Archive for May, 2008


EA doesn’t get piracy

Posted in General at 9:28 pm by jw

If you haven’t noticed, EA has decided to put some particularly burdensome restrictions on their big pair of games due out later this year on the PC: Spore and Mass Effect.  Essentially the game itself registers with EA, and then checks every 10 days to make sure EA still lets you run the game on your PC.  Not only that, but you only get 3 activations on different machines and it’s completely unclear if you can actually uninstall to get an activation back.  To summarize, here’s how it all works for a legitimate customer:

  1. Buy the game at the store.
  2. Install the game.
  3. Run the game.
  4. The game asks for your “Activation code”.
  5. The game sends this activation code, along with an identifier based on your computer to EA.
  6. EA marks off the activation with the identifier and returns “ok”, if it hasn’t seen more than 2 other identifiers.
  7. At least every 10 days, the game sends the activation code and identifier back to EA and if EA sees the activation and code in its database then it sends back “ok”.
  8. If the game hasn’t had an “ok” in the last 10 days then it refuses to run.

The problem is this has a lot of potential failure modes for the end user that will limit their experience and sour their opinion of EA:

  • The end user may legitimately not have access to the internet for 10 days and will be locked out of their single player game through no fault of their own.
  • The end user may upgrade their machine, or legitimately install it on different machines they own thus using up their 3 activations (this happened a lot to people that bought Bioshock).
  • There is no apparent way to remove an activation once you’ve used it.
  • Despite assurances from Bioware that they will release a patch to disable this check if they turn off the activation servers, it means we have to trust them when they are making it very, very clear that they don’t trust us.

What’s a bigger issue is EA’s bought into Macrovision’s lies that schemes like this will limit their “losses” to piracy (which is a debateable point anyway given everyone I know that pirates games would never buy the game if it wasn’t available to download in the first place).  The sum effect is it will increase the support costs of EA in dealing with this activation stupidity while doing nothing to combat the pirates who will end up with a better product.  Here’s the same timeline for a pirate:

  1. Download the game.
  2. Install the game.
  3. Run the game.
  4. There is no 4.  The game just runs and doesn’t bug you any more.

Get it now?  The pirated product has more to offer the end user because it doesn’t hinder their enjoyment of the product or have the same sort of failure modes that the legitimate version has.  Putting restrictions into a product that only hinder the legitimate users isn’t the way to stop piracy – put in online stuff that rewards people for buying the game and you’ll go a LOT further.

Update: EA has backed down on both Spore and Mass Effect and removed the “every 10 days” thing after the large number of complaints that came through.  The new policy requires you to have the CD in the drive when you activate.  The down side is that you are still limited to 3 activations, but EA says that getting more is just a matter of a phone call (much like XP or Vista).

EA still doesn’t get piracy, but it seems they sure do get public opinion on invasive DRM.