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EA in Spore DRM climbdown

Unlimited installs...sorta

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Electronic Arts has taken its lumps over the past few weeks for its digital rights management (DRM) restrictions on Spore.

Critics claim DRM limiting those who bought the hotly anticipated sim to only three installs amounts to no more than renting the software out, rather than selling it. DRM also prevented players from creating more than one user account per copy of Spore — even though the game's literature specifically states otherwise.

As what is now a matter of routine with modern PC games, pirates managed to crack the game's DRM restrictions within a day of the game's release and hosted this de-restricted content on certain nefarious file-sharing websites. Although DRM is intended to prevent piracy, it left only those who purchased the game legitimately to suffer the restrictions. Users then lashed out against Spore and EA on video game message boards, web sites, and rather notably for customer-submitted reviews on Amazon.com.

EA tells the Los Angeles Times the customer fallout took the company by surprise.

To make amends, EA said on Friday it will roll out an update for Spore that eliminates several points of contention.

The company will now allow players to install the game an unlimited number of times, so long as its not installed on more than five computers at the same time. EA also plans to release a patch this week to support multiple screen names, allowing families to play separate games on a shared computer.

But EA also defends its implementation of the original DRM restrictions. As EA Games President Frank Gibeau told the LA Times, "We assumed that consumers understand piracy is a huge problem. We have found that 75% of our customers install and play any particular game on only one machine, and less than 1% ever try to play on more than three different machines."

Those statistics may be true, but do they justify treating paying customers like criminals on principle? DRM certainly didn't stop pirates from distributing Spore over the internet by any stretch of the imagination. Quite contrary, those who pirated the game received an arguably superior version, free of many of the problems plaguing those willing to fork over the retail price.

But Gibeau is right in one sense: The vast majority of Spore players are probably blissfully unaware of its DRM and the internet kerfuffle surrounding it. EA could have kept the restrictions in place and still raked in the cash from game sales. Angry gamers be damned. ®

We're sorry. Now shut your damn mouths.

While EA has effectively apologized for Spore's DRM, the game publisher would prefer users pretend the controversy never happened.

EA appears to have taken an extreme stance against any further discussion of DRM on Spore's official forums. A Reg reader points out that site moderators seem to be threatening to deactivate user accounts that post complaints about the game's DRM – saying in some cases users would need to purchase a fresh copy to play Spore. Classy! ®

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