Did 'Spore' copy protections backfire on EA?

Angered by DRM limitations imposed on <i>Spore</i>, people are downloading illegal copies of the evolution game en masse. Will the negative response change EA's stance?

Jennifer Guevin Managing Editor / Reviews
Jennifer Guevin is managing editor at CNET, overseeing the ever-helpful How To section, special packages, and front-page programming. As a writer, she gravitates toward science, quirky geek culture stories, robots, and food. In real life, she mostly just gravitates toward food.
Jennifer Guevin
2 min read

Clarification: Story updated at 6:57 p.m. to clarify the difference between the Spore and iTunes models.

After years of anticipation, the coming-out party for Electronic Arts' new evolution game Spore seems to be getting rained out.

Spore was one of the most highly anticipated games in recent years, in part because it's the brainchild of Will Wright who, with The Sims, turned simple tasks like taking virtual trips to the bathroom into the best-selling PC game ever. Fans and EA alike had high hopes for Spore, a similarly quirky game that's based on evolutionary biology and individuals' own creature creations.

By most accounts, Spore is a great game. But in the first week since its debut, many of the people perhaps most excited for its release have turned against it.

Enraged by what they call "draconian" copyright protections, thousands of people flooded Amazon.com to give the game a one-star rating. And now there seems to be another movement afoot, one that is far more likely to hit EA where it counts.

What's the fuss about? Electronic Arts imposed copyright protections that limited the number of times a user can install the game to three. EA has likened the system to the limits imposed on songs bought through Apple's iTunes store (though in the case of iTunes, users can easily manage their libraries by specifying which computers are authorized to play their purchased content).

Such digital rights management technology is intended to keep piracy to a minimum. But in this case, it seems to have had the opposite effect, angering would-be buyers and DRM opponents to such a degree that they are illegally downloading it en masse, apparently to make a statement as much as to get their hands on the game.

On Saturday, TorrentFreak wrote that the game had already been downloaded more than 500,000 times on BitTorrent sites.

Though it didn't appear to have broken any overall download records at the time this story was published, peer-to-peer research company Big Champagne told Forbes on Friday that the rate at which it was being downloaded was "extraordinary."

So will EA consider the DRM move a mistake? PR representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but that will likely depend on how well it sells. In its first week, it seemed to do pretty well--at least anecdotally, with stores around the country reporting they'd sold out of their stock.