The MMO Customer Bill of Rights

June 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:



  1. That is a very interesting way of putting things, I’ve never thought of this before because it’s a game. But since MMOs are soon on the edge of reality socially atleast it’s not such a bad idea. Even though in many cases people who do get hacked in many cases get help.

    Interesting read indeed, keep it up! The MMO bill of rights was quite good.

  2. Good article. And you’re right. When you enter an MMO, you’re basically nothing more than a guest in a hotel or maybe more aptly an inmate in a fantasy prison. In effect, you go in with nothing and you come out with nothing.

    Your mention of service problems is another good point. Dave at War Noob kind of hit on this indirectly when he said he didn’t mind Mythic not having their own official forums. I agreed that was fine but my issue is where do customers go to collaborate on potential bugs and issues with the game. I mean if the customers are spread to the four winds on multiple forums, this makes hunting down bugs even more difficult.

    Therefore, I’d like to see some sort of bug tracking mechanism on the Warhammer Online site itself, to make it easier for customers to report and be aware of potential and confirmed bugs (something they are hopefully doing in the beta).

    And with regards to your final idea of creating an MMO Bill of Rights, I really don’t think you need to arm twist them at all. If you setup a organizational site that basically monitors and rates MMOs in a very honest, informative, and detailed way (allowing gamers to report bugs and their resolvement satisfaction), then you’ll only attract the interest of many gamers. And once you’ve done that and you’ve become a focal and vocal point for the MMO community, the industry itself will have to bend it’s own arm to address these needs, since they’ll no longer be able to brush them under the rug when dealing with just one customer, since they’ll now be dealing with a larger collective group of customers.

  3. Very good point! To say that our characters aren’t ours is legally true – the game company owns them. But we develope the characters, hundreds of hours (if you game like I used to) are poured into creating our characters in the image we want only to be at the mercy of a GM or hacker.

    In the early days of Star Wars Galaxies, I was hard core into PVP as a rebel. I was a commando and once got into a fight with an imperial player who owned 3 at-st ‘pets’. To keep this short, he lost the fight and lost all three of his pets in the process, which were perma-dead. He complained to a GM that I didn’t technically have to kill his pets, which was true (but it is a galactic civil war after all) and he claimed I killed them just to grief play him. He attacked ME! The GM subsecquently banned me and it took literally weeks of appealing to higher powers to get unbanned.

    Turned out that the GM in question was somehow acquainted with the imperial guy, not saying they were friends but just because they knew eachother in some way the GM through reason out the window and banned my account. I would have loved to have some kind of Bill of Player rights there!

  4. Syp: EULAs are governed by contract law. Contract law is a two-way street. Just as game administrators can communicate to players/customers what they assert to be the legal terms, customers can communicate back. In principle, contract law does not favor either administrators or customers. I’ve been writing recently about how individuals can use contract law to assert their legal terms on other parties, such as search engines. See http://hack-igations.blogspot.com/2008/05/google-privacy-policy-terms-of-service.html What do you think? My ideas are not legal advice for any particular situation; they are just ideas for public discussion. –Ben

  5. BTW just as a followup to my original post, I actually believe that $15/month is a pretty cheap price IF you thoroughly enough the game. I mean you’ll spend more than $20 just going to see one movie in a theater. So hours and hours of enjoyment each month for $15 is pretty good to me. If the game sucks though or doesn’t live up to your expectations, then ya it’s a waste of money.

    In addition, Massively’s post relating to your article here makes it sound like we want EVERYTHING or else we’ll go elsewhere. I disagree. It’s really about being in a relationship. And in a relationship, there has to be a give and take on both sides. So ya I’m fine with my character being tied to this virtual world only and if the game disappears down the road, that character is gone. Yet if I’m going to give up that much and accept those terms, then I expect something in return. In my case, it’s a game that I can thoroughly enjoy without undue stress due to bugs and so forth. So yes it’s totally about game companies “treating their player-base better” and recognizing the issues within their games, instead of brushing them under the rug because only a small percentage of their customers may be experiencing them.

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