Stardock: Gamer’s Bill Of Rights

By John Walker on August 30th, 2008 at 12:20 am.

Heading to a brave new future!

It’s hard not to want to give Stardock a kiss on the nose. But as professional, aloof critics, we are required not to have favourites, ensuring we are as precise and astute in all things. It’s interesting to note how Stardock are aiming to be everyone’s favourite. Their latest effort: The Gamer’s Bill of Rights.

Stardock’s position is that, since the PC market has no central regulatory body, there should be a manner of constitution that developers and publishers should aspire toward. Their ten point list is designed as an attempt to capture what they should be. So before anything else, here it is:

The Gamer’s Bill of Rights:

1. Gamers shall have the right to return games that don’t work with their computers for a full refund.
2. Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
3. Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game’s release.
4. Gamers shall have the right to demand that download managers and updaters not force themselves to run or be forced to load in order to play a game.
5. Gamers shall have the right to expect that the minimum requirements for a game will mean that the game will play adequately on that computer.
6. Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won’t install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their consent.
7. Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
9. Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.
10. Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.

It’s an interesting concept. But it’s not clear that this is entirely the ideal list. It’s hard to argue with a good number of the points, while others sound a bit like point-scoring by Stardock rather than anything more practical for promoting positive treatment of customers. Point 2, for instance: There’s not a developer in the land that gladly ships unfinished code. This is something that regrettably occurs, usually because of publisher pressure, or simply running out of any possible time. It sucks when it happens, and we all certainly loathe having to wait for a patch, but it’s not as if there’s anyone out there gleefully rubbing their hands together and crying, “Aha! They’ll buy my game with a dodgy bug in chapter 3, the idiots!” And publishers hardly have it as a goal.

Point 3 also surprises me. It’s obviously lovely to get updates post release, but I don’t quite see why this should be a guaranteed requirement. Kieron points out that this is an engineer’s list, rather than that of an artist’s – this is what Stardock’s people can do, so why shouldn’t it be what everyone can do? It’s an extrapolation that I don’t think can be so easily universally applied as Stardock might think. There are particular games for which post-release updates are relevant and superb. There are others that are self-contained, and would be meaningless. The latter do not deserve ridicule for disobeying a bill of rights

Point 5, I think, would be where most publishers would protest. Clearly there are issues of deceptive minimum system specs on games, but there’s also the considerable complication of systems being so impossibly varied that creating a fixed spec that will definitely apply to all can be problematic. No excuses here – falsifying min specs to boost sales is purest evil. But I bet your bum that the complaints would pop up here.

Of course, an unspoken undercurrent here is Stardock’s position that piracy is not PC gaming’s priority issue. 6, 8, 9 and 10 all hint at this, suggesting that common anti-piracy, pro-DRM traits should be removed. I’ll certainly not argue with that, not one bit, but I doubt people are going to fail to spot what they’re up to.

Sorry for being so negative! I’m really not. I think Stardock’s doing this is an excellent thing, and indeed PC gamers definitely do deserve a hefty chunk more respect, even dignity, from publishers. But of course the correct thing to do when given a list like this is to test it. So test it will shall. I think this is possibly the healthy beginnings for a constitution, to be bashed out by the industry. Industry – do that. Also, you do it too, below.

(Also, I wish Stardock’s name wasn’t so incredibly similar to Starforce’s. It really does catch me off guard each time. They are absolute opposites, and it’s very confusing to the simple-minded like me).

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83 Comments »

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  1. Dinger says:

    Azhram — that’s basically my point. SDC does not look like Steam; Impulse looks like Steam. I don’t really see this list as taking a swipe at Valve; you’d have to be a raving Angry Internet Man to see any criticism as an attack.

  2. Cigol says:

    So has this backfired on Stardock? Be a shame if it did, but I’m a cynical bugger and this list rubs me the wrong way ;)

  3. Matt says:

    Even putting aside the possibility of partisanship effectively torpedoing what ought to be a fairly significant document, there’s a much bigger issue here: duty.

    If you’re going to have a right, there has to be* a duty placed upon other parties to ensure that that right is upheld, which brings up two big problems in this case. One, most famous expressions of rights are framed in terms of rights which result in negative duties, for a very good reason: I have a right to life, so you have a duty not to deprive me of my life, which you can achieve by doing nothing.

    Here though if I have a right to redownload a title at any time, that requires that a duty be placed on someone that they make the effort to set up or make use of an effective download service, which means that if the duty-holder does nothing, they’ve violated one of my rights. Uh-oh.

