Spore Buds – EA Backs Down On DRM

By John Walker on September 23rd, 2008 at 12:08 pm.

Well, to an extent.

The good news is this: EA are taking a big step back on Spore’s DRM. From three installs ever and one account per copy of the game, they’re switching to as many re-installs as you want on a maximum of five computers, with a patch for multiple accounts for one machine on the way. That’s a big change of heart. We hinted that there might have been a change from three to five installs last week. This weekend the LA Times reported that EA have “apologised” to customers for the digital restrictions, when issuing their reprise. They report EA Games’ President Frank Gibeau saying,

“We’ve received complaints from a lot of customers who we recognize and respect. We need to adapt our policy to accommodate our legitimate consumers.”

An impressively humble and reasonable statement. It’s a direct reference to the key issue: DRM only inhibits legitimate customers. It is with a confusing naivety that publishers continue to impose DRM on legally purchased copies, while knowing full well that the restrictions will be cracked on day one – as they were with Spore – making illegally downloaded copies DRM-free. The legitimate customer is treated as a potential criminal, while the actual criminal has a much improved product. It’s perhaps not entirely ideal.

Oddly EA goes on to say the fuss came as a surprise to them. I’m not sure how. In May we were covering the anger that was being generated by the proposed DRM for Spore (and Mass Effect). In response to this they quickly backed down. At that point it was revealed that the games would be limited to three machines. But not that it would be limited to three activations. You’d imagine, since they were planning even more restrictive rights management, they’d have expected people to raise hell.

Anyhow, this is good news from EA. They are a company that has done impressive things to turn their public reputation around in the last couple of years. From being seethed at by all quarters, people are beginning to… like them. The sudden public perception suicide attempt that’s come with recent DRM issues seemed horribly like slipping back into their former ways. It’s great to see a reasonably quick response, albeit only after a ferocious response from their customers.

Via El Reg. Thanks to Stephen.

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94 Comments »

  1. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Being able to admit mistakes is a good thing.

    Gamers seem to be the most vocal and organized stand alone complex of customers in existence.

  2. Captain Crunch says:

    Is it 5 computers and then bye bye or do you have to call them after that? In that case I guess its kind of OK even though I have hard to admit it since I hate these limitations, but if you got 5 chances and nothing more than you still get a better offer from the pirates.

  3. John Walker says:

    I understand that after five computers, you’ll need to phone them.

  4. Cataclysm says:

    That is brilliant news!

    I’m so happy that customers have a voice, I was under the impression our opinions meant nothing in the scheme of things and large corporations would continue to bully us. This proves our voice is still valid.

    This has restored alot faith I lost in EA.

    Good show.

  5. James G says:

    Do we know how they define a machine? As I understood the previous system the activation would remain valid if I uninstalled and immediately re-installed on the same system, as SecureROM would remain on the system. If however I formatted the HD in between the two installs then it would count as a re-activation. I’m assuming now that it uses some kind of hardware hash and after contacting the activation server it would realise it was the same system?

    I’d still prefer an even more lax system, especially given that the original did nothing to stop even zero day big-P. However at least the movement is in the right direction, and I hope it wont be too long before consumer pressure encourages EA to drop the DRM completely.

  6. itsallcrap says:

    ‘Reloaded’ have already seeded a non-DRM version anyway.

    Maybe send Maxis the RRP in a brown envelope just to take the moral high ground. :)

  7. Bobsy says:

    Well thank fuck for that.

    I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this here yet, but last saturday the internet verification on my copy re-activated again. That is to say, my legitimately bought copy of Spore actually stopped letting me play after 10 days. I had already brought my physically massive computer into work one evening before (with great difficulty) to get it verified, and then 10 days later changed its mind. It may have been a sneaky resurgence of the 10 day check or it may not, but whatever, despite playing by the rules the DRM actively stopped me playing my legally purchased copy of Spore.

    This whole experience has left me angry, upset and feeling humiliated. So this comes as good news, but I still don’t consider this a guarrentee that everything’s going to go smoothly from hereout.

  8. Heliocentric says:

    So you’ll only punch me in the stomach and make me phone you a few times a decade?(any new hardware will often detect as a new pc) Instead of every 2 months? Deal.

  9. Calabi says:

    Well they dont entirely have a voice.

    http://forum.spore.com/jforum/posts/list/3869.page

    If you speak out about DRM your game may be written off.

