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Stardock revises 'Gamer Bill of Rights'

DRM fine print

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Software publisher Stardock received a hearty round of back pats from PC game enthusiasts when it released "The Gamer's Bill of Rights" back in August. The bill outlined ten "common sense" principles it encouraged game makers to follow.

Two items in particular addressed the controversy over Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions put into games to (in theory) prevent software piracy.

It's now revised the list in a 2008 Customer Report (PDF) that more specifically admonishes DRM. But is Stardock practicing what it preaches?

From the original list: "Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won't install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their express consent."

This has been changed into: "Gamers shall have the right not to have any of their games install hidden drivers." The "potentially harmful software" curiously gets the boot, but the change seems to mostly be tightening the point.

Back to the original list: "Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers," has been modified to "Gamers whose computers meet the posted minimum requirements shall have the right to use their games without being materially inconvenienced due to copy protection or digital rights management."

Both points past and present seem to address SecuROM in particular — a strain of DRM developed by Sony DADC that's become a major sticking point for gamers.

SecuROM actively monitors a computer to prevent copies and limits the number of times a customer can install the game. It's often included with a game unbeknownst to the user, and it remains on a PC even after the game is uninstalled. Many complain SecuROM causes false positives for piracy and interferes with a PC's hardware and applications.

SecuROM caused an angry stir when it was used in 2k Games' Bioshock, and this boiled into outrage and legal action when EA included it in Spore.

So, with all its bluster for sensible DRM lately, it's a bit confusing when a Reg reader points out that Stardock is selling the pirate game "Age of Booty" on its website with SecuROM included.

"Stardock's position isn't anti-DRM or anti-copy protection but rather anti-stupid-DRM and anti-stupid-copy protection," wrote Stardock CEO Brad Wardell in the customer report.

"For our games, we will continue the policy of releasing our retail games without any copy protection or DRM on the disc," he states.

Wardell later adds, "We do think there's a problem having a user be told they can't use a program anymore because they installed it three or five times over the course of a year — and this isn't an obscure problem. There's plenty of software, not just games, where this has become a significant and obnoxious issue."

To be fair, "Age of Booty" isn't a Stardock-made game. But it is distributed on Stardock's platform.

The call for a more sensible approach to DRM can certainly be appreciated, but this seems a bit two-faced — like a person who yells, "meat is murder" at people eating hamburgers but has no problem having the occasional fish fillet themselves.

El Reg asked Stardock yesterday for a comment on the matter, but still hasn't received a response. ®

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