Will Wright's long awaited sim game Spore seems to have become the focus of a anti-DRM Internet flash mob who seem determined to sink the game on Amazon.com by dishing out poor ratings.
As things stand right now, the Amazon.com review page for Spore is pretty grim reading for any EA executives keeping an eye on how the game has been received. Out of 135 reviews currently posted to the site, 116 rate the game at 1 star (the lowest rating on Amazon.com), with 6 reviews giving the game 2 stars, another 6 giving it 4 stars and 7 giving it the full 5 stars (however, two of these reviews are from 2006 - dating back to when the game was announced). The average rating now stands at 1.5 stars.
Now, I think that it's pretty obvious that if you allow people to post a review relating to a product despite the fact that they haven't actually bought that product through the outlet where they are posting the review, the system is open to all sorts of abuse (if you don't believe me, take a look through the Apple App store at how paid downloads regularly get panned for not being free). However, even where there is an open mike review system, usually things tend to balance out and the negative reviews posted by people who obviously haven't had contact with the product they are reviewing are balanced out by positive reviews from people who are getting ready to buy. This doesn't seem to be happening with Spore, and the negative reviews just seem to keep on pouring in (in just the time it's taken me to write this, the number of 1 star reviews has gone up to 120).
The focus of the negative review campaign is the DRM mechanism that the game employs. I've not bought the game but from what I gather Spore requires online activation and after three activations you have to phone EA and attempt to get activations added (technical note - the system in use is called SecuROM PA). The idea is that this mechanism, combined with the requirement to have the disc in the drive while playing the game (technical note - SecuROM v7), makes it difficult to pirate the game. Ironically, the game was leaked several days before the official released date and a quick search seems to indicate that pirated copies, along with mechanisms for bypassing the copy protection mechanisms, are freely available on the Internet. So it seems that the copy protection schemes only inconveniences legitimate customers.
Over the past few years we've focused a lot on the music industry and how it has attempted to use DRM to control distribution. While DRM in this market segment has been unpopular, anti-DRM campaigns have largely fallen flat when it comes to attracting widespread public attention because of the fragmented nature of music. Games are a much easier target given the monolithic nature of their release - campaigners only need to spread the word on a handful of specific online outlets to reach a wide audience. A quick read through the Amazon reviews of Spore seems to suggest that the negative comments are already putting people off from buying the game.
How long until EA removes the DRM on Spore? Any bets?
1 star reviews now stand at 141 ...
[UPDATE: Over the past few hours the reviews have become even more brutal and the number of 1 star reviews is up to 224 out of a total of 261 reviews.]