Stardock Announces "The Gamer's Bill of Rights"

We hold these save games to be self-evident...

By on August 29, 2008 3:23:07 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums External Link

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Stardock announced today the Gamer’s Bill of Rights: a statement of principles that it hopes will encourage the PC game industry to adopt standards that are more supportive of PC gamers. The document contains 10 specific “rights” that video game enthusiasts can expect from Stardock as an independent developer and publisher that it hopes that other publishers will embrace. The Bill of Rights is featured on Stardock’s website (www.stardock.com) and is on prominent display in Stardock’s booth (1142) at the Penny Arcade Expo.

“As an industry, we need to begin setting some basic, common sense standards that reward PC gamers for purchasing our games,” stated Brad Wardell, president and CEO of Stardock Corporation. “The console market effectively already has something like this in that its games have to go through the platform maker such as Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony. But on the PC, publishers can release games that are scarcely completed, poorly supported, and full of intrusive copy protection and then be stuck on it.”

Chris Taylor, CEO and founder of Gas Powered Games stated, “This is an awesome framework for the industry to aspire to, and ultimately so that we can provide our customers with the gaming experience that they have wanted for years, and really deserve.”

As an example of The Gamer’s Bill of Rights in action, Stardock instituted a policy of allowing users to return copies of The Political Machine purchased at retail to Stardock for a full refund if they found that their PC wasn’t sufficient to run the game adequately.

“The PC market loses out on a lot of sales because a significant percentage of our market has PCs that may or may not be adequate to run our games. Without the ability to return games to the publisher for a refund, many potential buyers simply pass on games they might otherwise have bought due to the risk of not being certain a game will work on their PC. The average consumer doesn’t know what ‘pixel shader 2.0 support’ means, for instance,” said Wardell.

According to Stardock, the objective of the Gamer’s Bill of Rights is to increase the confidence of consumers of the quality of PC games which in turn will lead to more sales and a better gaming experience.

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.
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August 29, 2008 4:25:34 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

I like the complete list, expecially Nr.10, it's annoying as hell to keep your CD/DVD in your DVD-ROM just to check for the original. 

 

No-cd patches are still not allowed to use, but i use them nowadays anyway because without them

- it hurts the CD/DVDs in the long term (CD/DVDs should be only needed if you want to install the game)

- and it's just super annoying to switch the discs, expecially if you have like 20+ games installed.

 

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August 29, 2008 6:28:40 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Well stated.  I try to avoid games that violate some of these statements so I hope publishers that conform to them get better sales, but so far, it's only Stardock.  I've been screwed by #1 a couple times, that's a biggie for me.

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August 29, 2008 7:32:03 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

so far, it's only Stardock

Well, that makes the purchasing process that much easier then, doesn't it? 

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August 29, 2008 8:05:28 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

GD this site is slow as hell lately. This page is STILL loading after I finished typing all of this. It's trying to download a ton of little images.  It's really stupid design.  And once I hit stop to kill the wait and scores of images DID finally show up, my post got reformatted and obliterated and I had to reformat it.

How about we add the first amendment to this:  companies will use simple, effective, and commonly used forum software that doesn't suck instead of creating their own forum software that does suck.

Anyways

I like it except maybe #3, because I even though I like getting free extas after the fact I don't think you can count on it. I'd ammend it to say that although games SHOULD be finished and relatively bug free at release, that players should be able to expect games to be patched to completion and have bugs fixed after release (since this doesn't always happen).

#7 is somewhat unrealistic too. Some companies can't even maintain a simple website for themselves - expecting them to facilitate or pay someone else to facilitate multi gig downloads is unreasonable.

Unfortunately, the big companies that could pull off most of this don't care to - especially the parts about treating paying customers like criminals. Smaller companies have little hope of doing most of it unless they're already mostly doing digital distro.

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August 29, 2008 8:15:49 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

If the industry at large conformed to that list, I would be a happy man indeed. The only other publisher I can think of that sticks to this consistently is Valve.

...it's no coicidence, then, that the majority of my purchases are either through Stardock or Steam these days.

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August 29, 2008 8:32:52 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Well, it's nice to see that StarDock's marketing people are out in full force. It's not all marketing drivel, but there's far more of that than necessary.

Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.

You... you're kidding, right? Considering the state of GalCiv2's initial release, you guys have some nerve. But I guess it's easier to tell others what to do than to do it yourselves...

Then again, I notice that it is "have the right to demand...", not that "Gamers shall have the right to expect..." So yes, you can ask for things, but don't get your hopes up

Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game’s release.

Um, why? If the game was perfect to begin with, what would we need with "meaningful updates?"

Are filmmakers expected to provide "meaningful updates" to their movies? Are musicians expected to provide "meaningful updates" to their songs?