  10. cHeal says:

    Why even have a 5 machine restriction? The message isn’t quite penetrating their thick skulls. It’s pirated so all the restrictions in the world are now irrelevant.

    I’m still boycotting, though luckily I’m not that interested in it anyways.

  11. Nallen says:

    “We’ve received complaints from a lot of customers who we recognize and respect. We need to adapt our policy to accommodate our legitimate consumers.”

    By which they mean Amazon.

    Also I bet they don’t touch the stuff on Warhead.

  12. Draycen says:

    Hey John.
    Any idea if the “patch for multiple accounts for one machine on the way” is the same as the recent ‘screen name’ announcement? Which in case you aren’t aware is the ability to create up to 5 screen names for a Spore account.

    All screen names are linked to the email address which has already been associated, but you are able to login under another screen name. All content, game save etc is associated with that screen name.

    Just wondered if this was the same thing, or whether they’ve also agreed to ditch that work around and instead allow people to create additional Spore accounts, as was origianlly suggested and possible with Creature Creator.

    Cheers

  13. araczynski says:

    i love the retarded wording on that “accommodate our legitimate consumers”…. because the illegitimate ones accommodated themselves before the game was on store shelves.

    borrowed a friend’s copy, returned it to him the next day. this is definitely a game for the myspace/facebook crowd. so should be successful.

  14. Draycen says:

    “araczynski said this is definitely a game for the myspace/facebook crowd”

    How so? I don’t understand what you mean by that. I don’t use either myspace/facebook but am really enjoying the game.

  15. Albides says:

    We’ve received complaints from a lot of customers who we recognize and respect.

    Good thing the customers whom they don’t recognise and respect didn’t say anything provocative.

  16. worg says:

    The convenient thing for EA is the fact that the DRM flap, as important as it’s been, has obscured the worse issue of dumbed-down shallow gameplay.

    Spore is a hollow travesty. There’s no game in there. If you imagine it with 2D vector graphics, you have something that wouldn’t have done well at all even in 1990.

  17. Urael says:

    @Nallen: Hmm, Warhead. That’s the acid test of how sincere EA are on the whole issue, isn’t it? Ok, so a consumer backlash has prompted a freeing of the restrictions on Spore (Note: the restrictions are still there) but where do they stand on DRM in general? Will this ’5-machine install’ become the new policy going forward? What about Mass Effect and Bioshock? How about a retroactive loosening of their restrictions now that their initial revenues have died down?

    I’m sorry, Cataclysm, but if this is the only effect our ‘voice’ has then EA have a LONG way to go before they deserve any faith from anyone. And as Nallen said, are they really listening to us or listening instead to the giant multinational retail marketplace called Amazon? I see nothing yet that makes me think they’ve changed from the horrible company of legend in any way shape or form.

  18. Keith says:

    @cHeal
    >>Why even have a 5 machine restriction?

    I’m bracing myself for a “you corporate puppet” backlash here, but I can’t think of too many other software products which allow that many installs for a single license (with the obvious exception of F/OSS like OpenOffice).

    An example: Adobe’s Creative Suite allows you to install a single user license version on two machines simultaneously, provided you don’t use them both at the same time. Windows allows you to install once. As I understand it, a MacOS upgrade is legal for one machine only.

    5 separate machines actually doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. If you *know* you’re upgrading, you do the “deactivate license” thing before you do the upgrade. If you have a system failure, then you’ve a good chance to have a spare “machine” left to get it reinstalled, and (I’m presuming) you can call/email them to reset the licenses a la iTunes.

    I’m not the world, but it seems to me that 5 machines allows you to install on your desktop, your laptop, your work PC and one at your girlfriend/boyfriend/parents’ house, and still have a spare…

  19. Mungrul says:

    This isn’t really backing down though, is it?
    This is [i]exactly[/i] the same manoeuvre they performed with Mass Effect PC.
    I suspect they released the game knowing full well they’d have to be pervceived to be “backing down”, when in reality they should be removing SecuROM completely.
    As it stands, now people are saying “Oh they’re not so bad really“, while still being stitched up with frankly unnacceptable DRM.
    And as mentioned by Calabi, they’re still behaving despicably if you look close enough.

  20. Kangarootoo says:

    “but if you got 5 chances and nothing more than you still get a better offer from the pirates.”

