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Spore: Most Pirated Game Ever Thanks to DRM

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Posted: Sun Sep 14, 2008 10:07
Author: Blocked
How do you measure the failure of the copy protections that software companies place on their media products? In the case of Electronic Arts' highly-anticipated game "Spore," just count the pirates.

As of Thursday afternoon, "Spore" had been illegally downloaded on file-sharing networks using BitTorrent peer-to-peer transfer 171,402 times since Sept. 1, according to Big Champagne, a peer-to-peer research firm. That's hardly a record: a popular game often hits those kinds of six-figure piracy numbers, says Big Champagne Chief Executive Eric Garland.

But not usually so quickly. In just the 24-hour period between Wednesday and Thursday, illegal downloaders snagged more than 35,000 copies, and, as of Thursday evening, that rate of downloads was still accelerating. "The numbers are extraordinary," Garland says. "This is a very high level of torrent activity even for an immensely popular game title."

Electronic Arts (nasdaq: ERTS - news - people ) had hoped to limit users to installing the game only three times through its use of digital rights management software, or DRM. But not only have those constraints failed, says Garland, they may have inadvertently spurred the pirates on.
On several top file-sharing sites, "Spore"'s most downloaded BitTorrent "tracker"--a file that maps which users had the game available for downloading--also included step-by-step instructions for how to disassemble the copy protections, along with a set of numerical keys for breaking the software's encryption. For many users, that made the pirated version more appealing than the legitimate one.

"By downloading this torrent, you are doing the right thing," wrote one user going by the name of "deathkitten" on the popular file-sharing site The Pirate Bay. "You are letting [Electronic Arts] know that people won't stand for their ridiculously draconian 'DRM' viruses."

"You have the power to make this the most pirated game ever, to give corporate bastards a virtual punch in the face," deathkitten added in another comment.

Another user with the handle "dsmx" sounded more conflicted. "I feel bad about pirating this game I really wanted to buy it but EA put DRM on it and my policy is that any form of DRM means an instant not parting with money," he wrote. "When I pay for something I want to own it not rent it with EA deciding when I'm not allowed to play it anymore."

The copy protections on "Spore" were equally detested by a less piracy-prone crowd at Amazon.com. By Thursday evening, the game had received more than 2,100 reviews, nearly 2,000 of which had given it a rating of one star out of five. Most negative reviews--including messages titled "No way, no how, no DRM" and "DRM makes me a sad panda"--cited the game's restrictions as a sore spot.

Electronic Arts calls those criticisms unfair. "EA has not changed our basic DRM copy protection system," says corporate communications manager Mariam Sughayer. "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."

Electronic Arts compares its DRM solution to systems in place on services like iTunes that similarly limits the number of computers that can play a particular song. Sughayer also points out that less than 25% of EA users attempt to install the company's games on more than one computer, and less than 1% attempt to install it on more than three.

Peer-to-peer file theft is a growing problem for game developers. According to Big Champagne, games, along with television shows, are the two fastest growing types of media trafficked on peer-to-peer networks, though music remains the most often stolen medium. See "In Pictures: Why Web Pirates Can't Be Touched."

"PC games are massively pirated because you can pirate them," says Brad Wardell, chief executive of Plymouth, Mich.-based gaming company Stardock. Wardell argues that the driver for piracy is user-friendliness--not price. Instead of digital locks, Stardock requires users to use unique serial numbers which it monitors, in conjunction with IP addresses.

"Our focus is on getting people who would buy our software to buy it," Wardell says, rather than trying to strong-arm people unlikely to pay for the products into become paying customers.

DRM only limits the ability of consumers who wouldn't typically pirate media to make copies or share it with friends and family, agrees Big Champagne's Garland. But because encryption is so easily broken by savvier--and more morally flexible--users, it does little to stop the flood of intellectual property pirated over the Internet, he contends.

"DRM can encourage the best customers to behave slightly better," he says. "It will never address the masses of non-customers downloading your product."

but make drm on a game and if pay for it you can only install it 3 times wtf is that about.to stop pirat downlaod game come on ffs

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