A New, Unpopular Philosophy

Stop me when you’ve heard this before: Gamers are up in arms over the copy protection scheme of a major publisher.

The tumult from the latest skirmish between warring gamers and publishers involves Spore, which limits the number of installs permitted to 3 before the user must contact EA to extend their license. Immediately gamers lined up their rhetorical catapults and fired salvo after salvo of familiar, flaming linguistic ballistics, rolling out all the hits: treating customers like criminals, it doesn’t do anything against piracy, boycott EA and so on.

Call it apathy. Call it selling out. Call it whatever you want, but try as I might, I simply can not find any enthusiasm for bubbling up my once white-hot animus. It’s not just that I don’t necessarily see anything extraordinarily troubling about EA’s security measures; it’s also that I just can’t muster the same gamer-rage that once seemed to come so easily. Feeling victimized by every perceived slight just isn't as appealing to me as it used to be.

Let me stress that I don’t fault those who experience trouble with restrictive DRM for speaking up. I just wonder how many of the people expressing outrage saw fire on the horizon and went running toward it with lighter fluid?

I appreciate the basic sentiment of gamers, misguided as I think it may be. But, when I think about my personal experience with recent anti-piracy efforts, I find it hard to recall it actually causing me any trouble. Oh, it’s not hard to imagine circumstances under which I could be inconvenienced, but when I measure that against the instances in which it actually happened, I come up blank.

I can count on one hand the number of games I’ve actually installed more than three times. So, if I look at how the Spore issue relates to me practically, then I am forced to concede that the likelihood of my having to ever extend my installations is extraordinarily small. And, should I ever have to make that call, I wonder how difficult a process that really is? I once had to do something similar for Windows. The process was painless and lasted a few minutes. So, I ask myself: is this a price I’m willing to pay if EA’s investors feel like the company is making meaningful anti-piracy efforts and by extension is willing to greenlight even more high-budget PC titles?

The more I release myself from the chains of hysterical hypotheticals, the more I find myself not really having a problem with it.

And, I think about the options that EA and other major publishers have. Piracy is a problem that companies can’t choose not to address. Arguments over the number of lost sales any degree of piracy represent or the effectiveness of anti-piracy efforts aren’t really the point. The real issue is that the company would be criminally negligent if it didn't make measurable efforts to protect the multi-million dollar investment they have in Spore.

You’re absolutely right; those who stand the largest likelihood of being inconvenienced are the legitimate consumers — saying nothing of how often that will actually happen or how difficult a problem that is to fix. Just once, though, I wouldn’t mind seeing the hivemind of gamer rage aimed at the people who actually put us in this position, the pirates. How likely that is to happen, I don't know. I suspect that most publishers have lost a good deal of faith on that question, which is perhaps why the PC has become such a diminished platform. Again, I think I’ll choose to not get worked up about things that are beyond my control.

It's not that I’m not trying to flip the blame on the self-labeled victims. I don’t believe that approach is any more productive than bombing EA with negative Amazon.com reviews. Those who want to get in a schoolyard brawl with the publishing giant are welcome to their dirty fights. Maybe they’ll even get the company to back down on Spore, winning a minor skirmish in the losing war against the inevitable. The problem is that gamers don't have much of a track record on the 'being practical about the realities of business' front. Beside the fact that our ability to participate in the industry debate has been completely dilluted as a result of our tacit approval of piracy, there are very few demonstrable instances where concessions to gamers haven't just resulted in further outrage. We aren't known for meeting in the middle.

So, I’m going to reserve what dry fumes of gamer rage I have left for problems that, for me, are actual rather than hypothetical. I’ll save my victimization for when Spore of Mass Effect actually leave me with no access to the content I paid for rather than suffering the many imagined ways such a thing might happen. I suspect that by the time the installation limitation is likely to be an issue, I will have no shortage of options on the table for either extending my license or circumventing EA’s anti-piracy measures.

These days I’m willing to spend hours re-installing my favorite old games. I’ll waste time scouring the internet for updated texture packs, old patches and homemade mods. If my time and $60 is so precious that I can’t accept that corporations have legal obligations to shareholders and a necessary interest in making efforts to limit the theft of their property, then I am comfortable with my choices of supporting different companies or finding a new past time.

That's the whole point. I have a choice. I can either wash myself in the venomous bath of voluntary outrage for a problem I will likely never have, or I can accept that the circumstances of the industry simply do not permit a major publisher the luxury of being lackadaisical with their investment. I can make the industry the villain for trying to protect its property, or I can make the thieves the villain for massive excesses and creating the combative climate. I can be furious about the vague problems of some unknown number of people, or I can realize that for me I will likely buy Spore, install it and play it without incident.

For me, the choice isn’t particularly complicated. It may make me a patsy, a sellout or an apologist. Fair enough, I can’t control those labels, but I can control the fact that while thousands of outraged gamers have signed petitions, fired off angry emails, posted furiously on message boards and drowned Spore with negative reviews, I was having a fun and hassle free experience playing the actual game.

In the immortal words of Miracle Max, “have fun stormin’ da castle.”

Comments

I am not enraged about the DRM that EA has put on Spore. It is their game, they need to protect it, and this is what they are choosing to do. In principle, I don't object to what EA is doing.

However, the DRM makes it unlikely that I will buy Spore. This is not a principled objection. It is practical. I change out operating systems on my machines with enough frequency that I think I might hit the install limit.

Even with the various computer changes I have in mind, chances are I will not hit the 3 install limit before the game loses interest for me. But there is enough of a chance that it sort of nags at me in making my buying decision.

If Spore were a game that I was extremely excited about, I'd go ahead and get it, and deal with any hassles that come up due to the DRM. But my excitement is not that high. After hearing more about it at PAX, I had crossed over from the "probably not going to buy" side to the "probably going to buy" side. Thinking about DRM hassles has pushed me back to the other side of the line.

Even if DRM is not something to get enraged about, it is a "hassle factor" that weighs somewhat against buying.

Man, I could read the debate between Elysium and Pyroman all day! Your comments are definitely helping me define an opinion on this subject. Fantastic debate guys.

Elysium: Thanks for the article- I believe I followed your train of thought the whole way, except for one paragraph:

Elysium wrote:
These days I’m willing to spend hours re-installing my favorite old games. I’ll waste time scouring the internet for updated texture packs, old patches and homemade mods. If my time and $60 is so precious that I can’t accept that corporations have legal obligations to shareholders and a necessary interest in making efforts to limit the theft of their property, then I am comfortable with my choices of supporting different companies or finding a new past time.

Just curious- doesn't this paragraph go against your general opinion? It seems to me that DRM would greatly hinder the 'hobby' of pc gamers of "re-installing old games, installing texture packs, old patches and homemade mods" as that can only thrive in a more open-source-ish kind of install.

Also, was the last sentence of that quote meant theoretically? Meaning, "if I were to get that mad concerning my $60 investment, I would just give up and move on to a new past time?" Or have you actually done this, and avoided certain companies. Thanks.

So, I guess no one here sells their games, trades games, or buys used games. This style of DRM effectively prevents you from doing so, and everyone is OK with that!?

If we only had a rating function for front page articles.

Mwahahahaha (evil cackling continues...)

Juuuuuust kidding.

Dax wrote:

Just curious- doesn't this paragraph go against your general opinion? It seems to me that DRM would greatly hinder the 'hobby' of pc gamers of "re-installing old games, installing texture packs, old patches and homemade mods" as that can only thrive in a more open-source-ish kind of install.

Also, was the last sentence of that quote meant theoretically? Meaning, "if I were to get that mad concerning my $60 investment, I would just give up and move on to a new past time?" Or have you actually done this, and avoided certain companies. Thanks.

I think he was just pointing out that the three install limit only means that maybe, down the road, you will have to call and get your newest install okayed. While this really peeves some people, he's pointing out that he already spends more time than that trying to get old games to work as it is. It's a hassle, but no more than the hassle we already deal with trying to play old games.

Jayhawker wrote:
Dax wrote:

Just curious- doesn't this paragraph go against your general opinion? It seems to me that DRM would greatly hinder the 'hobby' of pc gamers of "re-installing old games, installing texture packs, old patches and homemade mods" as that can only thrive in a more open-source-ish kind of install.

Also, was the last sentence of that quote meant theoretically? Meaning, "if I were to get that mad concerning my $60 investment, I would just give up and move on to a new past time?" Or have you actually done this, and avoided certain companies. Thanks.

I think he was just pointing out that the three install limit only means that maybe, down the road, you will have to call and get your newest install okayed. While this really peeves some people, he's pointing out that he already spends more time than that trying to get old games to work as it is. It's a hassle, but no more than the hassle we already deal with trying to play old games.

Ah. Roger that.

syndicatedragon wrote:

So, I guess no one here sells their games, trades games, or buys used games. This style of DRM effectively prevents you from doing so, and everyone is OK with that!?

