Windmills Do Not Work That Way

Creation is a powerful act. Though far less fun than its flip side, destruction, creation has an amazing effect on people. The first time my little bug eyed fly-kangaroo hybrid crawled out of the digital primordial ooze, I was near giddy with excitement. The possibilities Spore affords the armchair god are near limitless. The creations that stream in from my GWJ buddy list have consistently blown me away. The creators of Spore have developed the closest thing to My Little Gene-Splicer that can be safely allowed in the continental U.S.

The ease of use allows plenty of thoughtless creations as well. Plenty of animals don't make it past the Tribal stage because they weren't well thought out before hand. Fortunately in Spore it's pretty easy to get a do-over. You don't have to bear the responsibility for these flawed creations, you can just click the trash can next to their cuddly face and start over.

If only thoughtless business decisions were so easy to erase.

For anybody who has been living under a rock, or for those of you who don't check the front page very often, Spore has Digital Rights Management software embedded in it. It's the SecurROM online activation variety, which the means the rules are you only get 3 installs of Spore, after which you have to call EA customer support and ask them to give you more installs. You can't revoke an install, once you use it it's gone. Hardware configurations can reset your install, causing you to burn an install without actually reinstalling. Uninstalling does not give you your install back. You also have no way to know how many installs you've actually used.

The average consumer has no way to know any of this before purchase. Good luck taking it back, too.

As the resident bearded wordsmith said last week though, why worry? It does work on the first install, and I have actually had no issues so far. Some people have had some issues, but for the majority of users it doesn't really affect them. So there's no real reason to talk about this, right?

This doesn't really satisfy me. Like my lovable Spore critter with no teeth that I accidentally made carnivorous, EA clearly didn't think this through. Where I disagree with Elysium is that I don't think we should accept their irresponsibility towards their customers as a just another part of doing business.

The thing about creation is that it comes with responsibilities for those creations. Just like I should remember to give my Spore critters a fighting chance at survival, EA should be taking responsibility for the games it creates and for the problems it causes customers. My problem with the current situation is not that EA is evil for trying to do implement DRM, it's that EA is being irresponsible towards it's customers by implementing it poorly. It's bad for customers because they can't play the game they paid for. It's bad for EA because for every problem there's one more person who won't trust EA games again. Even from a Freidman-esque perspective, it hurts repeat business. The problem isn't the fact that the restrictions are there, but that the customer doesn't learn about them until it's too late and is powerless to do anything about it.

There are some clear problems that I see with what EA has done here.

  • No Notice

    The only note I see on the package is “Internet Conneciton Required for Product Activation”. I see no mention of having a limited number of installs, nor do I see a mention about having no control over which machines are authorized to install. Really, the criteria of what constitutes an “install” is still somewhat vague, even after doing a fair amount of research on the problem. Hardware changes could use an install, reformatting, anything. Nobody knows and EA isn't telling. Since I only get 3 installs, essentially that's what I paid the $50 for. So why are they not clear about what I'm getting for my $50 up front?
  • No Control

    Despite still being unclear on the definition of “install”, only installing the game three times seems fair for the average user. What about hard drive crashes? Hardware changes? OS reinstalls? Any number of everyday occurrences can happen to a computer to invalidate an install, with no way to reclaim the used install. Even uninstalling does not reclaim an install. Why am I not given control over which machines are authorized? Since I paid $50 for these keys, besides being told about the fact that they exist up front, I'd like to have control over where they are.
  • No Action

    Other companies have made promises to remove their DRM after retail sales have diminished past profitability. Additionally, while some games initially came out with irresponsibly implemented DRM, like Bioshock, they eventually fixed the flaws with their product through patches. Yet so far EA has been less than forthcoming with fixes on their previous products with similar DRM. Mass Effect still has the same DRM with no changes at all post-release. The only response by EA so far to the controversy has been to up the number of installs from three to five for Red Alert 3, which does nothing to address my main concerns. I have seen nothing from EA to address the legitimate concerns of customers to keep their repeat business.

