EA DRM redux

(in case you hadn’t been following, this year EA has been putting some particularly nasty DRM on their most-hyped games such as Spore and the Crysis expansion; but unlike previous years, there’s been public outrage)

A couple of things of note here:

EA thinks it can get away with what many consider lieing and cheating – and then having the CEO publically insult the customers

  • Lies: they claim it’s all about piracy (the evidence suggests strongly that it’s about preventing 2nd hand sales while shoring up the artificially high prices that EA’s products retail for)
  • Cheating: EA’s PR people claim you can always get around their dodgy restrictive-use business practice by calling a phone line, that they own and operate (there’s no reason they need to keep that phone line open, and there’s no guarantees that they will honour the customer request)
  • Insulting: the new CEO, who came in on grandiose claims of reforming the company after the scandal of EA-spouse which revealed some very nasty internal practices of the company (apparently institutionalized abuse of its own staff), spoke to one of the largest trade-press websites and told them the people complaining were probably just pirates or stupid (*) (again, this is clearly not the case)

(*) “half of them were pirates, and the other half were people caught up in something that they didn’t understand” – see halfway down the article.

Apparently, little or no lessons were learnt with the public outcry over Spore

…in that the damage seems to be happening all over again with Crysis: Warhead, the same identical problems (c.f. the massive negative Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk ratings). I would have thought that a publisher the size and power of EA would have managed to prevent “another Spore” – if they had wanted to.

Maybe the fallout isn’t so bad this time? There aren’t quite so many negative reviews this time around, but then Crysis:Warhead wasn’t so big a game as Spore, either in marketing or in predicted sales figures.

Amazon changes it’s mind about its policy on user-reviews more often than a Politician trying to appease the electorate

They’re there! Amazon is full of negative User-Reviews!

They’re gone! They’ve all been deleted!

They’re back again! They’ve been reinstated!

(this happened with Spore. Fair enough. They weren’t sure what to do).

But … reading the comments and off-site commentary apparently it just happened all over again with Crysis: Warhead. Huh? Why? What’s going on over at Amazon HQ?

(I’m getting visions of engineers in a central control room fighting over the keyboard of a machine running an SQL database client, alternately deleting and reinstating the comments, while a prematurely-aged sysadmin huddles in the corner weeping to himself)

The customers are refusing to be tricked into damning themselves; what appear to be EA’s shills are being spotted and beaten at their own game

Witness this fascinating comment on Amazon.co.uk review page for Crysis: Warhead:

C. Chapman says:
[Customers don’t think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway.]
I’m so glad to see Amazon has taken steps to filter out all of the useless nonsense being said by the DRM protestors.

Brian W. says:
Hey dude, Amazon just reposted all of the bad reviews and this game is down to the 1.5 stars it had a few days ago.

J. Schwarz says:
Don’t even bother responding to this troll Chapman, he is obviously a company man who is afraid that EA may go out of business. In fact he truly has something to worry about b/c the only other job he could get was shoveling the bs and for that he had to pass an IQ test which he failed.

WolfPup says:
I’m not sure which is more sad. Is Chapman an actual person, who honestly holds such crazy beliefs? Or is Chapman a corporate troll, who thinks that insulting non-crazy people will somehow make their activation DRM acceptable?

Either possibility is frightening.

Paul Tinsley says:
I think Chapman is employed to post. He does use a classic strategy that involves discrediting the thread by making the discussion descend to a personal level. He also attempts to alienate the protest away from the topic by declaring them to either be criminals or a small sector of the community that isn’t even a targeted customer. It’s textbook “digital” insurgency or deep strike, just choose your analogy and most will fit.

WolfPup says:
Interesting. I guess I just thought someone working for a corporation would be more professional about it or something, but…yeah…I probably didn’t think that through very well. They’re not above using any types of tactics.

I guess he’s still a corporate shill even if he’s not paid, but I’m leaning heavily towards him being paid after reading your post.

Paul Tinsley says:
Think of Chapman as a sort of “troubleshooter”. He’s not the sort to polish the company front line, he’s the clandestine stealth agent, sent forth to discredit the argument, to make people think they we can’t hold a solid debate without being personal and also to convince casual readers that our complaint is irrelevant. If Chapman was just another gamer like you or I, he wouldn’t waste so much time trying to make us all “look like idiots” as he might put it.

WolfPup says:
Yeah, you’re probably right. Unfortunately I have a pretty low opinion of how stupid and/or evil people can be, at this point in my life so I don’t really doubt there could be someone out there that clueless about these (or any other host of) issues :-(

Paul Tinsley says:
Well, I will be called delusional and paranoid for stating my opinion. Neither are true, as anybody who thinks that limited activations is better than no activations isn’t thinking like a consumer, they are working to a different agenda.

It doesn’t so much matter whether the OP was a shill or not, it’s the reaction that interests me.

I remember a time (“in the olden days, when I were a lad”) when the audience who A) cared and B) understood the issues were generally teenagers and a very narrow band (niche within a niche) of hardcore gamers with little experience of expressing themselves or dealing with sly cunning bastards. Those people would easily get sucked into tit-for-tat rants and regularly derailed (and sidelined) in such conversations. It was almost too easy. I was once one of them :).

Nowadays, I believe there are three differences.

Firstly, the audience who cares is much more mass-market (mostly IMHO thanks to the arrival of Playstation in 1995, and Sony’s successful marketing of it to young-professionals instead of just children), skews somewhat older (although still noticeably heavily biased towards young and male for many of the PC games, action PC games in particular), and is generally more experienced with the gamut of humanity and the tactics they employ.

Secondly, and this one surprised me, the subset who grok the issues seems to have massively expanded over the past 10 years. If you read through the negative comments, the arguments against DRM are often cogent, direct, and well-informed. Views that were once only understood and appreciated by readers of TheRegister seem to be (finally!) making their way into the mindsets of the public at large. I am beginning to think that we may yet manage to rescue ourselves and our futures (and those of our children) from the idiots who seek to make Copyright last 100 years, put a 10-year minimum jailterm on anyone who copies a *digital file*, and want to force everyone to carry compulsory, biometric, ID cards.

Finally, the audience of hardcore gamers themselves seems to be a lot more skilful at manipulation, especially the “people hacking”/social engineering skills. They are much harder to deceive, and much harder to defeat, compared to the days of Usenet (and here I’m very happy to accept I may just be deceiving myself with my own sentimental memories). If that’s the case, I believe it’s a direct result of the increased prevalence of online communities, especially out-of-game communities, and to a lesser extent in-game communities: these things have made people better at dealing with other people, in ways both good and bad.

2 thoughts on “EA DRM redux

  1. Andrew Crystall

    Incidentally, it’s also giving SecuROM a “no way I am using that” name.

    Trying to explain that SecuROM is often used for simply copy protectionm and the odeous features are add-ons and you need to investigate each simply get dismissed.

    In any case, I note that Sins of a Solar Empire, DRMless, has sold 500,000, 20% online, according to Stardock. Thats impressive.

  2. adam Post author

    Yes, and I have an alternate theory as to what’s happening, since the “cogent, well formed arguments” against DRM are perhaps a little too good sometimes, and since C:WH wasn’t such an important title, and some apparently DRM-less titles have been getting the same level of outrcy: we’re just seeing the output of an organized lobbying group.

    Tin-foil hats at the ready…

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