Spore War

By Alec Meer on September 9th, 2008 at 9:27 am.

People really don’t like DRM. And a small but very passionate/ferocious group of people really, really, really don’t like DRM. They’ve struck back by shaping Amazon’s user reviews of Spore en masse, bringing its average rating down to just one star.

While I’m aware it’s a major issue for a lot of gamers, I think it’s a hateful thing to do on this kind of scale. I do understand their concerns entirely, and would much prefer there was no DRM in Spore. Fine, don’t buy the game yourself or crack it if you’re not happy with the restrictions and privacy violations. Write to EA or trading standards, blog about it, demand there’s a big warning sticker on the box.

Even protest ratings based on your actual negative experiences of the DRM are entirely valid, but this concerted group effort (most of whom, I imagine, haven’t actually played the game or experienced its usage restrictions first-hand) is giving innocent Amazon customers entirely the wrong impression of a game they might well love: that star rating is all that a lot of people look at. This isn’t raising awareness of DRM: it’s just making people not buy the game because they think it must be rubbish.

The DRM’s a significant problem – a problem we won’t know the full extent of for a while, I’d imagine – but my concern is that one of the most influential buying guides on the web is currently only telling one side of the story. A progressive, excellent game could get sunk because of it, and we’ll end up with more licensed tripe instead. Not that likely, granted, but possible.

Appreciate that this is a subject people feel very strongly about, but please express your comments below without bellowing abuse at each other.

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350 Comments »

  1. Seniath says:

    Meh, one star sounds about right.

    Yes. I went there.

  2. MasterBoo says:

    The problem is that Spore really deserves one star as its rating. One of the worst game I’ve played in years.

  3. Jonas says:

    I think Spore’s DRM is hateful. So there!

    Unfortunately I’m not principled enough to let it influence my purchasing decision to any significant degree, so I’ve bought the game anyway.

    But still, the point with user ratings is to let users rate the game exactly as they like, and if these guys think the DRM scheme on Spore is bad enough to drag the whole game down to 1 star (as apparently they do?), they’re well within their rights to rate the game badly.

  4. toni says:

    I cry for the poor, poor, poor amazon customers getting mislead. omg, you can’t prevent ppl from buying spore, it’s a act against GOD. how can it be that ppl judge a game and give it a rating based on the DRM it comes bundled with. who would have thought ? outrage.

  5. Jonas says:

    CRITICAL ERROR: EXCESS SARCASM. Please reboot the system. Any unsaved data you were working with may be lost.

  6. nabeel says:

    I wonder how much actual impact this’ll make on Spore’s overall sales. Sure, Amazon is a huge distributor, but the power of the hype machine and the brand of EA and Will Wright will surely drive sales into the millions as planned.

    nabeel

  7. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    Alec is completely right.

    Whatever your misgivings towards the game, the point is it’s a pretty rotten thing to do. If you think the game is worthy of a 1 because of gameplay, then rate it accordingly instead of rating it a 1 as a sign of protest for something outside the game and that may not even affect everyone.

    Go rant and rave where it matters, not on sites like Amazon.

  8. itsallcrap says:

    Does anybody actually go by Amazon ratings anyway? I mean, apart from in cases like these, almost everything is rated as excellent because it only gets rated by the people who bought it, and they like to think they bought something excellent.

    I don’t think this is going to make much difference to anything, really.

  9. Jim Rossignol says:

    One of the worst game I’ve played in years.

    You evidently don’t play any bad games then.

  10. Jonas says:

    I’m not sure, I mean I can see the points for or against. Amazon only has one rating, so if you think the DRM is bad enough to overrule any quality in the game itself, your only option is to give the game a bad overall rating. Similar to how, if the game came packaged in razorsharp metal spikes coated with poison (note: may be hyperbole), you’d be in your good right to rate it 1 star even if it’s a really good game.

  11. cliffski says:

    I agree. allowing people to rate a game they have not bought or played is silly and unhelpful. what about people like me who know all about the DRM, aren’t bothered by it (although I don’t use drm, and accept what the anti-drm people say etc), and want to read reviews of the GAME.
    All this does is make the anti-DRM campaigners look childish and spiteful.
    And its useless. Look at the sales ranking in PC games for Spore, even on amazon, where they have pulled their stunt.
    it’s #1.

