Spore may have been a long-awaited title, but publisher EA surely didn't expect the most talked-about aspect of the game to be its DRM. Alas, now it seems that all the protest from angry gamers over the restrictive nature of the game has reached the boiling point: following hundreds of scathing, DRM-focused reviews on the official product page, Amazon accidentally deleted customer reviews of the game sometime Friday afternoon (they have since been restored).
Earlier this week, we reported on the mass of negative customer reviews on Amazon's website drawing attention to the game's DRM. As of Monday, there were more than 194 one-star customer reviews—roughly 87 percent of all reviews of the game were negative, most focusing on the DRM. Over the week, that number continued to grow as more gamers picked up the title and found themselves unhappy. When the reviews disappeared late this week, there were 2,216 reviews, of which 2,016 were one-star ratings.
Pulling customer reviews is not a terribly common act on the part of Amazon. Aside from yanking religiously motivated rants on certain religious texts and various fake reviews by people impersonating celebrities and so forth, Amazon has typically been very liberal about allowing its users to express their honest opinions about the site's products.
The Amazon product page for Spore shows no reviews, just left over negative tags for the game
Strangely, only the reviews on the main Spore retail release have disappeared. Negative, DRM-related reviews for other editions of the game, such as the "Galactic Edition," remain posted. But the main product remains conspicuouslybare of customer opinion, with the only traces of protest left being the remaining tags associated with the product by customers which include the likes of "drm," "limited activations," and "securom."
As for theDRM, Spore gives players only three activations over the lifetime of the product. With each reinstall, the user forever uses up that install: installs are not refunded should the game be uninstalled. After the three installs are consumed, the only option for a legitimate consumer is to call EA and go through an interrogation of sorts, including questions such as why the limit was reached and where the game was purchased, in order to attain an extra installation.
For the sake of testing, we submitted a new review with a one-star rating that mentions DRM in the body text. Amazon customer reviews can take up to 48 hours to be posted, with customers encouraged to contact the site's help staff with questions as to why a given review did not get published.
If there's a lesson learned from Stardock, which has enjoyed strong success with sales numbers surpassing 500,000 from its recent, DRM-free PC game Sins of a Solar Empire, it's that gamers do not want DRM. The long-standing argument holds: DRM only punishes legitimate consumers who want to pay for the software they own. And even with all this DRM, Spore still hit the web illegally immediately. EA, and all publishers, should be paying attention. Gamers have spoken, and DRM on games is futile—whether the criticisms are whitewashed or not.
An Amazon spokesperson says that the reviews disappeared due to a "glitch" in the system. "The team is working to resolve this issue now and have all the reviews back up on the site," the spokesperson told Ars. "Amazon doesn't censor or edit customer reviews based [on their content] and we'd only remove a review if it fell outside our guidelines." The thousands of negative reviews are slowly coming back online.
As of 4:25pm CDT, all 2,216 reviews were back online, and the average rating is one star.
Reader Melissa sent in word that though the old reviews have been reposted, Amazon may be more aggressively monitoring Spore-related reviews. Her review was blocked, and upon contacting customer service she was told that her review of the game was removed because it "did not describe [her] experiences with the product." According to Melissa, her review dealt with "the fact that Securom does not uninstall when you uninstall Spore, and there appears to be problems with Securom interfering with other software and sometimes hardware."Posted on