Who Owns Your Games?

The new age of 'ownership'.

Sony came up with a patent a little while ago. It’ll let them slow down your game for a moment, warning you that an ad is incoming. Afterwards, it’ll spout some junk about buying Axe body wash so you can drive away anyone with a functional nose, and then return you to the game you were playing. Besides the fact that breaking the action could be absolutely catastrophic at the wrong time, there’s a worse problem: you spent $60 to play this ad-infested pile of junk.

As of now, game companies feel that they can get away with almost anything. They can withhold content behind pay walls, ship gimped games, demand connections they can’t provide themselves, block users for nothing, and shut off our games entirely. In order to play the games we love, we’re being forced to accept more and more terrible rules with no end in sight. The games we supposedly own have been steadily turning into expensive rentals, ones the publishers can pop into at any time and change in order to make their lives easier and the consumer’s life harder.

You don’t have to look much further than Diablo 3‘s launch to see this at work. Many of the players who took a few days off work got to feel the boundless joy of staring at error screens all day long, as the servers weren’t ready for the loads of people who wanted to play. You couldn’t even play the single player, offline version of the game you just bought. No one was prompted with a warning about how they wouldn’t even be able to use their purchase once it was done downloading, were they? Nobody was sending messages to retailers so that they could warn their customers, either. So long, $60 and sick time.

Why would this even happen to people who wanted to play single player? It was so the auction house (Which still doesn’t work correctly) could be free of dupes and cheaters. In other words, they wanted to make sure that their perpetual cash flow was perfectly safe from all those nasty people who might unbalance it.  With all of the work it probably took them to put it together, I can see them wanting to protect it, but isn’t there a better way to do this than to make their players suffer for it?

It’s easier for these services to punish their public than to come up with a decent way of protecting themselves. It wasn’t long ago that EA’s Origin downloading service had a clause that would allow them to go snooping around your computer. No one should have any right to just look around your computer just so you can play a game. That’s like the city police having the rights to search your house at any moment if you want to be able to drive a car on city streets. It’s insane, but that was the price of playing an EA game over Origin.

On top of that, there were reports of people getting locked out of the games they purchased because they said something nasty on the message boards. Now, I’m all for message board morons being set on fire, but a lot of this stuff came from things as simple as dirty language. Apparently, at some point Origin became your overly-conservative mother, taking your games away for using a cuss word. EA would come to your house and wash your mouth out with soap if it could. Maybe they can put that in the next Terms of Service.

You’re not free of insanity just by playing console games, either. Sony and Microsoft stuck in a nice little Binding Arbitration Agreement in their console updates, one that blocks you from taking them to court with a class-action lawsuit. You can still go through arbitration and have your own specific case heard, but don’t expect a day in court with the judge and jury. However you might feel about that, you have to agree to it in order to access your console’s online features. Despite having paid for the console and service long before these ideas came about, you would still need to agree to the changes or be kicked off. You could get out of this clause with a hand-written letter, but until that letter arrived, you could be a bound by a contract you were never warned about before making your purchase.

Those games you bought online for your console are held under a tight leash as well. Apparently, it isn’t secure enough to tie these things to your gamertag on the Xbox 360, since you also need to download a license to play each game offline. You can only do that once every six months, and even if you use Microsoft’s own transfer cable, you’ll still have to re-download the license for every single game you put on your new console. If you have as many games as I do, that means you have to spend days on downloading the licenses again just so you can play the games you purchased.

Those rules help Microsoft protect their games, but it does nothing for me if one of the games I downloaded disappears from Xbox Live before I can get a new license. I end up with a game I can’t even use, and I have absolutely no recourse to fix it or get my money back. I sure am glad the multi-billion dollar corporation’s investment was safe, and only my hard-earned money was wasted. I’d hate for them to be in danger.

Let’s not forget our dear Mass Effect 3. On disc DLC has become a new, exciting way to sell you something you already possess. If that’s not overt enough for you, Street Fighter X Tekken had a pile of characters on the disc, locked away behind a pay wall. It sure is great to have games sold to me, piece by piece, as initial content dwindles. It’s an idea that developers and publishers are claiming is necessary for the future of DLC, but they’re only worried about making it easier and more profitable for themselves. To make a little bit of extra scratch, they hold back a level here, a character there. After all, who’s gonna know?

There’s lots of talk about getting rid of the used game market, too. Developers and publishers wail into the night, crying about lost sales because of used games. In a rage, they’ve come up with an insane idea: next gen consoles that can block used games from being played. You might think that’s far-fetched, but is it? They’ve been putting gamers through a slow boil, testing the waters with ideas that suit them while punishing us. Every once in a while they get caught and called out for it, and either back off or wait until the anger dies down. Every year, and with every big release, they get away with a little bit more, steadily grinding away at the rights you possess as a consumer.

Let me put it to you this way. I have an NES connected to my television right now. I can go out and pop Super C in there this second, and it will play without a moment’s hesitation. I don’t need permission from a company, any digital license, any update, any internet connection, any DLC, or to accept any weird law written a few months ago in order to play this decades-old game. In twenty years, I’ll still be able to do that. With today’s games, who knows? How much of our current generation of games will be hopelessly mired in business policies that keep us from what we paid full price for?

How much worse is it going to get?

Images courtesy of www.explosion.com, www.gametheory.com, www.gameinformer.com, www.giantbomb.com, www.escapist.com

Joel Couture
Joel Couture
Joel Couture

MASH Veteran

A horror-obsessed gamer, Joel is still spending his days looking for something to scare himself as much as Fatal Frame. Even so, he has ridiculous action games and obscure gems to keep him happy in the meantime. A self-proclaimed aficionado of terrible retro games, he's always looking for a rotten game he hasn't played yet, and may be willing to exchange information for candy.

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