The MMO Customer Bill of RightsJune 18, 2008
I’ll assume you’re familiar with the EULA — you know, that long list of legalese that you scroll through and click “I accept” without reading every time you log on to your favorite MMORPG? It stands for “End User License Agreement”, which is a fancy way of saying “this is a contract you have to agree to and sign in order to use this here funky software”. In the EULA is all manner of common sense stuff, as well as highly questionable additions, that players must abide by to keep on getting their fix. If you violate the EULA by, say, engaging in gold selling/buying or running bot programs, your aforementioned agreement gives the company the full right to kick you out on your butt without a refund and a fare-thee-well. After all, you agreed to it.
In other words, the EULA is the constitution that you agree to abide by in order to become a citizen of that online world. It is the law, whether you like it or not. And once you’re in the game, you’re subject to said law.
While EULAs are necessary for online games to give the companies protection and safety to keep things running well — keeping cheaters and gold farmers at bay is only the beginning of their ability to protect the world and players from jerks out there — MMOs vastly differ from real world governments in this: we, as gamers, have no bill of rights in the game. You have no “right” to play an MMO, you have no “rights” in the game, and when you take a hard look at it, there’s very little ground for you to stand on when you want to challenge the game’s company on an issue. Sure, they provide GMs and a vague appeals/technical support process, but these are niceties, privileges afforded to the player on the company’s generosity.
Players who find themselves falsely accused of cheating by the company can appeal to no higher power than the company itself in finding resolution. Players who are cheated or harmed by other players rely solely on the mercy of a GM, who certainly did not sign a EULA to you that guarantees their help and success. In the game, the player is quite powerless; it is only outside of the game world where we hold any leverage whatsoever. And that leverage, my friends, is quite pathetic.
We can yank our patronage and $15 a month from that company, and we can complain via the internet. That is it. And when it comes to a subscriber base of hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of players, one measly $15/month and one voice, no matter how loudly stated, will not go far. It’s not a David and Goliath tale; it’s the mealworm and Goliath. *smoosh*
I’ve always been somewhat bothered that, apparently, the rules are different for a paid service to an MMO company than a paid service to pretty much any other company I can think of. For instance, most MMO companies steadfastly refuse to post a customer service phone number — they don’t want you to call them, period. They don’t want to pay extra bucks to staff the phones. E-mail is easier to process, and (cynically, he says) easier to ignore and delay.
If service cuts out, all we can do is wring our hands and wait, or yank our dollars and complain. But if only a few of us do that, then what difference does it make to the company when we quit?
We also do not hold the rights to our characters, no matter how they develop. We can’t take our character data with us after we leave the game, and we have no copyright protection over anything creative that we may do with that character. We’re basically renting time, and after that time is up, all we are left with is memories. Not even a keepsake.
My heartfelt wish is that MMO companies would, without arm-twisting by a higher power (i.e., government) agree to sign and abide by a MMO Customer Bill of Rights, enforcible by an agency created by and for the purpose of policing MMO companies. Kind of an ESRB. And I’m not talking about wild, crazy rights, like the right to inject spyware on the computers of MMO devs — how crazy would that be? — but just sane, simple, common sense rights.
I was going to write up a list of my own, but as I’m not the first one with this thought, let me point you to a few I agreed with: