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Defective by Design

I was going to buy Mass Effect today - an SF RPG from Bioware. I loved their Baldur's Gate games, and Knights of the Old Republic too. I'm buying it on PC (although I have just bought an XBOX 360**) because things are just better on PC.

But I'm not going to.


The answer has a lot to do with why Spore, perhaps the most eagerly awaited game of the year, which has got very good reviews in the magazines, has been rated 1 out of 5 by 353 of the 498 people to have reviewed it on amazon.co.uk and 2,628 of the 3,107 to have reviewed it on amazon.com.

Both games are stricken with digital rights management ('DRM'). If you buy Spore, or Mass Effect, you are only allowed to 'activate' each game three times. You buy the game, take it home and install it*: activation 1. Your spouse likes the idea of the game and would like to have her own account so she can play it on the same computer (bunn has been interested in Spore): activation 2. She decides that she really likes it and would like to play it while you play Football Manager, so she installs it on her laptop: activation 3. You buy a new graphics card, or a new computer, or you have to reinstall Windows etc: activation 4 - uh-oh. To activate the game a fourth time, you have to contact the publishers (EA) and send them a photo of your original receipt (assuming you still have it) and the game disc. You then have to convince them that you aren't a software pirate; by some accounts this isn't easy. Otherwise you have to buy another copy of the game.

The DRM works by secretly installing a second program, alongside the game. This second program is impossible to uninstall. The secret, undisclosed installation of the DRM program is the subject of a class action lawsuit in an American federal court.

Has this stopped piracy of Spore? Of course not. The copy protection was cracked within four days of release. According to the Washington Post, Spore is well on its way to being the most pirated game in history. The pirated version has everything the official version has, except for the DRM. So it's a better product. And since the DRM on the official version may well be illegal, the guilt that would prevent law-abiding citizens going to the likes of bitTorrent might not apply.

So I haven't bought Mass Effect. And I won't be buying Spore.

* Also, bear in mind that the DRM software will flat out refuse to install the game on certain DVD-ROM drives.

** ...and pre-ordered Guitar Hero: World Tour.