    (And what happens if that entity goes out of business or otherwise ceases to exist? Do I end up with an inviolable right to something that has no-one responsible for upholding it? Who, after all, holds the duty for patching DoW:Soulstorm?)

    And of course you’ll notice some hand-waving there about “duty-holder”, which segues nicely into the second point: who is responsible here, who has the duty? Is it the developer or the publisher? (Or even the distributor, as in point 1). Sure, as a developer-publisher it’s a moot question, but for everyone else it seems that you’d have to pin everything on the publisher, as the holder of the purse strings – but then the strictures of points 2, 3 and 7 would probably combine to put the majority of publishers out of business overnight, effectively killing the PC gaming industry.

    So yeah, I think this needs a little more thought if it’s intended to be a serious proposal rather than a PR stunt.

    * I’m sure someone, somewhere has worked out a theory of rights which doesn’t imply duties. Good for them.

  4. Matt says:

    Also, to the charge of excessive negativity in the face of a goodwill argument, the way it’s presented breaks it for me. Not just because of the theoretical and practical problems, but because it’s saying “everyone else should be exactly like us”. While I applaud what Stardock are doing, I can’t see how a monoculture of Stardock-like business models would be a good thing, which is what they’re trying to prescribe here.

  5. Ginger Yellow says:

    “t’s a nice idea but i hardly expect a company that sells me something online to still allow me to download it off them 20 years from now. I’d like it but i’m not sure if it is realisitic. ea currently allows me to redownload my copy of mass effect for 2 years. If i can manage to make a backup of the game in that time i think if i loose it it is my own fault.”

    I don’t know about that. Much though I love the digital download revolution, I do fear for what it means for gaming’s posperity. What happens ten years from now when half of developers/publishers have gone bust, and everyone has used up their activations? We’re going to lose a huge amount of gaming heritage forever if we don’t think about this sort of stuff now. It’s bad enough with dodgy backwards compatibility. Personally I think the ESA/ELSPA/PC Gaming Alliance should be funding an archive of games, in the same way that the AFI and BFI do for films.

  6. grumpy says:

    As much as I love the idea, I can’t help thinking it’d be more effective if they’d toned down the propaganda a bit, and focused on what mattered. And of course, picked more neutral (and precise) wording.

    I mean, “the right to not be treated as criminals”? Sure, it’s true and I know what they mean, but wouldn’t it be nice if it was worded as something that even EA could consider agreeing to?

    How about just “The game has the right to play the game he purchased, as many times as he wish, on any computer he wishes, as far into the future as he wishes”?

    And as others have said, much of this is really to specific and aimed at Stardock specifically. I’d be willing to waive a good chunk of these points on a per-game basis (making them a lot less universal than the title would suggest).

    Stick with the basics, and it might be more than a simple propaganda tool.

  7. SwiftRanger says:

    @suchchoice: If there is one obvious flaw about Team Fortress 2 then it is that it didn’t ship with enough content (only one CTF map? I mean…), period. What Valve is doing now is generous but certain content updates were needed if you notice what they originally shipped with.

    Those micro addons (two more in the works) for SoaSE are entirely optional, and won’t divide the online player base at all unlike some full expansions for other RTS games usually do. I think Stardock/Ironclad are just experimenting with it, like cutting a regular addon into three (content and price) and perhaps in the future bundle them all for an addon price to hit retail. It certainly doesn’t sound as idiotic as the Horse Armor fiasco, and Entrenchment has minefields (and who knows what else) as well which you failed to mention.

    And seriously, if you think SoaSE didn’t got enough free updates then you’ve been living on another planet. They’ve been giving out free maps and have implemented numerous changes based on customer feedback in their updates.

  8. Theory says:

    *reads*

    *vomits*

  9. suchchoices says:

    @SwiftRanger – granted, tf2 only shipped with one ctf map – but the ctf gametype itself is horrible – at least on public servers – more often that not it leads to one or both teams playing an extremely negative defensive game and then the match drags on for half an hour without anything happening. Hydro alone is worth countless ctf maps. Apologies, my distaste for ctf drags me off topic. At least in my case, TF2 had more than enough content to keep me entertained for months until the free updates started to roll out.

