Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Sad State of Digital "Ownership"

I've been thinking a lot lately about how consumers of computer software have very little rights. EULAs and subscriber agreements seem to give businesses all of the power and the end users get little to nothing. This is actually quite depressing and I am surprised that, in 2016, we do not have more rights as digital consumers. It seems like the EFF or someone should be advocating harder for such rights and getting more precedents set. Richard Stallman has done a decent job overall, but comes off as an extremist (no offense to Mr. Stallman as I am an avid GPL fan!) There needs to be a middle ground when it comes to commercial software. What I would ultimately like to see is the following (as it pertains to game software):

  • I should be able to lend my copy of a video game to anyone I see fit just like we still can with physical media for consoles. Steam is almost there with Steam Family Sharing, but they lock your entire library when another person is playing one of your games. The lock should be on a per-game basis. The current per-library lock is far too restrictive to make sharing practical.

  • I should be able to purchase a copy of a game ONE TIME (for the same platform at the very least.) For example, if I purchase Mass Effect 3 for the PC from a store, the license should be valid not just within Origin, but on any PC distribution system such as Steam. Something that has also irked me in this regard is how Square Enix forces you to re-purchase the PC client of Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn when you already purchased the software for a console.

  • Origin, PlayStation Network Store, Steam, Uplay, Xbox Live Marketplace, and the like can pull the plug on your account at *any* time for *any* reason. Blizzard and Steam do not even tell you why and may even refuse to assist you further. If you spent hundreds to thousands of dollars on games, you lose access to those titles. You should retain the right to use what you paid for despite losing access to the service. This opens up another can of worms: What happens when an MMORPG server goes away? Now you're left with a client that you likely paid for and now it can connect to nothing. You probably weren't refunded either (I'm looking at you, NCSoft.)

  • When I die, I would like to give my game collection to a family member. However, most of the aforementioned digital distribution services do not allow transfer of the account or titles to anyone else.

  • When you legitimately purchase a copy of a game, you should own that copy just like you own physical objects that you pay for such as automobiles, mobile devices, gardening equipment, your toothbrush, etc.

This stuff should anger and/or scare you because it totally stinks. The way things are currently, the virtual items you forked over money for can essentially disappear and you'll have nothing to show for it. I would like to point out that I love Steam. However, this is the biggest fault I find with their service... And it is a glaring one. If they resolved this issue, they would be nearly perfect. For now, I have no choice but to agree to their terms in order to continue accessing my library while having the fear in the back of my mind that my access could be revoked at any moment. I have slowed down on Steam purchases for this very reason.

I have found some hope though with a platform known as GOG. The current selection is nowhere near as large as Steam, but more titles are being added as time progresses. I've started using their Galaxy Client which behaves similarly to Steam. Their games are not tied to the service. Once you download them, they are yours forever. You can also re-download them, although you should make backups just in case the service ever ceases to exist. Lastly, there is GOG Connect which lets you import some of your Steam games to your GOG Library at no cost. You'll now have two separate copies of the game that exists within both libraries. The selection of games on Connect is quite small at the moment, but the amount is expected to grow as GOG develops better relationships with publishers. I highly recommend GOG to anyone upset by the current state of things or if you're just a PC gamer.

Our savior?
I usually do not complain publicly, but wanted to get all of these thoughts out there in the hopes that more people express their disappointment with the present software licensing and lack of digital consumer rights situation.

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