What is the Gamer’s Bill of Rights?


A Gamer’s “Bill of Rights” was unveiled two months ago by Stardock.com, which included many of the things that gamers should have been given in the first place. Is it stating the obvious? Well, let’s look at the rights:

  • Gamers shall have the right to return games that don’t work with their computers for a full refund.
  • Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
  • Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game’s release.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won’t install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their consent.
  • Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
  • Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Sounds very promising, doesn’t it? Publishers aren’t following it. Games like Spore, which drew fire from all sides for its strict DRM policy obviously didn’t follow this framework. But will publishers like EA, notorious for protecting their IP, follow this new set of guidelines? Well, let’s see what Spore specifically broke in this rights at launch:

  • Spore treated played like criminals. No-no.
  • It has to connect to the Internet every ten days to validate itself. Bad.
  • The DRM used, SecuROM runs with a rootkit (allegedly, granted). Poop.

So, Spore has already violated these rights, and this has driven many people to the “If I’m treated like a criminal, I might as well be one” train of thought (those who rely on BitTorrent for warez). Can you blame them? DRM aside, let’s look at the rights – and wonder if they’d actually work.

Like the Human Rights created by the United Nations, there’s a lot of gray area – some rules get followed, and others don’t (seemingly, on a whim). Will video game producers follow this line of thinking as well, and only use the rights on a per-game basis? Companies like Relic, with Company of Heroes, have really done a lot in proving they don’t really want your money. A patch made by Relic for Company of Heroes, just as its expansion came out, allowed players who didn’t own the expansion to play against them in multiplayer, giving those users the sides that you could not get beforehand.

There’s also the problem of piracy. No matter what rights are in place, piracy is nearly unavoidable. There aren’t many options left to protect your IP anymore. The only viable solution is to use those pesky little rootkits that mess up your computer, make your antivirus software freak out every time you do anything, and force you to leave your Internet connection on while you’re away just so your game can validate itself. There is less incentive to pirate if you weren’t treated like one. Yeah, there’s the occasional bastard, but the money you make because your game is good and it’s not shackled in DRM may encourage more people to buy it. Of course, publishers will laugh if you suggest the honor system (which is basically no DRM).

Another thing to consider is returns. The return policy is usually handled by the retailer, which doesn’t handle it so well. The rights mandate that gamers should be able to return a game without any date limit (no 30 day restriction) – which means that stores like Best Buy and GameStop would need to sign off. If not them, then the publishers. Publishers usually don’t take on the responsibility of taking back returned games, unless it’s a recall or the Activision Guitar Hero 3 (Wii) debacle. So this ‘right’ is really something that should be considered by several sides: who handles the returns? From which pocket does the gamer get a refund, the store or the publisher?

Another problem (a big one) concerns system requirements. For as long as anyone can remember, games on the PC have system requirements that are never true – simply used as a way for people to buy the game, thinking their system has enough power, and then using it as an upgrade vehicle to buy the components to actually run it. After all, what does “minimal” mean? Does it mean “able to open” the game? Or does it mean to run the game? The language here has to be more specific. This right is a must if the PC games industry wants to survive.

While the rights have promise, it will be a long time until they’re acknowledged and are applied by all – gamers and game companies alike.