Monday, September 8, 2008

Why I'm Not Going to Play Spore

The gaming world is abuzz with Will Wright's Spore. It should be. Spore has a fantastic premise for a game and I'd love to play it. It's exactly the type of game that I would enjoy. If I could play it, I'd probably recommend it to other people.

Like many informed consumers, I choose not to purchase or play Spore because of the SecuROM Digital Rights Management software that is packaged with it. I don't care for installing this particular form of DRM for two primary reasons: 1) as a paying customer, why would I want to install additional software on my computer to prevent myself from copying the product? 2) this DRM software product has a dubious history of damaging people's computers.

I do not believe in using invasive Digital Rights Management software to prevent theft. It just does not work as a deterrent nor does it effectively stop people from copying products. What it does succeed in doing is putting an inferior product in the marketplace. The product Spore is inferior to the modified pirated copy that is floating out in the wild by placing unnecessary restrictions on the user as a means to prevent people from stealing the software.

Most objectionable of these restrictions is the limitation of 3 installs for the game on one system. I really don't understand why EA feels it is necessary for the same user to limit the times they may reinstall the same software on their own computers. What's worse is each license is limited to a single player.

The way that Spore works, and a feature I'd love to be able to play with, is the game adapts to each player to create an individualized experience. By playing the game, the game adapts its universe to the player. That really sounds cool. However, if two siblings wish to play on the family computer they'd better learn to share worlds or fork out full price for two licenses.

I assume that is the motivation behind this form of DRM is the same as the old fashioned verisions of requiring a user to put an optical disk in a drive, enter a long and cryptic product activation key, or restrict some or all of the functionality of the software if the user fails to provide a valid key. That's all sort of reasonable. They'd put a little something in people's way to prevent casual piracy.

The measures with which I take serious issue are when the software publishers try to quietly install unremoveable software that reduces the functionality of a computer, damages its hardware. Sony tried to do this a while back by putting a small program, which hackers call a rootkit, on regular audio CDs that allowed people at Sony to take control of the computers that they infected.

Experts often compare DRM software with computer viruses and spyware. Publishers will say that they are justified in secretly packaging the software. I don't agree with publishers. I think that they are way out of line and I'd love to see some litigation that holds them accountable for the damages that they cause their customers.

Are they justified? Publishers do have a right to protect their property. Everyone does. I don't think that anyone will fault them for that. But do they have the right to harm the property of their customers? The method in which the publishers are doing it is the crux of the issue. There are three big issues that I have with DRM is in the implementation.
  1. The implementation of the DRM and the risks associated with the DRM software are not readily disclosed. Although, neither the publishers nor the DRM software vendors admit that the DRM software does cause problems, there is enough smoke in the wild that it would be imprudent to assume that there is no fire.
  2. The DRM adds no value to the consumer. In fact, it usually detracts value from the consumer. DRM implementation often restrict the way that people use their computers and it has a history of causing the software to run slower than the pirated versions in the wild.
  3. The people most affected by DRM implementations are legitimate paying customers. Publishers are effectively punishing the people who are doing the right thing and paying for the software.
The tragedious or ironic element to this attempt at DRM is it does not functionally succeed to achieve its goals! News sources reported that versions of Spore without the DRM were available 5 days before Spore's release date. Why even bother putting DRM in the software if a functionally superior version is available to people faster and for free.

A person who lacks sufficient conscientious resistance to piracy will choose the pirated version over the store bought version.

There are some who choose to get the best of both worlds. They will purchase the game, but they will run the pirated version. That's still technically pirating the game, and if the game's publisher, EA, were to adopt the vigor and spite that the RIAA uses, those people could find themselves looking down the business end of EA's lawyers.
Every time I say it's a game, you tell me it's a business. Every time I say it's a business, you tell me it's a game. --North Dallas Forty, Peter Gent
That line resonates when I think about DRM. Essentially there are two different concepts at play in the sale of intellectual property.