    By all means campaign against DRM sensibly, but this is not it. Spore is a big budget PC game, thats original IP, and pretty bug free from what I can see. It’s also quite good fun. Great job in persuading EA that “it’s not worth doing any more PC games, the PC gamers just try to sabotage any game we release for the platform”.

    Expect spore 2 on XBox only.

  12. Lu-Tze says:

    The angry internet men are here, and they’ve got a truck full of angry.

  13. Ragnar says:

    The problem here is that innocent Amazon customers get the entirely wrong idea about what they are buying and how they are able to use the product they are buying (limited to 3 activations, then you need to call EA support each time you want to activate it). Since Amazon and EA doesn’t give this very important customer information, I don’t see the problem with these kind of campaigns.

  14. skillian says:

    Lots of people won’t know about the DRM issues, so those reviewers are doing less informed (potential) buyers a favour.

    And yes, they’re trying to make a point too – good on them, the internet gives these people a voice. Except of course for Amazon UK, who have just been deleting all the user reviews.

  15. DerShcraa says:

    Why would he want to?
    Really, Spore takes 7 subgenres and turns them BORING.
    I was pissed.

  16. KindredPhantom says:

    I just hope that they put in the reviews that the rating is in no effect a reflection of the quality of the game and it is just a protest again the “evil” DRM installed by the “evil” corporations.
    Also i hope my copy of spore that i ordered from play.com on Thursday arrives today, it would make a good birthday present since today is my birthday.

  17. Jonas says:

    Cliffsky, I suspect EA will care a lot more about the sales figures than the Amazon ratings. And as you say, Spore seems to be selling quite well regardless of what the anti-DRM crowd are doing.

  18. Bobsy says:

    Agreed. It’s a spiteful and destructive attitude, but they do actually have a point. I’m stuck at the moment unable to play Spore because of the DRM.

  19. Ragnar says:

    @Diogo Ribeiro

    you think the game is worthy of a 1 because of gameplay, then rate it accordingly instead of rating it a 1 as a sign of protest for something outside the game and that may not even affect everyone.

    You don’t only buy the gameplay, you buy a package which contains gameplay, manual, DRM, bonus material, etc. If the DRM causes so much problems for you that you can’t enjoy the game, then why is it a problem to rate it a 1?

  20. Jonas says:

    Happy birthday, KindredPhantom :)

    I would like to politely inform you that I find your extensive use of quotation marks uncalled for. I certainly don’t like EA’s fascistic and distrustful DRM scheme, as all it achieves is to inconvenience honest consumers such as myself (I have in fact bought and paid for Spore) while the pirates are the only ones who don’t have to put up with its crap.

    Meanwhile, I do not believe EA are evil, simply that they are woefully wrong about how best to prevent people from acquiring their game without paying.

  21. Ian says:

    Amazon and their customers are to blame for Spore having DRM.

    STICK IT TO THE MAN, CLEVER PEOPLES OF THE INTERNET!

  22. no says:

    First, how can you say it’s a small but vocal group . . . of 1,200 reviewers? That doesn’t sound very small to me. Especially when you consider that every person that bothered to place a review represents many more people who feel the same way and did not bother to review.

    As to being hateful? Screw you. I’ve been an Amazon customer for almost eight years and I spend a LOT of money there. I easily spend more money at Amazon than any other place in the world, except my apartment leasing office to whom I pay rent every month. I spend thousands and thousands of dollars at Amazon every year.

    I’m also a very avid gamer. I’ll be being at least a dozen games in September alone and when I go to the game store, it’s hard for me to find a game that doesn’t totally suck *and* that I don’t already own.

    Finally, DRM is part of Spore. It is part of the product my money is buying. I have EVERY RIGHT to leave a review. I paid for the Creature Creator and played it. I pre-ordered Spore months in advance. I was even going to buy a second copy (because Spore only lets ONE person have an account per purchased copy).