    Whereas Sins only had enough -gameplay- to keep me occupied for a couple of weeks. I disagree with the oft stated assertion that it’s a real time strategy game with the depth of a turn based strategy game – to me, it feels like a game with the depth of a real time strategy game which plays at the speed of a turn based game. Hardly the best of both worlds. The depth is certainly not helped by the hilarious imbalances in the game which leads to very few strategies actually being viable in multiplayer (sure, the game has a culture mechanic, but you’re never going to win via culture against a TEC player sova rushing and then spamming LRMs, not to mention the disparity between the late game techs of each race) so I feel that the patches based on community sentiment were entirely warranted and necessary.

    Apologies again, I forgot to mention minefields, but even in the case that these are featured I fail to see how such meagre new content justifies a $10 price tag. It’s unfair to append `who knows what else’ because as yet, as far as i am aware, ironclad and stardock have not hinted at any additional content whatsoever.

    But, I guess, to each their own. If enough sins players are inspired to pay $10 for these relatively meagre microexpansions, then all the best to them, and to Ironclad&Stardock.

  10. suchchoices says:

    Oh god, I’m an Angry (& drunk) Internet Man.

    If ironforge/stardock do end up actually offering a reasonable amount of new content to the game for a tenner then that’d be great, but if that’s the case then they should have a stern talking to their marketing division, because the currently released information certainly doesn’t paint the updates in a fantastic light.

  11. PJ says:

    this article reaks of hypocrisy. Not the stardock bill or rights bit but the supposed “oh I am high and mighty professional reviewer and have no favorites”. RPS gives the feeling that Valve and Steam can do no wrong.

  12. Frank says:

    No government! Keep the PC frontier open. This is a business: if these are such good ideas, let the market reward your policies and stfu about it. 7’s the only one I like, but if Stardock changes its download client every few years, they’ll still be making a headache out of re-downloading games.
    @PJ: Yeah, I’ve noticed that, too. Fortunately, I agree with RPS’s attitude.

  13. Dreaded Walrus says:

    Starforce Gamer’s Bill of Rights.

    Now that would be an interesting read.

  14. iwo/mffaiv says:

    Rudolf – yes, but you should be able to at least play a LAN game or private internet game without updating. Sometimes updates make the game worse, sometimes you just don’t care and want to play your mates without downloading anything.

    Excellent write-up BTW RPS. It practically made the comments redundant. The one thing you could have stressed a bit more is that point 1 is never, ever gonna happen. You can’t even rent PC games – there’s no way shops will let you take them home, install them and get all your money back. Aside from getting games for free that also lets griefers have a supply of fresh serials. Ironically, if everything had constant online activation in the way prohibited by point 9 then point 1 would be achievable.

  15. Azhrarn says:

    @Dreaded Walrus:
    the StarForce one wouldn’t so much be a bill of rights for the consumer as one for publisher, and it wouldn’t be favorable to consumers either. ;)

  16. DSX says:

    One publisher to rule them all, One title to find them,
    One list to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

  17. moonracer says:

    It is a good start, but I doubt other companies are going to pick this up and say “lets work on this as a community” and create some sort of mutually agreed upon and reasonable “Bill of Rights”.

    I think a big issue that is not touched upon here is that PC games need to get back to a state where legitimate owners can resell their used copies. That is something that used to be the norm and is now only possible with console games for the most part.

  18. innociv says:

    They’re basically saying “Don’t use Steam or Retail stores, use Impulse, and buy our games.”
    .4 is a hit against Steam, which Impulse doesn’t have against it.

    and with #1, Stardock is the only publisher AFAIK that accepts returns for games that don’t run on their computer.
    You think that’d be a given for everything, but it’s not.. only Stardock does it AFAIK.

  19. Gnarf says:

    Oh, well done on discovering Stardock’s super-hidden and secret agenda and all. It would indeed carry a lot more weight if the list consisted of a lot of rights that Stardock themselves ignored, and serve more of a purpose if it was a list of things everyone was doing anyways.

    Point 2 can’t apply to anything but the publishers. Developers don’t enter into it. It’s publishers that decide to publish or not publish games in whichever states they’re in. Fairly straightforward.

    It might be worth debating whether players really would want that 2nd point though. A lot of more or less bugridden games have been crazy awesome. It’s not a given that each would have been released at all if publishers weren’t “allowed” to publish buggy messes.

  20. SwiftRanger says:

    @suchchoices: it ain’t out yet so we’ll see yeah, it’s their first mini-mini-addon project so the apparent lack of content might cause uproar but we don’t know how much it’ll impact the entire game or if those features are really the only things you can expect. In any case, it won’t stop free updates for everyone coming out.