On one hand there is the argument that when you buy software you're buying the CD that contains the software. It's like you are buying a music CD. You can play it all you want on your player, but you may not legally copy it. You may resell it to someone else, but then you may no longer use it. It's a pretty easy concept to understand and an easy set of rules to abide under. With that concept, a person may choose to install the software on many computers, but run only one version at any time. On the downside, if you should render that CD unreadable, well you're out of luck. I don't think any consumer would feel that that type of licensing is unfair or difficult to abide by.

On the other hand, there is the argument that you aren't buying a CD that contains a program. You're really purchasing a single use license. Installing a program on multiple computers is a violation of the licensing agreement. Users may not be authorized to resell the software even if they uninstall it. I see this type of agreement with many programs. Most publishers say that they sell a license, but they will take exception if a user asks to get a replacement disk.

I believe that if publishers want to sell licenses that they should also honor that agreement by providing replacement media when users' fragile optical media is damaged. For example, if I were to buy a CD and it were to no longer work, I should be able to get a replacement for free or a reasonable replacement fee. That's where I believe that content providers are not playing nicely. They want to have the best of both worlds, and often they do.

In my opinion, the game delivery system Steam does a very good job of selling software this way. Steam is a program that serves multiple functions, it provides an online store for purchasing software, a launcher for using the software and a social page for finding your friends online. When a game is purchased through Steam, the games show up under the users' game tab. The user may then download the game. Here's a cool feature, Steam does not restrict the number of computers a person can download the games to, they just restrict the number of instances of Steam that may be opened under a user's account at one time.

This is very convenient for people who upgrade their computers. When I built a new system recently I was able to easily install all of the software that I purchased through Steam. Steam had all the software displayed and gave me the option to download the programs. It did not matter that I had already downloaded all of the games on another system.

The other thing that I really like about Steam is the lack of physical media. With Steam I don't get a DVD or a cardboard box or anything else that turns into waste. I also like not having to drive anywhere to buy a game. I can have a game installed on my system much faster than it would take to drive 3 miles to my nearest retailer.

Unfortunately, many content providers do not adopt the Steam model. iTunes has a very similar model, but Apple does not make it as easy to redownload purchased music. Apple takes the argument that the responsibility of keeping the digital content is on the user. For example, when I installed iTunes on my new system none of the purchases that I made were automatically available to me. Instead, I had to manually transfer the files from the old system. I think that's a pain. I believe that Apple should make that content readily available to their customers.

Apple gets a pass from this essay though. They will allow a person to download the content again, they just don't make it easy. Apple also doesn't require a user to secretly install harmful software.

Both Apple and Valve(Steam) treat their customers respectfully while providing effective DRM for their content. Sadly, they are not in the majority of content providers.

Awareness of publishers' DRM shenanigans is spreading. Fred Benenson's Blog reports that Spore is receiving a majority of negative reviews on Amazon. The reason for the negativity is clearly trending around the DRM. At the time of this writing, Spore has an average rating of 1.5 stars with 179 reviews on Amazon. This is good news to me. I hope that people do take DRM into consideration when making purchasing decisions.

I am unwilling to compromise my computer's stability to be treated like a thief. I don't mind DRM if it does not hurt my computer and it does not adversely affect the content that I am buying. At this time, EA is either unwilling or unable to do that. So I choose to live without their content.

EDIT:
Kotaku is reporting that EA is loosening the DRM restrictions.
I still do not care for SecuROM though, if it won't cleanly and easily uninstall, I don't want it on my computer.

33 comments:

David said...

Nice article. I agree almost completely.

Paul Wiedel said...

Thank you for the compliment.

The Outsider said...

Well written

EmpressGeek said...

Well said, I also refuse to buy the game, and I am considering boycotting everything by this company from now on, which is a hard decision to make considering what all they release and how many names they release under.

SquidDNA said...

You know you can download Spore from Direct2Drive and so forth, right? This whole "SecureROM / piracy" thing is not the entirety of the situation.

Anonymous said...

While I agree entirely with you, I've got to take you to task for "tragedious"! What's wrong with "tragic"?

