Botched 'Spore' launch could learn from open source

Electronic Arts screwed up the release of <i>Spore</i> by choosing absurd DRM. Perhaps a page from the open-source world could have helped offset all the piracy.

Dave Rosenberg Co-founder, MuleSource
Dave Rosenberg has more than 15 years of technology and marketing experience that spans from Bell Labs to startup IPOs to open-source and cloud software companies. He is CEO and founder of Nodeable, co-founder of MuleSoft, and managing director for Hardy Way. He is an adviser to DataStax, IT Database, and Puppet Labs.
Dave Rosenberg
2 min read

If there is one thing that open source has taught us, it's that there are "users" and there are "customers."

Odds are that all of your customers will be users first, taking your software for a test-drive and then deciding if they want to pay for it. It's all about getting people to consume your software.

The video game industry remains one of the last hold-outs in the war against consumption. Instead of encouraging more use, EA royally botched the launch of Spore with a seriously misguided choice of DRM (digital rights management).

It's completely understandable that EA would want to limit the number of computers that you could install the game on. Every major software company has some kind of rationale behind its approach.

As CNET's Jennifer Guevin wrote:

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.

The Spore "self-destruct" mechanism is just plain, old offensive. I can't think of a scenario in the last few years when I wasn't reinstalling, changing hardware, or otherwise altering my computer system. To render an application unusable is ludicrous--and pointless.

Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage is a bit of a nightmare if you need to reinstall Windows. (I dare you to find your serial number.) Adobe Systems is slightly better with its activation scheme, provided that you can find your serial number and that you didn't purchase an upgrade version where you need the serial number of the version before too. However, you can eventually use the software again.

Maybe a better approach for EA would have been to consider a "community" and "enterprise" version of Spore, where it's usable but not good until you pay. Certainly the revenue lost from 500,000 unpaid users would have been offset by other means (advertising, for example). It's about time the video game companies caught up with the rest of the world.