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Anti-DRM Revolt Strikes Amazon Reviews

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Crysis Warhead is a gorgeous game. It is a hell of a lot of fun, and at times can rival the intensity found in games like Half-Life 2. The multi-player offers little new, but it is solid fun, with open-ended levels and lots of vehicular mayhem. Critics everywhere praised the game as one of the better shooters to come out this year, particularly considering that the game only costs thirty dollars or less (about equal to the cost of a hit movie on Blu-Ray). My review of the game, which gave it a 7/10 – in other words, an above average score – was certainly one of the most negative reviews the game received anywhere. In fact, no matter how hard you search Metacritic or Google, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who considers the game to be terrible.

Unless you visit Amazon.com.

Cruise over to the online mega-retailer, and you'll find Crysis Warhead sitting on a two-star score. In the realm of customer reviews, that is absolutely terrible. That is worse than Lego Batman. That is worse than Space Siege. Hell, its even worse than Daikatana – and no one from the Crysis Warhead development team ever threatened to make us their bitch.

Obviously, something has gone wrong. Something has caused 233 customers to, on average, score one of the best shooters of the year worse than an amusing but childish adventure, a terrible action-RPG, and a piece of software that works better as a joke than a video game. Fortunately, there isn't much need to dig in deep and research the issue; the reviews that are posted on Amazon.com make the problem very, very clear.

Anthony75 writes:

"Well I would have gladly bought this game, played some of it on a friends pc and found it pretty fun and obviously beautiful looking…but now this DRM business has gotten out of control. For the first time I'm taking a serious stand against gaming companies that use these kind of measures, all my support will go to the ones that respect the customer."

Erik J. Meyer expands on the idea in his review:

"I always pay for games. The only crack I ever use is a No CD crack, because I hate switching disks. I will never buy another EA game though (and I've spent hundreds on them over the years) unless they stop treating honest consumers like criminals. The draconian DRM they inflict upon us does NOTHING to stop actual piracy, but is an onerous burden to those who DO pay.

Yes, that's right. If you pirate the game (which is apparently widely available on BitTorrent sites) your copy is far superior to what we honest folks actually pay for. The stolen version has no DRM. What you buy is loaded with the worst of it."

Read through the reviews and you'll see variations on these comments for page after page. These gamers, some of whom have purchased the game and some of whom have not, are pissed. And they want everyone to know. Even the good reviews can't seem to ignore the anti-DRM mob which is swarming the retailer, resulting in comments such as this:

"So a lot of people say don't get this game because you can only install it 5 times… well big whoop."

Big whoop, indeed. It is impossible to say what kind of effect this sort of negative publicity is having on sales of the game, but it can't possibly be a good one. Amazon is the largest Internet retailer, a go-to spot for finding virtually any product at a decent price. At the very least, the reviews are making it clear to anyone who might buy the game that purchasing and installing Crysis Warhead might cause more of a headache than the average person wants to deal with. EA's response to the anger has been largely to brush it off, a position that is made clear in dealing with the Spore DRM fiasco (the DRM on Spore is nearly identical to that on Crysis Warhead). This postion is somewhat understandable. After all, with EA owning so many of today's most popular titles, its hard to not buy their products. But on the other hand, Crysis Warhead currently ranks 22nd on Amazon's list of most popular PC games, right behind Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game (which, by the way, has received far better consumer reviews).

But wait, there's less! Crysis Warhead is not the only title to be hit by the flurry of DRM-inspired negative reviews. In fact, the problem seems to currently be spreading across all of EA's offerings, from Red Alert 3 to the PC version of Mass Effect. Two-star reviews currently plague these titles as well, and EA isn't the only company being hit. Ubisoft's Far Cry 2, which also uses strict DRM (including activation limits), has been hurt as well.

I'd like to say that the efforts of these Amazon reviewers will cause game industry leaders to change their minds, but we all know that isn't going to happen. Like the RIAA, piracy-obsessed publishers have decided on the wrong-headed view that sliding sales are the result of freeloaders, not the fact that downloading an illegal copy of a game typically results in a piece of software that is easier to install and use than what you'll find in a retail box.

Even so, we should all praise the efforts of those consumers who are making their disappointment visible, even if the majority of comments are repetitive and poorly written. At the end of the day, it isn't blogs like this that will decide of gaming companies change to a more consumer-friendly business plan, but rather the voices and cash of the consumers. So go on and join in the with the other Amazon revolutionaries and let the game industry know what you think.

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  • http://whalertly.blogspot.com Robert Barga

    I have never understood why people are opposed to others protecting their own property and to, you know, having something on a CD-game that you agreed to get

  • http://www.legalarcade.com Nathaniel Edwards

    The sanctity of Amazon customer reviews has been well and thoroughly broken. This was obvious earlier in the year with the lady who went on Fox attacking Mass Effect for their alien-sex scene immediately got her book down to one star in the reviews. I liked that more than I like this situation.

    I generally think that both sides of this DRM fight are over-reacting, but I tend to skew slightly towards the consumer. Limits on installs aren’t a tremendously huge deal, but in principle they are fairly important. The company is so afraid of piracy that it puts this limitation on the disks, which likely makes more people pissed off and likely to pirate the discs. I guess all I’m saying is, it’s crazy.

  • Mark Buckingham

    The big argument against DRM is that you’re effectively only “renting” the title rather than owning it. Books, CDs, movies, etc. don’t have a tether attached that will make them stop working after so many days if a server craps out or you change your motherboard. The DRM puts limitations on the users that other forms of entertainment wouldn’t dare to do.

    For me, while I think it sucks that these reviews are bringing down the overall score (at least on Amazon; MetaCritic and other aggregate sites are safe from this) and might mislead a few buyers, it’s nice to have some honest information about what DRM is being put on which games. The companies aren’t terribly honest or open about it because they know what it’ll do to their sales.

    In contrast, look at Stardock’s games (GalCiv 1 and 2, Sins of a Solar Empire, etc.), which have sold hundreds of thousands of legit copies, despite them trumpeting the fact that they don’t use any DRM whatsoever. They’ve realized DRM is hurting legitimate customers and isn’t affecting piracy one bit, and sided with the interests of their players.