In a provocative new move, Galactic Civilizations creator and Impulse digital distributor Stardock has announced a PC-specific 'gamer's bill of rights' - Gamasutra reveals them and talks to the firm's Brad Wardell about the ten commandments, who he wants to sign it, and just what they mean.
Wardell, whose company recently had notable success co-developing Sins Of A Solar Empire, and is partnering with Gas Powered Games on the upcoming Demigod, explained: "It's a series of guidelines we're trying to introduce in an effort to get our industry to be a little more standardized in how we deal with our games."
The developer and businessman, who is the subject of a larger Gamasutra profile alongside Gas Powered Games' Chris Taylor also debuting today, added:
"We want as many people as possible to sign this -- particularly publishers, because developers are typically at the mercy of publishers. If a developer signs their next game with some publisher that's made up of evil bastards, the developer can't really do anything about that."
The full list of the rights are as follows:
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.
Wardell went on to map out some of his thinking on individual items in the bill, explaining: "On the console, you don't release as many buggy games, because of the pain of patching on consoles, but on the PC, we've gotten to the point where we just say, 'Eh, we'll just patch it.' That's bull. It's wrecking our industry."
"We're going to release things that are done, even if we have to delay it. We're going to not put in obnoxious copy protection. We will support the game after release. We have this set of principles, and there will be a logo on the game that gamers can trust means the game is done, and will be supported."
But what can practically be changed without anyone to enforce this type of thing? Wardell suggests: "The only way gamers can get game publishers to change their behavior is through the marketplace. Here's a way to organize around it. We're going to look at setting up an ESRB-type agency in charge of this thing. You don't want Stardock controlling this -- it would be an independent organization."
"Where ESRB handles [rating] content, you have this thing saying it will be supported after release, it won't have obnoxious DRM, it will be released in good shape, and other things that a user can have some faith in. If they see that symbol on the box or in the manual, they'll know."
Isn't this all a little presumptious to expect a relatively small publisher and developer to lead the industry on such a matter? Wardell disagrees: "Certainly, publishers are going to say, 'Who the hell is Stardock?' But depending on how gamers react to it, it will affect the publisher. If we can get gamers not to put up with games that barely function until a patch comes our, or calls home every six days to make sure I'm not a pirate, that starts affecting the publisher in their pocketbooks -- then they're more likely to take this seriously."
"Previously, we've only talked about it in the philosophical sense, that gamers should just expect people to do this, but there's been no way to organize or standardize what exactly gamers want publishers to do. This is an attempt to do that."
Interestingly, when asked if he'd talked to the PC Gaming Alliance, Wardell revealed: "No, I have not. They had their shot."
He concluded: "They already have this on the console. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo approve this stuff. You don't even know if a PC game is going to work -- and not because of your hardware, you just don't know if it's going to function."
"Games for Windows does a little bit about this, but that's just a checklist. They don't care if you're using DRM or that kind of stuff. This could even be something that becomes part of Games for Windows down the line, but what we want to do is start creating an organizational centerpoint, that these are things gamers expect from their publishers."
[UPDATE: This article has elicited a response from Randy Stude, President of the PC Gaming Alliance, who commented in a statement given to Gamasutra:
"We welcome any initiative to promote and support PC gaming and there are some great thoughts in this Bill of Rights, especially in regards to the minimum system specification. The PC Gaming Alliance is dedicated to tackling this and many other important issues, including piracy, which is one of the greatest problems facing all of us in the business.
We’ve formed committees with our member companies to find solutions, and we want to invite Brad personally and Stardock, along with any other company with a stake in the PC gaming industry, to take up arms with us by joining the PCGA and helping us find solutions that push the industry forward, and as a result, benefit consumers.
Stardock will find many friends and allies at the PCGA who are willing to help them see the kind of changes they seek take place to effect real change."]