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All Right, What Do We Want? on Game and Player
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All Right, What Do We Want?

Michael Ubaldi  //  September 30, 2008


Consumers ought to be able to sell what they buy.

Q.

What do I most regret about Electronic Arts' release of Spore? A. Being prevented from easily selling a game I purchased only to review.

The digital rights management (DRM) scheme for Spore, intended to safeguard against software piracy, limits those who purchase Will Wright's production to five installations on a computer, period. On the game's release date that limit was only three, but understandably miffed consumers, innocent of piracy occurring anyway, stormed the Bastille and exacted concessions — and not before Electronic Arts' lithic reputation had been overrun by several thousand one-star ratings on Amazon.com's entry for Spore.

Three, five — it makes no difference to me. An item of potentially no use to its secondhand owner introduced practical and ethical complications enough to dissuade me from purchasing a physical copy of the game. So for an unrecoverable fifty-three dollars and change, I downloaded Spore, played it, and duly warned buyers beware.

Selling review titles reliably compresses a small budget.To be relevant, a magazine must provide timely reviews — but small publications like Game and Player aren't gifted advance copies. Timeliness is not best served by the vagaries of rental store inventory, so games are typically purchased. At prices, with tax and shipping, exceeding $50 or more dollars, reviews at least amount to a noteworthy monthly expense. When most titles are reviewed for purposes of coverage, and not according to personal taste, they don't necessarily belong in one's library — my own solution is to sell games, mostly Xbox 360 releases, on eBay. Auctions yield me between half and three-quarters of my purchase costs. They are a reliable way to compress a small budget.

I eat the costs of games available on Xbox Live Marketplace; as well as those of downloadable games from small, online publishers of PC games. Such costs are low, both singly and cumulatively, since I don't often review these titles.

Brad Wardell, president and CEO of PC developer and publisher Stardock Corporation, presented his company's recognized "Gamer's Bill of Rights" late last month. Stardock's list of ten chiefly insured quality. As Wardell stated, console titles "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 yet indemnified when consumers protest. Well, Electronic Art's humiliating press is a partial exception — Spore's copy protection is just as insidious but now slightly less constrictive.

Is the PC gaming market so lacking in standards? If so, then several of Stardock's "rights" aren't as redundant as they sound. The right to "demand that games be released in a finished state," but to receive, demands be damned, an incomplete program anyway? To "expect meaningful updates after a game's release" in a manner that doesn't contradict the foregoing right, nor obligate a developer to additional content?

Despite Stardock's earnest efforts, company policies curtail beneficial consumer activities.The guarantee of a game that "shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play" reads as an earnest bid to relieve consumers of an inconvenient, validation of ownership — but Wardell et al. might again turn to the console market. In November I won an eBay auction for the Stardock title Galactic Civilizations 2. As copy protection methods abound for the PC, I was unaware of the particular risk to full enjoyment of my game.

In fact, the seller had already registered this copy; I could still play Galactic Civilizations 2 but couldn't simply purchase an expansion when I attempted to do so — for a review — this past May. Whereas a Wii, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 each remains agnostic to whose disc it is in the drive, Stardock's own policies curtail the exercise of the first-sale doctrine and the used video game market, both of which remain cardinal to financing for ownership of multiple games and promotion of titles themselves.

Should developers and publishers make out to accommodate the transfer of purchased assets, however intangible, or instead design what no solvent owner will ever part with? Should consumers have a right to sell what they buy? Not a "right"? How about a "privilege"?





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