UPDATED: Stardock Takes Care Of Gamer Who Downloaded Messed-Up Game

Tim downloaded a computer game from Stardock but found that it’s been crippled by DRM issues that treat him like he’s a common pirate. At first he found customer service unresponsive and thought he would be out $10 (Stardock ended up refunding his money).

He goes through his travails in great detail:

I’m hoping this story has enough of a “man bites dog” flavor to actually be worth publishing. The summary is that Stardock, a company famous for opposing invasive copy protection, is selling a game which will not work because of copy-protection, and refuses to fix the problem. A little background follows (please excuse the length).

The game company Stardock is well-known in gaming circles for having a relatively sane stance on DRM, and in fact they were the subject of a Consumerist story back in ’06 for releasing a DRM-free game and clashing with DRM developer Starforce.

In the time since that story was released, Stardock has gone on to develop Impulse, a direct downloading platform which competes with Steam but is somewhat more consumer-friendly than it, and their CEO Brad Wardell published an article proposing a “gamer’s bill of rights,” which are generally pro-consumer rules that I think most PC gamers would agree with.

One of the games currently listed on sale on Impulse is Warlords Battlecry III (WBC3), a hybrid RPG/RTS game which was released in 2004 and has something of a cult following. Having been a fan of the game when it was released, and seeing it for sale for $9.99, I bought it and played it for a while.

It was shortly apparent that something was wrong with the game. In some parts of the game the player finds random items; in my game every item was a “ring of elven greed”. When I set my scout units to automatically explore the map, they would head directly for a corner and stop moving there. Every time I tried to cast a spell, it would fail.

Finally I tried Googling “ring of elven greed,” and found this forum thread on Impulse / Stardock’s own site (as a note, I am the user “thither” on that thread). As it turns out, the version of WBC3 which was given to Impulse by its American publisher, Enlight, has a copy-protection scheme in place. When this scheme is activated the random number generator is messed up, and every random item generated is a “Ring of Elven Greed”. This is presumably in place to prevent the game from being torrented and so on.

There is an unofficial patch which exists to fix this problem, but Stardock will not apply it to the version of the game they sell. The result is that nobody who has bought this game from Stardock will actually be able to play the game. I feel that it’s wrong to sell a broken game for money and then refuse to fix the problem — if I’ve payed money I should be able to play the game I paid for without applying some dodgy patch from a random fan site.

Purely looking at the Impulse forums, there are at least three Stardock employees who are aware of this situation – two of them comment in the thread I linked above, and one commented in another thread about the issue. Stardock CEO Brad Wardell has a pretty visible online presence, as well, and I was able to find his address with very little work; I shot him an email about two weeks ago asking that he look into the issue. I have not yet heard back and at this point don’t expect to (in fairness, Impulse just launched a pretty big game with a lot of technical problems over the last two weeks, so I’m sure he’s been busy).

This email is a little long already, so I’ll leave it there; if you read the first forum thread above you’ll get most of the basics. Most people who bought this game are understandably rather angry.

This is basically like buying Super Mario Bros. and not being able to hop on flagpoles to complete levels. Tim’s problem touches on a major issue with downloadable games — with no physical product to return, it’s not as easy to get a refund. Does anyone have any other DLC/DRM horror stories?

UPDATE: Brad Wardell, Stardock president and CEO, says Tim has gotten a refund and insists Stardock is not selling a DRM-addled version of the game. He writes:

We have gone to Enlight 3 times about this and Trevor Chan himself has assured us that we have the latest version of Warlords Battlecry 3 and that is has NO DRM.

What people complain about is that there are fan patches that fix some of the bugs in the last official version (which is what we sell). We are obviously not authorized to distribute a fan-patched version of
Warlords Battlecry 3, but there’s nothing that stops customers from applying those updates themselves.

(Photo: frankieleon)