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 Spore  & Piracy: EA, ESA, Analysts Weigh In
Spore & Piracy: EA, ESA, Analysts Weigh In Exclusive
September 29, 2008 | By Leigh Alexander

September 29, 2008 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Embattled over the SecuROM digital rights management controversy regarding Spore, Electronic Arts is now challenging assertions that the copy protection is resulting in sales losses.

EA recently revealed that it has sold 1 million units of Spore since launch. At the same time, TorrentFreak, a weblog dedicated to aggregating news for the BitTorrent P2P protocol, is claiming that Spore has been downloaded 500,000 times on BitTorrent alone, saying it may become "the most pirated game ever."

The editors at TorrentFreak suggest, "The idea behind DRM is that it will stop people from pirating the game, but in reality, it often has the opposite effect."

In addition, researcher Big Champagne told Forbes that while high levels of torrent activity are common for major PC releases, the fast pace at which Spore's download numbers accelerated was unusual. Big Champagne's Eric Garland said the DRM constraints "may have inadvertently spurred the pirates on."

So could the DRM have created more lost sales for Electronic Arts than it prevented? Mariam Sughayer of EA's corporate communications department says this isn't the case.

Not So Fast

"Stepping aside from the whole issue of DRM, people need to recognize that every BitTorrent download doesnít represent a successful copy of a game, let alone a lost sale," she tells Gamasutra.

In estimating losses to the industry attributable to piracy, the Entertainment Software Association has come to a similar conclusion, says Dan Hewitt, the ESA's senior director of communications.

"Itís important to remember that itís not a one-for-one equation," Hewitt says. "Our calculation isnít such that we say that every game thatís been stolen is a sale loss."

Because of the innate complexities, Hewitt says the ESA aims to be "conservative" in its methods of quantifying losses -- another reason for this is that often piracy attempts are only partially successful and result in sales anyway, and it's hard to parse those situations out.

Downplaying the piracy issue in this particular case, EA's Sughayer says: "Weíve talked to people that made several unsuccessful attempts to download the game and ended up with incomplete, slow, buggy or unusable code. In one case, a file identified as Spore contained a virus."

"To say that every download represents a successful copy of the game Ė- or that thereís been more than 500K copies downloaded -- thatís just not true."

Perhaps oddly, these comments represent an almost total role reversal from the normal dialogue on the topic from publishers and industry associations -- which usually stresses sales lost to piracy.

Inevitable Authentication

IDC analyst Billy Pidgeon authored a market analysis report on the online PC industry titled 'U.S. Online PC Gaming Industry Forecast 2008-2012', and he also disapproves of the assumption of equity between downloads and lost sales.

"Iím glad that publishers are not adhering to that view," says Pidgeon. "This needs to be an above-board, truthful discussion... by coming from that assumption, I think that puts publishers on a higher ground."

But just because sales losses are hard to quantify doesn't mean that even casual piracy doesn't threaten the industry, he warns. "Itís arguable that casual piracy in PC games threatens the market in such a way that it doesnít threaten one particular publisher, but it could even threaten the experience for the end users."

Valve's Great Idea

But in the crossfire between the need to prevent piracy and the need to satisfy users, what's the best solution? Pidgeon says that Valve's got the right idea with its Steam service, which is visible, obvious to the user, and adds additional value.

"I do think that online authentication is inevitable," he says. "If you look at something like Steam, thatís basically what it is Ė you sign into Steam, itís proof that youíve paid for the software, and it gives you features, so you are allowed to [install it on any machine you're logged on to], and you also get additional downloads, patches, fixes, and there is a built-in community."

And companies who offer services like Valve's benefit from having more of an infrastructure in place to potentially sell that additional content. "I do think that's where things are headed," says Pidgeon, "games becoming more of a service, where monetization occurs because of that authentication."

What Should EA Do?

But that still doesn't answer lingering questions about whether EA made the right decision with Spore's DRM, or what options it has now to cope with the wave of backlash -- whether or not that backlash is deserved.

Pidgeon praised EA's responsiveness shortly after Spore's release, when the company reacted quickly to user concerns by loosening restrictions on the game. But at the same time, EA "can't just cave in," he says.

"You could remove the DRM... and I think that that would be even a possibility in the future, when youíre looking at an authentication service that people see some value in subscribing to," says Pidgeon.

