When DRM Fails, It Fails Big

There are two things I know about DRM. One is it doesn’t work. Two is that people hate it.

Frankly, it’s not surprising to me that potential customers of EA’s Spore are turning to bittorrent sites to download copies of the game. The pirated copies seem to be more functional than the ones they can buy — the store bought copies may cease to work if they believe you’ve committed the IP crime of multiple (>3) installs.

But what is remarkable to me is how EA is so scared of piracy that they are in effect suprring the illicit market by voluntarily crippling their own software. They must know this, and yet they make the same choice, time after time, with more and more obnoxious methods. Even Sony is getting the message, so why not EA?

DRM prevents average users from easily making copies, no doubt. It does very little to deter pirates. So in effect, people who would have only bought one copy anyway will at best only buy one copy, and they will increasingly turn to free and unfettered sources, despite the risks.

Imagine, then, if EA took the complete opposite tack and gave the game away for free, with no restrictions other than that you couldn’t upload and download content without a paid network account. They could probably open a PayPal account for voluntary donations and do better with the would-be pirates.

If they employed one of the known strategies for putting subscription-based games on physical store shelves, they might even do better overall.