Everyone hates DRM.
Not only do gamers see it as an unnecessary invasion of their enjoyment of a video game, but they see it as a publisher attempting to retain some sort of control over a product they just purchased and now own. Now EA’s Origin service, a digital platform much like Steam, is attempting to integrate DRM on a much larger scale.
Picture the Steam client, with its ease of accessibility, simplicity of making purchase, and joy of gifting games to friends and strangers alike. Steam set the bar for what a digital distribution platform should be.
Now picture Steam without a soul, a platform that monitors everything you do, that keeps a log of every game you have installed, that just watches, waiting to pounce and drain all the fun out of your experience. This is EA’s Origin service.
Now I know the paragraph above may sound a bit extreme, and I know I seem to have a huge problem with EA in general as a publisher, but this is just another “service” EA is using to try and control its products even after they have lost ownership of them.
But…but what about IP rights? Many people seem to conflate IP rights and DRM, and while I think there is an argument to be made here, I would argue DRM is just as much a micromanagement tool, telling gamers how and when to enjoy a product, as it is an anti-piracy measure. This. Is. Wrong.
The internet completely blew up when it was brought to the attention of the gaming community those sections of Origin’s End User License Agreement that were a bit…untoward. EA offered a slightly modified version of its EULA on August 24, 2011. Prior to this, every publication, from The Escapist to our friends at PikiGeek, chimed in on the controversy. What EA removed from the EULA was very minimal, and only seems to put gaming minds at ease about the intrusive nature of Origin.
While much of the controversy stemmed from EA reserving the right to give out information to third party outfits, this has been largely removed from the new and “improved” EULA. While I wont post the original EULA (PikiGeek’s article lists the contentious parts), the revised version, or the version that gamers now see and will have to agree to is incredibly relevant. Here’s a snippet. TL;DR below.
2. Consent to Collection and Use of Data.
EA knows that you care how information about you is collected, used and shared, and we appreciate your trust that we will do so carefully and sensibly. Information about our customers is an important part of our business, and EA would never sell your personally identifiable information to anyone, nor would it ever use spyware or install spyware on users’ machines. We and agents acting on our behalf do not share information that personally identifies you without your consent, except in rare instances where disclosure is required by law or to enforce EA’s legal rights.
In addition to information that you give EA directly, EA collects nonpersonally identifiable (or anonymous) information for purposes of improving our products and services, providing services to you, facilitating the provision of software updates, dynamically served content and product support as well as communicating with you. The non-personally identifiable information that EA collects includes technical and related information that identifies your computer (including the Internet Protocol Address) and operating system, as well as information about your Application usage (including but not limited to successful installation and/or removal), software, software usage and peripheral hardware. As noted above, this information is gathered periodically for purposes such as improving our products and services, troubleshooting bugs, and otherwise enhancing your user experience.
So for the TL;DR version, EA reserves the right to store your IP and other information that identifies you (anonymously somehow?) such as software, games and hardware installed and the usage of said apps, games and hardware. EA also promises to never sell gamer information to third parties, a bit different from the language of the former EULA. EA also claims all data collected is to better their product and to respond to the needs of gamers.
Electronic Arts, in the past, has been leading the charge for advertisements in games. Anyone remember EA’s Fight Night: Round 3? Or should I say Burger King Presents: Fight Night Round 3. The level of advertising in that game alone should be enough of a warning to prospective owners of EA -published games.
While EA promises to never sell the spyware-like information collected by its service, it doesn’t promise to not use the data when negotiating with third parties. Electronic Arts could easily use all of the data collected to figure out how to best approach and evaluate potential ad investors. EA could even use this data as leverage concerning potential revenues from advertisers.
Many would argue TV networks constantly monitor ad revenue that certain shows bring as well as evaluating the share that each show captures. However, CBS doesn’t monitor your DVD collection, your DVR, or your TV watching behavior on a person to person basis. It is a very meta industry, and this sort of monitoring would be impossible without some sort of software installed that would transmit personal data directly to CBS headquarters.
And this is yet another problem with this entire plan by EA to ultimately control how, when and in what manner we enjoy their products. Origin is basically spyware. It transmits personal data back to a source that benefits from it, monetarily. It monitors everything you do and use at your personal computer, and will use that as leverage in every future dealing concerning publishing for the PC.
EA has a right to protect itself from piracy. While I disagree that piracy is the biggest problem in the industry for publishers, I agree that it is a minor annoyance and that publishers have the right to have their games bought and not stolen. But Origin goes too far for its anti-piracy measures.
For the sake of argument, let’s say I pirated Mass Effect 2, one of my favorite games in recent years. Let’s imagine that I have this pirated copy installed and actively play it from time to time. This copy is older than Origin and is pirated, so odds are that Origin will not be required.
I now install Origin so that I can get NHL 12 or Dragon Age II. Origin actively scans my PC to see what games I have installed, how much time I play them, and my overall behavior when it comes to PC gaming. By agreeing to Origin’s EULA, does this entitle EA to search my system for pirated games?
No. Or at least, it shouldn’t.
In recent years the scale of DRM has grown dramatically. From ridiculous outfits like Origin, to outright insane “always-on” DRM protection (thanks, Ubisoft), it seems that Digital Rights Management will only get bigger, and more intrusive. I do not think that EA should be able to scan my system for pirated games. And this isn’t an argument for piracy, it’s an argument for privacy.
As a U.S. Citizen, I have the right to private, or personal property. There is a line between IP protection and invasive searches. This is a line that those agreeable to the EULA are willingly allowing EA to cross.
I’m planning on buying Battlefield 3 when it launches. I am a huge fan of the series and I play Battlefield: Bad Company 2 almost religiously. I also play, and will be playing, this series on my Xbox 360. EA can feel free to scan my 360 hard drive to their heart’s content. I have some saved games, some Rock Band tracks, and some demos.
EA cannot and will never scan my PC.
My iMac is my personal property. It’s full of games and movies and music that I have acquired over the years. EA does not need to have a journal of my life on my PC; it isn’t necessary, and it’s wrong. They do not need to track my ip “anonymously”, and they certainly don’t need to know where I live to feed me advertising I don’t want and didn’t ask for.
EA, I’m never going to download Origin on my PC. Ever. You publish some great games, some of which I’ll buy, but for consoles. I would urge everyone else to do the same, at least until Electronic Arts learns that they exist solely because gamers buy their products. They’ve lost their way and they need us to help them find it.
Also, I didn’t pirate Mass Effect 2, I bought it for Xbox because that’s what the majority of gamers do. And that game is awesome.
The full text of the Origin EULA can be found here.
As always feel free to leave comments below. You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcCaulley or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org