"I think thatís the gap -Ė EA and other companies really have to look at adopting that sort of Steam model."

Storm In A Teacup?

Interestingly, Gamasutra's Chris Remo has been speaking on this subject in a editorial about Spore and DRM published late last week.

He commented: "I can't help but feel a lot of the vocal protesters are simply getting caught up in the righteous fury of the moment", adding: "Though it's not a popular view, in my mind a lot of gamers are overreacting -- look how many people buy music through iTunes, whose DRM mechanics are hardly lenient."

Remo's conclusion? That the public -- and indeed, press -- frenzy may be getting out of control and perpetuating a backlash beyond the scope of the original problem.

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This user violated Gamasutraís Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Arthur Times
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I don't think the backlash is against DRM as it is against SecuROM. They put in SecuROM and the game can still be pirated which begs the question. If such a hated and invasive form of DRM has failed then why is it still in your product?

Gamer's hate DRM but they especially hate SecuROM. I think the backlash is more against SecuROM than DRM. SecuROM has failed miserably but companies still keep using it and gamer's hate that particular form of DRM.

E Zachary Knight
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I don't understand why the consumer's point of view is not in this article. The ECA's president Hal Halpin has given his thoughts on why this happened:

I am glad to see that the industry is changing its mind about the 1:1 ration of pirated copies to lost sales. That is a step in the right direction at least.

But that does beg the question: Would they feel the same way if not for the massive PR disaster this has been.

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Whoever the corporate exec at EA was that approved the Spore DRM needs to have his butt kicked out the door. Why? Because the purpose of DRM is to lower piracy, whereas their DRM increased it. Simply failing would have been better than achieving the opposite intended effect...this isn't a failure, this is an epic failure.

Ephriam Knight, great points. Now I just want to see Will Wright go on record in an interview trashing the corporate side of EA for screwing this up.

David Saunders
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I also chose not to buy Spore b/c of SecuRom, not specifically DRM. I haven't downloaded a pirated copy either, which I guess highlights the fact that you have to look at sales losses from both a pirate standpoint as well as consumer advocacy standpoint.

Sheridan Layman
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I hope that the market does go towards a Steam.

1) An electronic distribution/authorization system could address piracy to the satisfaction of both corporation and consumer.

2) A centralized log in that allows you to install and uninstall packages that you have purchased.

3) Eliminates the need for having and keeping up with a CD/DVD to load or run the game.

3) Customers could gain the opportunity to buy past products at a reduced price. When corporations purchase studios, the could place that studios older and less popular titles on the distribution system at a reduced price thus capitalizing on that studios past successes.

4) It could address the issue of distribution cost, no more CD/DVD production, packaging, or shipping.

Another thing, it addresses the whining that all the publishers and studios are engaging in now in regards to Game Stop. Game Stop is suppling a service that the Publishers and Studios have declined to provide. Allow people to buy older games and games or buy games at a later date at a reduced price. Imagine if all distribution was over the internet and consumers who got tired of games could "trade" them back in for 5 dollars off the purchase of a new title. Or if I could trade my token for that title to another consumer for a $15 fee paid to the publisher by the receiver. Or any number of combinations and permutations. That would eliminate a the market niche that Game Stop rules and create another revenue stream for the publisher/studio.

The abandoning of copy protection on a physical medium could eliminate the ownership headaches for consumers, provide a mechanism by which the publisher/studio could validate authorized ownership, and provide additional revenue streams that the publishing/developing sides of the business have not seen fit to exploit - thus allowing third parties like gamestop to exploit those niches.

Business Owners - 1) stop bitching and evolve. or

2) pay someone else to do it for you (like Steam)

3) Continue Business as Usual and allow Pirates and Gamestop to exploit the niches you fail to address.

MaurŪcio Gomes
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I also know another sale lost because of DRM... Me!

I am since 5 years ago avoiding anything that is DRM heavy, I do not own a iPod, I do not own a iTunes software, and the only games that has DRM that I have, are cracked (not that they are pirated... ok, they are... but those are few games, I like to buy original games), that started because of Starforce, that not only was draconian but also damaged your computer (even if in software only)

They only are not noticing the huge amount of sale lossess because of DRM that even prevents the game from running at all...