Anonymous said...

And while I'm here: regarding downloading EAs products, see http://forums.electronicarts.co.uk/crysis/334592-why-ea-should-exchange-my-digital-copy-crysis-physical-retail-copy.html . I'd hesitate to download anything from EA (although with the recent announcement that Crysis and Crysis Warhead will be available shortly through Steam perhaps this problem will soon be a thing of the past).

Paul Wiedel said...

I like the word tragedious.
There is nothing wrong with the word tragic.

Anonymous said...

Of course you like it, you made it up! :)

Paul Wiedel said...

I cleverly added it to the dictionary too.

I've had similar luck with EA's customer service. Not worth the frustration.

Anonymous said...

Howabout you download a pirate copy (eep!), then send Maxis $70 bucks? i think Maxis would be happy because it gets full RRP without the middleman's and publisher's fee, then you play spore, with the invasive software cut out, and you arent staling coz you 'paid' for it

Anonymous said...

Mind you even if EA DOES release Crysis via Steam...

It'll still have SecuROM. I *almost* bought Bioshock via Steam when it was on sale for $15. I downloaded the demo to see how well it would run on my computer first, and I'm glad I did.

The DEMO had SecuROM, which promptly threw a fit and refused to let me play my FREE DEMO (Because I use a program that acts as an enhanced task manager. They justified blocking it because it can tell me what folders and files a process is using. I use it to track viruses.). If you buy through Steam, you still get the limited installs and such through EA.
I'd almost be willing to accept SecuROM if they didn't restrict the number of installs you can make before buying a new license.

That said, the pirated version of Spore is a lot of fun and runs just fine, minus a slight hiccup that was partially my fault that completely corrupted an entire save slot, making it unusable for anything above Creature stage.
And the fact that you can't go online and download other people's creations. That seriously detracts from the game, but it's still really fun.

Anonymous said...

Got the game on Sept 7th.As far as securom i will just download a no cd crack even though i own the game to bypass problems

Anonymous said...

I'm not much of a steam fan, but good post. One problem though, Apple makes it very easy to download music again. You just go to the purchased music and say download. They do lack with their limited authorizations, you can use all your copies at the same time, but you can only authorize 5 devices at a time. Only problem is they don't make it easy to deauthorize a computer that you don't have possession of anymore. You have to deauthorize it before you get rid of it. If a computer is stolen, or breaks, or you just forget, you have to call them up (I think, I am in that position, and I am putting off the call)

Josh said...

i intentionally and deliberately downloaded a pirate copy of this game for the pirate bay 4 days before it came out and i encourage you all to do the same. we need to stop this insane shenanigan as soon as possible. (also the game is REALLY REALLY fun.) so dont boycot. make a point. download a pirate copy. xD

Paul Wiedel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Wiedel said...

@Josh
I really would prefer that people just not buy the game rather than pirate it.

By pirating games, there will be some who look at the current state of DRM and how it's used and they will say that they need more and it needs to be more restrictive.

I am taking the position of not buying the game and not pirating it. I do this to vocally state that I will not award my business to the set of rules that they are using with the DRM tools that they are using.

Fishi said...

You may have a problem with SecuROM but I took the easy root. I went to Direct2drive.com and you can purchase spore and download it as many times as you want. This was great because I recently reformatted. The only problem is if you have a crappy internet.

But I agree whole heartedly that SecuROM blows. I hope I helped at least someone out! Maybe allow some people who didn't want spore before to enjoy the game without installing DRM.

Janne said...

I liked the idea of Spore and I thought they deserved the 49$ or for whatever they sell the game untill I found out about the DRM. The paying customers get screwed once again, I'm so glab I'm not one of them. I've used the creature creator demo or whatever it was and I lost my interest in the game but now I feel compelled to ILLEGALLY DOWNLOAD the game just to offend EA, even if it can't come even close to how much they have offended the general public with their DRM.

-=Marillion De'Void=- said...

