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. Bananaphone says:

    Fuck ‘em. The DRM is hateful and EA deserves every bit of criticism it gets. If we end up with more ‘licensed tripe’ it’s because progressive games like Spore feature this crap.

  2. Mort says:

    As this game is apparantly so ‘progressive’ and ‘excellent’ and as such ZOMGAWESOME, the hordes will descend on Amazon and correct the score then?
    Or do only angry internet men review games on Amazon now?

  3. Dogun says:

    > skillian says:
    > How much will that phone call cost?

    Your dignity. Calling someone to ask permission to use a game you bought from them is for crap.

  4. Shadout says:

    In a perfect world Amazon might be the wrong place to rant about the DRM. Instead people would go somewhere else to discuss the issues of DRM, and potential buyers would read it and take a decision based on it.
    But lets be honest, mot buyers wont even know about the DRM on spore, and as such, a place like Amazon is much better to inform people about it, than any random webpage would be.
    Wrong or even childish? Maybe, but surely more effective than most other ways to show the hate against such DRM systems.

    Companies should learn that crappy DRM implementations are indeed crappy!

    Sadly I doubt EA will get the point, I expect them to throw out a press release stating how much the game got pirated in a few months (which might or might not be true, the DRM issue isnt really about pirates (who should all burn in hell etc etc), but more about annoying those people who actually bought the product. People who steal will find a way to get it no matter the DRM).

  5. PetitPiteux says:

    the only efficent way to get a message to EA is to hurt its sales, the only way ordinary people can hurt the sale of EA is by rating it 1* on amazon, ergo people, to get a message to EA, are giving 1* rating on amazon.

    The only surprise here might be how against drm people would be. Which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone following even from afar the debates about piracy. So the real surprise (or not…) is how disconnected to their player base EA is…

    And I, for one, wont be buying spore if I don’t have a mean of removing the drm. (but i most likely wont be downloading it either…)

  6. Seniath says:

    @The Hammer: I for one welcome our backlash overlords.

  7. Ben Abraham says:

    I think Mort has a good point:

    do only angry internet men review games on Amazon now?

    According to this post, one might think that was the case, however 1200 reviews is hardly a small, but vocal, minority now is it?

  8. Mang says:

    I heard it was just one guy posting them all.

  9. Alec Meer says:

    1200 isn’t a lot of people in terms of potential playerbase for a game of this profile. Especially as most of those of those 1200 won’t be people who bought the game, but rather folk objecting on principle.

  10. Duncan says:

    BTW – apparently EA got Amazon UK to delete *ALL* of Spore’s user reviews… maybe under the guise of “these reviews were posted before the game was available to buy, so must be falsified” :-/

    Ho hum.

  11. Jonas says:

    Good edits Alec, I like your post better now.

    I still don’t agree about the extent of the problem, but you make a better case for your opinion now :P

  12. The Poisoned Sponge says:

    I haven’t read every single comment so if this has been mentioned before then sorry for repeating it. This DRM is quite obviously not to stop pirates; the game was pirated before release day. What it is is to stop you reselling the game in used game stores.

    Spore pretty much has piracy protection built in with the sharing of user content. Without it the game is rather dull and unimaginative, but with other people’s stuff gracing your universe it can be very entertaining. Without that the game is somewhat crippled. So why bother with DRM? Because EA doesn’t want you making money off something you’ve paid them for. They want everyone to buy a new copy of the game. Thus the install limit.

  13. Alec Meer says:

    Heh. Yeah, the whole “get a quick post up before breakfast” plan doesn’t work out so well when it’s an issue as big as this.

  14. Tom says:

    “And I, for one, wont be buying spore if I don’t have a mean of removing the drm.”

    Same here…Plain simple.

    Spore is ‘defective by design’, people should know about that, especially those who don’t know anything about drm or piracy or morals.

  15. beermaster says:

    People for the most part don’t really care about DRM. They care about DRM that 1) gets in the way and 2) introduces security risks. So many people use Steam or whatever and are not in the slightest bothered by its DRM because it doesn’t ruin the experience. Spore with it’s activation process is obviously going to cause frustration which is the reason for the outburst.

    FWIW this is hardly a big concerted effort, just alot of bandwagon jumpers. If they were targetting all the sites selling the game then there might be something to complain about. They’re justified to rate the game as they see fit. If EA won’t listen to them, maybe they’ll listen to their retailers.

    Me, I’m giving it a miss because they said they’d remove all the penis monsters. Some of us want the (im?)mature content out there. If they don’t want to support that then no support from me.

  16. DiGi says:

    OffTopic: Where/how can I rate this story with one star? :D

  17. kibibu says:

    I was personally unable to install Bioshock on my PC due to the crappy DRM. This is not a positive outcome for anybody: I didn’t get to play Bioshock, everybody else involved (distributors, retailers) lost money (or would have had I bothered to return it. I believe the industry calls this “breakage”)

    I will be avoiding Spore simply to avoid having the same experience.

