Spore reviews: Not fake

2008-09-09 12:22

As of this writing, Will Wright’s latest game, Spore, has about 1700 reviews on Amazon. 1600 of them are one-star reviews, mostly citing the horrible “DRM” system in use. Many critics allege that these are unreasonable reviews, and do not accurately reflect anything. These reviews are not fake, inaccurate, or unfair. Sony’s “SecuROM” copy protection is an absolute disaster.

I have received direct confirmation from game publishers that a bug preventing many thousands of users from running a game at all was, in fact, a SecuROM bug. I have had mysterious problems until I reloaded a system it had been run on. I have had games refuse to run because the copy protection system’s busted code did not interact well with a particular drive.

The fact is, it’s gotten ridiculous. Days before Spore was available in retail stores, pirates had it. The elaborate SecuROM system is doing nothing to deter the people who are actually ripping off copies of the game. What it’s doing is deterring actual gamers who would have been willing to pay money for it — and lots of them.

I have been playing Will Wright’s games since 1988 or so. Ironically, the first one I played was a pirated copy of Sim City — I had no idea it was a commercial product, but someone had this cool game and gave me a copy. When I found out it was for sale, I bought it. Since then, I have bought at least four different versions of Sim City, some of them two or three times on different platforms. I have bought about five or six other Sim games, including The Sims.

In an average year, I probably spend over a thousand bucks on video games and related things — consoles, etcetera. Quite possibly a lot over a thousand. I’ve been looking forward to Spore for three years. If I had to buy a new computer to play it, I probably would. But I am sick of being treated like a thief, and that’s all there is to it.

DRM” is just another word for “calling our customers thieves to their face”. And I’m done with it. If it worked — if it worked absolutely seamlessly — I might not care. If I had an absolute guarantee that, if I paid for a game, I would never, ever, not once, be prevented from playing it by the DRM, I probably wouldn’t care.

Realistically, though, DRM software consistently breaks down. It fails, it misidentifies, and it does not work. And because it can only work by doing dangerous system-modifying things, it tends to take the whole system with it.

Sony’s branch that develops SecuROM has been busted in the past by the FTC for abuses and privacy problems. They shipped music on discs containing a rootkit which caused serious trouble for many users, and was widely abused by malware authors… and apparently did so after the first time the FTC tagged them.

This company cannot be allowed to continue. It is simply foolhardy to buy any product containing this code. There is no way to recover this. Their fundamental goals are incompatible with a free or functional market. They are evil. They must be destroyed. (Not Sony in general, just that company.) There is no way to make copy protection “work”.

People like to say they need it. They don’t. Stardock’s Brad Wardell has introduced a “Gamer Bill of Rights“ which excludes intrusive DRM like this. Why? Because he’s made a lot of money selling games (excellent games, I might add) with no DRM at all. Because users like that. The reality is that it’s not the warez kids killing PC gaming; it’s DRM. I could name you at least ten or fifteen games I would have bought this year if they had not been bundled with malicious software that is extremely likely to damage my computer.

Guys, pay attention to the smart guy. He’ll be selling games when you aren’t. His games won’t get buried under a sea of perfectly accurate and justifiable 1-star reviews revealing that the product simply cannot be safely used on a machine that you ever want to have serve any other purpose, and may not work even then.

Stop calling us thieves and we’ll stop calling you morons. Deal?

Peter Seebach