    Who changes their PC five times within the life of one game? Surely not anywhere near to a majority of PC gamers I would think.

  21. Heliocentric says:

    Wow. Thats shitty. Talk about our drm and we’ll ban your game? Fuck them, ea really are still the old ea.

  22. Cooper says:

    It’s nice to have an apology by EA. But much like the ‘Bullfrog apology’ – I have my reservations as to how much this suggests a sea change in company practice, or whether it’s just a PR exercise…

  23. cHeal says:

    >>Windows allows you to install once.

    Yes, at any one time. OEM is stricter, allowing it to only ever reside on a single machine, but in that case you get what you pay for, with a proper license you can install it on as many machines as you like, just not at the same time. I consider this to be relatively fair for what this software is. Games are a whole other ball game. That’s my understanding of it.

    You talk about de-activating but that whole concept is where I have a big issue. Lets fast forward 10 years and people like you have rolled over (no offense intended) on this issue and every single games comes with this “activate”, “De-activate” system, I would have to un-install and de-activate over 25 games just to format my PC, something which I could do quite often (last year I formatted 5 times, this year none). I really really don’t want to have to un-install every application (presuming that all licensed software takes up this DRM) off my PC just so I can then format it.

  24. Cataclysm says:

    Ok, I was way too optimistic in my previous comment. I was just overjoyed to see -any- change for the better but admittedly in hindsight its still a system which hurts their legitimate customers and should be completely removed.

    Spore is an entertaining and interesting game. It sets a precident on future games and shows how a game can be made customisable (hopefully taken to a larger extent in the future).

    Its just a shame they stick this draconian DRM system in place that makes it feel like they are selling us a tasty new icecream flavour but have added some glass shards into the mix after market, where pirates can go straight to the wholesaler, getting it alot cheaper (free in this case) without the glass shards.

    I’d say 1% of my faith in EA has been restored. The other 99% still sits in a darkened corner.

  25. John D says:

    Big fucking deal. So instead of three it is five? How is this them backing down? Your Spore chappie there isn’t “free” compared to before.

    This is a tiny and pathetic concession done in the hope of keeping people quiet long enough to get used to ever more draconian DRM systems. You’d have to be a fool to get excited about this or think it a victory.

  26. rocketman71 says:

    Sorry, but that’s not backing down. And the multiple accounts thingie doesn’t have anything to do with DRM, it’s just bad design. Or perhaps they really expected that we would buy a game per person instead of one per household. Nothing from EA surprises me anymore.

    Still not buying. Since DRM doesn’t avoid piracy, and Spore can be obtained via torrent without any difficulty, I understand EA not removing the DRM as dictating gamers how and where they can play the game they bought rented. And I’m not paying for that, thank you very much. So they can go fuck themselves for all I care.

  27. grumpy says:

    And this is good how, exactly? We have exactly the same problem as before. You need their permission to reinstall the game. Oh sure, now you can do *two* more reinstalls than before, whoop de woop.

    The ecstatic tone of this article almost makes me wonder just how much they paid you for it. No, this is not good news. Not if it means EA are now seen as Good Guys in articles like this. Hurrah, they let us reinstall the game FIVE times now. That makes aaaalll the difference. Praise our saviors.

  28. Duoae says:

    Aww, crap. I didn’t realise that Warhead came with DRM as well…. i wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. Damnit! Why are these things not common knowledge? Especially this should be available to the consumer at the point of sale.

    http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/54837

    The DRM on warhead is supposed to be receiving the same treatment. Bah….

  29. Azhrarn says:

    Technically nothing has changed, they just increased the limit to 5 from 3 (and yes, the 3 installs was with “different machines” aswell.) The system is still the same and still as badly flawed.

    As for what games have this type of DRM, EVERY SINGLE GAME EA has released since Mass Effect PC has carried this piece of junk and they obviously don’t intend to change their ways.
    On the forums a mod made a mention of a deactivation tool (something that they should have released simulatiously with ME) but no time frame on its release, so that may well be a hoax aswell.

    Overal EA seems determined to destroy PC gaming single handedly, as the treatment of their PC customers clearly shows.

  30. grumpy says:

    Oh, this just gets better and better. Looks like even complaining about DRM can get you banned from the game:

    SecuROM as been discussed and discussed so much and it causes arguments in threads. If you want to talk about DRM SecuROM then please use another fansite forum. If there is any change you will be able to read it on the official Spore site.