  18. SwiftRanger says:

    Alec is absolutely right, this kind of DRM is not good but a boycot won’t help at all. Complaining in a sensible manner will. All EA PC games seem to include this protection, even the upcoming Red Alert 3.

    Also, Spore is a good game for what it tries to do, people who expected five full games are obviously in for a disappointment.

  19. NegativeZero says:

    How do you propose sending a message to publishers that their DRM is unnecessary and we don’t like being treated like criminals, then? Start an online petition? If the publisher can just ignore the problem then it’s not worth wasting time to protest.

    Personally I haven’t played Spore and I have no intention to even consider giving them money for it while that DRM is in place.

  20. Zeewolf says:

    “A progressive, excellent game could get sunk because of it, and we’ll end up with more licensed tripe instead.”

    Agreed, and I’ve been concerned about this for ages now. Another example is all the people who insist on turning every discussion about games such as Trackmania or Space Rangers 2 into a discussion of Starforce, and actively trying to prevent people from buying these genuinely brilliant games because of their copy protection (TM doesn’t use SF anymore, but still).

    It’s very sad. These are the kind of games that should be celebrated, and instead some very angry people on the internet keep trying to destroy them.

  21. crozon says:

    I like to point out i hate DRM, and this one didn’t work as the game got cracked anyhow.
    Is it me or does spore have the best anti piracy measure in that you have to be logged in to access other peoples creations, and i see that as the whole point of the game. Playing it without that feature is worthless.

  22. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    @NegativeZero:

    Protesting outside retailers and official (or fan-based) forums has a higher chance of raising awareness than in Amazon.

  23. Ian says:

    @ beermaster: I dunno if they’ve removed them all, but I have noticed the option to ban creatures from your game even while you’re playing. Although the report it sends probably then encourages EA to just remove it altogether.

  24. weegosan says:

    or perhaps EA will just do the normal thing of asking for a bit of corporate solidarity and get their:

    delete from ratings where date > “start of flash mob rating storm” and < “end of flash mob rating storm”

    and it will all be for nothing.

  25. kelder says:

    Will you all get this 3 installs rubish out of your heads.If you installs and then uninstall at a later date you get 1 install back.So its more like 3 hdd/os wipes/crashes than installs.Other than that i agree with most of whats been said(yes i agree its far to restrictive on the ligit customer),apart from the fact that i enjoyed the game more than most people seem to have.

  26. Jonas says:

    Kelder, I’m pretty sure that is exactly what I said. So uh… yes.

    Zeewolf, Spore is not going to “get sunk” no matter what. It’s apparently already #1 on several sales lists.

  27. beermaster says:

    @ Ian
    You are correct of course. I have a strong feeling they’ll be pretty proactive about it incase little suzie sees something she shouldn’t.
    Maybe all these 1 star reviewers should make creatures that spell out DRM and attempt to send their message by populating the game world that way? Or better yet spell DRM out of penises…

    … my teacher washing my mouth out with soap failed to cleanse my mind it seems.

  28. rocketman71 says:

    I agree with giving 1 star to Spore because of the DRM, same as I agreed with the guy that gave 0/10 to TrackMania ¿Sunrise? because of StarForce (despite the fact that the TrackMania games are some of the best games *ever*). DRM has gone too far.

    Not that it will have any effect in its sales, though.

  29. faelnor says:

    Spore is a fantastic set of sandbox editors (cell, creature, vehicle and space) wrapped in easy, repetitve and sub-par boring gameplay.

    The Amazon debacle may have some impact because the target audience for the game is exactly the casual kind of people who will forge their opinions from the Amazon reviews. I don’t really care though, I don’t think the game is worth all the fuss anyway. And fuck DRM.

  30. Larington says:

    Its comical in a way, I seem to be one of the few people around who has decided hes not actually interested in Spore, and not even because of the DRM… But yeah, its ridiculous, commerce is supposed to be about letting people buy things and do whatever the hell they want with them and DRM like this is contrary to that in a big way.

    The Poisoned Sponge makes a very good point by the way, this seems to be more of an anti-resale trick than it is an anti-piracy trick, especially considering that its made absolutely **** all difference to the pirate community, to them its nothing more than another hurdle to overcome and they inevitably do.

    What concerns me is that folks who aren’t technically minded and bought the game will be very upset when they get such surprises as ‘letting their child/children play the game only to find that the install is user/account specific and you’d have to buy multiple copies just to play the game in the same family’ – Now that is over the top.