Things like this don't effect the average user every time, but when they do they absolutely murder enthusiasm for PC gaming. Like my huggable carnivore that never had a chance, why are we not acknowledging the long-term harm irresponsible DRM does to the PC gaming industry? Games are about letting people have fun! Irresponsible behavior like this from the publishers just kills fun. It's not that the restrictions are so draconian that gamers will turn away in droves, it's the few hundred gamers that get burned and never come back. This happens with every release.

Piracy is the hockey mask wearing serial killer. It's scary, uncontrollable and is always lurking in the shadows wielding a machete. It's definitely a problem, Jason has an industrial sized dump of dead bodies stuffed somewhere under Camp Crystal Lake. But are irresponsible PC gaming publishers any less fatal to the industry? Someone walking away from PC gaming because it's “too much hassle” is a common complaint. They'll tell their friends and word gets around to just stick to consoles. Unlike Piracy, you're never going to convince someone who's had their $50 investment burned on DRM to come back. It's poison. Slower, but just as deadly.

What can the average gamer do about the crazy machete wielding thug of piracy? Buy more games, sure, set a good example. Many gaming enthusiasts really do buy their games though. That doesn't actually stop piracy. Short of going around finding 15 year old kids running warez sites and throwing them in dumpsters, I'm not sure what else the average gamer can do. And as much as I love throwing teenagers in dumpsters it's just not practical nor productive for individuals do to this. While I think Elysium has been a little cynical on the points above, here I think he's being a little too naïve about the power of the gaming community. The opinion of the gaming community only matters to people who actually listen to it. Self-righteous indignation against pirates accomplishes little, most of them do it simply because they can. Widespread scorn doesn't stop them now, and never will. The average gamer can't do much more than try to do the right thing.

The companies have a vested interest in fighting piracy and plenty of money to back it up, if it were possible to stop piracy they would be leading the charge. But they're not, they settle for stopping casual piracy and trying to keep the problem from getting out of hand. Which is I think the best anybody can hope for from the current situation.

What can gamers do about irresponsible PC gaming publishers though? Well, that's a different matter. The average gamer is in the best possible position to affect their behavior because when you get right down to it we have what they want. Money and mouths. If you don't like what a company is doing, don't give them your money. More importantly though, let them know what they're doing wrong!

Write them an email. When your friends ask about Spore let them know what they're getting into. Don't be “that preachy guy”, just let them know how it works and let them make their own decision. Several will still buy it, but many won't. The old-school Divx tried to sell their draconian DRM as a positive for consumers, then they promptly went out of business. There's a reason EA has been less than forthcoming about all this. People notice these things when they're explained in a way they can understand. Get people to take notice. The Amazon ratings protest is a wonderful way to draw attention to the problem. When you get the Washington Post writing articles about how Spore's DRM “hurts more than it helps”, you know you have EA's attention.

Contrary to popular internet belief, these companies do like to make money. If they can do that by making their customers happier without sacrificing their copy protection, they'll eventually wise up and do it.

It can't stop at attention grabbing stunts though. It's not productive to just post “EA SUX LOL” everywhere you can. Get specific about what's wrong, be reasonable, but insistent. Try to find solutions that will actually work from their perspective. Draw attention to what you're doing so that reasonable people on both sides can see your side of the argument, even if they don't agree with it. Let people who ask you know what's going on. Don't let EA cover it up, let people know who are thinking about Spore exactly what they're getting into. We're the enthusiasts, when people ask you what's going on, let them know!

Do I think EA is going to do an about face and remove all DRM? No. EA will try to find ways to make their customers happy, though.

It may seem hopeless trying to hold billion-dollar multi-national companies responsible for their actions. But as a wise man once said “You can't give up hope because it's hopeless! You have to hope even more and stick your fingers in your ears and go la-la-la-la-la-la!” So despite Elysium's dreary outlook, I'm going to keep hoping anyway. Worst thing that can happen is it works.

Comments

Wierd double post thing.

