Right #4 states: Gamers shall have the right to have their games not require a third-party download manager installed in order for the game to function. Right #6 states: Gamers shall not have their games install hidden drivers onto their computers Right #8 states: Games have the right to use their games without being inconvenienced due to copy protection or digital rights management A troubling trend in PC gaming over the past few years that has led to an increasing number of gamers to move to the console has been the rise of invasive DRM and copy protection integrated into download managers that must be always running to play the game. Invasive DRM techniques such limiting users to some very finite number of installations, tying their game to a particular piece of hardware, or forcing users to run a third party download manager program in order to play a game has been met with frustration from users and left publishers looking for alternatives that still protect their intellectual property. Shortly after the announcement of the Gamers Bill of Rights in 2008, Stardock began developing a technology called Game Object Obfuscation (GOO) that allows publishers to run Goo on their games that allows users to tie their game to a generic universal account rather than to a particular computer. As a result, gamers can install their game on their home PC, laptop, and even work computer without hassle. Or reinstall their game as many times as they need on their computers over all time with the only requirement being to enter their email address and their CD key. While providing a similar type of protection to what is found in some popular download managers that integrate copy protection into the manager, Goo is a redistributable DLL that gets incorporated automatically into the game in question requiring no third-party programs to be installed and being vendor neutral. As a result, a user can purchase their game at any retailer, any digital distributor, or elsewhere without their game being tied to a particular service and without worrying about arbitrary activation limits. The game gets tied to a person rather than a machine and the publisher is protected by knowing their game will not be illegally distributed easily. Ubisoft, Activision, and Paradox have already begun distributing games that use Goo and its rapidly growing popularity with publishers may help spell the end of obnoxious DRM.
In April of 2009 Stardock released Gas Powered Games’ much anticipated PC action/strategy game Demigod. Within hours, it became apparent that the multiplayer infrastructure created for the game was not sufficient to handle the sheer volume of players resulting in a poor online experience. Publisher Stardock and Developer Gas Powered Games teamed up to design, develop and release a more scalable solution but this meant for the first 3 weeks of availability of the game that multiplayer matchmaking was unreliable. Right #1 from the Gamers Bill of Rights states: Gamers shall have the right to return games to the publisher that are incompatible or do not function at a reasonable level of performance for a full refund within a reasonable amount of time. In addition right #2 states: Gamers shall have the right that games they purchase shall function as designed without technical defects that would materially affect the player experience. This determination shall be made by the player. Demigod clearly violated #2 on launch. While Stardock and Gas Powered Games believed after a lengthy public beta that the game’s online infrastructure was ready, the result clearly showed otherwise. Because Stardock is a signer on the Gamers Bill of Rights, Right #1 was enforced. Players who ran into online problems were actively told that they could return their game to Stardock for a full refund even if they purchased it at retail (thus Stardock would eat the cost difference between wholesale and retail). Stardock advertised this right in the game’s user manual as well as in the online forums and in mailers to users. Between April and the end of June, 1712 users returned Demigod to Stardock for a full refund. By August 1st, nearly 1000 of those users had re-purchased the game from Stardock (with some unknown number likely repurchasing it at retail) once the connectivity issue had been addressed. Anecdotal evidence indicated that many users were encouraged to purchase future games published by Stardock because they knew that they would be taken care of if a game they purchased with “Stardock’s name on the box” had a problem with their computer. While it is too early to tell whether Stardock’s following of Right #1 will result in a long-term economic benefit to the company, it seems clear that following it helped avert potential ill-will from the gaming community and provided, even inadvertently, a precedence for what a violation of right #2 is.