- Gamers shall have the right to return games that don’t work with their computers for a full refund.
- Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
- Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game’s release.
- 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.
- 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.
- Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won’t install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their consent.
- Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
- Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
- 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.
- 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.
I want to not only highlight Stardock's efforts, but to take this a step further. Many of these Rights are specifically worded to relate to video games; however, applied broadly, those same Rights are already held by consumers. The only difference here, and the only way I can see that gamers have been relinquished of these Rights, is that video games are, and always have been, a digital medium.
Games come packaged with EULAs (End User License Agreements), which in some form or another attempt to proclaim that the buyer is not actually purchasing a "copy" of the software, but rather a "license" to use the software. On top of these EULAs, games are coming packaged with increasingly draconian DRM (Digital Rights Management) copy-protection such as SecuROM.
The latest versions of SecuROM can be found in games such as BioShock, Mass Effect, and the hotly anticipated Spore. In all cases, the DRM limits the number of installations arbitrarily and requires an internet connection to activate the game. Mass Effect and Spore both attempted to require that the games be reactivated every 10 days, but reconsidered that requirement when massive amounts of vocal protest were directed at the developers. Instead, the games will only require reactivation when new game content or patches are installed.
Both the EULAs and DRM schemes like SecuROM are attempts to circumvent fair use rights of consumers. Rights such as the Doctrine of First Sale, which grant the buyer the right to resell purchased content without the need to compensate the copyright holder. I see Rights 4, 6, and 9 of the Gamers' Bill of Rights as combating this assault on consumers' rights to used content. Download managers, hidden registry keys, and online activation are all tools that can be used to make your legally purchased copy of a game useless to another person. Limiting the number of installations is another method to make a legally purchased copy of a game useless.
I also see Rights 1 - 3, 5, and 7 of the Gamers' Bill of Rights as affirming consumers' right not to be swindled. People expect a working product when they pay for something with their hard earned cash, and it shouldn't be any different with video games. Through digital distribution systems, like Valve's Steam, refunds are not available at all, even if the software distributed doesn't work. Brick and mortar retailers, like GameStop, won't refund defective games either, only replace them, and only within 30 days. If one copy of a PC game won't run on your computer, chances are that the game isn't compatible with your system specs and any further copies won't work either. Without a refund, the buyer is left with a very expensive coaster.
Right 10 of the Gamers' Bill of Rights I see as a right to convenience. If anything is clear, convenience will win out every time. And if the pirate community if offering a more convenient experience than those offered through legal channels, people are going to be less likely to purchase games legally. Right 8 plays directly into this sentiment -- treating customers like criminals with hefty DRM is another form of inconvenience. The more seamless the install process, the more likely people are going to purchase the game.
What I would like to see is game developers, and other software developers for that matter, to state these rights in more explicitly legal terms. In the end, we're really talking about copyright and how those laws should apply to digital content. If software developers set a precedent of respecting long held user rights, I think they can help stop the perception that DRM copy-protection schemes effectively combat privacy. On the contrary, these copy-protections are always eventually hacked, bypassed, or subverted, while their only accomplishment is to violate users' legitimate rights.
Over the last week, I read all about Spore's planned use of SecuROM copy-protection. I read many posts and forums about DRM, copy-protection, and piracy. Stardock's reveal of a Gamers' Bill of Rights gave me the perfect way to frame my frustrations at an increasingly hostile game publishing industry.
I have been looking forward to Spore for quite some time now; I had even purchased the Spore Creature Creator to whet my appetite for the game's release on the 7th. After reading about SecuROM's inclusion in Spore, I won't be purchasing the game anymore. EA, Maxis; you have lost this sale, permanently.
I've had my own trouble with SecuROM before, with BioShock, and I don't intend to relive the experience. In my readings last week, I found this website, SecuROM Must Be Destroyed! This article lays out several of the top complaints why a DRM scheme like SecuROM should be resisted by consumers. What will gamers do when authentication servers go offline, such as what happened with MLB's download service and MSN's music store? Limiting the number of installations can quickly descend into a nightmare due to the nature of PCs -- frequent hardware swaps, OS re-installations, and other PC upgrades. At the rate that computer technology advances, consumers shouldn't have their games become useless after a few years because of new OS installations and hardware upgrades. But this is exactly the kind of system that SecuROM is creating.
For a peak into the minds of publishers who embrace these DRM schemes, take a look at this article from The Escapist Magainze, as well as their imagining of an EA Gamers' Bill of Rights. I'll end with this Penny Arcade comic: