Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spore (four)

I know it seems like I'm making a post a day about this--wait, I AM making a post today about this--but like I said, this issue has legs.

Remember what I said about fragmenting the protest base? Here are a few excerpts from an e-mail interview MTV multiplayer did with EA spokesperson Mariam Sughayer.

First off, EA is trying to claim that the issue surrounding running out of activations only applies to a few users. Here are the numbers they presented:
Spore (main game)
• Total activations: 437138
• Users activating on only 1 machine: 86%
• Users activating on more than 1 machine: 14%
• User trying to activate on more than 3 machines: 0.4%

They also included the activation numbers for Mass Effect, which showed that the 3+ activation users were below 1% as well.

Does that matter? in a tactical sense, no. What matters is that the 1% has been effectively vocal. That also doesn't include people who have objections to limited installations, but haven't tried to install on more than three machines.

Plus, and this is quite funny, EA sent this information shortly after the interview went live:
UPDATE - An EA representative has clarified that the above numbers cover a sampling of the people who have bought “Spore” and should not be interpreted as a representation of sales data for the game.

Really? Because to me, those numbers mean nothing if they're "sampled." I think EA just accidentally released sales information. Oops.

Here's more:
Complaint: A legitimately bought copy of “Spore” can’t be activated on more than three different computers — ever.
EA Response: That will be changed, according to the EA spokesperson, who told Multiplayer that the current limit on the number of computers that can be associated with a single copy of “Spore” is “very similar to a solution that iTunes has. The difference is that with iTunes you can de-authorize a computer [that you no longer want associated with your iTunes content]. Right now, with our solution, you can’t. But there is a patch coming for that.” The official timeframe for that patch is “near future.”

That makes sense, both common sense and tactical sense. Like I said, what I expect EA to do is make one change at a time, hoping that each change will splinter off a few people who had previously been dissatisfied.

Complaint: Consumers fear there is spyware being installed by the SecurROM copy-protection software incorporated into the game.
EA Response: “There’s no viruses, no spyware and no malware…We have located a download off of one of the Torrent sites that is a virus. The thing I would say to the consumer audience is that, if you’re concerned with a virus on your computer, the chances of that are infinitely higher when you’re downloading off of a hacked version than it would be downloading the authentic game. We would never put any spyware on anyone’s computers. That’s not going to happen.”

That's a tough sell for EA: large corporation says "never." Of course, the definition of "spyware" may not be consistent from consumer to corporation. It's going to be very difficult to convince a large number of consumers with a promise. Promises can be very convincing when given by individuals. By corporations, though, not so much.

Complaint: The “Spore” instruction manual claims that a purchaser of “Spore” can allow multiple users to create online accounts with a single copy of the game. The game does not allow this.
EA Response: The company has already stated this is a misprint in the manual and referred Multiplayer back to
a statement issued by “Spore” executive producer Lucy Bradshaw apologizing for “the confusion.” But EA has not replied to Multiplayer follow-up questions regarding why the company implemented this restriction and what EA makes of complaints from households that include multiple people who want to have separate “Spore” accounts associated with a single copy of the game.

I wish I was smart enough to understand why this seem so important to EA, but I'm not. I have no idea why they want this restriction, and why they would continue to hold onto it in the face of mounting criticism. Obviously, it must be worth something in the larger scheme of things, but exactly what is not known at this point. Well, not known by me.

Complaint: The requirement for a “Spore” user to have their ownership of the game automatically authenticated every time they access the game’s online features threatens to render the game useless if EA someday turns the “Spore” servers off.
EA Response: “If we were to ever turn off the servers on the game, we would put through a patch before that to basically make the DRM null and void. We’re never walking away from the game and making it into a situation where people aren’t going to be able to play it.”

Never? Really?

Here's the problem with that believing that statement: EA's own CEO, John Riccitiello. Remember his interview with Venture Beat less than three months ago?
"I don't think the investors give a sh*t about our quality. They care about our earnings per share. They wait for it to happen. We had three years where we didn't make our expectations. If I were an investor, I would wait and see. That's fine with me," Riccitiello explained.

Oh, yeah--THAT guy.

Inconveniently, a corporation's real responsibility is to its shareholders first. So if shareholders don't give a shit when it comes to the quality of the product being sold to consumers, do they give a shit about whether the corporation is honest to consumers?

Doesn't sound like it, does it?

So does this mean EA will screw us in the future? Not necessarily. Does it mean we should trust them? Not necessarily.

As always, let the buyer beware.

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