The very concept that game developers should have to keep providing content for a game is errant nonsense. I mean, it's fine if they want, but they shouldn't have to, nor should gamers expect them to (unless the developer said they would and reneged).

companies will use simple, effective, and commonly used forum software that doesn't suck instead of creating their own forum software that does suck.

Nope. Doing that doesn't benefit StarDock, or needlessly take a swing at the competition, therefore it doesn't go in the bill of rights.

 

How about some real rights? Like:

- Gamers have the right to a UI and colorscheme that colorblind people can still play effectively.

- Gamers have the right to closed-captioning: that is, anything that delivers an audio cue must also have a visual cue or some form of text.

Things that will actually improve the player experience.

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August 29, 2008 9:27:29 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Erm... I'm sorry, but GC2 was most certainly "finished" on release! It was feature complete, as well as more stable and bug free than the majority of releases. I think that part of the bill of rights is more in reference ot the games that come out feeling like they're still in alpha, and need a patch to even be playable!

As for updates, comparing games to movies isn't really useful. Aside from the fact that NOTHING comes out "perfect", movies are recordings of predefined events, not interactive software. Software these days is essentially a service these days, as much as we'd like it to be otherwise. Besides, a movie or piece of music never has a bug in it, whatever else it's failing might be, while software (game or not) is guaranteed to have bugs as it becomes more and more complicated... it's simply the nature of the beast. And let me tell you, having a developer never touch their product again despite significant gameplay or technical flaws is incredibly infuriating, since you feel like you've just lost $60 and/or an experience that you were otherwise very happy with.

Now, that's not to say that there aren't other things they should add to the list. The "right to accessability" you mention is an excellent idea, if perhaps a bit impractical for many game designs.

And yes, Stardock's list there DOES contain things that improve the experience. Digging around for a CD that you've lost for a game you legitimately own is an incredibly unpleasant experience... I recently wanted to replay Freelancer, but the damned thing has apparently grown legs and taken its chances with the wild....

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August 29, 2008 9:40:10 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Maybe you could add a #11: Gamers shall not be forced to configure their routers to play an online game!

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August 29, 2008 10:28:46 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Now if only Stardock could get the rights to Spore, DCS Black Shark and a few other games I want to play in between GalCiv sessions without infecting my system with burdensome DRM

 

Why is it that no other publishers "get it" ?

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August 29, 2008 11:16:36 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

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.

 

Now, THAT's what i call innovative customer support.

 

7a... Piece-of-mind; steady & fullproof operation of bought software is much more than things such as archives, backups and original CDs - it means that the distributor is protecting someone's investment by allowing the product to be *continually* available & in *solid* condition under whatever tragic circumstances enforced to a PC into total chaos even if by accidental events (Virus, flawed OS, etc).

8a... Thieves should be punished by Justice, that's a social responsability. Honesty is something precious and exactly where_how most people claim to own any software - legally. The distinction stands in the wording of **potential** which, in fact, is a form of trust. A reasonable and intelligent way of thinking. If this world is to become fair to all - something certainly HAS to be done in that direction.

 

I'm quite impressed by the formula; A Bill of Rights for gamers might feel like a joke (to some) but when you seriously try to foresee some of the consequences of such principle(s) - you can only conclude that products quality is mostly above & beyond any profit. I truly respect that in others.

 

I could issue some analogy to better illustrate; MS "Genuine Advantage" gimmicks!

Kudos for having the guts, Stardock!

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August 29, 2008 11:53:54 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

I wouldn't say Stardock is doing this because they're nice folks, but because they believe that this is the way to maximize long-term profitability.  It works, at least in my case.

 

As for GC2, I'd say that was released complete, but buggy- with the bugs eventually fixed.  I don't think it's possible to get a game 100% right now on the first try.  95% isn't impossible though, and GC2 met that standard.  That said, not having MP made discovery of bugs and glitches a lot slower, I expect not-MoM to appear buggier then GCII did, even if the coding is better.

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August 30, 2008 2:57:04 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

This is pretty ironic to me because a Stardock game was the only game I haven't been able to play right "out of the box" so to speak due entirely to DRM, and ignorance about Stardock's DRM policies on my part. I bought Gal Civ 2 the gold edition a while back, and while I was on an extended trip I noticed that the expansion pack Twilight of the Arnor just came out, great! And it is a digital download, awesome, I can kill a long weekend with it! Right? Wrong. Turns out I couldn't install it because I'd never registered my original games with Stardock Central, although I tried, it was a confusing process that I never quite got through. And I didn't have the original numbers with me to register them right then since I was away from home. Even though I already had the full game and the first expansion installed on my computer, I couldn't install the expansion because I hadn't completed an optional step in the installation process. Basically, I was a legitimate customer stuck with a worthless pile of bits because Stardock was trying to prevent piracy, and I had no recourse that would allow me to play the game that I bought. Very not good.

