Has Spore been destroyed by its own DRM?

EA's critically acclaimed hit enters backlash hell from gamers for its anti-piracy measures...

Spore, the long-awaited god game from Sims creator Will Wright, was released this month to excellent reviews. It scored an average rating of 86% on Metacritic, which is no mean feat considering it only takes one or two maverick reviewers to bring an average crashing down. Yet despite Spore’s undoubted quality, user review scores on sites such as Amazon are surprisingly low. Not because the game is less well received by the punters than by the reviewers, but due to protest over its digital rights management, or DRM.

In a move reminiscent of Windows, Spore must be activated online before it will run, and it can only be activated three times out of the box. Further activations require a phone call to EA’s customer service helpdesk. Gamers are up in arms. At the time of writing, Spore’s page on Amazon.com has notched up almost 2,000 reviews, an incredible 1,814 of which give the game one star.

“No way in HELL am I shelling out $50, let alone $80 (I like collector editions), to effectively rent software,” explained one irate would-be purchaser. “I’ve been looking forward to this game, but now I will NOT be buying it,” says another, unlike the guy who found EA’s customer support not up to scratch. “I reached my three-install limit due to hardware trouble,” he explains. “Then I ended up having to make an OVERSEAS call for more than 30 minutes in order to make the forth install. Needless to say, I never got through in those 30 minutes. This game is going back to the shop.”

The rationale behind EA’s DRM system, known as SecureROM, is it prevents access codes being shared online. However, within a day of the game being released, it was cracked and a DRM-free version did the rounds on bit torrent sites. The cracked copy, of course, needs no activation key and can be installed as many times as you like without a problem. As an irate Amazon reviewer put it, “Copy protection lasted just ONE day before hackers cracked it. All the game-copying kiddies out there can play Spore to their hearts’ content, and legitimate customers are messed around by EA.”

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It must be said that much of the online backlash against Spore’s DRM is the result of forum rabble-rousing, with posts encouraging people to go to Amazon and give it low-scoring reviews. This isn’t a spontaneous outpouring of indignant rage. Even so, the message to EA is clear. A paid-for product that’s inferior to the pirate version is simply unacceptable.