  31. kelder says:

    yeh i men’t the people that are acting like ea will only let you install this game 3 times in your life and then take it away.Its a terrable drm solution certenly but most people seem to be confused as to how it works

  32. cliffski says:

    All this will achieve is Spore 2 on XBox only. You *DO* realise that every console has hard-wired DRM yes?
    This is just more proof to the suits that the PC market is more trouble than it’s worth. This saddens me massively, as I love PC games and don’t like consoles at all. I’ll always make PC games, but will EA? Activision? I want Sim City 5!

    On the plus side, it makes my games look better because they are happily DRM-free :D.

  33. Klapperman says:

    I’ve played Spore. I payed for Spore. I reached the space stage.

    And my conclusion is that even taking away the idiotic DRM scheme, it’s a blah game. Having read most of the reviews, I cannot get over the feeling that Spore is Black&White all over. Overhyped but sorely underperforming. And just as was the case then the reviewers have bought into the hype.

    When calling a game casual gives it the right to lack gameplay depth and any real replay value in favor of so called accessibility for the unwashed masses I weep for the gaming years to come.

    Amazon bombing it solely because of the DRM is too much. But I silently cheer them on in the knowledge that lots of people will be spared a €60,- game when that amount of cash could get them a lot better casual games like Peggle and Audiosurf.

  34. cliffski says:

    “yeh i men’t the people that are acting like ea will only let you install this game 3 time in your life and then take it away.Its a terrable drm solution certenly but most people seem to be confused as to how it works”

    so are you. you can uninstall the game and get that install back. And even then, you can phone them up and request more as I understand it.

  35. Rob Lang says:

    The game leaves me with a warm feeling inside and having played a few stinkers, Spore isn’t even close. It may not be your cup of tea but it’s really not a bad game.

    I feel sorry for Spore now, there are going to be people who have a choice between two games and will use the stars as their decider. I don’t think it deserves to be shunned this much.

    Also, this three time install is really not that bad. You can phone up and get it switched on. It’s not that hard. By the time EA finish supporting the game, technology will have moved on and it either won’t have an OS to run on (like my beloved Interstate 76, which requires DX3) or Spore will look old and hackneyed. No product lasts forever. I wish I could phone up Toyota and get them to switch my car back on when it breaks (or, rather, I drive it into something) – oh, hang on, I can.

  36. Mr Pink says:

    Is it me or does spore have the best anti piracy measure in that you have to be logged in to access other peoples creations, and i see that as the whole point of the game. Playing it without that feature is worthless.

    crozon: I think you have a point there. Obviously the ultimate anti-piracy measure is games like WoW, where you have to be logged in to play. While it isn’t as strong as that with Spore, anyone who pirates it is going to have a really sub-standard experience without other people’s creations.

    Had they released without DRM, wouldn’t this have put them in a similar situation to Stardock and Valve, who discourage piracy by rewarding their customers rather than using DRM? Obviously we’ll never know the answer, but I wonder whether that would have prevented a lot of piracy anyway?

  37. Shadowmancer says:

    @ Diogo Ribeiro I disagree the idea of reviews is to inform the purchaser what to expext when they play but when drm impeeds the game as here it is neccesssary to inform others of it, the low reviews due to drm are deserving but knowing ea they wont lift them up in a patch later they are here to stay, you wouldnt give diaktana a good review just because it was made by John Romero would you now!

  38. lukasz says:

    In past three months I reinstalled windows twice.
    first was because of new hdd
    second was because i f*cked up registry beyond repair
    so if spore was released three months ago I would already used up all my quota. and I’ll be formatting my system in December/January.

    I have no problems with steam. I reinstalled hl2 dozens of times on many different computers (on three mine and I also lend my account to few friends). I also didn’t bother with using my discs, last time so I just downloaded it. much more convenient (3.5 years after I purchased the game)

    EA’s drm is shit.

  39. Meat Circus says:

    Lolwhoops.

    Alec Meer pissed on the Angry Internet Mean before Tiffin, and then ran away to hide.

    The amusing thing about the AIMs is the way that they tend to have a point, but invariably drive people away from supporting them with their behaviour. DRM is fucking stupid, we ALL KNOW. It has the effect of inconveniencing legit customers, whilst doing nothing to harm the pirates.

    However, this kind of misdirected anger, which doesn’t speak of spontaneous outpouring of consumer will, but a contrived attack by a claque of unloved AIMs from a particularly tedious forum or other, most of whom haven’t played it or would have pirated it anyway. It looks exactly as Alec says: childish and spiteful. It doesn’t help the campaign against DRM, it *undermines* it.

    You are not the EFF, nor the ORG, nor the FSF. And nor, I suspect, do they want you to be. They need Angry Internet Men like a bull needs tits.

    I suspect it’s irrelevant anyway, because I imagine Amazon will simply delete all the ratings for the duration of the attack.

    Also: tediously predictable Sporelash? Accusations of bribery and corruption? We’re better than that, people. We’re not some LOLFAG consoletard forum. Must try harder.