The good news is Stardock customer service was really great and provided helpful replies explaining the policy, how it worked, and giving me a full refund when I asked for it. So I left pretty happy and I know for sure this company is dedicated to its customers. They're really great despite my complaints. But still, they could go a ways towards living up to their own goals. Even now I've been too busy to go searching for the original CDs so I can buy the expansion, the moment has passed, and they lost $30. For now at least, but I'll probably cave in eventually when I've got the time again. It sounds really fun!

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August 30, 2008 5:03:04 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
  1. Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
  2. Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game’s release.

Non sequitur.

(should be #'s 2 and 3, but the way this site allows for copying and pasting messes things up, it seems.)

If it is released in its finished state there would be no need for updates.

GalCiv2 DL is currently at 1.5 - after 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.4. And we DL 1.5 users are expecting a 2.0 release, as per what certain devs have said in that regard. So to say that we should expect a finished game on its initial release is, really, stupid - to say the least.

Other than that - I fully agree.

Really, just delete #2 and everything is fine. (unless 9 rights are somehow less perfect than 10?)

 

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August 30, 2008 6:30:50 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

You have to look at this from another perspective - the point about releasing games in a finished state, means you have to release a generally bug-free game that works as intended, e.g., a version 1.0, not a 0.7 beta renamed to final.

 

If that point is fulfilled, number three is NOT redundant. It does say updates, not bugfixes. An update should be regarded as a minor expansion, adding new, subtle things, that enrich the gaming experience, like a new race, or command, or tech branch. Thats when the numbers 1.1 etc have a meaning - It is a full 1.0 version, bug free, with the addons that the 1.1 update (Not Patch, mind this) introduce.

Again, the third point does NOT cover Patches and bugfixes - it regards Updates, and there lies the core difference and reason why Numbers 2 and 3 are valid.

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August 30, 2008 6:34:46 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Everyone seems to be getting upset about the "finished state / future updates" thing but it's just wording.

"Finished" is an awkward word and was probably chosen to avoid an over-long clause.  Something like:

"complete as per the advertised features and fully playable without further update"

Something can be finished as per the above statement and still be improved upon.  You buy a new house and still decorate it, buy a new car and get the furry dice ...

I would split the updates clause:

"Gamers have the right to expect readily available timely patches to fix identified bugs"

and, since I dont think all games could or necessarily should be updated w.r.t. content (it doesnt really fit to add content to a heavily plot-driven game):

... actually I am struggling to come up with a clause that covers this.  Where do you draw the line - when do "meaningful updates" become "expansion packs".  Tricky.

I think what you are aiming for here is that gamers should be able to assume that a developer is not going to dump the game on the market and run away and should continue to actively support their product.  It gets very difficult when you talk about additional content - it's a commercial decision which will be influenced by how well the game does too.

 

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August 30, 2008 7:42:18 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

I agree with Alfonse on some parts.

 

However, a Bill of Rights for Gamers is certainly a positive step however many rights are in it. Firstly it acknowledges that we are people expecting something meaningful from a gaming company. Expectations and promises means certain rights for the consumers. One (read: gaming companies) cannot go about producing crud while they promised gold and then expect gamers to spend their money and be happy about it. What happens in other sectors? Electrical appliances: if it doesn't work, you return it. No questions asked! It's in the law even.

 

8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.

One of the most important in my opinion. If this is followed, then almost everything else falls into place. A mutual trust is established and constructive criticism and support follows.

This is what Microsoft should have done for Games for Windows Logo. Not just stay at the bank of the river, but flow down it. Perhaps we should also staple this multiple times on the EA Headquarters....

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August 30, 2008 11:45:57 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

I must applaud for the effort Stardock puts into this "Bill of rights", and I agree on all points. If this would become a worldwide recognized bill, we will finally be able to lift the gaming industry to a higher level.

 

However, there is a bit of irony in this post. Especially since one of the latest capital Stardock releases "ToA" was not finished in the eyes of alot of people. I should not have to remind people that it took almost 8 weeks to patch the game making it playable as it first was. To be honost I havent touched the game anymore even since that patch, because I want to wait for 2.0, so the game will finally be finished in my eyes.

 

I will never say the support is not good from Stardock, because it is probably the best we have seen for most companies, however again no-one can deny with a clean consiousness that ToA wasnt rushed into launch. No matter what the reasons are, you can morally want to oblige to your own "Bill of rights" but if other factors can be more decisive in making this decisions then these rights are nothing more then a piece of paper. If you want to strive in keeping these rights, you have to change the reasons why companies are forced into an early release.

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August 30, 2008 1:59:40 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Nice list, although I expect the precise meaning of #2 could be rather vague.

