The Spore DRM revolution at Amazon.com

  • Tuesday, September 9, 2008 10:29am
  • Sports

It’s disconcerting to think that when you turn on your computer that you are being actively monitored. Information is gathered sent and sent back, and most of this information is innocuous – updates for your web browser, operating system and what have you.

It’s different when the program is spying on you.

Spore, which was released on Sept. 7, did so under a cloud of dissention as gamers and PC owners across the world rankled under the games DRM programming. To protest the DRM content in Spore, the game’s score on Amazon.com has been reduced from a five-star item to one.

Gamers and PC users posting on Amazon.com’s message board under the Spore listing haven’t been shy in voicing their displeasure.

Said one angry gamer in an Amazon.com post “The DRM for the game utilizes securom which is essentially a virus that installs itself without warning when you install the game. There is no way to completely remove it without reformatting and it is constantly running in the background if not removed. Sucking up computer resources.

It also is overpriced. This is actually a RENTAL, not a bought game because it only lets you install 3 times. If you install over 3 times then you must call EA customer support and beg them to let you play the game you bought. Did I mention the call is not free? If you live outside the U.S. it will be a very expensive call.

DO NOT BUY THIS, and if you do buy it keep in mind that you are renting it. Not buying it. Whats really ironic about this is the DRM hasn’t even stopped the pirates as it was pirated a few weeks ago. And the pirated version doesn’t have Securom or install limits which makes it a better version. EA shouldn’t treat its consumers like trash if they want my money.”

DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a hot-button issue in the tech world, if not gaming. DRM is a means of controlling existing technology and media, previously having been employed on CD’s, DVD’s and computer programs. However, the SecuROM additions to Will Wright’s Spore is turning what should be a shining moment for the developer into a footnote in the controversy surrounding digital media ownership.

In this case, the DRM in Spore is a means of copy prevention, allowing the password in the game to be used only three times or in other terms, worth three installs into your computer. Once the owner uses that password more than three times, he or she is forced to call Electronic Arts and provide an explanation as to why they are installing the game a fourth time. Perhaps they’ll get another code, perhaps not. EA has said that they will take each call “on a case by case criteria.”

For my part, I find this disconcerting. In our present age of “technophilia” it is not unknown for an individual to have more than one computer. Indeed, I own two computers and a laptop. If I were to buy Spore and installed it on all my machines, I would in effect have used up my wealth install’s. I would be forced to call EA and explain why I needed permission for the fourth installation.

And therein lies the rub: I am asking permission for something I am supposed to own. I bought it, ergo I should be free and clear to install the game on my toaster oven if I so choose – but I can’t. That is the part of this issue that bothers me. That the product I have purchased is not truly mine.

The SecuROM portion of the issue is less troublesome for me. I am bothered that even if I un-installed Spore that SecuROM will still be there, monitoring me and sending information to EA. But in reality, this happens several times a day – from when I turn on my computer to when I shut it off. Packets of information will be sent from my computer to Microsoft, Apple, or what have you. That information will be processed.

Even in gaming it is not unknown for background programs to actively update existing games. Popular MMO World of Warcraft sports the “Blizzard Downloader” which runs in the background, quietly updating patches even when you are not playing. Curse.com also has a mod downloader that regularly checks for updates. As a Team Fortress 2 player I know the Steam downloader is always running, checking on my play. And that is a conscious decision I made to play Team Fortress 2, in my mind outweighing the cons of Steam checking up on me once in a while. It’s a trade-off, and one happily made. Who wouldn’t for a tasty “Sandvitch”?

The cardinal sin of Spore is the impression that this game is not my own. After spending $49.99, this game might as well be prolonged rental, a lease of fun until my machine gives up the ghost. If for that reason alone I will not buy Spore. Not out of any sense of inflated consumer righteous indignation, but for the simple fact that when I buy something I expect to own it outright. Otherwise I didn’t really buy it, did I?

Yesterday whilst treading the highways and byways of the internets, I came across an interesting snippet of news – or rumor – at Gamepro.com. It would appear that a brand new Warhammer 40,000 game is currently in development.

“What! I thought you weren’t going to talk about Warhammer for the rest of the week! You are a liar Mr. Arnold!”

Well, in my defense I said Warhammer, not Warhammer 40,000. I hope you appreciate the distinction.

For the uninitiated, Warhammer 40,000 is the futuristic side of the coin to the Games Workshop property. Playable as a tabletop game, it has been developed over the years in a series of games. “Firewarrior” for the Playstation 2 was a FPS that put you behind the rifle of a Tau Firewarrior. Then there was the “Dawn of War” series, an RTS that was genius at first but eventually devolved into banality. There is even a Warhammer 40,000 MMO being developed.

However this new game looks interesting. And perhaps unfortunately, familiar.

Take a look but have a care: it is a bloodthirsty video that demonstrates what they cleverly refer to as “intimate brutality.” Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t think of a better warning than the phrase “watch at your own risk: intimate brutality to follow.”

Now tell the truth – didn’t you think of Gears of War when you watched this? Yeah, me too. It looks like the Unreal graphics engine to me, but that’s just reading tea leaves.

The caveat to this game play video is that it is just a demo. Even the title “Space Marine” is probably a working title. This is something in development limbo and may never, ever see the light of day.

I love the environment, it captures the Warhammer 40,000 feel right off the bat. Even the Space Marine – an Ultramarine? – looks the part as a hulking warrior in sanctified Mark IV armor. The “chainsword” – a sword with a chainsaw mechanic that is used to dispatch foes – looks very cool and the attack animations and cinema’s that he eludes to look nifty. But a Space Marine that uses his “bolter” – a very large automatic rifle – one handed as a “spray and pray” weapon boarders on hilarity. Space Marines spend hours and hours honing their skill with the weapon, they want the bolter-rounds to count. What’s more, having a behemoth Space Marine like that hit you with a chainsword, I expect to see those troops flying apart, if you’ll forgive the terminology.

But I digress. The game is in development. I’m only hoping they get it right.

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