Gaming Not-Roundup: Is Pirating Spore the Right Thing to Do?

Nathan Grayson

A few days ago, we reported a novel attack on Will Wright's critically acclaimed title, Spore. The game, which comes inextricably chained to a monolithic slab of DRM, provoked a sea of gamers to crash headfirst into Amazon.com's user review section. Soon, the tides receded, taking with them all but a single star from Spore's user rating. Certainly, this demonstration of gamerly ire was more meaningful than a simple Internet petition, but those brave souls have yet to receive custom apology letters from EA with realistic-looking, printed-on signatures and tear blats, so a rousing success their movement was not.

Now, Forbes sends word that indignant gamers have peeled back their kid gloves to reveal cruel hooks. Where protest failed, they hope that theft will succeed.

"By downloading this torrent, you are doing the right thing," wrote one user going by the name of "deathkitten" on the popular file-sharing site The Pirate Bay. "You are letting [Electronic Arts] know that people won't stand for their ridiculously draconian 'DRM' viruses."

"You have the power to make this the most pirated game ever, to give corporate bastards a virtual punch in the face," deathkitten added.

In addition, the most-downloaded Spore tracker brings with it "step-by-step instructions for how to disassemble the copy protections, along with a set of numerical keys for breaking the software's encryption."

And it's not just embittered hyperbole. Chief Executive Eric Garland of Big Champagne, a peer-to-peer research firm, notes that deathkitten's tactics may very well be working. "The numbers are extraordinary," Garland said. "This is a very high level of torrent activity even for an immensely popular game title."

But the question remains: Is this the right course of action?

These days, many games -- Spore included, ironically -- tend to set the bar for complexity where only our kneecaps would dare travel. Like it or not, the lowest common denominator generally slouches at the head of the table, while those who reek of esoterica must valiantly position themselves near a jutting corner.

When you think about it, what EA's doing with DRM isn't so different. They automatically assume that unless the lid is super-glued onto the cookie jar, and the jar actually only contains another, smaller jar with a "Bang!" flag inside, we're going to pop the top and pilfer cookies until diabetes sets in. We are guilty until proven innocent.

Here's the problem, though: EA isn't trying to prove us innocent .

And, as outlined above, EA is utterly unmoved by petitions and user review scores. Plus, Spore's target audience -- which ranges from PC gamers to everyone else -- will provide EA with oodles of cash.  So obviously, we have no choice but to get our hands dirty, right?

However -- and here's the large, terribly inconvenient monkey wrench in gamers' plans -- by pirating Spore, we only give EA reason to believe that we're uninhibited children who can't follow even the simplest of society's rules. Conventional wisdom says that people should be rewarded for doing what they're supposed to do, so handing them a fat stack of What They Wanted for breaking the rules doesn't make a lick of sense.

Thus, we reach an impasse. If EA won't negotiate and enraged freedom fighters won't relent, then things will only escalate. And that won't be good for anyone.

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