Sporegasm: Creationists and gamers angered but Maxis release game prototypes to quell the riots

Columns & Opinion, Gaming

spore-header.jpgThis is three stories in one really, so I apologise in advance for the length of this post. The three things I’m about to cover are as follows: Creationists are trying to ban Spore in the USA due to its evolutionary content, video-game fans are slamming EA and refusing to buy the game due to its DRM system, and creators Maxis have released a bunch of early prototypes of different aspects of the game.

Creationists are miffed

UPDATE: The site mentioned in this section is a fake. See this post for details.

Firstly let’s talk creationism. A huge part of the early game in Spore concerns evolution – earning DNA points and using them to evolve beaks, flippers and armour plating onto your creature. These then unlock new abilities, or upgrade existing ones on your creature, making them more effective. I called Shiny Media’s evolutionary biology correspondent, and here’s what he had to say about the depiction of evolution in Spore:

“I understand that it’s only a game and I would never criticise Spore for this but it did make me grimace and suck air through my teeth like a plumber doing an estimate on your bathroom to think of all the people out there who might think that Spore is an accurate account of how evolution works. “

“Several times in the Creature Stage I made huge differences to my beasties when I found they were getting the crap kicked out of them on the plains. I went from two-foot, blue spotted singing and dancing animals to giant green murder machines in one generation and it wouldn’t have been a problem if you didn’t then see one hatch directly from the egg of another.”

“See now, for my money, this is a closer depiction of Creationism than Neo-Darwinist evolution. One of the classic reactions you get from someone who disputes evolution is “Yeah, but when have you ever seen a monkey turn into a man” or such. Of course, we all know that evolution is a very subtle process taking millions of years and so what Spore has done is represent a rather instanmatic Creationist version of how it’s done.”

Despite the fact, then, that Spore is perhaps a better depiction of creationism than one of evolution, creationists are still protesting the game and seeking to get it banned. One blog, Anti Spore, say “This entire game is propaganda aimed directly at our children to teach them evolution instead of creationism, or “intelligent design” if you go for stupid PC terms”. Luckily, they’re considering Jack Thompson to represent them in court. I think he’s an excellent choice.

Gamers are miffed
It’s not just creationists who are on the warpath. Perusing Amazon the other day, I noticed that Spore has an average rating of 1/5, with nearly 2,000 reviews. In fact, 1,814 reviews give Spore just one star. Scanning the reviews, you’ll find a very similar theme emerging – a huge dissatisfaction with the DRM built into the game. Here’s a couple of sample reviews:

“The DRM for the game utilizes securom which is essentially a virus that installs itself without warning when you install the game. There is no way to completely remove it without reformatting and it is constantly running in the background if not removed. Sucking up computer resources. This is actually a RENTAL, not a bought game because it only lets you install 3 times. If you install over 3 times then you must call EA customer support and beg them to let you play the game you bought. Did I mention the call is not free? If you live outside the U.S. it will be a very expensive call.”

I’ve been pointing this out about Spore for a while, warning people not to go for the downloadable version. It sucks bigtime, and I seriously considered buying the box and then just letting it sit there on my shelf while I got a cracked version off the Pirate Bay, to avoid the DRM.

The game itself is fantastic, no doubt, but EA aren’t listening to their customers. Despite showing that they can respond positively to criticism, they have a situation here where paying customers are forced to live with restrictions, whereas pirates and downloaders face no restrictions whatsoever – it’s a substantial reason NOT to buy the game. A sad state of affairs.

EA Maxis release Spore prototypes
But maybe EA aren’t all bad. Maybe they’ve got a bit of a bipolar thing going, because Maxis have released, free, a bunch of prototypes, minigames and models that were used during the development of Spore.

There’s all kinds of crazy random bits of kit in there – from a program which “simulates gravitational attraction between particles in a cloud” and another which is a “fluid dynamics simulator designed to explore the behavior of large bodies of water on uneven terrain”. There’s even a simulator of “Interstellar gas and dust beginning to collapse under the force of its own gravity”.

If that all sounds a bit intense, though, then you might try “Space” where you “explore a galaxy of stars with a spacecraft, discovering new worlds to terraform and colonize and encountering alien species to fight or befriend”. A bit more gamelike.

It’s great that EA Maxis are releasing these – it shows a healthy respect for the gamers who want to dig a bit deeper into Spore and all that it holds. Although Spore seems a little shallow on the surface, it has deep deep intricacies – especially in the Space stage. This release is EA Maxis trying to point that out to a wider pubic.

Well done for slogging it all the way through to the end of this post. It’s a bit of a whopper. I have mixed feeling about EA and Maxis after these bits of news – on the one hand, the team working on Spore – Maxis – seem to know exactly what they’re doing and how to engage with their audience, but EA forcing DRM on unwilling consumers are doing far, far more damage to the brand and accomplishing nothing with it. The DRM actively makes me want to pirate the game.

What do you think? Has the excess of DRM put you off trying it? Or are you cranking out creatures like there’s no tomorrow? Here‘s my creature profile, so you can check out the stuff I’ve made. Let me know your opinions on my creations, Spore, or share any of your favourite creations, in the comments.

UPDATE: I got Maxis and EA a little muddled up. They’re not the same company. To clarify things, EA are responsible for the DRM, and Maxis are responsible for the game, and for the releasing of the prototypes. Boos to EA, applause to Maxis.

Spore (via Eurogamer)

Related posts: Download Spore legally | Download Spore illegally | Sporenography

Duncan Geere
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  • The creationist blog you quote has revealed itself today (9/11) to be a joke. Do you have any other evidence that creationists have a problem with Spore?

    This is a quote from today’s post on Anti Spore:
    But the Bible teaches us that God was not done with man. For we were His creation and He then spoke to Noah in Genesis 8:21-27 after the flood.
    “21. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never gonna give you up. 22. “Never gonna let you down.” 23.”Never gonna run around and desert you.” 24. “Never gonna make you cry.” 25. “Never gonna say goodbye.” 26. “Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.” 27.”Never truly believe anything you read on the Internet. There will always be cases of Poe’s Law.”

    We were all just Rick Rolled.

    • Ah! Damn – I’d just written a post saying this before seeing your comment. Thanks for the tip-off anyway, though. I have no other evidence that creationists have any problems with Spore.

  • Bull. EA didn’t release anything free, Maxis did. No-one has any problems with the way Maxis and Will Wright have handled the situation, everyone is mad at EA, and rightly so. EA is the one of those two companies involved who a history of pulling this DRM crap and they went ahead and joined forces with one of the single most hated DRM makers in existence, Sony DADC.

    They chose to use SecuROM, which means it’s almost irrelevant as to what they claim the DRM does because no-one trusts Sony DADC to make anything remotely resembling appropriate DRM. Would people be upset if EA came up with the exact same list of requirements for their DRM but didn’t involved Sony DADC? Sure, but not nearly as many people.

    • You’re right – I’m blurring the lines between EA and Maxis here. I’ll edit the post to make things a little clearer. Thanks for the comment.

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