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The Gamer's Bill Of Rights: Stardock's Wardell Explains
The Gamer's Bill Of Rights: Stardock's Wardell Explains Exclusive
August 29, 2008 | By Chris Remo, Staff

August 29, 2008 | By Chris Remo, Staff
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

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."]

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Read and learn, Mr. Unangst. THIS is what the PCGA should be advocating. Otherwise, you're no more than a cruel joke.

Way to go, Stardock!.

Gregory Austin
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If something like this became standard, I'd start buying PC games again!

Stephen Gurnett
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Point #2 is a little awkward - I agree with it but then would never have gotten to play Vampire: Bloodlines (and does a game that was cut back to the point of incoherence count as finished? I'm looking at you, KOTOR 2).

There's probably some overlap between #1 and #5 as well (and how do I prove it doesn't work for me and I'm not just treating the retailer as a free gaming library?).

#7 Was this, by any chance, pointed at EA?

#9 Are there any games that do this? I think the worst have intimated they validate every x number of times, but certainly not every time.

#10 It's generally a pointless necessity but it's not the worst form of DRM around and I'd be surprised if publishers agreed to it. Having said that, the money saved by not having to license the latest and greatest DRM system could either come off the price of the game or go to supporting point #3.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Keith Hudnall
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#9 may have been pointed at Half Life 2 on Steam

Greg Bohrn
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The problems a lot of the studios are having is piracy. Piracy of games are huge. Though company make alot of money selling their games, but they are having to support user calls from people who have pirated the product which costs these companies money. I agree with the GBOR above, but to be frankly honest, it's not going to happen mainly do to piracy. More studios are going to move to a gaming as a service model and use DM like Valves Steam Engine for PCs. Even the consoles are not safe once the hardware has been cracked (which all current consoles have been now). With all the criminals around the world stealing product, just because its software and easy makes it hard for people to sell product period. I don't work for any gaming organization, so don't flame me. I have been working in Software architecture and development for over 15 years though (including graphics, s3ecurity, etc). I've consulted with many companies gaming and otherwise and they all have the same problem (piracy). If Microsoft didn't have piracy rates of 80% in Russia and 98% in Southeast Asia, they could probably sell their products cheaper (doesn't mean they would, but they could). The same problems occur for gaming companies. You can get nearly any game cracked off the torrent sites for the PC or even for Xbox 360 with the utilities to imaging them into the system. This is why you will see more Internet validation in the future and not less. Software industry as a whole is slowly moving to Software as a Service model and connectivity is key. I wish we didn't have all of these security attempts, but we do and unfortunately for good reasons (piracy). Just my 5 cents worth

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by the way, any chance we will ever get a finished KOTOR II?

Stephen Gurnett
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The Gamers Bill of Rights (and Stardock's business model) is aimed at reducing piracy through providing services after purchasing and making users feel valued and rewarded for putting down their hard-earned. It's easy to dismiss it based on a quick read through but it's not intended as an instant fix. Instead, it's about re-establishing trust between the customer and the publisher/developer/retailer.

I can't see it being adopted straight away across the industry but if some smaller, talented, developers were to use and promote it it could become seen as a mark of quality. That may, in turn, entice others to adopt it and adhere to its policies as long as a breach carried significant penalties.

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Piracy in third world countries is rampant mainly because the price is too high. After you add the taxes and convert the currency, it's like paying U$300 (or more) for a game. If people pirate a game that costs U$60, what do you expect from one that costs U$300?

Of course, people who don't have enough money should just go poor in not-included land, blame globalization, etc.

Matt Ponton
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To Greg Bohrn

I'll counter with the Chicken & The Egg Theory: Is it that piracy causes us to have all these security issues, or is it that these security issues cause additional piracy?

Then you have your China & Russia example, which isn't just about piracy but also their society.

David Delanty
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I'm not knowledgeable in regards to such, but aren't some of these issues outlined in the 'Games for Windows' product submission standards?

I'm in disagreement with two issues here. First off, amendment 2 seems a bit vague. What defines "completed" state? Could we consider a game "incomplete" because they still have known bugs that were included in the final product, but weren't considered substantial enough to push back the title's release date? Could a game be considered "incomplete" for having open-ended story arcs? What about the progressive release of downloadable content that was made during the production cycle, but was reserved for a downloadable add-on to promote their game's downloadable content system?

Secondly is issue 4. I find this counter-intuitive to developers who release their products on the STEAM network, or other websites that use download managers for their games. For giving greater exposure to independent small developers, and as one who champions the endeavors of these start-ups, I think the industry needs to work to find ways to give greater exposure to those who cannot afford the same advertising and distribution budgets as the larger mega-corporations.

Maybe I'm not reading it right. I'd love to sit down with a more elaborate, descriptive version of this Bill of Rights. Just to get all the details.

The rest I'm in agreement with.

Maurício Gomes
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I think that 4 is aimed at some really annoying games that do not fire up until you update (MMOs I am looking to you! Specially ones that the thing updated is content that the player do not need to see to play properly, like map decoration changes...)

The point 2 is aimed at things like Battle Cruiser 3k, where the game was released unfinished (clearly) and needed several patches to get good (the site underdogs even "awarded" the game as "the best real dog that became top dog after patch"), that also applies to Ultima IX, that needed FAN MADE patches to "look right" (EA you suck, your game needed the PLAYERS to balance it with the "monster patch"!)

And indeed, I think that this will really help with the issue of piracy, I am from a third world country, here a XBOX 360 game is 300USD (no need to say the ratio between original and pirated games, I need? Also I do not need to say that I said about the ratio, because the total even with piracy suck, since the console itself is still expensive), and people here buy pirated products mainly because they are advantages in doing it, and they are not the product being free...

To explain: I was buying all Rainbow Six games up to the Rainbow Six 3 original, some even not budget versions (like Rainbow Six 3 itself), when Vegas was launched I do not found one here (like Valve said, unserved costumers generate piracy), and I bought a pirated game.

I played it, and the game sucked (the best part of Rainbow Six series are the tactics that you could even create yourself! I do not want a console shooter converted to PC! To a console FPS the game is good, but to a PC it sucks, they took away the best of the game to make it fit on a console), I went to the guy that sold me the game, and asked him for a return... He returned my money, without even bothering me with anything!

Also I have a pirated windows (reason: it is too expensive, and I can not avoid using it because since everyone has a pirated windows, it became a "standard" and so the university use several windows based software that are hard to emulate, and I need those software), the person that sold my (pirated) windows copy is always helpfull, he gives support (better than microsoft... btw: I also have original windows in other computer, and microsoft support sucked when I needed help, specially when the issue was that my original CD-Key stopped working on the "activation").

Now I never had any support from a game company here (and EA even has a office here... and they do not bother even to localize the game, they just import the manufactured CD from the US, thus making the price skyrocket because of importation taxes, and then they distribute here), and I never managed to return a legal software.

Btw: I regret buying Vegas pirated, because the money that I spent going and returning from the dealer (about 12 USD), but I do not regret more because diffrently from other games of the series, I bought pirated and I could return it, instead of buying the original game (no need to say that I never played vegas 2... I plainly do not want anymore to collect Rainbow Six games)

So, hooray to stardock! They know about the things! (I never pirated a stardock game, neither friends of mine that has about 500 pirated games, this says something... btw: I said "friends" because more than one has more than 500 pirated games, from these 500 usually 300 are CONSOLE games, so the piracy is not a PC issue ;) )

Richard McDaniel
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I disagree with Bohrn on this one. Piracy isn't so much an issue with software companies because it increases their support costs. Piracy is an issue with software companies because they look at the numbers comming out of Russia and China and see the potential dollar signs flying out the proverbial window.

Let's put it another way, if support costs were truly the issue with piracy then the software company could simply incorporate a kind of product validation when a support request is made. If that validation fails they could charge for the service or require that the person purchase a license before continuing.

It's a simple business model but none of the game developers/publishers I know do anything close to this, and only a handful of other software companies do and still they employ organizations such as the BSA to issue cease and desist letters to those sharing the company's software over P2P services.

Point is, if you want to stop people from selling bootleg copies of your software in the street that's one thing, but don't make your own customers jump through hoops for the simple privilege of using a legitimately purchased product.

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I appreciate what this is trying to do, and some of these make sense, but others are based more opinion than anything else. Either way, I don't think this i going to take in its current vision.

1. Retailers will never agree to point 1. Its too easy to abuse. A credit of some kind is more likely to work as it helps to track abuse.

2. I agree... I think most in the industry do even if it doesn't always seem that way.

3. What does this even mean... What constitutes a meaningful update? Are these updates free or can one charge for new content? Whoe defines this and what is the hardware manufacturer held to in terms of quality of drivers?

4. This is part of the digital distribution landscape. No major publisher is going to agree to this. What does it matter anyway? If you don't want it to run on system startup, cool... but what do you care if it launches with the game? Sounds like its more anti-DRM than anti launcher, and if thats the case, just say no DRM. Don't complicate it with indirect "rights"

5,6 - agree completely

7 - This should be up to the publisher. If stardock wants to do this, cool... its a feature.. run with it, but don't push your biz model on the rest of the industry.

