s DRM disappoints gamers

connor gerdes

One of the most hyped up video games of all time has finally been released after eight years of development. Yet gamers aren’t asking the question “did it live up to the hype?” They’re asking “Why are we treated like thieves?”

Spore, the brainchild of The Sims creator Will Wright, sold over a million copies within two weeks of its September 7 release. Coining “Creatiolutionism,” the game allows the player to create, control, and evolve an organism over several phases: Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization, and Space. Each phase plays like an entirely different game, which critics hail for its ingenuity but bash for it’s “mile wide, inch deep” gameplay.

The game itself is painfully easy — it’s clear the intended market was for casual gamers. The creature creator, while impressive in how much can be customized; is little more then playing dress-up. A ten foot creature with the same mouth type as one that is ten inches both share the same attack value, just as a two legged creature has the same speed as a four legged one. The game’s main feature is disappointingly, purely cosmetic.

But thus far the story has not been of Spore’s success, it’s been mega-publisher Electronic Arts’ (EA) iron grip over the game via digital rights management (DRM) software known as secuROM. What this software does is limit the amount of times a copy can be installed to three, and require authentication upon installation and whenever using an online feature of the game. It also limits consumers to one account per purchase of the game, meaning if a sibling or roommate wants to play, they’ll need to pony up $50.

Perhaps EA’s biggest blunder is that they didn’t label the DRM on (or in) the box, nor is any mention of it brought up during installation. Not only that, but secuROM will remain even if Spore is uninstalled. They did manage to get one thing right, however — they originally planned to require authentication every 10 days, and if failed (or simply not connected to the Internet,) the game would be unplayable. They ended up trashing that idea after fans complained on their message board.

That one victory gave consumers confidence. On Amazon.com, 2586 of 3029 reviews are one-star, with the vast majority stating DRM has ruined their experience or prevented them from buying it. Hackers cracked (removed DRM/security) and uploaded the game four days before release, and already the game has been pirated over 500,000 times.

The very idea that DRM prevents piracy is absurd. By treating the real customers like thieves, EA gives pirates who download cracked versions of the game a better, restriction-free experience. Stardock games, small time developer of the surprise hit Sins of a Solar Empire knows this well. They released Sins with no DRM and almost no advertising. Yet word spread, and the game recently hit the half-million sales mark — all by online distribution.