Spore, the hotly-anticipated new game from Electronic Arts is facing fierce criticism from consumers over its apparent use of unusually restrictive digital rights management (DRM) technology.
“I basically put down my hard-earned money and get punished for buying the game legally. The gaming industry needs to be sent a message that this is no way to treat their customers”, said one buyer who posted a review at Amazon.com
“[The DRM] means that you are actually renting the game, instead of owning it”, another claims.
The $50 game has received an overwhelming number of negative reviews on Amazon, many from users who admit that they they have not purchased the game because of its DRM. Numerous potential buyers say they canceled pre-orders or plan to return the game.
After it is first installed by the user, the SecuROM Product Activation DRM system used by Spore allows the game to be installed only two more times, users claim. An install is used up each time the game is installed on a different PC – or even in some cases when the user installs new hardware on the original PC. A new or re-installed operating system also forces the user to use up one more of the two remaining installations of the game.
If the game has already been installed three times, the user has to contact EA customer service to explain why he or she wants to install it again.
According to EA's online customer support, the actual limit is three “concurrently active” licenses. This page states that the licenses eventually expire, possibly after ten days, and implies that they can then be re-used. However, this appears to conflict with other statements from EA.
Customers have also complained that the product box contains no warning about the DRM technology used. Others complain that SecuROM is not mentioned in the End User License Agreement (EULA).
In fact, EA's EULA states “You may download the number of copies allowed by the software's digital rights management from an authorized source. However, you may use only one copy of the software on a single computer at any given time.”
EA claims that it does not mention SecuROM in Spore's license agreement because that would force it to create a slightly different version of its two page license agreement for each product.
Resale and rental restriction claims
Other potential buyers charge that EA is using the limit of three product activations to prevent resale or rental of the game.
However, the EULA states: “You may make a permanent transfer [sic] all your rights to install and use the software to another individual or legal entity”.
These terms do appear to forbid rental of the game. While resale appears possible under the EULA, the limited number of activations automatically included could make the game less attractive as a second hand purchase.
SecuROM rootkit allegations
Many have claimed that SecuROM uses 'Root Kit' methods, more commonly used by viruses, trojans and other malware, to hide files from the user.
SecuROM is developed by Sony DADC, a subsidiary of Sony which manufactures optical disks.
“SecuROM does not use any root kit technology in its implementation”, Sony DADC says. Ars Technica's Ken Fisher examined an earlier SecuROM game, BioShock, that was also accused of containing a rootkit, and said he could find no sign of one. SecuROM itself also denies it uses a rootkit.
“SecuROM customers enjoy the benefits of extended shelf life, while maximizing profits through additional product sales”, Sony states.
“With SecuROM Product Activation, Sony DADC offers games and software publishers, plus online distributors, the possibility to apply just one single DRM solution to their content, regardless whether it is distributed via the physical or digital sales channel (e.g. Internet). SecuROM Product Activation enables content owners to apply different business models, such as 'Try & Buy' or 'Subscription' for publishers and online distributors of games and/or software. As a result publishers and online distributors can benefit from increasing customer loyalty and additional revenues”, Sony DADC says in a description of the application.
Bioshock buyer describes how to obtain a refund for game with SecuROM, on the grounds that it actually violates its own user license.