August 30, 2004

Gamers' Bill of Rights

by peterb

Every so often, I forget that many PC games are bug-riddled sacks of garbage. When this happens, I go out and buy a couple, until I remember why I was driven to transfer most of my gaming to dedicated consoles. This is sad, since PC games do have a rich and storied history, and address a market that is not adequately served by consoles (that market being "people willing to spend way too much money on games.")

Many of you style yourselves "game developers" and write computer programs that you call "games." From this point forward, all games that you develop must conform to the following requirements. Those who produce games that do not meet these criteria will be punished.

1. Every modern operating system is capable of running more than one program at a time. Every modern windowing system provides a command key sequence to switch which program is in the foreground (e.g. Alt-Tab in Windows). Every game should honour that key sequence and be well-behaved in its presence. Violation of this rule shall result in this key sequence being permanently disabled on the developer's personal machine.

2. If your game changes the resolution of my monitor when I start the game, it should restore the original resolution when I exit the game, or when I alt-tab to another application while playing.

3. The use of scantily clad women in advertising, splash screens, or actual games, while unfortunate and somewhat immature, is still permitted. The use of women wearing "armor" that leaves them nearly naked, however, is now forbidden. Developers and artists must choose between lingerie and plate mail. You may not have both. Developers incapable of understanding the difference between armor and lingerie will have a steel plate welded to their groin.

4. If your game enforces minimum hardware requirements, those requirements should be enforced at the very beginning of the installation phase (at which time the installation should give the user the opportunity to abort the install), not at runtime. Violation of this clause shall result in lashing; one lash for every 100 megabytes of data your game installs.

5. All cut scenes and movies should be interruptible with the "esc" key. No exceptions. Ever. Peter Molyneux (Black and White), this means you. Violation of this clause shall result in the developer being tied to a chair and forced to watch the movie "Bad Lieutenant" from start to finish.

6. All games should provide some facility to pause the game at any point. Multiplayer games are exempted from this rule. Violation of this clause shall result in the confiscation of the developer's Tivo.

7. Wherever possible, games should accommodate the colorblind and the hearing impaired. Where not possible, note this on the box, in the installation notes, or on your web site. Open question: what other common disabilities can be reasonably accommodated by most games? (For example, clearly text adventures can be designed to work well with reading software for the visually impaired). Violation of this clause shall require the developer to feel ashamed of him or herself.

8. No game should require the game disk to be in the drive in order to play, unless the user chooses to not do a full install. No other exceptions. Violation of this clause shall require the developer who wrote the CD-checking code to personally field every telephone support call from purchasers of their game who have lost or damaged their game disk, in perpetuity. "My publisher made me do it" is not an adequate excuse for violating this clause.

9. If the platform you are using supports a standard method of uninstalling programs, your game should use that method. Violation of this clause shall result in RealPlayer being installed on the developer's machine.

10. Your game should synchronize to real time or a target frame rate, not number of CPU ticks. I know it sounds unbelievable, but this still happens. CPU speed, unlike the intelligence of game developers, doubles approximately every 18 months. If five years from now I try to run a game on my 250 GHz six-CPU gaming monstrosity and it is unplayable because the enemies are running around at 25 times their intended speed, the developer shall be placed in the stockade in the village square and forced to wear a dunce cap, while the Chipmunks Christmas song plays in the background, slowed down to normal speed.

By following these simple guidelines and respecting the PC Gamer's Bill of Rights, you can help make the word a better place.

Thank you all in advance for your cooperation. If you feel I've left any rights out, please feel free to contribute them in the comments section, below.

Additional Notes

Posted by peterb at August 30, 2004 04:35 PM | Bookmark This

Games should have an option that I not have to use some stupid in game UI toolkit and window manager, and that I be able to play within a normal OS window with normal OS user interface elements for common things such as menus, dialog boxes, mouse cursors, and so on.

Developers who violate this rule will be required to dismantle their cars and install a completely new dash and control system that is completely different from evey other car, and also doesn't quite track their motions correctly, causing them to drive off the road a lot.

Posted by psu at August 30, 2004 06:26 PM

As an extension to the Bad Lieutenant punishment, the developer should be required to sit quietly in the chair for 15 minutes after the movie ends. If there's any noise, the movie starts all over from the beginning.

Really, if there's something I hate more than unpausable unskippable cutscenes, it's unpausable unskippable cutscenes that you have to sit through EVERY SINGLE TIME you retry a level or a battle or whatever.

"Whoops, you died! Time to sit through the dramatic five-minute introduction to the boss battle for the twelfth time!"

Posted by Nat Lanza at August 30, 2004 11:32 PM

Playing Devil's Advocate again here...

1) DirectX historically made it Very Non-Trivial to respect task-switching in Windows. You tended to end up losing access to your textures and the like, and have to go through a convoluted routine of reinitialising whichever surfaces you lost. It wasn't until very recently that they provided the facility for DirectX to manage those surfaces and reload them when you lost access to them.

Modern operating systems tend to assume that programs are using shared resources, whereas games often need exclusive resources. Obviously you're going to get problems.

By the way, I don't think this is an excuse to disallow Alt-Tab entirely, but it does highlight the sort of issues a game developer has to accommodate that a normal developer doesn't have to even think about.

5) Don't you think that it would be reasonable to prevent a player from skipping a cutscene the first time though? Perhaps we're too used to cutscenes being entirely superfluous eye-candy, but I wouldn't want my game ruined because I accidentally skipped a scene that had an important detail in it. Maybe another compromise would be to have a Movies menu that allows you to replay past cutscenes at any point.

8) I hope you're being facetious about the publisher line. No-one's gonna let their project get canned just so that the end user doesn't have to keep the CD in. I do think though that anyone with such cd-checking code should be forced to replace damaged media at cost price, ie. about $1 or $2.

