Op/Ed: Spore - Making Gamers Mad = Not the Answer

SDCC 08: Will Wright & Spore

It was supposed to be a runaway, unanimous hit, but Spore is having some problems. Though the game has been well received by critics, with a Metacritic Score of 86, it seems reviewers think this is a solid game. Then you peek at the user score on Metacritic, and you see a 5.6 out of 10. Or take a look at that Amazon link above, and you see 1 star out of 5, from over 2000 reviews. So what gives?

The grand majority of these 1 star reviews are from forum posters who gathered together to decry the Digital Rights Management (DRM) on the game. The DRM is called SecuROM. It allows for 3 installations of the game (even on the same computer) without needing to contact the manufacturer for a new code. It doesn’t require you to log online every time you want to play, and yes, it can be (and has been) cracked. It’s highly unlikely that any of these nearly 2000 people have had to install and delete their game 3 times already, requiring a phone call to EA for an explanation and a new serial number, so their problem is with the very existence of the DRM.

DRM is obviously not the solution. People obviously don’t want their products forcefully controlled, even when the control is limited. Plus, as noted above, it gets cracked immediately, sometimes even before the game is released. Spore was on torrent site listings, cracked and ready to play, several days before the game was officially released. On one such torrent site, between seeders (people hosting and sharing the entire file) and leechers (people downloading it), there are close to 30,000 people sharing or getting the game right now. How then, can PC game makers prevent this kind of rampant piracy?

Well, the simple answer is to make games that are good enough to compel people to buy them. Oversimplified? It absolutely is, but it’s also true. The biggest thing developers can do immediately is implementing online gameplay and features. Online gameplay has been a huge seller for console games and computer games alike. It can often be the difference between playing a seven hour campaign and playing a game for six months. Aside from a small contingency of higher-knowledge pirates who set up private servers, this alone can be enough to stop a large portion of them from downloading the game for free. Call of Duty 4 and World of Warcraft are two very successful demonstrations of minimal DRM, a heavy online presence, and minimal piracy.

Online features can apply to any number of extras included with the game. This can be sharing of user-created content, special downloadable content you can only get with a valid serial number, or updates that only work on a valid installation. This sort of content not only keeps people playing a company’s games, but also encourages them to buy the original in the first place.

The other thing to do is simply remove DRM, and go back to a serial number only policy. Looking at things logically, DRM is not working (30,000 people can’t be wrong), and it bothers some that may or may not have purchased the game anyway (2000 people aren’t likely to be that wrong). The restrictions do take away a sense of ownership, whether or not the restrictions would affect the majority of users. Instead of spending all that money on DRM licensing and/or development and implementation, developers and publishers should spend it on making compelling online-only upgrades. According to Albert Einstein, “the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Einstein was a pretty smart guy; maybe it’s time PC game publishers take note of what smart guys say.

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