Example: Brazil is a great market, but internet is a rare thing here, making single-player games need internet is stupid here, also some DRM softwares do not work properly on our computers, that are mostly custom built and from second hand parts, I know several friends that REGRET buying Spore, because Spore do not work on their machine for stupid reasons (worst example: Spore only works after the guy disables SLI on the Bios... Man, what person that bought a SLI capable machine would like a game that do not work with SLI?)

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Ditto, it's SecuROM that I object to, not specifically the idea of DRM. While I think it's absurd to limit me to 3 (or 5) installations, that particular issue isn't what's preventing me from purchasing the game. I've done my research on SecuRom and concluded that I don't want that on my computer.

For the record, I haven't pirated the game either; I choose to not play it at all.

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To many hardcore gamers, EA is an evil, selfish corporation. DRM issues serve to reinforce this stereotype and provide a line of attack for those with an axe to grind with EA.

Alan Rimkeit
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SecuROM has nothing to do with stopping piracy and is really a Trojan Horse style attack against the selling of used video games. It is that simple. Companies in Japan tried and failed to stop the selling of used games. This is American companies attempt to do just the same thing. Even Bunjie was bitching about the "lot sales" of Halo 3 due to used games being sold. It is all a crock of crap I say.

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Anyone realize that they can buy spore, then download spore "illegally" and enter your valid cdkey, crack the program, and when in-game, register and link your cdkey with the spore database without even activating drm right?

MaurŪcio Gomes
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But you realize that Spore is marketed at really casual market (will wright said that he even preferred lower ratings if the game sold more), so how you explain to a grandma that she can buy a game, not install it, downlaod it ilegally (something that will already probably shock her if she is against piracy), then isntall the pirated copy, and then use the bought CDKey?

Brian Hagan
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M X:

Actually, I did think of that. Technically, if you're using a crack that alters the code then you're still breaking the law (by breaking the EULA) regardless of whether you own a legit license or not. I'm not sure of the legality of using code that was altered by someone else.

That said, I still think you have the right idea. EA gets their money and I get my game (minus DRM)--everyone wins.

I Already
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Gamasutra - you're still avoiding the main issue here.

Read the comments to previous articles on this: the DRM for spore is not about piracy, it's about preventing second-hand sales (e.g.
joining-the-dots/ ).

This has been covered by a lot of people by now, and would surely make a much more interesting story for you to followup and do some research on?

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Most people don't even know what DRM is and couldn't care less, so we should just thank EA for making the issue so popular.

Also, everyone is busy talking about the bad DRM, but I think more important is that Spore is a bad game. As far as I can see it is supposed to be a mix of E.V.O.: Search for Eden, Darwin's Pond and The Sims, but it is more "The Sims Reloaded" than anything else.

If the "demo" had done its work, people would see the cell stage is Flow with pretty graphics, the creature stage is a bad action mini-game and the tribe and civ stages are bad strategy mini-games. The whole thing is wrapped with the space stage - and that had something going, but it just doesn't justify the rest.

So, 1 million copies sold after all the bad PR (their fault) and a game that (minus hype) is far from revolutionary and great and blah blah? They should be grateful they sold so many copies.

Magnus Soderberg
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I certainly cant understand why the industry is doing things this way, and i am a game design student so i will be working in this industry.. hopefully.

I know one thing for certain though. And that is that i will NEVER ever buy another game from EA, until they change their policy about DRM etc, if any of their games are good enough to play i will just download a cracked version cause then i know that i wont get any "virus" installed by EA in my computer.

In my view i think games shouldnt have any copy protection at all and there is a simple reason for it... IT DOESNT HELP!!! Any game that has a copy protection comes out within a week on the torrentsites so it's just a waste of money to implement it.

If ppl want to buy a game they will if it's good enough. If ppl dont think it's good enough they will most likely just download it and try it, and IF it really is good anyway they will most likely tell their friends about it and they might go buy it instead.

So to the industry i say, get ur heads out of the sand and realize that you have to change and adopt to the new world. Stop living in the stoneage.

I Already
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Magnus -

Copy protection is a necessity, for a bunch of reasons, but it needs to be at an *appropriate* level. In most cases, that is: "just enough to dissuade casual copying, and to make it clear to the casual consumer that it IS a copyrighted product, and that copying it IS illegal".

But there are many ways to skin this particular cat ... c.f. articles that Gamasutra ran previously, such as - and