Posted by Ben Sizer at August 31, 2004 06:52 PM

Hear hear!

All games will allow customization of their control scheme, console and PC alike. Violating this rule will result in the developer's car brake pedal moved to the right side, and their steering wheel put int he back seat.

Posted by Ken at August 31, 2004 08:58 PM

Ben, here's the thing about point 5: I replay games a lot. That half-hour cut scene where I learn that the dark lord is really my cousin may be shocking and important the first time around, but the next time I play the game (and I might have reinstalled by then, so the game really could be starting fresh), I don't want to sit through it.

Also, my schedule doesn't bend around the game's -- maybe I need to stop so I can answer the door, deal with the stove, pee, whatever. I'd much prefer pausable and skippable cinematics with a game menu that lets me replay them.

Not providing that is certainly less work, and not every game can have every feature, but I just can't see any advantage to the player in not doing it.

Posted by Nat Lanza at September 2, 2004 01:01 AM

Not sure if number 8 is really realistic, and I don't really mind it too much since I know where to go to bypass these on the internet.

My newest pet peeve of games though is the monitor refresh rate though (which is different from the fps). It's not too much of an issue for lower end monitors due to the way they are designed. However, for higher end monitors a refresh rate of 60 is not fast enough and can cause eye fatigue. Fortunately it's possible bypass this for most games through a directx utility but it's still an annoyance.

Posted by Gary at September 10, 2004 07:32 PM

a resonating OI! now if only we could go back in time and force feed these guidlines to the developers of games that they no longer support.

no taxation without representation.

Posted by christopher winters at May 2, 2005 10:50 PM

You are being far too lenient on cutscenes. I reckon anyone who decides a game must have unskippable cutscenes needs to be beatne unconcious with spiked baseball bats then thrown into a volcano with bricks tied to their feet.
Ive bought games, installed them, played them, got bored, uninstalled and sold them, all without ever watching FMV. FMV is what the cinema is for, don't take my cinema / game divide away from me. Theres a reason we call it 'interactive' entertainment.
And to top it all, I bet I get forced to make the cutscenes for the game I work on unskippable, but it wont be without a lot of shouting and swearing at famous games designers first.

Posted by cliffski at July 18, 2005 06:01 PM

Here is a new one:

Developers who develop online distribution and registration schemes that require that I *mail my CD key back to them* if I want to be able to sell my copy of the game to a third party should be sent to a circle of hell where they become the gears in a gigantic Apple Floppy Disk II stepper motor as it dances back and forth eternally trying to read sector protected games from 1981.

And yes, I mean you, you stupid morons at Valve.

Posted by psu at July 20, 2005 01:28 PM

I came across this list via the article today on Gamasutra.

I'm one of those 'developer types' you mentioned, although in a management capacity, and have been probably been involved in the release of more than my fair share of PC games which were 'less than perfect'. the last couple of companies I worked for we had sets of company guidelines for PC titles which were in every way as sensible and strict as the ones imposed by Console Manufacturers and which covered the areas in your lost and more. In one of the companies I introduced the guidelines, in the other I added to them significantly. In both cases I oushed for the lists partly from my own frustration as a PC games and partly because I'd worked at console manufacturers and could see the value of protecting a brand image and not annoying the cutomers.

Unfortunately.......for PC games there is no Console Manufacturer unreasonably applying a set of rules on the publishers and forcing them to maintain a minimum set of standards. Most publishers see the console manufacturers as a barrier to getting to market and would much prefer it if their console titles were as bug-ridden as their PC ones.

I can't remember a single PC game that actually passed every element of out internal guidelines....even though all developer had them from the start of the project. Apparently they limit their creativity or something. Though it's news to me that limiting the player's ability to save only at the end of a level is being creative.

We have a phrase in the industry....'programmer controls'...that refers to a temporary interface used during development, normallt requiring three arms and a foot to operate. Really we're just acknowledging that too many games are written by people in the industry FOR people in the industry or hard-core games or journalists. The average user can get forgotten.

Posted by Gumby at August 27, 2005 01:04 PM

Posted in response to Ernest Adam's article on GamaSutra that also linked to you:

Posted by vc at August 29, 2005 01:40 PM

I think the primary example of PC gamer stockholm syndrome is the "stability" rating I see on PC gaming sites. I upped and quit playing PC games about 5-6 years ago because I was tired of playing the "install the game" metagame. I'll marginally tolerate it for software that I'm paid to use, but when it comes to my entertainment, I want it to be up and running in 1 minute or less.

That said, a couple of additions for the list, which are console bitches:

* If you save to a memory card, check all the possible memory card slots before whining to put the card in slot 1.

* Sound, Music and SFX should be on separate volume controls. After 2 hours of hearing the same 3 minute tune while running through a dungeon, I reach for the claw hammer, gentle minster of tender mercies. Then, after I do that, the MOST IMPORTANT PLOT POINT IN THE WORLD is spoken on the soundtrack, forever lost to me.

The thing that gets me really, is that these are BONE-SIMPLE things. Basic interaction design and QA problems.

Posted by Mike Collins at August 29, 2005 10:47 PM

I don`t agree that multiplayer games should be an exception to Rule 6. It doesn`t matter in a ten-minute FPS, but some strategy games that can potentially last hours (Praetorians, CnC Generals for example) can`t be paused in mplayer mode. This is madness and makes them virtually unplayable.

We regularly play LAN games at my house. What are you supposed to do if the phone rings or there`s someone at the door ?

In a long game, it`s SO much more relaxing to have a time-out every hour or so for drinks, bathroom etc. Almost indispensable.

Posted by Adrian Swall at September 8, 2005 06:21 PM

Please help support Tea Leaves by visiting our sponsors.

November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January