Cheers, good read! People who think they can buy the game and then crack it are nuts, as ea checks on the integrity of the exe when you go online. See what happens if you mod your xbox360 and go online - an example. For the real dirt, anyone who thinks the drm is OK and TOLERATE the 3 install rule more-than-likely already have a RFID Chip implanted in their bodies. Veri-chip anyone? I mean, the whole game is hype, I played it for a short while and figured out the hard way that custom creatures really are a useless feature as all that matters is getting the last tier mouth then the game bows to you. Think what would have happened if I bought the creature creator and the galactic edition of the game thank god. Its insane but i feel insulted as a thinking organism to consider this entertainment? I mean, no child left behind is an insult. needless to say EA considers you walking dollar signs. I mean, EA Screwed over UO look what they did to origin? Its truly sad that people consider a string of 001101010's ownership. Your paying for nothing! and the GAME will be shutdown on ea whim that is EVENTUAL. I cannot express the glee and sadness your review has filled me with.. Glee that you see the truth and sad that people actually defend the DRM. To all you that do agree with EA's motives.. Well, you are probably such a gamer that you pose no value to this society nor planet and I cry while I pitty you.. Thank you for your time to read this and more thank yous for writing your REVIEW. And to anyone who thinks this new paradigm of ownership is good a big (^)-_-(^). The more people who pay for this crud, the more we approve of it and tell that its ok to have our right stripped. The more the gaming community sits down on this one, the worse the DRMS of the future will get. This is not a good thing, please understand. The game isn't even that good. Unless you have a teeny intellect (Tiny). Sorry for rambling. Have a good day, boycott EA They are acting like the extreme authority on this one, treat them like the tyrants they are. -out

Marillion-De'Void.

(Sorry for the grammar, 5 years of marketing hype have lead to a powerful letdown, nasty reviews and even worse grammar.)

Gamer = The Dead But Gaming.

Anonymous said...

the damned DEMO of spore creature creation kit tried to enforce DRM on me.... shame...

Orca said...

That is a very well thought out and written post, thank you. I refrained from buying Spore specifically because of the DRM as well, and I won't pirate it. Steam is now one of my favorite apps (although I used to hate it when it was first attached to HL2). If Spore comes out for Steam I'll probably break down and get it there.

Paul Wiedel said...

Thank you. I appreciate the compliment.

Brad said...

I purchased spore because I was in denial about it being an "EA" game. I don't think i'll buy another EA game ever. piracy feels cheap, but not as bad as feeling stupid about buying a game that is from a huge money grubbing corporation.

Killian said...

Nice article. Pretty much sums up why I won't be playing Spore and indeed why I've ignored a number of other recent EA releases - that and my experience of them in general. They've 'monetised' gaming to the point where it's no longer a pleasurable experience. Quite an accomplishment considering how good some of the games acually are!

Anonymous said...

Pirate it? i mean yah so pirates are "evil" nor fat less evil than DRM

Anonymous said...

Very well written article. I concur with just about every word on there.

Anonymous said...

I was going to purchase it for my son and I to play, but from what I understand now is that for both of us to play seperatly, I need to purchase 2 copies. So, to save myself from doing that, I'm just going to download a cracked version. Nice try EA, you nearly got my money.
And I throughly enjoyed the article.

Anonymous said...

I did purchase it. I like Will Wright's stuff. But believe me, Spore is completely over-hyped and not worth playing at all. Save your money for Left 4 Dead or something.

Jon said...

Looks like the word is getting out about the DRM and Spore, now theres above 2,400 1 Star reviews on amazon's site. I also won't buy or pirate the game till they remove the DRM and agree with your article.

SeraphSquirrel said...

Well written article. Hopefully EA finally realises their mistake. Or Will Wright kung fus their ass.

lewistyrer said...

DRM asside, spore itself is a pretty run of the mill game anyway. It's got very little depth, feels pretty drab and the only really outstanidng thing about it is the creature creator.

http://www.gameolosophy.com/Games/Will-Wrights-Spore.248837

koko-kitty said...

Well...I agree.

But.. you should play spore anyway. It is mighty fun.