EA loosens locks on Spore

The consumer is always right.

Electronic Arts, stung by a deluge of criticism from gamers who took issue with the copyright restrictions the company placed on the Spore game, issued an apology last week and said it would loosen the 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 recognise and respect," said Frank Gibeau, president of the EA Games Label, the division responsible for Spore.

"We need to adapt our policy to accommodate our legitimate consumers."

Trying to avoid widespread unauthorised copying of Spore, EA had restricted, to three, the number of computers on which players could install the game.

But buyers chaffed at the limit imposed by the digital-rights management policy.

They complained that EA didn't adequately disclose the policy and that it treated them like software pirates.

Some customers also said the policy failed to recognise that players often upgraded their computers and needed to migrate their 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 2500 of the 2900 reviewers giving Spore only one star out of five.

EA executives said the controversy caught them off guard.

The company said it would boost the limit to five computers and let players transfer the game to other computers as long as each copy of the game was installed on a maximum of five machines at the same time.

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

"We assumed that consumers understand piracy is a huge problem," Mr Gibeau said.

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 civilisations 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, analyst with IDC.

"Online authentication is inevitable," Mr 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."

- Alex Pham

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