Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Gamer Bill of Rights

The disappointing performance of E3 this year continues to be highlighted by the success of other gaming conventions that have risen to higher prominence in recent years. PAX is perhaps one of the most well known and often has a lot of demos for upcoming games which fans are happy to eat up. Also the convention has gained a reputation as a place for smaller publishers to announce press releases to a large fan based audience. You're not going to find next year's release schedule for EA or Square-Enix being announced at PAX, but interesting information does surface. This year one story that caught my eye was that Stardock was pushing the adoption of a Gamer's Bill of Rights. With the fight between pirates and the video game industry intensifying it often seems like the average gamer is caught between a rock and a hardplace.

The amount of DRM that is acceptable to put on a game has been slowly increasing and causing headaches for customers. Also there seems to be a decrease in quality and innovation as sequels and companies that specialize in them have made a fortune in lackluster games. Huge marketing budgets for threatening and bribing review sites have become standard practice as seen with last year's gamespot scandal. Even MMO's are affected since it's become standard practice with a lot of companies to lie about what features will be in the game at release. Should Blizzard have been able to talk about the Black Temple to reviewers when it wasn't patch in until much later? Should Age of Conan been able to advertise their "PvP" mechanics even though most them still have been implemented?

The Gamer's Bill of Rights seems to address these issues and it would be nice if it was widely adopted by game publishers.

  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.
Most of these are hard to apply to the MMO industry except for the one about games not being released in a finished state. We're real familiar with that one. The problem of course is that MMOs in general seem to be horribly managed and the ones that are released in a finished state are often the most expensive to produce. In my time with the genre I think only World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings, and Guild Wars fit the definition of being finished at release. The vast majority of games in the MMO genre often release with missing or broken content in the hopes that initial box sales will fund the development hours required to patch the game. This is why I think so many MMOs are guilty of overspending on marketing and fudging on their feature list so they can produce hype.

We'll have to wait and see if this Gamer Bill of Rights gains any traction within the industry. It would be nice to see more finished products in the MMO industry and a generally lessening of DRM controls for PC games. I believe Warhammer will release very stable, but it has the large budget which makes such an accomplishment easier to pull off. I'm not so sure that smaller games like Stargate Worlds and Jumpgate Evolution could justify balancing their budget towards a period of polishing the game before release. After all, there's very little motivation to make a polished product unless gamers change their spending habits. If we keep pre-ordering unfinished games like Age of Conan or putting up with harmful DRM like SecuRom we're denying that we want any rights as game consumers.