Most excellent Pyroman! This is my argument against this kind of DRM put far more eloquently than I ever could have. I didn't know that Spore didn't give back activations when you uninstalled. That's unacceptable and clear proof that EA is doing this to kill the used game market because BioShock did give you back activations and it uses the exact same SecuROM system! I also have a problem with the "Just call EA for more activations" argument because as anyone who has had to deal with lousy outsourced support knows, it is never that simple. As I said when Ascaron announced they were using this with Sacred 2, all EA has to do it put in writing a promise to patch out the DRM at some point. When its out there, they'll have to do it or suffer a huge loss in good will. Ascaron agreed to patch out the DRM after a period of time and for that reason, I will happily pay for Sacred 2. If EA isn't using SecuROM to kill used sales, why will they not commit to doing the same thing? Doing that won't stop the controversy but I guarantee you it will reduce it significantly and gain them a lot of sales they have now lost.

Firstly I'd like to say that using EA's own game as a metaphor for the unintended consequences of bad decisions is awesome. Kudos to you, sir.

This whole debate is something I've put a lot of thought into lately and I find myself hopping over the fence regarding DRM and piracy, but I seem to be settling on a position.

I totally support a company trying to protect it's property, this includes DRM. However provisos are necessary; 1) The customer needs to be informed at the point of purchase 2) the customer needs to be able to use what they have paid for with a minimum of inconvenience.

Regarding point 1. It is a company's responsibility to inform the customer of all aspects of the product that will affect the customers usage of the product. System requirements are printed on the box of a PC game to facilitate the customers decision making. Any DRM system and it's implications need to be explained on the box as well.

I suspect a big part of the shock and horror on the net regarding the Spore scheme is the underhanded manner with which it was implemented. I went from being against the Amazon review protest to supporting it because it serves to inform the more casual gameplayer, who is the biggest market, of the ramifications of their purchase.

Point 2. Sacred 2 has had it's DRM scheme exposed, in many ways it's similar to the Bioshock system. Limited number of installs, but uninstalling allows a new install. If something unforseen happens there are multiple ways of retrieving access to your game. Only 1 install is allowed online access, but how many valid reasons are there for having multiple installations with online access? I can't think of one. This is a system that, if it works, allows the customer to use what they have paid for. Of course the internet is up in arms, but that isn't really a surprise.

I would, of course, prefer a DRM free future. maybe it will happen, but I have my doubts. Until that arrives, just let me play my game.

Even uninstalling does not reclaim an install.

Is that correct? I thought uninstalling reclaimed an install, so it was only if you reinstalled Windows or something that you lost an install.

Edit: Ah, I see, once you've deactivated an install you can't recover it by uninstalling, but uninstalling the game normally will recover it.

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what the DRM actually does, in fact. Are they still installing the dodgy DVD drivers to prevent people burning a copy of the game? There's no way I'd knowingly buy a game that did that.

Aren't you afraid Elysium will eat your soul for disagreeing with him?

Nicely put. I'd suggest to those that don't like EA's DRM to not buy the game and write a letter to EA explaining why. Not an e-mail. Not phone call. A letter: hand-scribed on an actual dead tree, folded, placed in an envelope with a stamp and transported via the creaky snail mail system. $3 Billion consumer companies really do read complaint letters. This would carry more weight than 100 comment rants in a blog or a 1000 one-star reviews on Amazon.com

Here's a suggested address:

Kathy Vrabeck (President, EA Casual Entertainment)
Electronic Arts Inc.
209 Redwood Shores Parkway
Redwood City
CA 94065
U.S.A.

Spore sounds like a fun game. Maybe I'll try it some day. or maybe not.

Nice counterpoint to Elysium's article.

Pyroman wrote:
The companies have a vested interest in fighting piracy and plenty of money to back it up, if it were possible to stop piracy they would be leading the charge. But they're not, they settle for stopping casual piracy and trying to keep the problem from getting out of hand. Which is I think the best anybody can hope for from the current situation.