    It’s one of those games where time simply flies past in huge chunks, without you ever really noticing. I’ve already lost three days to it, two of them in space, and am having a whale of a time.

  40. skillian says:

    yeh i men’t the people that are acting like ea will only let you install this game 3 times in your life and then take it away.Its a terrable drm solution certenly but most people seem to be confused as to how it works

    Well, that is EA’s fault. They don’t mention the limitations in the ads, on the Amazon product details page or apparently even on the back of the box.

    The reason why is obvious – EA are ashamed of the DRM on the game, and would rather people didn’t know about it.

  41. YggradsilHugger says:

    I’d rather have games like Spore released for my 360 than have the PC turned into something worse than a console.

  42. Colthor says:

    Write to Trading Standards? That’s a good idea, can somebody less lazy than me do that? They might not care, but you don’t know unless you try. Maybe something about reducing the use of second-hand copies.

    I haven’t rated the game on Amazon, but I can’t get angry at the people who rated it one. Sorry. The copy protection has put me off buying it (as with Mass Effect and the forthcoming Red Alert 3), as much as I might want the game. That sounds like grounds for a low rating to me.

  43. Shadowmancer says:

    @ YggradsilHugger I agree drm in games is making me think more about buying a console now but unfortunately I dont have the money, instead I pirate these god-damned suppossedly awesome drm infested games to oblivion and back to see what the fuss is about

  44. framstick says:

    People need also to accept- that a lot of us just think spore is quite a poor game- feels like the sort of wii game i avoid to me….
    hope it fails as they have well and truly talked to much shit about it that a lot of uk and us journos seem to have swallowed hook line and sinker. i have half a hope that edge or someone main stream -like one of the papers- has a proper gander before reviewing

  45. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    @Shadowmancer:

    Read my posts more closely. I said that, should DRM have a negative impact, then by all means, let them rant about it. However, there’s a clear distinction between judging DRM itself, judging DRM’s possible effect on Spore, and judging DRM for others (as in, “hey, DRM screwed Spore for me so it will screw you over too”). The problems is most reviews are tirades against DRM itself – while neglecting the other, likewise important, factors.

    If a reviewer mentioned X or Y game did not run on his system, would it be fair to assume it won’t run on no other system? Or rather, what is the better approach: writing a cautionary note to others that they may also experience problems; or writing an apocalyptic tirade claiming they will have the exact same problems – when that might not be true? After all, most of the aversion against DRM comes from the principle of it. Who’s to say everyone will think the same way? Are we going to condemn a game because a minority thinks Spore should be the poster child of their activism?

  46. Bjørn Stærk says:

    1200 is a large number when they’re random people who felt like leaving some feedback at Amazon, a small number when they’re (clearly) organized.

    I understand both sides here, but I lean in the direction of “calm down, please”. This DRM thing is not going to ruin the gaming experience of a lot of people, just a few unlucky ones. If that seems too much, think of how many won’t be able to enjoy the game for other, “normal” reasons, such as poor hardware or bugs. You don’t see 1500 people leaving 1′s on Amazon just because of a few bugs, people _expect_ that, even though it’s objectively a far larger problem.

    Anyway, it’s interesting that they chose Spore to use as a battleground. My guess is that this is because it’s a well-hyped game with casual appeal and “serious” ambitions. This rubs a lot of gamers the wrong way, they’re predisposed to “sacrifice” it for ideology. I don’t think this would happen with a more normal game aimed at the gaming mainstream.

  47. Shadowmancer says:

    @ Diogo Ribeiro “should DRM have a negative impact” you can only install the game x amount of times plus internet needs to be on constantly to authenticate your game all the time, if thats not a negative impact then what is?

  48. Acosta says:

    Angry internet men attacks again. I have a message for you:

    a) EA don’t give a toss.
    b) 99% of the people who are going to buy Spore don’t give a toss.
    c) Will Wright don’t give a toss about one, 1000 or 10000 persons not buying the game because the DRM.

    EA is offering a service with three licenses (probably more in some months I guess). You can shout that is actually a product, that is yours, that you put your hard earned money on it and that you have the right given by god himself to do whatever you want with it. Fine, but EA is not offering you that and they want to try to make you following their terms. Now is up to you following them, rejecting, or if you feel all revolutionary, agreeing to broke them after (there is a fourth opinion, that is called being a hypocrite, but I’m not going to bother with that one).

    Big deal indeed.

  49. Meat Circus says:

    @Bjørn Stærk

    No!

    If there’s one thing an Angry Internet Man can’t afford it’s a sense of perspective.

    Right, back to Spore!

  50. Meat Circus says:

    @Acosta:

    I hear you brother. Of course, we all know that it’s irrelevant to the angries too, who WOULD HAVE PIRATED IT ANYWAY.

    They just use the foolish DRM as an excuse to try to convince us that piracy is acceptable.