- EA Admits Spore Launch Botched by DRM; Still, Financial Damage Already Done

Staci D. Kramer
Friday, September 19, 2008; 2:07 AM

Electronic Arts ( NSDQ: ERTS) has owned up to the mess it created with the DRM-heavy launch ofSporelast week? a fracas that may actually have cost the gaming giant as much as $25 million in missed revenue. Gamers angry with the "draconian" content protection features opted out of the $50 a pop forSporeand copped it illegally instead, to the tune of an estimated 500,000 downloads across various BitTorrent sites. In fact, peer-to-peer research firm Big Champagne called the speed at which gamers downloaded pirated copies "extraordinary."

Spore's DRM restrictions limited the number of times a user could activate the game, to curb piracy. But the features garnered thousands of buyer complaints and sparked a negative review frenzy on ( NSDQ: AMZN). EA addressed the issues in an interview with MTV Multiplayer, responding to a number of gamers' primary complaints:

-- A legitimately bought copy ofSporecouldn't be activated on more than three different computers."That will be changed," promised a company spokesman, who compared the practice to iTunes. The difference is that iTunes lets users de-authorize a computer?while Spore's DRM doesn't. (Although the current version of iTunes 8 only offers me the option of deauthorizing all five at once, including two computers that have been reformatted and don't even know they have an iTunes connection.) EA said that will change, with a patch coming out for it in the "near future."

-- Buyers worry that the game's SecurROM copy protection software is actually installing spyware on their computer. "There's no viruses, no spyware and no malware," the spokesperson said. "The thing I would say to the consumer audience is that, if you're concerned with a virus on your computer, the chances of that are infinitely higher when you're downloading off of a hacked version than it would be downloading the authentic game. We would never put any spyware on anyone's computers. That's not going to happen."

EA brass sidestepped questions about whether the slew of 1-star reviews on Amazon were from legitimate consumers or pirates, as well as why the DRM and online authorization policies were so strict. The spokesperson also shed some light on Spore's rate of sales, touting that there had been at least 435,000 activations (representing only a "sample" of sales)?with a majority coming from one machine?as of Tuesday.

WSJ: "In a statement, Frank Gibeau, EA Games label president, said the company was 'disappointed' by the misunderstanding around its digital-rights-management software and that it would expand the installation limit to five machines. He added that EA is expediting the development of a system that will allow customers to 'deauthorize' computers and move the game to new machines, without needing to call the company."

© 2008 ContentNext Media Inc.