What does "finished" mean? Does that mean no more features will be added? Does that mean the game is playable? Does that mean you're reached the feature set you wanted in the original design docs?

Seriously - you can add practically an infinite number of features to any given software - look at Microsoft Word, it got bloated so much they had to rethink and totally overhaul the UI.

I totally agree with everything else . I like that list.

 

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August 30, 2008 2:04:38 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

... actually I am struggling to come up with a clause that covers this.  Where do you draw the line - when do "meaningful updates" become "expansion packs".

Exactly. Who is StarDock to say that all games ought to have expansions or free updates or whatever? It's one thing to say that games should be released reasonbly bug-free; it's quite another to say that game developers should continue developing a game after they've finished making it. As far as I'm concerned, that's dealer's choice. I'd have been happy with Team Fortress 2 without the added content drops. But Valve wants to give me free stuff, and I'm happy with that too.

It just seems like there are quite a few parts of this "Gamer's Bill of Rights" that are self-serving in nature, rather than as a real standard that all game developers should hold to.

Especially since one of the latest capital Stardock releases "ToA" was not finished in the eyes of alot of people. I should not have to remind people that it took almost 8 weeks to patch the game making it playable as it first was.

That's a good point: I totally forgot about the bungled ToA release.

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August 30, 2008 3:25:19 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Who is StarDock to say that all games ought to have expansions or free updates or whatever?

For one thing, no game is perfect, so I expect at least bug fixes in the future.

For another thing, there are lots of games I love from the 95/98 and even Windows 3.11 era that were great games, but I can't play them anymore due to incompatibilities with modern OSes.

Even the occasional genre is forgotten: Anybody remember Descent, Hellbender, Fury, or Terminal Velocity? An entire genre for which there is litte equivalent today. They were fun games - I don't see why companies lost interest in making them.

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August 30, 2008 8:00:50 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

It just seems like there are quite a few parts of this "Gamer's Bill of Rights" that are self-serving in nature, rather than as a real standard that all game developers should hold to.

That maybe true...but I'm not sure I see what the problem is?

We all need goals in life, otherwise we'd lack a reference point. By releasing this list, Stardock are only putting pressure on themselves right? If Blues News is any indication, they've certainly succeeded. Maybe they feel that external pressure is a good motivator, and that working towards keeping your word is an effective method for improvement.

It's certainly more difficult than standing around watching what everyone else does, keeping your agenda to yourself and thereby nullifiying all terms of measure. Good Luck to them I say, if they come up short then so be it...at least they've had the courage to be transparent about it.

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August 30, 2008 8:27:52 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

I am glad others have noted the irony of this:

Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.

In my mind none of the GC2 games are finished.  They all crash, they all have plenty of small stupid bugs, and overall they all lack polish.   If Brad actually believed number 2, he would have put resources into cleaning these games up before releasing them.   (or at least really play tested them to realize he had problems)

The tragedy is that even in a non-complete state, GC2 is good.  It's good enough that you ignore the obvious flaws.  What gets me, is how amazing a game it COULD have been if they had just polished it rather than adding and adding complexity and features. As long as SD is somewhat successfull we'll probably never seem them release "finished" games.

PS, I hate the excuse of "we gave you free updates".  It's total BS.  I would have gladly paid 2x as much for any of these games if they were solid.  You shouldn't HAVE to update your game to get it to approach what you though you paid for a year ago.  Go back and play any of the initial releases.  They're a joke in and of themselves.   

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August 30, 2008 8:30:38 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Where the heck is edit?  I meant :

You shouldn't HAVE to update your game to get it to approach what you though you paid for a year ago.

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August 31, 2008 2:16:54 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Turns out I couldn't install it because I'd never registered my original games with Stardock Central, although I tried, it was a confusing process that I never quite got through.

I had no issue at all with the registration process.  I can install all the game components and expansions without any serial number information or disks.  All I have to do is install SDC and it fetches all of my registration info after prompting for my email address and password.  SDC installs the components then activates the games.  I've done this several times for various reasons.  I know other people have had trouble registering GC2 so you were probably one of the unlucky ones, but I've never had an issue.  Creating the account was a trouble free process for me.  When I bought the GC2 expansions as well as Sins of a Solar Empire, the serial numbers were automatically added to my account and retreived by SDC.

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August 31, 2008 6:01:53 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

In my mind none of the GC2 games are finished. They all crash, they all have plenty of small stupid bugs, and overall they all lack polish. If Brad actually believed number 2, he would have put resources into cleaning these games up before releasing them. (or at least really play tested them to realize he had problems)

Well, you should read the GC2 post moterm published in 2006 and available here http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060405/wardell_03.shtml . It has some nice insights about testing and spotting problems

 

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