Sunday, October 5, 2008

Spore: A Case-Study in DRM

(above: the title card of sorts for "Spore")

Recently, "Sim City" pioneer and creator of "The Sims," Will Wright, came out with a new simulation game. This one is called "Spore." It's meant to be a sort of Sim-everything, in that you start the game playing "Sim Amoeba" and end up with "Sim Interstellar Diplomacy," hitting every Sim-step in between.

I'm not here to talk about how well the game achieves this rather lofty goal. Instead, I'm here to talk a bit about "Spore" as a case of bad DRM or, at the very least, people finally noticing DRM and responding to it.

Let's start from the beginning. When you buy "Spore," you throw the disc in your computer and install the game. But before you can play it or get involved in the Sim-circus, you have to register online. You submit some information on yourself and you get the game essentially unlocked. Basically, your right to access your digital copy of spore is granted.

But let's say that you have three computers, and you want to install "Spore" on all three. Well and good, the "Spore" team says. You can register online up to three times for different rights to different digital copies. Now let's say one computer malfunctions and you want to install "Spore" again. Without getting a specific dispensation, your crack at the digital right of playing "Spore" is gone.

Another hypothetical: say the Sim-team decides that "Spore" isn't as popular as it used to be, and say they decide to stop running their registration service for "Spore." In this case, you can't unlock your digital rights to play "Spore" anymore. At all. Your copy of the game has become, as one Amazon review says, a colorful plastic coaster.

And speaking of Amazon reviews, that brings us to the response to "Spore." You'd think that Amazon would be a wealth of information on how good the game actually is. Instead, the people who have bought "Spore" have lashed out against the DRM on the game. There are tons of 1-star reviews of the game already posted, and nearly every one cites the DRM as the reason for the bad review.

So what do we take away from this? I suppose we learn that, yeah, a game can be revolutionary and do things games have never done before, but people won't buy it if they can't use it the way they want to. As CBC podcaster Jesse Brown said on his program, "Search Engine," consumers of Will Wright's games love the idea of creating your own world and your own players, but they also demand playing those games on their own terms. They want to expand Wright's idea of making your own rules within the game to how the game is distributed.

The key point to take away from this is that even though fighting oppressive DRM is a geek concept now, it is a) spreading into the mainstream consumer environment, and b) it becomes pretty serious when your target audience is a geek audience.

We have a right to get pissed when a company wants to turn our "purchases" into lease agreements. It's time for copyright rules to reflect our understanding of what "copy" means. And what "right" means.

(lots of info from Fred Benenson's blog, via BoingBoing)

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