"Spore" Backlash: Is DRM Officially Bad for Business?

Update 9/24/08 – Responding to consumer complaints, Electronic Arts has relaxed the digital rights management restrictions on “Spore.”

If the backlash to Electronic Arts’ new game “Spore” serves as a sign of things to come, strict digital rights management (DRM) restrictions are transforming from consumer annoyances into full-fledged business mistakes. From Forbes:

In just the 24-hour period between Wednesday [9/10] and Thursday [9/11], illegal downloaders snagged more than 35,000 copies, and, as of Thursday evening, that rate of downloads was still accelerating. “The numbers are extraordinary,” [Eric] Garland [CEO of Big Champagne] says. “This is a very high level of torrent activity even for an immensely popular game title.”

Electronic Arts had hoped to limit users to installing the game only three times through its use of digital rights management software, or DRM. But not only have those constraints failed, says Garland, they may have inadvertently spurred the pirates on.

On Amazon, “Spore’s” one-star customer rating is driven by anti-DRM sentiment rather than analysis of the game itself. It’s likely only a small percentage of “Spore’s” potential customer base knows or cares about DRM, but Amazon’s star-system shorthand makes no distinction between reviewers passing judgement on the game and those engaging in DRM activism. Deserved or not, a one-star rating averaged from thousands of reviews is the very definition of caveat emptor, particularly for casual shoppers who encounter “Spore’s” listing down the road.

The combination of “Spore’s” long history on the gaming world’s radar and the publicity push surrounding its release will undoubtedly lead to good sales in the early going (anecdotal evidence suggests this is already the case). But “Spore” is one of those hyper-immersive games that’s shaped by its users, and this DRM flap may ultimately limit adoption and future product opportunities.

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