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).