8 - Vague. What does this even mean? Again, it sounds like they just hate DRM, and if you choose not to use DRM, fine. Advertise it as a feature of your games, but its a choice. For the record, I don't think the industry always handles DRM in the best way, but scrapping it completely is a mistake. Look at Music. Radiohead released an album with a name your price and only a small number opted to pay for it. Some will, most won't.

9. Finally something specific enough to Agree with... this is poorly handled at the moment. They need to find a way to combat piracy without relying on ISP stability or inconveniencing travelers

10. Why? Sounds reasonable to require that the user pony up the disk they claim to have bought.

Overall, regulation of this type is pointless. The only Right, the gamer has is that the game work the way it claims to and that it fully disclose what it is going to do to a user's computer. On the DRM and game launcher front, the gamer has the right to play something else if they don't like it or if the publisher screwed up the customer experience so much that the game isn't worth launching. They never have the right to steal the game just because they didn't like the terms of the sale. Despite claims to the contrary, the real reason they steal games is because its easy and they don't want to pay for it. How many buy the game and pirate it only when the DRM is a pain in the ass? How many steal it to try it out, play through it, and then never buy it? Just about all of them. If games weren't stolen in the numbers they are, publishers wouldn't need DRM or the costs associated with it. This isn't a chicken and egg argument. Copy Protection was employed because people copied games... Pirates came first. How many game publishers from the 80s are still around... only the ones that used copy protection.

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"If games weren't stolen in the numbers they are, publishers wouldn't need DRM or the costs associated with it"

The other side of the argument is that PC games DRM does NOT stop piracy in any way and it never has, but it causes hassles to legitimate customers and drives them to... piracy. So in effect DRM hurts companies more than it helps, but due to PR, marketing and appearances, companies don't dare get out of the DRM treadmill and keep hurting themselves and the industry.

This situation reminds me of Buñuel's film "El Angel Exterminador". A Bill of Rights might potentially break the spell for some companies. Who knows? Kudos to Stardock and people like GPG, who patch DRM out of their games and focus on building a faithful online community, for showing the way.

Stephen Chin
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The fundamental basis of what Stardock is trying to say is the same thing they've been saying (and doing) for quite some time now (as Brad mentioned). They're -not- trying to stop piracy; Brad knows very well that piracy will always exist in some form and some people will -always- want to piracy even if a cheap and legal version is available.

Rather, what Brad is saying is not to target the pirates but target the buying consumer. However much money is lost by pirates, in the end, the buying consumer is still the one actually giving money to the company. And to this end, Brad is saying that the best way to convert the fence sitters on piracy (those that don't always pirate) is not to force them to buy... but to encourage them to buy. By adding value to a game because you brought it, Brad is suggesting that people will be more likely to buy the game because they will want the stuff that is otherwise not available or get stuff that helps the gamer out.

Patchs and technical support may seen like minor issue... but if you could be assured that no matter what happened, you always had help available, that's a strong incentive to do it legally. If you -knew- the game would run on your computer rather than it being a crap shoot and you know that if it didn't or you didn't like it, you could return it... that's a strong assurance to the customer. A different example would be something like the Sims games - part of the value in the game is the readily available content and updates that come out. When you buy a Sims game, you aren't just buying the game... you're buying the expansions to come (well, sorta).

That's what Brad is saying. Make buying the game worthwhile and make handling the game so easy that torrenting pirated versions is hard by comparison. If you didn't have to jump through hoops just to play a game you've brought (and know the game would run fine 100% of the time), those that are on the fence about buying the game or pirating the game may be more inclined to buy the game.

In short, treat games and gaming as a -service- not as a product. Treat buying a game like buying a car - you're not just getting the car, you're getting guarentees it'll run, dealer service, and what have you. Don't treat buying a game like buying fast food - once you've touched it, it's yours for better or for worse and no one can help you unless you fuss loudly.

Federico Andres Lois
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I come from a third world country and I work in the business development industry, so games development is just a hobby for me.

Lets do some math: A typical game costs 60 USD in the states, I travel a lot so let's say I buy it in the States and bring it home. That would sum up to 190$ (in local currency), my personal lifestyle is middle class but in the higher end (industry here pays well) so I have a pretty nice 44 m2 appartment with swimming pool, gym, etc in a pretty good neighboarhood. As I pay 1500$ monthly the cost of 1 game bought in the states is like 12,5% of my monthly rent. Now lets say that very same game (GTA4) from a local provider, now it costs me 89USD or 270$ in local currency (18% of my monthly rent).