    Please do not continue to post theses thread or you account may be at risk of banning which in some cases would mean you would need to buy a new copy to play Spore.

    from here

    Guess I’m not buying another EA game.

  31. Gorgeras says:

    Why are we being nice? It’s gone beyond being polite and showing basic courtesy now into full appeasement of EA’s bat-shitiness.

    EA have made no attempt in recent years to improve. Yes, they have made attempts to make it seem like they have improved, none of which have stood up to more than five minutes of genuine scrutiny. The current president is not ‘the new president’ of EA; he’s the guy who was in charge when EA was at it’s worst. He was brought back because his successor was insufficiently reptillian.

    After learning Crysis Warhead has DRM, I’m forced to not buy it. For the first time in my life I’m seriously considering downloading a pirate version knowing full-well it’s illegal. But EA have thrown away every bit of moral high-ground they had to preach to us about anything. They have distorted and stifled criticism of their practices long enough, it’s time they were meaningfully punished not only by consumers but an increasingly placid gaming-press that too often gives praise for scum temporarily ceasing some of their scuminess. What they should be doing is stop being scum at all and start behaving like they are worthy of their market status.

  32. frymaster says:

    the change from 3 to 5 has already been remarked upon. Isn’t the “at a time” thing another way of saying “we’ve now released the de-register utility that should have come with it”?

    DRM per se doesn’t bother me. Securom, starforce, you name it, it’s one big “meh”. The restrictions companies specify _using_ that drm on the other hand…

  33. RichPowers says:

    Copies of Crysis Warhead purchased through Steam have SecuROM and a five-installation limit. Why? Because EA hates you.

    Between this and EA’s pitiful quality control, there’s really no reason to buy games from them.

  34. Turin Turambar says:

    If you crack Spore you lose the online component.

    With Crysis Warhead, you can crack it to play the single player without DRM bullshit, and also play multiplayer because the multiplayer part doesn’t have activations limit.

  35. Weylund says:

    Shoot. I saw the title of the article and thought I might be able to buy Spore now.

    Nope.

    And: “…as many re-installs as you want on a maximum of five computers…” How in hell do you MANAGE something like that? If they’re taking hardware as a bench for “computer”… yeesh. That’s a gigantic amount of information they need to gather, store, and act on.

    If they had released it DRM-free they would have sold more copies, with a LOT less work.

  36. Keith says:

    @cHeal
    re: # of installs. Perhaps I’m missing something (caveat: I haven’t bought Spore or Mass Effect for PC) but I’m reading the 5 installs as five simultaneous installs. Is that not correct? Also, to continue your Windows example, doesn’t Windows activation also moan/refer you to telephone support if you significantly change hardware (read: new machine) multiple times with the same serial number?

    Re: deactivating — yes, I can see that would be a pain, and this is a hugely overlooked aspect of DRM. If EA are planning on including this type of DRM in their titles it would make sense to have a license manager app, but that’s not a particularly elegant solution.

    Don’t get me wrong — I have no love of DRM. I would vastly prefer to install my software and not think more of it. I’ve been burned once already (by Direct2Drive, who were unable to provide me with a license for Splinter Cell as they were no longer distributing it in the UK when I went to reinstall) so I’m well aware of the problems it can cause.

    Given what I understand about how Spore’s DRM will work once it has been patched, however, it doesn’t seem to be the evil monstrosity some would like to paint it as.

  37. Colthor says:

    So, as for the copy protection, they’re just adding 2 to the install count? Not, say, getting rid of the install count and online activation?

    So really nothing has changed, and this is just an empty PR stunt? Bugger them, then.

  38. Keith says:

    Missed the edit deadline on my previous post, but was thinking about Windows activation and this appears to be the same: reinstalling on the same hardware doesn’t count as another activation — so you don’t need to “deauthorise” first. From the EA FAQ:

    Q: Do I have to reauthenticate after the first time my game is launched?
    A: Reauthentication is required only if you make significant changes to your PC’s hardware, reformat your hard drive, or in some cases, upgrade your Operating System. Multiple installations of the game on the same computer do not count against the number of computers the game can be installed on.

  39. rocketman71 says:

    Let’s repeat the link above:

    http://forum.spore.com/jforum/posts/list/3869.page

    So, if you speak about Spore’s DRM, you get banned from the forum and you lose your Spore copy?. Oh, yeah, sorry, I mean, in some cases. Pretty fucking amazing.