Speaking for myself, no, not too often on the PC side of things. Older games that I can't find elsewhere, and I know won't be crippled for online components, occasionally. Steam has become a haven of finding older content that I can't get anywhere else, and they usually have very reasonable prices. Plus, since I know Steam is a platform, I know that my experience will be seamless.

Update: Time spent on the phone with EA/Bangalore: 85 minutes. Time spent playing online: 0 minutes.

Best reply from EA rep so far:

Response (Samuel S) 09/11/2008 03:07 PM
Hi Peter,

Thank you for contacting Electronic Arts Customer Support.

Please be advised that you may only have one Spore account per CD Key.
However you can use that account on any PC that has Spore installed on it.

If you need additional assistance or have further questions please reply to
this email or visit our self help knowledge base at http://support.ea.com

Thank you,
Samuel
Senior Representative
Electronic Arts Customer Support

So don't worry, guys. When EA's DRM system bends you over, you can just burn a few hundred dollars worth of billable hours on hold waiting for them to not fix the problem. What's the big deal? You guys are such complainers.

Man, I'm really late to this party, and it already seems to be winding down. I just feel the need to comment on some points that got my dander up.

Elysium wrote:

Exactly, which means it was left entirely to the companies to create solutions to deter shoplifting. Everytime you walk through a scanner at the front of a store, you're walking through the retail equivalent of DRM. Aren't you being treated like a criminal when you're being scanned at the Wal-Mart doorway?

This is a great analogy, because it leads to a wonderful counter-analogy. Now ignoring the other points against it like Evo stated (please keep commenting Evo) I submit the following: the "DRM" you suggested is non-invasive DRM, i.e. Steam. EA's DRM is that same Wal-Mart telling every customer they need to look at their receipts and check their bags. The first I find acceptable. The second, not so much. The idea that I'm implicitly giving permission to search my bag by stepping into the store is bullsh*t. And, in another wonderful take on the analogy, I'm okay with it so long as it's told up front and thus I opt-in to the receipt checking (Costco for example).

Elysium wrote:

I suppose I should get back to my point, which is that I have limited effect on this. I enjoy this debate, but I'm not really able to get worked up either way. I feel like we've gotten so concerned about what may or may not be happening to other people that many gamers have become rhetorically hysterical and not really offering an effective way out. It's just a path to constant argument, frustration and fury.

I live in California alongside millions of other people. There's a very, very good chance Obama will get the nod from California's electorate in the upcoming election and my vote is an extremely small part of that, for or against. Does that mean I shouldn't vote? Does that mean I shouldn't discuss politics with other people in an attempt to influence them towards the side I see as correct? I might be yelling into the wind on both subjects but the idea that my extremely limited effect on a subject means I shouldn't do or say anything about a subject is just wrong, wrong, [b]wrong.[/b]

I'll just stick with those two. My experience is that if I use three or more quote/comment blocks things tend to get nasty.

My computer is due for a re-format, it's been a couple of years now and its starting to get awfully slow. So after I do this in the coming weeks there goes install number 2. Next year I'll be looking at upgrading to Vista, and perhaps a new PC all together. There goes install number 3. No doubt there will be more in the future. Spore is the sort of game I can see myself coming back to every few months as the user-generated content continues to evolve. Contacting EA its just another inconvenience I should have to go through in the first place.

The limited installs, the online verification, CD checks and so on all serve only to punish the consumers who purchased it legitimately. Why? Because within hours of its release Spore was on Bittorret, DRM and price free. So what did these anti-piracy measure do in the end anyway?

nsmike wrote:
syndicatedragon wrote:

So, I guess no one here sells their games, trades games, or buys used games. This style of DRM effectively prevents you from doing so, and everyone is OK with that!?

Speaking for myself, no, not too often on the PC side of things. Older games that I can't find elsewhere, and I know won't be crippled for online components, occasionally. Steam has become a haven of finding older content that I can't get anywhere else, and they usually have very reasonable prices. Plus, since I know Steam is a platform, I know that my experience will be seamless.

Yeah, i never sell my games. I always try and buy new (since i like having new games not previously owned by other people) but for older games it's a problem... However, platforms like Steam and the new DRM-free paid download site that's currently in beta are a way to address this issue for myself. To be honest, even if i wanted to swap, trade etc., PC games haven't ha this luxury for a long time - what with CD keys being tied to online accounts so it's not so much of a feature of this particular DRM than all the previous clamp-downs are just included with this further step.

@peterb: That really sucks. I hope it gets sorted soon. Is there any way you can demand some compensation from the company?

You have every right to be angry on that front.

Customer service issues are another matter entirely, and something I _would_ like to see improved.

