Excited about playing Star Wars: The Old Republic on Tuesday? Be sure you read the End-User License Agreement (EULA).
Online games usually have some sort of method to detect hacking or cheating programs that are part and parcel of the EULA, the agreement you are required to accept before you’re allowed to play. World of Warcraft will scan your computer’s active memory while you are playing the game, to detect any active hacking or cheating program. Battlefield 3 uses the Punkbuster system. Most other games have some sort of this protection, as well.
However, Electronic Arts is taking the sentiment a few steps further down the path of the Dark Side.
First, you’ll be giving up your rights to take part in any class-action against Electronic Arts at any time, and are forced into binding arbitration if you have any sort of dispute with them over the game. This is along the lines of the recent Sony and Microsoft updates to their online services (we can all thank the Supreme Court for getting the ball rolling on these limitations of our abilities to redress wrongs).
The big sticking point for me is that in addition to the usual anti-hacking and anti-cheating clauses, section 2B of the agreement you are required to accept before you are allowed to play allows EA to scan your hard drives and other devices connected to your computer looking for contraband software.
From Section 2B on the EULA page:
“To the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, you agree that EA may scan your computer’s memory or hard disk drive to detect or locate any such unauthorized third party program or devices, with or without any prior notice to you at any time.”
So, to recap: In order to play SWTOR, you are required to allow Electronic Arts to not only scan your active memory looking for hacks and cheats (normal), but also allow them to scan your computer’s hard drives and any devices attached to your computer (very not normal). Oh, and they can do it at any time, without telling you.
While I have faith that BioWare has made an incredible game, the fact that Electronic Arts is trying to gain unrestricted access to my computer’s hard drives is not a reassuring thought. The potential for abuse, with that sort of unconditional access without any oversight, is staggeringly high.
I’d love for enough gamers to be as unaccepting of this sort of behavior by large companies as I am, to be able to echo Darth Vader’s statement of “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed.” But I suspect that the vast majority of players won’t even bother to read the EULA; they’ll simply click the “ACCEPT” button to get into the game faster.
Unfortunately, Electronic Arts has soured the sweet experience of my recent beta weekend. And now, I need to do some serious thinking about whether I want to allow them uncontrolled access to scan my computer’s hard drives; just trusting that they’re only collecting the data they say they are, and aren’t digging around to see what else I have installed.
Sometimes, I find my lack of faith disturbing. Sometimes, though, companies have proven that they can’t be trusted.