As I said my income is pretty high for local standards, there is plainly no way people would ever think about buying games in here. In marketing you would call this a "No market at all" :) ... Now rent is pretty volatile from one place to another and difficult to qualify, lets use some other index. Now lets say we use the national average for a Sr. Developer( and contrast it with the US average for that very same one ( Well if we could only buy GTA4s, just for the record I dont have it and I dont like it either, a Sr. Developer here would be able to buy 180 units at a local retailer while a similar person in the US could buy 1481 units.

Numbers dont lie, that is the truth of it; there is no market because there are not buyers at those extreme prices... now is there still anyone wondering why there is no market at all and why piracy is rampant around here? Publishers could do a ton of money if they put their rates up to the standards here. Moreover they DO know the advantage they have here to cut costs and they take it like Gameloft who HAVE a BIG development center here.

From my own experience: I am a regular player at Battlefield 2142 whose DRM just plain sucks and their first Download Manager sucked, there is no word to describe how badly it perform. Now, I do really enjoy my legitimate copy, in spite of the DRM that locked me out of the game for 1 month and a useless customer service I cannot call because it is in the states. Moreover the only great idea they had was to reinstall my OS. Reinstall my OS thanks to a bloody game what are they thinking?. I would rather make sure that I spend that big ammount of money for my country standards wiser the next time, something I think the "The Gamer's Bill of Rights" could help.



Aaron Lutz
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I agree almost completely with the GBOR; we need standards for PC games, and these are things that players should be able to expect, but can't reliably. I support it, and if it ever sees light then I'll be sure to look for it on future purchases.

But I have to agree a bit with Greg on this one; piracy is a huge deterrent. It's the main reason that companies do things like DRM, requiring CDs and a verification code sent over the net and such. However, I know for a fact that even with all these countermeasures, piracy still exists, and it always will; there will always be someone who manages to crack your latest security lock, and (s)he will distribute it.

So my question is: if, no matter what you do, piracy will always exist, is it really worth it trying to prevent it?

Regardless, I'm all for the GBOR, and hopefully it will be realized soon.

Jeffrey Pease
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Unless I am reading it wrong I completely disagree with number four. Online moderation is fairly young in our industry and if a game has an update that fixes a cheat or and exploit, it should require that the player updates their game to be able to play it online.

I suppose you can have it 'not force them' to download something but letting them online would also be an impossibility as well. Especially since if you have multiple users running different version of the same program interacting with each other..that would be UGLY.

Stephen Chin
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Jeffery: Valid point. I think one answer would simply to only allow people to play with those who have the same version (and possibly to allow people to un-patch or re-patch a game at will). Thus while the game may officially be version X, if people did not mind the exploit (or for them and their friends, it made the game more fun), then they could play it that way. Thus, they retain full control of the game and can play it the way they wish... but if they wish to play with new content and new material, they need to also play fair.

Dan Olson
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I totally agree. All gamers should be able to install games onto their systems and run them without physical media, then return them as soon as they're installed for a full refund.

It is very true, we should not treat gamers as criminals. Their only crime is wanting to play games without having to pay for them. As such it is an excellent idea to give them a way to play games indefinitely for free. This is clearly the solution to all of the problems with the PC game market. Thank you, Stardock!

Matt Ponton
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I'm more tempted to pirate when people assume that I'm a pirate.

Of course, let's let the legit ones suffer through DRM & physical media in the drive. The pirates always find a way passed that anyways, so in turn (and what Stardock is technically saying) developers are acting like everyone is a pirate which hurts those. Putting frivolous (note I said frivolous) restrictions just upsets legit customers. 1's and 0's is all it is, pirates will always find a way to get around the security issues. Then you're just left with pissed off customers.

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It's a lack of trust that has created a lot of PC gaming pirates. Most pirates will tell you that part of their reason for pirating games is that you can never be sure the game will run or even be in a finished state (stable enough to play for an extended period without any crashes) when you buy it. You have to be rather gullible to put down $50-$60 for something like that.

Publishers need to stop fighting their consumer base and start fostering a positive relationship, which always begins with trust. They have to get over this entitlement complex that says they deserve to sell their product, despite the fact that they regularly release games that are half finished and don't run well (or at all) on the vast majority of computers. If you screw over your customers regularly, they're going to stop buying. Treating them like criminals after they buy your half finished barely playable game isn't going to help your cause either.

Paul Lenoue
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I'd like to suggest "Gamers shall have the right to modify games to make them more playable." I can't tell you how many games I've tried that were too easy or too hard, and a little tweaking would have made them a lot more enjoyable. But no, the game publishers believed their set-up was perfect for everyone so they locked the game down. Then they complain that nobody plays their game for more than a few weeks. *sheesh*

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Now if only there were such fair terms between developers and publishers.