    SoaSE has design issues alright, especially when it’s being compared to previous real-time 4X efforts like Imperium Galactica, but it’s still enjoyable stuff and has enough things to discover for a game that’s only €40 at retail if you ask me.

    Vanilla TF2 is great too but I really like CTF.:)

  21. slaine says:

    All the comments talking about whether the 10 points are applicable to publishers or developers only are MISSING THE POINT.

    It’s a GAMER’s bill of rights. These are supposed to be things a GAMER has a right to expect from the industry. How you split the responsibility along the publishing/distributing/development chain is IRRELEVANT.

    It is the industry as a whole that should be responding to these issues. That’s why it’s called a Gamer’s Bill of Rights, and not the Bill of the Rights a Gamer Should Expect of a Developer.

    Steam may be a necessary evil as far as digital distribution goes, but that doesn’t mean that their model is perfect, especially their DRM policies.

  22. mpk says:

    8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.

    This.

  23. Nick says:

    Yeah, that right there is the stuff all right.

    Now all they need to do is release a game I want to buy so I can give them my hard earned money. (Not-MoM ftw!)

  24. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Right on.

    Heck, make that the new No. 1.

  25. Al3xand3r says:

    @PJ:
    Uh, I don’t see Steam mentioned at all in the article while he does state he agrees with the NO DRM policies which would be something Steam is not doing. What are you on about RPG favoring Steam as if it can do no wrong?

  26. kadayi says:

    Given they appear to have written it themselves, without recourse or consultation with any other game developers it seems pretty patronizing to declare it ‘The Gamer’s Bill Of Rights’, surely better to be a bit more modest and label it ‘Stardocks Bill of Rights’ which would be a bit more accurate. It will be interesting to see whether there are any critical responses from other developers or maybe publishers over this. I agree with the sentiment, but the manner in which they’ve done it seems a little presumptuous and therefore reeks more of self promotion though (free advertising across the worlds gaming sites), than genuine belief in the principles they propose.

  27. Gnarf says:

    Like maybe if they wrote it on a napkin instead and called it “You know, whatever works for you and we’re not saying everyone should be going about it this way or anything, not at all, but these are some things we are doing and maybe someone thinks it’s a bit nice?”.

  28. Bobsy says:

    I wonder how reactions would differ if it wasn’t released under the name of an industry dev? Say, what if Kieron or someone had come up with the list? Or Byron?

    Problem is just having the Stardock name associated with what is a pleasant and idealistic list of goals (apart from #3, which is a bit weird) makes it seem more sneery and cynical. And it makes it less likely that other devs and publishers will be so keen to follow the advice, since it’s coming from a competitor, and a niche competitor at that.

  29. LionsPhil says:

    Erm. This might start mattering the day people actually care about being regularly bent over by publishers, then paying for the priviledge.

    As long as you keep buying badly-engineered, DRM-laden crap, I’m sure EA, Ubisoft, Valve, et. al. can just drown out the Internet bitching by going for a swim in their basement full of money.

  30. Vexor says:

    This list is a step in the right direction. A few tweaks (mostly mentioned already) and this is golden.

  31. cuprohastes says:

    Actually Ubisoft released Splinter Cell : Double agent in such a poor state that it was mostly unplayable for a long time for most users. Also, Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl and Stalker: Clear Sky were released in such shambolic state that Clear Sky needed major patching twice within 7 days of release.

    Both companies knew they had unfinished code but they sent it out anyway to generate cash on the grounds that “We’ll patch it later” and also because many stores don’t offer a return policy, that the games couldn’t be returned.

  32. draxynnic says:

    Something of a latecomer here, but…

    @jetsetlemming:

    “6. Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won’t install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their consent.”

    I’d add something along the lines of “and should be informed of its presence before purchase”. It’s a nasty trick to not be informed until after you’ve paid your money. An emblazon on the box – something along the lines of “Use of this product requires the installation of the following programs (list)” – would probably suffice. (Similar to how a lot of games require, and will usually install for you, DirectX.)

    In a similar vein, EULAs should also be reasonably easy to review before purchase – I doubt there are many people who’ve actually checked “Do Not Accept” after reading one, but for those who might, it’s not reasonable to have to pay for the privilege of doing so.

  33. Wes says:

    Its too bad Stardock couldn’t adhere to their own rules with the release of Elemental: War of Magic in such a half-finished state.