Oh dear. Less than 24 hours after I publish an upbeat story about a potentially cool new BioWare project, today there is the other kind of news, the type that game companies typically do not want you to talk about.
On Friday it seems that the Dragon Age: Origins DRM servers which authorise the DLC for the game failed, leaving a lot of people unable to play a game they had legitimately bought. There are some (customer-devised) workarounds on BioWare's forums, but for the most part you are just SOL if a) you have bought DA:O but not yet activated the DLC, or b) have a saved game which contains any DLC elements.
BioWare (now owned by EA) immediately responded though, right? Not so much.
There was no response from BioWare on Friday (when the hardware failure first occurred), Saturday or Sunday. Instead, BioWare chose to wait until Monday to release this brief statement on their forums:
"Over the April 9, 2011 weekend, some of our Dragon Age: Origins content servers experienced an as yet unidentified failure. As a result, users began to experience error messages when attempting to access their downloadable content, indicating that the DLC was unauthorized.
We apologize for the inconvenience and are currently investigating and working to resolve the issue on our end. We will update this thread once we know more."
So after three days nobody at EA / BioWare knew what happened, nobody at EA / BioWare knew when it would be fixed and nobody at EA / BioWare could say whether or not it might happen again.
That's definitely a solid way to kick your paying customers in the pants, especially since many had bought the more expensive "Ultimate Edition" of DA:O containing all of the DLC and now could play none of it.
Meanwhile, everyone who has pirated the game can happily play without any hindrance or interruption, while paying customers get to twiddle their thumbs since there is no ETA from BioWare as to when it will be fixed (and given that it took three days for them to hold their hands up and admit there was a problem, I wouldn't be holding my breath).
DRM screwing over legitimate customers strikes once more. While I can - possibly - envisage scenarios where unobtrusive DRM can be used to counter piracy (Steam is a good example of this), when it gets in the way of paying customers being able to play games that they have legitimately purchased, then it becomes an issue. I also have no problem calling out publishers whose DRM goes too far in the first place, although this is a different situation.
It certainly seems that EA are fast regaining the poor reputation they enjoyed just a few years ago (before Activision muscled in on that territory). Just recently there was the whole brouhaha about a BioWare forum ban also locking you out of their games; the mixed reception for Dragon Age II; EA's "Project Ten Dollar" attempting to kill the used-game-sales business and finally, starting to charge $60 for new triple-A PC titles instead of the usual $50 just because Activision started the trend and EA wanted to get in on that as well (even though an EA employee publicly stated that charging $60 for games was "exploitative").
I feel like I've got two black eyes and a cracked rib and EA are telling me "don't worry baby, it won't happen again".