I can't find the energy to get that upset over this either. Sadly, though, the DRM did greatly decrease how much money I'm willing to spend on Spore. It was going to be one of my rare full-price purchases, but I am one of those people that is very likely to burn through three installs if I like the game even a little bit.

Ely, I disagree with your opinion in this piece that ham-fisted DRM isn't an issue for us gamers (dude, if you knew my luck with pc's, you'd know that whether by choice or not, I'll tear through three installs in as many or fewer years). However, I'm not exactly outraged about it. I'm opting not to buy the game specifically due to the overkill on DRM (unlike, say, Sacred 2 which is taking a much more reasonable approach) and the likelihood that the 3-install limit would affect me.

However, I think that a lot of the uproar around the internet (including the Amazon bombing) is also overkill from the other direction.

Like others, I'm quite up front with people who admit to piracy in telling them that it's theft. They can gussy it up however they want, but it's still theft, just in the "Digital Age". I encourage them not to by various directions when they argue their point. I think what I might start doing in addition is writing companies when they overkill on the DRM, such as like EA is currently doing. A polite, reasoned letter expressing disappointment, not a nerd-rage diatribe.

I think the piece was well-written, I just wanted to calmly note why I disagree.

Elysium wrote:

You have every right to be angry on that front.

Customer service issues are another matter entirely, and something I _would_ like to see improved.

Ooh, forgot to reply to this specific point:

If I trusted EA's customer service to do right by me, their customer, then the three-install limit would not be so objectionable to me.

You won't find many that hate DRM more than I do. I refuse to buy Starforce games. I've shut down message boards that released horrible DRM schemes with my incessant bitching. I think it's worse than useless, insulting to legitimate customers, costs more money than it prevents in lost sales and hurts corporate image. When some dumbass publisher claims they lost 95% of their sales to piracy, I think they're lying through their teeth.

Yet I don't get the outrage with this scheme.

First, it's advertised on the box, so you can't complain that "it didn't tell me it needed an Internet connection".

Second, it can and will be patched out. I don't buy the "you're just renting the game" argument if this is being published by a mainstream publisher.

Third, it's not the most horrendous scheme in the world. Anyone who's lived through a SecureROM hardware-incompatibility nightmare knows better, because that sh*t can't be fixed, just hacked.

I get the outrage. I just don't understand why the outrage is focused on a scheme like this and not on the sh*t like SecureROM that actually prevents you from playing the game EVER.

First, it's advertised on the box, so you can't complain that "it didn't tell me it needed an Internet connection".

Wrong. Internet connection is not the concern. The 3 installs is.

Second, it can and will be patched out. I don't buy the "you're just renting the game" argument if this is being published by a mainstream publisher.

An assumption. At the moment, we have no statement or evidence that EA will patch it out of Spore.

Third, it's not the most horrendous scheme in the world. Anyone who's lived through a SecureROM hardware-incompatibility nightmare knows better, because that sh*t can't be fixed, just hacked.

I get the outrage. I just don't understand why the outrage is focused on a scheme like this and not on the sh*t like SecureROM that actually prevents you from playing the game EVER.

Spore DOES use SecuROM.

If EA would release a statement promising to patch out the DRM (like Ascaron did with Sacred 2), I personally wouldn't have any problem and would buy Spore. However, they've steadfastly refused to do that so far and I think that's a good enough reason to not trust them on it yet.

wow, this must be a hot topic if "godwin's law" cropped up so early ( within five comments!)

I've pretty much said this before but I still don't get how this is all that different than the iTunes store I'd windows activation. Sure I'd rather not deal with it, but man, the indignation I just don't get. I just have so many more pressing things to worry about.

Elysium wrote:

I’ll save my victimization for when Spore of Mass Effect actually leave me with no access to the content I paid for rather than suffering the many imagined ways such a thing might happen.

Hear hear.

Thank you Elysium.

rabbit wrote:

Sure I'd rather not deal with it, but man, the indignation I just don't get.

Neither you nor Elysium are bothered by it, obviously, but those who ARE have spent the last four pages explaining themselves fairly eloquently.

I don't game on the PC at all, so I personally couldn't care less about EA and their DRM. After saying that, I can still respect that other people DO have their reasons for complaining. Do you REALLY not "get" why people are bothered, after all this?

I just have so many more pressing things to worry about.

Implying that people who ARE upset DON'T? Come on, you can use that line to kill any argument--

"Dammit, I hate it when people cut me off in traffic!"
"Well, with all the genocide in Africa, I'm afraid I can't be bothered worrying about traffic."