    THEN, I found out that Spore used SecuROM and that it would limit the number of installations (and we know how hardware-based activation has worked in the past, right?). And I decided that I no longer wanted the product. It will arrive by UPS from Amazon later today (Tuesday the 9th) and I will be returning it immediately, because I don’t want to deal with or support this kind of drastic DRM.

    How can you say I’m being hateful or that I somehow don’t deserve to share my viewpoint? I am an active, valuable, paying customer of EA and Amazon and a fan of Will Wright. But I refuse to contribute to or support over the top DRM schemes. I have ever right to leave a review regarding my reasons for disliking the product and returning it. And I don’t need to play the actual game (though I played the Creature Creator) to leave a comment about the DRM aspect of the game. It’s not like I’m commenting on the game play without having played it or having any knowledge of it. I’m commenting on another aspect of the same product that I *DO* have knowledge of and experience wth.

    Get off your damned high horse, already.

  23. Ragnar says:

    @Jonas

    Meanwhile, I do not believe EA are evil, simply that they are woefully wrong about how best to prevent people from acquiring their game without paying.

    Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

  24. Mang says:

    No one cares about DRM.
    If you have problems with it, have you tried getting a better computer?

  25. phil says:

    I think it’s an old Stuart Campbell complaint that DRM means those who pirate the software generally get a far superior user experience. Yay direct action.

    Its a shame its Spore though, couldn’t the Angries stick it to FIFA or Need for Speed – a more causal audience might be more likely to be swayed by an Amazon user review.

  26. Jonas says:

    And also it would be far easier for me not to purchase FIFA and Need for Speed out of protest as I have no interest in those games anyway. Spore, on the other hand, is a must-play for me.

  27. Guido says:

    I haven’t given a rating there myself, but I can entirely understand those who do. Myself, I don’t play games with rigid DRM – that started with HL2 and has continued with Bioshock and Mass Effect – not only because I hate the side effects and security risks those DRM things regularly bring along (just think of how the Sony rootkit was abused by viruses), but because I don’t like being treated like a pirate because I bought the game and didn’t pirate it.

    Something is important to notice though: This isn’t a concerted or coordinated group effort. It’s thousands (meanwhile) of disgruntled customers who individually saw “oh, that’s a novel way to express how annoyed I am” and jumped on the train.

    Maybe if the knowledge what that DRM is is spread wide enough, not just known among geeks, it’ll finally have a good negative impact on sales. And maybe then distributors learn that treating paying customers like paying customers and not potential pirates does pay off – maybe, just maybe, eventually Stardock-like policies persevere, in an industry that hasn’t realized yet that people don’t wanna be penalized for not being a pirate.

    “Its a shame its Spore though, couldn’t the Angries stick it to FIFA or Need for Speed – a more causal audience might be more likely to be swayed by an Amazon user review.” (was written while I wrote my comment):

    FIFA or Need for Speed didn’t have all those expectations of being an uber awesome game, they’re both just the next iteration of one of the many EA money makers that mainstream gamers just buy. Spore promised to be fresh, new, and awesome, and attracted a completely different target audience. One that cares, I guess.

  28. Howard says:

    Lots of angry internet men on both sides it seems…
    While I agree with the hatred towards over zealous DRM I do gotta ask: Why not just use a crack? Now steady there folks! I am not saying pirate the thing, just use a crack, one of the many that came out a few days before launch, that let you play Spore but minus the DRM. Seems like an obvious solution to me…
    As to those who state that this kind of protest does more harm than good in the fight against DRM I would be interested to hear what you think is a GOOD way of making our voices heard? Complaining to EA is obviously pointless as they have made it very clear what they think of their customers in the past. Complaining to the studio/designers who made the game is also a waste as they just raise their hands and declare their innocence naming the publisher as the one who chose the DRM.
    What exactly can we do in protest other than not by the game (and that answer is somewhat more childish than posting bad scores on Amazon)?

  29. Jim Rossignol says:

    @ Guido -

    that started with HL2 and has continued with Bioshock and Mass Effect

    Are you saying you missed out on these games because of the way their DRM worked?

  30. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    @Ragnar

    You don’t only buy the gameplay, you buy a package which contains gameplay, manual, DRM, bonus material, etc. If the DRM causes so much problems for you that you can’t enjoy the game, then why is it a problem to rate it a 1?

