EA and Maxis released Spore to the world last week, and while we still don't have sales information for the title, the big news wasn't the game play. In fact, we found the game itself rather lackluster in most ways. The issue that set the Internet on fire was the DRM, and gamers quickly let the world know of their anger. As Ars digs deeper into how EA actually handles the DRM, we have to wonder: was the controversy worth it?
Masses of gamers bombed Amazon with one-star reviews for the title, protesting the three-install limit the game claimed to enforce. For a short time it looked like Amazon had pulled the reviews, but then the online retailer put them back up when the outcry became even louder. EA also came under fire when the company announced it was making the DRM for Red Alert 3 more "lenient" by upping the install-limit to five instead of three. To a populace already upset at the very idea of an install limit, this didn't seem to be much of an improvement.
Dealing with the EA DRM juggernaut
With all the sound and the fury, we wondered if anyone had even yet dealt with this install limit? Mark DeSanto, who reviewed the game, installed his review copy of Spore on his main gaming PC twice, once on his laptop, and then again on the gaming PC. Four installs, across two systems. The fourth installation received an authentication error when he tried to log into the game. A quick call to EA's customer support brought an oddly-happy voice on the line, and once informed of the issue, he quickly determined that there was a network issue on their side; Spore's authentication servers were down. So it was DRM in general that was causing the problem, not an issue specific to EA or Spore.
We hung up the phone and waited roughly fifteen minutes to call EA tech support once more; we were hoping to get someone else to get a different opinion, as we were sure we had used up all our installation attempts. Calling back, another happy voice—female this time—checked into the account and determined that we had only registered the game twice—not four times. Spore was only registering installs on new machines. The game booted with no issue soon after; it seems to have truly been a network issue.
With installing the game four times between two machines, and still no issues, we decided to remove the game and installed it a fifth time on the gaming PC, and still had no issues with playing the game. Next we decided to move over to a completely different, so far unused, machine, installing it on an antiquated test system… no issues. Finally, the game was installed onto a Mac Pro, and we struck gold with the pictured error message.
A call to EA brought us to the same help person as the first call. We informed him of the error message and gave him his Spore account information as well as the product key. A few minutes later the rep determined that we had, in fact, used up all our "key activations." As friendly as can be, our EA employee inferred that it was probably some kind of printing error on the manual. Here's the catch: we decided to tell him that we had rented the game. He assured us he could resolve the situation and did—issuing me another CD key for the game. We wanted to make it clear we understood the DRM restrictions and asked about the install limitations and he informed me that "you could install the game all day long on the same machine—it was limited to installations on three separate machines." The only catch: the game had to be reinstalled after the new key was issued.
While the issue of the install limit is a touchy one, it doesn't look like a normal install will do much to use up your limit, and in fact we surpassed the install limit by a few times before running into an issue. Even after being told that we were "renting" the game, EA was happy to give us a new key to run the game. In this case, customer service wins, and we left wondering if the DRM controversy might be more philosophical in nature than rooted in any real-world inconveniences.Posted on