    Whoa, that seals it. I’m not buying anything else from EA, ever, DRM or not. Congrats, fuckers, you did it. Now go cry about piracy on the PC.

    PS.- Here’s counting the minutes until someone from EA says that the mod didn’t have permission to say that, he’s been fired, and of course they’re not going to deactivate your Spore copy just because you bitch about their useless, customer harassing, DRM.

  40. Heliocentric says:

    Don’t get this wrong. This isn’t a 3 became 5 situation. They are saying 5 pc’s without having to remove the software before an re install of the os. However! This is a double edged sword, as changes in hardware (as minor as adding a network card) can mean the pc looks different to the hashing. So, along side their treatment of customers on the forum “shut up or we’ll ban your copy” i’m still sadly unwilling to buy products handled in this manner. When you threaten the people who have given you cash? I’m unwilling to join them. Here’s wishing battlefield 3 is not equally shackled. Here’s the thing. I don’t give a damn about the drm unless like starforce it damages hardware (by causing i/o errors). I was quite happy to get spore as it was when i got a little richer. but when you pr is to threaten people who question the product? Fuck right off.

  41. Mungrul says:

    What I really don’t understand is why that forum post isn’t being reported on any of the major news sites.
    This is far bigger news than EA’s supposedly submissive DRM posturing.

  42. Heliocentric says:

    Agreed, this is news the actual article isn’t.
    *shines his rps torch into the sky*

  43. Leon says:

    Wow, they realized all that after that “reconized” customers complained about all this. What about all the other “not so reconized” customers. What you have to be a hardcore gamer under a banner to be reconized by EA. That’s lobbying crap if you ask me. And for the restriction of 5 computers installation, it’s really a mess too. Computer Gamers need to change an hardware component once in a while to have an healthy game experience. Each time that a person changes a part, reinstall the software, it’s considered like a new computer. For me, I’ll be buying the game to encourage the enterprise, but I would install a pirated version instead so I don’t have to shove all that DRM crap into my computer. I still have the chills of the DRM virus from Sony a year or two ago…

  44. gulag says:

    Just came on to link *that* forum post, and saw that I’d been beaten to it.

    What an extrordinary stance to take.

    How many feet is the Spore/EA beast going to stick in its mouth?

  45. Gregory says:

    It’s been asked before, but I’ll do it again: Can I play the game in ten years, like I can with all of my ten-year-old games now?

  46. Theory says:

    Also I bet they don’t touch the stuff on Warhead.

    Warhead is already like this, and actually I thought Spore was too…

  47. Cope says:

    So I guess the Amazon backlash worked, at least partly. I’m still not happy that they didn’t drop SecuROM entirely, and this sounds too much like a PR stunt to try to recover what I’m sure will turn out to be pretty dismal sales considering how hyped the game was.

    In a few days Spore slipped below the top 5 sellers in videogames on Amazon, now 2 weeks later it’s slipped to #16, below things like the PS3 Blu Ray remote and Pinball Hall of Fame for the Wii. Probably not what they expected.

    Threatening to ban users who speak out against DRM on their forum cancelled out any goodwill they might have won from me with this announcement.

  48. RichPowers says:

    EA could’ve avoided ALL OF THIS by removing DRM in the first place! Why don’t they get this!?

    Or is this really just part of EA’s master plan to completely eliminate the resale market?

  49. cHeal says:

    Keith, this DRM has an absolute install limit, or activations.

    I believe that a full windows license can be activated on as many PC’s as you want, just not at the same time.

  50. SuperNashwan says:

    This is [i]exactly[/i] the same manoeuvre they performed with Mass Effect PC

    This is worth reiterating, particularly because I predicted somewhere in the vastness of RPS’ comments that this would happen with Spore; draconian DRM which EA then eases up on so you think they’re actually listening and capitulating when in fact you still have DRM when normally you wouldn’t and shouldn’t. Politicians do this kind of thing all the time when announcing unpopular policy changes, knowingly pitching it too strong and then look like they’re giving ground when the fuss dies down a bit.
    After a few more AAA releases doing this no doubt EA hope you’ll get used to having the “toned down” DRM as standard, at which point the more stringent checks won’t then seem so far from the norm and they’ll be able to get away with it.