Gaming / Software

You Don’t Own the Games and Software You Bought in a Connected World

When you buy software, games, and music online today you don’t own anything. You buy the rights for temporary access. Temporary could mean a few months or a few years, but it’s never forever.

I’m from a country where people like to own things. I like to own things. I do pay for monthly subscriptions to stuff, but I usually like to purchase something that I can use for as long as I want, or at least for as long at it will last. I’m not saying this is what everyone should do, but that’s how I feel.

The thing is that in the modern connected world we live in it’s impossible to own things as we used to in the past. You can still buy CDs with music, DVDs with games and Blu-ray movies, but people will look at you like you’re some sort of dinosaur.

I get it because it’s easier and more convenient to stream music, movies, and even games. But you don’t own them. I’ve adjusted to this situation, as I see the benefits of paying for access to an ever-changing library of movies and TV series instead of purchasing each one on DVD.

To keep that part of my brain who likes owning stuff happy I do keep a small library of my favorite movies, music albums, and one-time purchased software on DVDs and backed up to a NAS. Besides this, I’m all in on online services.

BTW, I know that when you buy music, movies, and games you don’t own the intellectual property rights, but the right to listen, watch and play them at will, forever. That’s what I personally associate with ownership.

When Being Connected Online is a Problem, Not a Feature

The lack of true digital ownership in an online world wouldn’t be a problem if situations like this didn’t happen. To keep you up to date, Ubisoft decided to shut down access to online services for numerous games from their library.

What this means is that you won’t be able to play online these games anymore. There are costs associated with keeping the servers online and it’s unreasonable to put the burden on Ubisoft forever.

They didn’t promise to keep the servers online forever when you bought the game, but they didn’t say they wouldn’t either. I’m guessing they’ve included some cause in the EULA, so they’re probably covered legally, but it’s not about being covered. It’s about doing right by your loyal customers, isn’t it?

Oh, did I forget to mention that some of these retired Ubisoft games won’t play at all after decommissioning? Why? Because the software is tied to various online services, either to confirm ownership (aka right to play), to prevent cheating/modding or for other unknown reasons.

This is the really the upsetting part for me. I would still like to play single-player campaigns for older games from time to time when nostalgia hits me. I also expect the games I bought to be mine forever.

If I want to play Comanche: Maximum Overkill today let me do just that. Let me figure out how to run a DOS game in 2022, but don’t tie the game to online services you know you’ll someday cut access to.

Who Benefits? Piracy, Of Course

I also come from a country where piracy is still a problem. I couldn’t get official data, but it seems we’ve come to light in the past years when it comes to paying for games, movies, and music. We could be above the worldwide average, which is great.

I can only attribute this to the availability of streaming services for both music and movies/TV series, plus the day-one access to popular games. If the Ubisoft situation will become the norm I expect some people to get back to their old habits.

Did you know that cracked games are already stripped of online checks (and multiplayer features)? Now imagine the frustration of those who bought the Ubisoft games in question, instead of downloading them from a shady torrent site, for free.

Can you blame them if they now try and get their hands on cracked copies so they can still rightfully play the games they’ve bought? Morally I don’t think you can.

Solutions: What Can Companies Do In The Future?

But this is not an editorial about how online services are ruining the user experience (see Denuvo’s situation). They do that sometimes, but I don’t think people would want to go back to installing games from a DVD or Blu-ray drive. What if the disk becomes unusable? Could you use the day-one version of the game with no subsequent bug-fixing updates? Don’t think so.

So, are there solutions to this looming scenario? I see three, not just one:

1 – Better inform users when they purchase something online, not just games. Clearly state the minimum period you guarantee full ownership. Say something like “You will be able to play this game online for 10 years. You will be able to access the single-player campaign forever if you still own supporting hardware and software, as stated by the product developer. This doesn’t cost anything.

2 – Let communities host their own servers. You can still play CounterStrike 1.6 today, a game launched in 2003! Why? Because Valve offers not just the game, but the server software. There are still huge communities that host their own CS servers and play the game on a daily basis.

All companies could do this. Mind you I didn’t say make the server software open-source. Keep your intellectual property, but let people play these games.

3 – Offer offline game installers that work even offline. Is this a crazy idea? No, GOG does it already. So other companies could do the same if they wish to offer an easy solution.

gog download offline installer

Now let’s switch the conversation to you. What do you think about this matter? Are you bothered by not being able to use something you bought with your hard-earned money? Does owning games, music, or movies imply “permanent” to you? I’m curious about what your thoughts are.

If you’re interested in gaming make sure you check out my ramblings about why modern games are bad.

Avatar for Ionuț-Alexandru Popa
I'm a writer and Editor-in-Chief at BinaryFork. I am passionate about technology, science, space exploration, and movies. I started writing about tech more than 20 years ago, after graduating in Computer Science.
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