I always meant to ask - what is the definition of "Casual piracy"? Going to a warez site and downloading a torrent seems pretty casual to me - what it the casual piracy that publishers are trying to stop here?

Dysplastic wrote:
I always meant to ask - what is the definition of "Casual piracy"? Going to a warez site and downloading a torrent seems pretty casual to me - what it the casual piracy that publishers are trying to stop here?

I think it's the low level piracy: lending the game to a friend so they can install a copy as well, that kind of thing.

I'm glad that we can have 2 diametrically opposed opinions both published on the main page Kudos to GWJ.

Dysplastic wrote:
Nice counterpoint to Elysium's article.

Pyroman wrote:
The companies have a vested interest in fighting piracy and plenty of money to back it up, if it were possible to stop piracy they would be leading the charge. But they're not, they settle for stopping casual piracy and trying to keep the problem from getting out of hand. Which is I think the best anybody can hope for from the current situation.

I always meant to ask - what is the definition of "Casual piracy"? Going to a warez site and downloading a torrent seems pretty casual to me - what it the casual piracy that publishers are trying to stop here?


Making a hard copy for your neighbour and cousin, I think.

I always meant to ask - what is the definition of "Casual piracy"? Going to a warez site and downloading a torrent seems pretty casual to me - what it the casual piracy that publishers are trying to stop here?

"Casual piracy" as it has stood in this debate, as I understand it, means giving your discs to someone else for an install, or copying your discs using burning software, instead of seeking out a digital source like a torrent. What we call "casual piracy" now was actually just "piracy" before the internet era. It's piracy without the huge distribution capabilities of torrents or other file sharing methods.

Nice article sir a very mature well written counter point.

What I see that we need is to not let anyone off the hook.

Not the pirates
Not the gaming companies.

Hold everyone accountable for their actions and to assume a level of responsibility on both sides of the fence.

We as consumers need to demand action and responsible treatment from our publishers, we are the customers.

We as a community of gamers need to not let pirates off the hook either.

While I'm glad that the gaming community is finally starting to stand up in (seemingly) large numbers against onerous DRM schemes, this whole Spore issue has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Though I agree with their message, I do not agree with most of these methods. The problem here is that corporations are not people. They do not feel sympathy or remorse because they are not structured to respond to those inputs. The prime motivation for a corporation is profit. So if gamers truly wish to motivate corporations to change their ways they need to communicate to them through their bottom lines, not through Amazon reviews and letters of protest.

Many gamers might object that Amazon reviews are affecting their bottom lines, but I think people fail to realize that disconnect that exists between "hardcore" gamers and the general game buying public. Strictly speaking the general public does not see spamming Amazon as a mature method of protest, and therefore not something likely to convince them to change their buying habits (see Spore's rank over the past week in Amazon's top sellers). If gamers truly want to affect the bottom line of these companies they need to engage not just the hardcore community, but the general public in honest and mature debate over why these practices will harm them and why they need to change their buying habits.

I agree with most people here: full disclosure is necessary.

Let the publishers do whatever they want with DRM but require complete and full disclosure of exactly what it is and how it works on the box. Not on a website, not on a leaflet that store personnel shockingly won't have available to give out.

The problem here is that corporations are not people. They do not feel sympathy or remorse because they are not structured to respond to those inputs. The prime motivation for a corporation is profit. So if gamers truly wish to motivate corporations to change their ways they need to communicate to them through their bottom lines, not through Amazon reviews and letters of protest.

Oh, their bottom line is being affected, that's for sure. Spore is already on its way to being the most pirated game ever.

The question is what will they do afterward. Will they champion their own cause again and say, "See?! See how bad piracy is?"

Or will they say, "Wow, we really screwed that one up. Maybe we need to rethink our business decisions."

Unfortunately, the former is the most likely, because at this point, EA, and many other media companies suffering from similar problems, have already convinced themselves that they need to be in control. They fail to realize that the customers are always in control.

itchyeyes wrote:
stuff

Sorry to truncate your post so much, because it raises some solid points, but I think the point of the Amazon review bombing is to raise awareness about the issues in the minds of the more casual gamers who constitute the majority of the market. These people don't hang around on gaming forums and get educated about the games.

