Electronic Arts is responding to concerns regarding the SecuROM digital rights management for Spore, aiming to clarify controversial aspects of the copy protection mechanism in the wake of an internet backlash of sorts.
Online retailer Amazon's user ratings for the long-awaited EA Maxis PC title plummeted to a single star, largely based on negative reviews of the DRM, which one user called "draconian." Now, it appears as of press time that all user reviews to date have been removed from Spore's product page and the game's star rating reset, while a special discussion section still remains*.
Before the reviews disappeared, Gamasutra snagged a few quotes. "I don't like being treated like a thief," wrote one user; others said the SecuROM DRM system "seems like malware."
The SecuROM DRM system limits users to three activations per purchase, though EA says users can enable more if they call customer support.
"...Calling up customer support waiting in a queue and then asking for a code that will allow you to play the game you paid for is a real insult to thoes [sic] who bought the game legitimately," said another reviewer.
But EA says that the three-computer limit was designed to address the needs of the largest portion of its user base while still limiting piracy. According to the company's stats, less than 25 percent of its customers across the board activate a PC title on more than one machine -- and the number of EA customers who ask to activate more than three accounts is smaller than one percent.
"EA has not changed our basic DRM copy protection system," said Mariam Sughayer of EA's corporate communications in a statement to Gamasutra. "We simply changed the copy protection method from using the physical media, which requires authentication every time you play the game by requiring a disc in the drive, to one which uses a one-time online authentication."
Of 453,048 activations of the Spore Creature Creator alone, Sughayer says, 77 percent activated on only one machine, 23 percent activated more than one, and only 1 percent of users tried to activate on more than three machines.
Rumors even abounded that Spore's install planted spyware on users' computers. Here on Gamasutra, one commenter wrote that the DRM "...completely screws with [your] PC and plants a listening device for EA. If this is the copy protection of EA's choice for all future games, guess I'm not buying EA anymore."
Sughayer compared Spore's authentication to iTunes, which allows players to install and use their music on a limited number of multiple computers. She also stressed that installing the game doesn't transmit user information any further than as a "fingerprint" required to authenticate a user, and reports that it installs spyware or malware are "absolutely false."
"You can install the game on three computers – at your office, at home or for your family. What you can’t do is make and distribute a thousand copies online," EA Maxis has said in official statements to the community.
[*UPDATE: A few hours after the publication of this article, the reviews were back on Amazon. The online retailer explains to consumer site Kotaku that the feedback removal was a "site glitch." ]