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EA loosens electronic locks on Spore game

September 20, 2008|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

The consumer is always right. Electronic Arts Inc., stung by a siege of criticism from gamers who took issue with the copyright restrictions the company placed on its Spore game, issued an apology Friday and said it would loosen electronic locks on the game.

Spore, one of the most hotly anticipated computer games of the decade, was released two weeks ago after more than six years of development.

"We've received complaints from a lot of customers who we recognize and respect," said Frank Gibeau, president of EA's Games Label, the division responsible for Spore. "We need to adapt our policy to accommodate our legitimate consumers."

Trying to avoid widespread unauthorized copying of Spore, EA had restricted to three the number of computers on which players could install the game. But buyers chafed at the limit imposed by the digital rights management policy. They complained that the Redwood City, Calif., company didn't adequately disclose the policy and that it treated them as if they were software pirates.

Some buyers also said the policy failed to recognize that players often upgrade their computers and need to migrate software to new machines.

The customer anger erupted largely on video game message boards and in user reviews on Amazon.com's Spore page. The game's ratings have been hammered by critics of the installation restriction, with nearly 2,500 of the 2,900 Amazon reviewers giving Spore only one star out of five.

EA executives said the controversy caught them off guard. The company said Friday that it would boost the limit to five computers. EA also will allow players to transfer the game an unlimited number of times so long as each copy is installed on no more than five computers at the same time.

EA also said it might let players go beyond that limit, depending on the circumstances.

"We assumed that consumers understand piracy is a huge problem," Gibeau said. "We have found that 75% of our consumers install and play any particular game on only one machine, and less than 1% ever try to play on more than three different machines."

The firestorm marred one of the company's most important game launches this year. Developed by Will Wright, who also created the Sims franchise, Spore lets players build creatures that evolve into civilizations and eventually take over distant galaxies.

Analysts said EA took the right approach. "The key to making copyright restrictions work is to offer value," said Billy Pidgeon, an analyst with IDC.

In the future, most games will have similar anti-piracy measures that require players to authenticate legitimate software over the Internet before playing, he said.

"Online authentication is inevitable," Pidgeon said. "People who complain about it tend to be a vocal minority. A lot of them share cracked software and won't be happy with any solution. In the end, this will blow over because Spore is a fun game, and people will want to try it."

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alex.pham@latimes.com

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