    How many of those reviews are based on enjoyment rather than the herd mentality of boycotting something based on the sole grounds it has DRM? If people believe such anti-piracy methods are distasteful and presumably damaging to one’s computer, then by all means vent against it. I don’t support them either, and see merit in making public outcries.

    But therein lies the problem of rating a game based on the problems it caused for “you”. When you explicitly downgrade a videogame’s rating because of DRM then you’re missing the point. Because it’s not about the game, it’s about the backwards anti-piracy software the company decided to use. And Amazon commentaries are not analogous to a digital coup d’etat, no matter what these kids think.

    Worst of all is how these reviews are both perceived and constructed – many Amazon costumers gloss over the reviews and go straight for the ratings and thus have no idea of their context, but those willing to read a review will not find any explanation that this may be a group effort to boycott the game on specific grounds. In short, they not only fail to properly explain the why, they also don’t seem to care about doing so. All they get is “OMG DRM IS EVIL” from everyone, without being told that DRM may not even have a negative impact on their experience.

    I’d call them a ravenous pack except packs work together – this is just a disinformation campaign perpetuated by ignorants.

  31. toni says:

    well, I don’t think the “general” public is accustomed to voicing their opinion on “gaming” websites, blogs and forums. where they actually would have NO effect. I would say that those 1* – reviews are much better to get some publicity and give EA something to think about. it’s a casual game aimed at the general public, so what better place to complain than Amazon, the “general public” store. I did not read those reviews, I sincerely hope they stay respectful and honest to the game but since the DRM is bundled with the game and can’t be removed it’s part of it and therefore should be taken into account in the review. well, they at least got their attention.

  32. The Hammer says:

    By all means campaign against DRM sensibly, but this is not it. Spore is a big budget PC game, thats original IP, and pretty bug free from what I can see. It’s also quite good fun. Great job in persuading EA that “it’s not worth doing any more PC games, the PC gamers just try to sabotage any game we release for the platform”.

    Indeed. The most important PC game release of the year not relating to MMOs, and cheap tricks like rating the game by a totally unfair marks to overwhelm the fair ones happens. This is not a good case from the anti-DRM lobby.

    Additionally, SPORE BACKLASH HAS STARTED!

  33. Flubb says:

    I’m ‘evaluating’ Spore and while based on the previews, it was going to be my ‘it’s me birfday precious’ purchase, due to the grossly simplistic game play and the DRM it’s moving into the 8/10 chance I won’t buy it, which is a shame because I’m trying to move into supporting games that are worth it.

  34. Jonas says:

    Diogo, it seems to me that what you’re criticising is a failing in the concept of user reviews as such, rather than this particular event. Users will always rate the game based on their own experiences. Even professional reviewers will mostly be writing about their own experiences with the game, I don’t know any sites or publications that use focus groups to review games.

  35. rabbitsoup says:

    Hold on a second, your limited to one account. surely this is because its a downloadable game the uses the internet regularly, key checks ok. How many PC’s do you have? yes its a hassle to call them after 3 if you upgrade and install all the time, and yes you’l end up going to razor911 or such for the solution. problem would be solved if they just put it on the box

  36. Zuhtu says:

    That’s why I pirate my games.

  37. Bas says:

    I would have given it two stars anyway, and drop that to one star for the DRM.

    It’s the most overhyped piece of shit ever. The EG review is too flowery. This game is a creature creator with lots of possibility for creativity, but with a SHIT game attached. None of them are deep, entertaining, or engaging. Especially the tribal stages made me scream. WHY USE AXES WHEN YOU HAVE FUCKING KILLER CLAWS FOR HANDS. Jesus.

    Also, you can put 5003068 legs on your creature, but will still be slower than a one legged creature because his leg has higher stats.

    This game would have scored low on Amazon anyway, as users can’t be bribed in the same way Eurogamer apparantly was by EA to give this a good score.

  38. n3utr0n says:

    Never realised Spore had restrictive DRM. Cheers angry internets men, think I’ll save my money for Galciv instead.

  39. Mort says:

    Oh gosh DARN a whole 1 star? Those awful people.

