Thanks to the dozens of people who sent this along. Sometime around the eighth or ninth email it dawned on me that people weren’t sending this so that I could read it, they were sending in the hopes that I would read and then comment on it.
1. Gamers shall have the right to return games that don’t work with their computers for a full refund.
I wish Stardock had the muscle to make this a reality in the retail world. They can let retailers know that they will accept returned goods, but no store is going to want to establish a return policy of accepting returns of some games and not others, based on who the publisher is. It’s easier to just keep going with the “all sales final” deal customers have already gotten used to.2. Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
This was one of the first “rights” we lost. As the internet grew in popularity, publishers became increasingly likely to launch and patch. Which means the presence of the internet was hurting us long before it was hurting them.3. Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game’s release.
I can’t imagine demanding this as a right. The deal I’ve always wanted with publishers is this: I give you my money, and you give me a finished game. The transaction is then concluded. I shouldn’t need to connect to their server (for a single-player game) or pay more money, and assuming the game works as advertised they don’t owe me anything. Keeping the game working on future computers is my problem.
Having said that, any company that wants to give me free stuff after the fact (which is how Stardock does business) builds up goodwill and customer loyalty.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.
Time elapsed between clicking on “Steam” and the point where “My Games” list appears: 45 seconds.
Steam has its good points, and it’s pretty much the only way to get demos these days without needing to navigate the Fileplanet obstacle course. But making the launcher a requirement for launching their games is a needless annoyance and a time sink. Also, I’ve always wanted an option to have Steam close automatically when I exit the game.
The standard question applies: What if everyone had a mandatory “launcher” with their software that behaved the way Steam does?5. Gamers shall have the right to expect that the minimum requirements for a game will mean that the game will adequately play on that computer.
The odd thing about this one is how many fanboys disagree. My posts on The Witcher and Oblivion both drew a collection of ankle-biting idiots who thought that “recommended” means “minimum” and “minimum” means “loser”.
In addition to insisting that a machine with the “minimum requirements” deliver a playable experience, I would add that minimum requirements should be easy to grasp. Stuff like this:
Video Card - Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 128MB RAM (NVIDIA 6600 or better/ATI X1300 or better, excluding ATI X1550).
…is just asinine. You’re expected to know the technical details of the graphics chipsets in your machine, and what level of Direct X they can handle, and understand how these clueless companies name their series. It’s insane. Sadly, this one is largely the fault of the hardware companies, and I don’t see what publishers can do about it. Still, this is very bad for PC gaming, and is exacerbating the “minimum requirements” issue.6. Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won’t install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their express consent.
Consumers have a right to expect that toaster manufacturers won’t break into their house at some point after bringing their new toaster home.
Only in the world of software is this sort of insanity tolerated.7. Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
Again, I consider this to be above and beyond normal customer service. If I scratch one of my CD’s, I don’t expect the record company to provide another. If they did, or offered me another as the cost of the disc, I’d be grateful, but I don’t consider this as a required part of the transaction.8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
This is a subject which I have beaten into the ground, so I won’t belabor the point here.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.
Uh. I would actually change “every time they wish to play” to “ever”. As in, I get my game, and we’re done. If the game forces me to connect for permission to play, then I don’t really own the game.
I rail against all DRM, but online activation is where I’ve drawn the line. It’s prevented the purchase of many titles I’ve wanted very badly, and will prevent the purchase of many more. It’s the one form of DRM that doesn’t just make the software difficult to use, it changes the very nature of ownership, so that my purchase can be revoked or lost at any time due to forces beyond my control. It doesn’t matter how “easy” or “convenient” they make it, if I must connect to to play my game – even once – then I don’t own it.
If you want to lure me into connecting by offering me free stuff (as Stardock does) then that’s acceptable. But the stuff in the box is mine, or the deal is off.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.
You could make the case that this is just a specific example of #8 above. But this is an important one to a lot of people, especially those using laptops.
Stardock’s new Impulse service is the first honest effort to make something to rival Steam, (among many other things) while at the same time correcting many of the complaints leveled at the Steam platform. I view this whole list through that prism: Stardock is establishing the rules under which Impulse will run. Wardell isn’t just suggesting this is how things should be, he’s saying this is how they plan to do business with Impulse. It’s never said explicitly, but I can’t imagine any other way to interpret this.
Here is my one nitpick:
The language of #9 above worries me, because the way I read it, it sounds like they’re saying it’s okay to force the user to connect at least once. This is a violation of #8, because you’re making me connect to make sure I’m not a pirate. (Again, making me connect for patches or bonus material is fine.) This post my my definitive stance on why online activation is a deal-breaker for me, over all other forms of DRM.
As with BioShock on Steam, things get strange when games show up on the platform with all of their traditional DRM in tow. BioShock on Steam was just as encumbered as BioShock, the retail product. Note that Impulse offers Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Now, I’ve already castigated that game for the way it needs to phone home. I refused to get it, even though I know the game is fun. (The demo was great.) So the interesting question here is if RSPOD still needs to phone home. If so, Impulse is already offering a game which breaks #8 above. (This is even stranger because Hothead games came up with Greenhouse, their own digital distribution platform, expressly for the purpose of releasing RSPOD. Having RSPOD on Impulse is like having Half-Life 2 on a platform other than Steam.)
(If I’m incorrect above and the Impulse version of RSPOD doesn’t need to phone home, then someone please let me know. I’ll buy it right now.)
And I can hear the first objection coming a mile away:
But Shamus, you’re talking about a Digital Download game! You already have to be connected to the internet to GET the game, so why do you make such a big deal about this?
(That objection is usually bookended with charges of idiocy, which is unfortunate since that means I delete the comment instead of answering the question.) The answer is simple: I’m worried about the game working in ten years. If they want to keep my money forever, then I want access to the game forever. (Getting it to run on the machines of 2018 is my problem.) Again, I refer you to this post, which gathers up all the major defensive arguments in support of online activation, and demolishes them.
I have thousands of dollars of games here. Well over a hundred titles. For the vast majority of these games, the original developer is long, long gone. If online activation had been a reality in 1991, then I’d be locked out of most of my game collection.
I’m not being paranoid. I’m just planning ahead.