Most may see the attack as immature, but some will learn something and become more educated consumers. (hopefully)

Zelos wrote:
Even uninstalling does not reclaim an install.

Is that correct? I thought uninstalling reclaimed an install, so it was only if you reinstalled Windows or something that you lost an install.

Edit: Ah, I see, once you've deactivated an install you can't recover it by uninstalling, but uninstalling the game normally will recover it.

That seems to be incorrect
Quick update. As many conversations as I’ve had about this, it turns out I got an important detail wrong so I need to clarify something important.

An uninstall does not return the entitlement to the user. I’ll be updating my original post to reflect this.

Only five unique machines can be licensed with the same installation code. So you will be limited to a total of five machine activations.

Many gamers might object that Amazon reviews are affecting their bottom lines, but I think people fail to realize that disconnect that exists between "hardcore" gamers and the general game buying public. Strictly speaking the general public does not see spamming Amazon as a mature method of protest, and therefore not something likely to convince them to change their buying habits (see Spore's rank over the past week in Amazon's top sellers). If gamers truly want to affect the bottom line of these companies they need to engage not just the hardcore community, but the general public in honest and mature debate over why these practices will harm them and why they need to change their buying habits.
I think if you read the Washington Post article linked in the story you'll see that's not the way the mainstream media sees it. The average user won't even know what "Amazon review bombing" means, they'll either just see the one star rating, or see an article about how EA is facing a "concerned campaign" from gamers. Nobody in the mainstream media is going to take the side of EA over the side of concerned customers, as long as there's nothing illegal going on it's going to play out that way. It's not like it's civil disobedience here, the user reviews are there specifically to voice your opinion. That's all the users are doing.

PyromanFO wrote:
That seems to be incorrect
Quick update. As many conversations as I’ve had about this, it turns out I got an important detail wrong so I need to clarify something important.

An uninstall does not return the entitlement to the user. I’ll be updating my original post to reflect this.

Only five unique machines can be licensed with the same installation code. So you will be limited to a total of five machine activations.

Hmm, but further down the thread the same guy says:

You can uninstall/reinstall on the same machine multiple times (no OS change, no hardware change) without risking anything. And in fact simply reinstalling your operating system would not generally require you to use an additional license either.

Is that the same system that Spore is using, then? From the look of it, that's like the iTunes system except without the "Deauthorise computer" menu option.

Is that the same system that Spore is using, then? From the look of it, that's like the iTunes system except without the "Deauthorise computer" menu option.
Hardware changes still deauthorize the computer, so no. Also with iTunes Apple tells you where the keys are and if you back them up you can go wherever you want.

And the "deauthorize computer" option is the entire point of my argument. EA isn't letting you reclaim what you paid for when you move around. This is entirely a consequence of trying to kill the used games market.

Zelos wrote:

...
Hmm, but further down the thread the same guy says:
You can uninstall/reinstall on the same machine multiple times (no OS change, no hardware change) without risking anything. And in fact simply reinstalling your operating system would not generally require you to use an additional license either.

Is that the same system that Spore is using, then? From the look of it, that's like the iTunes system except without the "Deauthorise computer" menu option.


I suspect that the DRM stuff installs something that remains after you uninstall the game, so that it can check whether or not it's the same machine. That way you can uninstall the game and not have to worry about whether or not you can reinstall it later.
That's my guess from how he put it though.

The problem with this system however would be that if you'd uninstall it, then reinstall windows, and then reinstall Spore, it wouldn't actually give you back the license, it'd just check 'was there a previous install? no? -1 license!' and you'd still be screwed.
Again, guesstimating that, but it seems the most logical thing given how it seems to act so far.

[size=8]edit: added quote[/size]

PyromanFO wrote:
And the "deauthorize computer" option is the entire point of my argument.

