Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Trash-talk the almighty EA and forfeit your games

It's been a while since I've had a good rant about DRM, but sure enough, EA has come through with yet another reason why DRM is all about taking control away from consumers. A user on the Dragon Age forums had the gall to compare EA to the devil -- specifically, he was asking if gamers had sold their soul to the EA devil. Maybe more than a little inflammatory, depending on your point of view. A forum moderator decided it was ban-worthy, though, and banned the user from the forums. However, the moderator banned not only the forum posting privileges, but all access to EA's servers. This resulted in his copy of Dragon Age 2 to be unable to authenticate with EA's servers, preventing him from playing his legally-purchased, single-player game.

EA has since admitted this was an "error", apologized, and has made the necessary corrections to restore his access. However, it doesn't change the fact that we now know EA can disable your game, intentionally or not.

It's not bad enough that game companies want to lock down all access to a purchased copy of a game to one and only one person, even to the exclusion of other people in the same household. No, now they have the ability to block you from playing your game at all, merely for criticizing the company. (If the report is accurate, the criticism in question was really quite tame for the internet.)

Perhaps EA can be said to be following well-estabilshed precedent. Amazon.com — upon finding out copies of certain books were submitted to their Kindle store by people who didn't own the rights to sell them in the first place — remotely deleted all purchased copies from users' Kindles. In a software patent suit (which is its own kind of evil), TiVo complained that the DVRs Echostar sold to customers infringed on their patents, and a judge ordered Echostar not only to stop selling the devices, but to disable the devices already in the homes of customers. A similar case forced AOL to remove an MP3 player from their software (and push that removal down to customers via an "update") when sued by Playmedia. [source] Sony, when it learned of the (rather remote) possibility of someone using the "Other OS" feature on the PlayStation 3 console to hack the system and gain complete control of the hardware, released an "update" that removed this feature from all existing consoles.

In light of these examples, maybe EA's "accident" wasn't so bad. After all, the gamer still had their copy of the game, and there are likely hacks either in progress or already released that would let you get around the "phone home to play" requirement and let you play this purely single-player game when a connection to the mother ship is not available (either by banning, bad network connection, or EA's decision to turn off support for the game on their servers' side). However, to the honest, paying, and perhaps not incredibly tech-savvy (or at least not enough to know where to find — let alone how to make — a "don't call home" patch) customer, the result is the same. You don't buy a product you can use anymore; you buy the promise that you should be able to play the game for some "reasonable time" — a promise that can be broken at any time with no recourse.

And if that doesn't bother you, I have some promises I'd like to sell you….

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