"Fricking McDonald's didn't take the pickles off my burger!"
"Oh, if only I had such trivial matters to worry about! I'm more concerned about the plight of the working poor in America..."

Etc.

Neither you nor Elysium are bothered by it, obviously, but those who ARE have spent the last four pages explaining themselves fairly eloquently.

All things considered I think we've had a fairly productive and healthy debate. I am comfortable with disagreeing with people that this DRM scheme is worth getting upset over, and I think a lot of middle ground has been found and agreed on:
1) There should be clearer indication about the limitations
2) There should be better customer service backing this up
3) Not all the hysteria is warranted, neither is it entirely unwarranted
4) My point is a personal one, a statement of transition because I used to be among those who would have gotten worked up about this.

There's more, so at least on my end I do _get_ it. I just don't agree with it.

TrashiDawa wrote:
Elysium wrote:

I’ll save my victimization for when Spore of Mass Effect actually leave me with no access to the content I paid for rather than suffering the many imagined ways such a thing might happen.

Hear hear.

Thank you Elysium.

The problem with that argument is by the time that happens, no one who can do something about it will care anymore. EA has your money already and by giving it to them, their policy has been validated and they'll see no reason to change. If that's cool for you that's fine but if it happens, no one who tolerated it now will have a right to call themselves a victim because the writing was on the wall. Of course, in 5 years you may all be able to play Spore and the DRM will have been patched out. If it is, I'll admit I was wrong but I doubt I will be.

While on the surface iTunes and the app store are similar to what EA is doing, in practice the iTunes DRM is a little less hassle than what EA does.

First, you can specify five authorized machines, which is more than three. Second, you can deactivate and reauthorize machines as you wish, rather than having to call EA to get an activation back if you need it. Finally, it appears to me that you can share a single iTunes account on multiple phones (for example)... which is nice for only needing to buy a phone app once.

These are small and minor details to be sure, but I think they have a big impact on the usability of iTunes.

Similarly, I think people find Steam more tolerable because while it is still a scheme to control access, it is a less onerous than this "online activation plus only three installs" business.

I think in general people are willing to put up with DRM schemes that do not get in their way too much. Except for the purists. But you'll never convince them anyway.

The additional argument to be made regarding iTunes is that Apple has no incentive to take their servers offline and lock you out of content you already bought to get you to buy newer stuff. In fact, if they locked you out of your content, it would drive you away. EA has done that with previous Madden games (which had too big an audience to care, likely will be the case with Spore as well) and while it remains to be seen whether they'll do that here, the precedent exists. It was also made clear to me in plain English when I bought my first song on iTunes (less than a year ago) what the terms were and how many machines I was allowed to authorize.

I also don't buy from iTunes.

Elysium wrote:

You have every right to be angry on that front.

Customer service issues are another matter entirely, and something I _would_ like to see improved.

Yet the entire problem here for most people is that EA is tying your ability to play the game to their customer service after 3 irrevocable installs. And their customer service sucks.

rabbit wrote:

I've pretty much said this before but I still don't get how this is all that different than the iTunes store I'd windows activation. Sure I'd rather not deal with it, but man, the indignation I just don't get. I just have so many more pressing things to worry about.

As pointed out above, iTunes puts you, the customer, in charge of the keys you paid for. They're up front in explaining the conditions and make it easy for you to manage your own purchases. EA doesn't tell anyone about the conditions up front and give you no control over the keys your purchased. It's a pretty clear difference in responsibility towards your customers.

I think this is the strongest argument about EA. So it begs a question: if EA was entirely straightforward about DRM, maybe a sticker right there on the box (license includes 3 installations, internet connection required) would you feel differently?

Absolutely. As a consumer, I'm entitled to know exactly what I'm getting when I purchase a product. Selling me a game that I may install and uninstall as many times as I like has more value to me -- someone who does a metric ass-ton of reinstalls. Thus, a game with this type of restrictive DRM is worth less to me. How much less? Well, I'll let you know at what price I buy it for on GoGamer on special.

To your point regarding the webbernet mob on Amazon, I think the best combat for speech is more speech. Let EA speak intelligent about their DRM decisions and let the market place decide. Personally, I think it's deceptive. If the Amazon mob is in effect informing those wishing to purchase Spore that they're going to be subject to a shadowy DRM scheme, then they're doing good work.

The purpose of a product review is to inform a prospective buyer as to its value. If those Amazon mob types want to value the game low due to the DRM, so what? Even more troubling would be big business (publishers / studios) getting involved and asking Amazon to moderate the reviews. That sounds like censorship to me!

Isn't this is a voluntary purchase?