Sure, I realise that, I guess an ironic tone of voice doesn't transfer over HTTP very well

This whole affair has meant that I spent my £30 on Super Smash Bros instead of Spore today, anyway.

Zelos wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:
And the "deauthorize computer" option is the entire point of my argument.

Sure, I realise that, I guess an ironic tone of voice doesn't transfer over HTTP very well ;-)


If they had only added tone of voice tags into HTML

Parallax Abstraction wrote:
As I said when Ascaron announced they were using this with Sacred 2, all EA has to do it put in writing a promise to patch out the DRM at some point. When its out there, they'll have to do it or suffer a huge loss in good will.

Putting it in writing is no guarantee of anything, from EA. This is best evidenced by the whole multiple accounts fiasco [need reference here], where they printed in their own manual that you can use multiple EA accounts with a single Spore install. Yet the game does not in fact support multiple accounts, and EA has proclaimed the line in the manual to be a 'misprint.'

This is a nice complement to Beardy's article. Thanks.

MoonDragon wrote:
Putting it in writing is no guarantee of anything, from EA. This is best evidenced by the whole multiple accounts fiasco [need reference here], where they printed in their own manual that you can use multiple EA accounts with a single Spore install. Yet the game does not in fact support multiple accounts, and EA has proclaimed the line in the manual to be a 'misprint.'

Fair point but how much good will has that "misprint" about accounts cost them? Quite a bit I think as it has now solidified the position of a lot of people who were still on the fence about buying Spore. EA promising to patch out the DRM is just that, a promise and there's nothing that legally forces them to keep it but I think they would in this case. If they didn't, there are a lot of people out there like me and others here who wouldn't buy their future products for fear of getting burned again and I think that number is bigger than even EA realizes right now.

This is why I've taken the position of many others that the main reason EA did this is not casual piracy but killing used sales of the game. If that's the goal, it is in their best interests to keep the DRM in permanently and conveniently switch it off around the time Spore 2 launches in a couple of years. Otherwise, I can't see why they won't just come out and say "We'll patch the DRM out in X months." This won't satisfy a lot of people who won't buy the game ever because of this issue but many like myself would probably pick Spore up if this commitment was offered.

Confirmation from Arstechnica, you can reinstall as many times you like on the same machine, but you're limited to 3 different machines (they don't define how big a hardware change constitutes a new machine):

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080916-ars-puts-spore-drm-to-the-testwith-a-surprising-result.html

Firstly I'd like to say that using EA's own game as a metaphor for the unintended consequences of bad decisions is awesome. Kudos to you, sir.
Then you're going to love this

PyromanFO wrote:
Firstly I'd like to say that using EA's own game as a metaphor for the unintended consequences of bad decisions is awesome. Kudos to you, sir.
Then you're going to love this

Slightly lacking in subtlety, but I do like this:
\/

IMAGE(http://www.gameculture.com/files//tmp/sporedrm3.gif)

Well, I know EA lost a Spore sale from me. I couldn't buy the game due to region restrictions, and now that I've heard all this DRM debate, I'm really turned off about the whole thing and I don't want to buy it.

Can you imagine calling international fees just to ask for a reactivation install? Ridiculous.

The funny thing is I saw the Spore dvd pirated game version selling on a local market like a week before the official launch.

nsmike wrote:
I always meant to ask - what is the definition of "Casual piracy"? Going to a warez site and downloading a torrent seems pretty casual to me - what it the casual piracy that publishers are trying to stop here?

"Casual piracy" as it has stood in this debate, as I understand it, means giving your discs to someone else for an install, or copying your discs using burning software, instead of seeking out a digital source like a torrent. What we call "casual piracy" now was actually just "piracy" before the internet era. It's piracy without the huge distribution capabilities of torrents or other file sharing methods.

I thought we beat this with disc-checks and copy-protection software a long time ago - sure, you can bypass them, but that wouldn't be "casual piracy" anymore. What is this "limited installation" DRM doing to stop casual piracy that these other tools aren't?