Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stardock Says You Have Rights, PC Gamers

In the boldest, wisest, and frankly coolest collection of axioms I've ever seen a developer lobby in three decades of PC gaming, Galactic Civilizations designer Stardock today released a 'Gamer's Bill of Rights' describing what gamers should expect from developers, publishers, and retailers going forward.

In just 10 succinct points, Stardock simultaneously identifies a lot of what's wrong with the PC games industry while courageously suggesting that:

-Gamers shall have the right to return games that don't work with their computers for a full refund.
Me: You know, we used to have this right a decade ago. Remember the era when stores like Babbages and Software Etc. gave you 30 days on opened software with a valid receipt?

-Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
Me: I'd add an important corollary: Game developers have a right to demand that publishers never, ever force them to release a game in an unfinished state.

-Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game's release.
Me: I'm assuming Stardock means updates = expansions, and not the sort of optional free content a developer should never feel obliged to offer if the game adheres to point number two. But yeah, if we're going to pay from one-half to two-thirds the cost of the original game for an add-on, it needs to deliver at least commensurately.

-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.
Me: I religiously uninstall third-party download managers the second I've finished pulling down a file or game (exceptions being Stardock's and Valve's).

-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.
Me: This one's a toughie, because "adequately" is still so vague. Adequately for me is Crysis with everything set to "max." Adequately for someone else might be Crysis in a tiny window with everything set to "low." This gets even trickier when you consider how completely anarchic benchmarks are in terms of morphing drivers and elusive one-off optimizations. Unless hardware vendors counterintuitively agreed to develop to an independent performance index, getting a good definition of "adequately" will probably remain the purview of one-size-fits-all consoles.

-Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won't install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their consent.
Me: 'Nuff said. Well, and maybe something in there about serious legal threats against anyone who violates this point.

-Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
Me: Another tricky one, because bandwidth costs publishers money, and games aren't getting smaller. If you could convince me that publishers are paying less than pennies on the dollar to maintain download servers, I might bite, but with PC gaming vectoring toward total digital-distribution, I'm conflicted.

-Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
Me: Hear hear. Begone, StarForce and all your misbegotten hasn't-stopped-a-single-pirate-to-date progeny.

-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.
Me: I've been an advocate of this since Valve launched Steam and made this mandatory. Valve eventually wised up and made it optional. So bravo (again) Valve, thank you as well Stardock, and the rest of you need to follow suit, because going online should always and forever remain an option and not a requirement.

-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.
Me: Color me ambivalent on this one. But speaking as a laptop gamer, games that don't require discs tend to play (a) much more quietly and (b) generate far less heat. The latter can be crucial if you're utilizing a high-end mobile GPU.

One last "right" I'd like to add...

-Gamers shall have the right to expect members of the gaming press to challenge game companies when they violate any of the above principles.
Me: The press is an engine of inquiry, not a press-release patsy. There's supposed to be an element of bias in expert reporting. You wouldn't accept on its face what a politician tells you, and you shouldn't uncritically accept what a game company does as in everyone's best interest. As history shows us, time and again, that's not always the case.

-by Matt Peckham

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