    Worth 2 at least.

    Down with this sort of thing!

  40. YggradsilHugger says:

    I have good games that don’t work because of the DRM. I have good games that I don’t install because the DRM messes up my system. Not buying good games with aggressive DRM seems like a sensible next step.

    BTW: I’m not angry, just disappointed.

  41. Jonas says:

    rabbitsoup: You are limited to one account, fine. But you are also limited to 3 installs. If your PC goes boom and you need to reinstall Windows without getting a chance to deactivate your current Spore installation, you lose an install. This happen three times, and you can no longer play the game unless you buy a new copy. I’ve experienced this sort of DRM before on corporate software, and it’s a really terrible solution. I remember having to call up a support line to get them to deactivate my old install for me one time when we did an automated reinstall of a machine with their software on it, and the guy on the other end of the line spoke Swedish.

    My Swedish comprehension is sadly kinda bad.

  42. Jim Rossignol says:

    This game would have scored low on Amazon anyway, as users can’t be bribed in the same way Eurogamer apparantly was by EA to give this a good score.

    Don’t be so ridiculous.

  43. Jim Rossignol says:

    This happen three times, and you can no longer play the game unless you buy a new copy.

    No, you have to phone up for activation, like you do with multiple Windows installs.

  44. Jonas says:

    Yeah but that’s still terrible. That is a massive bother, and by that point you’re frankly better off just using a crack. And when it’s easier to crack a game than reinstall it, there is a problem, in my humble opinion.

    EDIT: Ignore my paranoia, EA does indeed have a department – and a support line – in Denmark. Sorry.

  45. skillian says:

    How much will that phone call cost?

  46. Koldun(as) says:

    The funny thing is those DRM nonsenses didn’t stop pirates much at all. I don’t know how much it was from release until a crack appeared but I suspect it’s really small amount of time

  47. rabbitsoup says:

    Jonas: I realise that, my English is just shocking poor. I meant to say that I’m cool with the Key check, and the 3 installs is ok as technically its not final, if its a freephone number, if not then It needs to be put on the product description.

  48. Mark Stephenson says:

    Apropos of nothing, I was gearing up to be an Internet Angry Man over Spore. The first 3 sections made me feel like I had abused gamer syndrome and had been violently “black and whited” again. Section 4 made me feel like GTA4 had lurched back into my life again leaving a big steaming poo in my 360. I had succumed to the marketing of shit games again I thought. The self loathing was rising. What was it about me that made me look forward to shit games?

    I even thought about reactivating my LiveJournal to write some poetry.

    Then I got my spangly spaceship!

    ZOMFG! WTF! Like …. totally! Woot Vroom Vroom! I’m sterilizing the cosmos from high altitude. Run Run Little Wabbit type things! EAT PLUTONIUM DEATH YOU DISGUSTING ALIEN WEIRDOS!

    Sorry about that. Just fancied discussing the game for a second.

  49. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    @Jonas:

    I understand your point, but I think there’s a bit of both involved. This isn’t so much an assault on user reviews or claiming that user experiences should not be part of a review – it’s about how reviews are perceived and how well these people get their message across.

    We can’t expect the total market composed of Amazon costumers are seasoned costumers who will read every single review. Most will gloss over it, see the ratings, and leave it at that. And the proud and few who will read won’t be faced with accurate, unbiased information. They will see DRM will drown their puppies. “But what if I don’t have puppies?”, they think – “Then DRM will offer you some only to snuff them out later. That’s how evil DRM is, and so is Will Wright!”, say the mobs.

    I’m not saying that DRM cannot influence Spore as an experience. Neither am I saying people should not complain if it does. But this will escape many of those who only care for ratings, which while no means a fault of those who criticize, but nonetheless is something they should be aware of in sites like Amazon. They will not get the point across for the majority of costumers – they will only lose time (instead of concentrating their efforts on more worthwhile pursuits) and misinform others who may be interested in the game.

    I’d be surprised if these people were complaining about the official version rather than the pirated one they can’t get to work, although that my be too cynical of me, so I’ll refrain from that.

  50. cullnean says:

    must not comment…..