Before the dawn of subscription-based services, like the Xbox Game Pass or the PlayStation Plus, buying games separately was the only way to go. Steam was, and is, the largest online storefront to download and buy games from, but it seems that we aren’t really getting what we pay for, and the license of these games have a big significance on what’s to come.
When we buy a game physically, we own a copy of it. No matter what happens, the team behind the game does not have the authority to revoke your video game disc. This is due to the license and the fact the game exists in a physical form. However, the digital copy does have its differences and that’s where the issue begins.
Many games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Apex Legends, and even Elden Ring have a small problem for the customer when they buy the game digitally. When bought digitally, we own the license of the game, not the actual game itself. This would mean that as long as you can play the game there should not be any problems, right?
Well, by owning the license of these games, the publishers behind them can shut down the servers and all content legally whenever they want to. Although this is not frequent, there are instances of this happening, with the very recent one surrounding Ubisoft, when it decided to disable servers and access to downloadable content for many of its older games.
This made quite the uproar in the community and Ubisoft received quite a bit of criticism from players, but it is not illegal in any way. However, if Ubisoft can revoke this access to games that players have paid for without any reasoning, then other publishers could do the same.
The most popular games today are undoubtedly online multiplayer ones. Unfortunately, the most popular ones of these do not sell physical discs. Hence, the only way to play them is to agree to the end-user license agreement forms (the ones that most of us ignore) and live with them. For instance, if Ubisoft decided to remove access to all downloadable content for any of its noteworthy franchises, like Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed, it has every right to do so because you, the player, agreed to allow this.
However, it isn’t only Ubisoft that’s doing this. Other publishers like Electronic Arts (no surprise there) also use the same approach to their products and services. “The EA Services are licensed to you, not sold,” states Electronic Arts in its User Agreement form. “EA grants you a personal, limited, non-transferable (i.e., not for sharing), revocable and non-exclusive license to use the EA Services to which you have access for your non-commercial use, subject to your compliance with this Agreement.”
Furthermore, the publisher explicitly mentions that if you, the player, don’t agree to this, you shouldn’t use its products and/or services. ” If you don’t agree, please don’t install or use our games or services,” states Electronic Arts. This isn’t just publishers that release online multiplayer games either. Even the ones that focus primarily on single-player games, like CD Projekt RED, do the same.
“We give you the personal, limited, revocable, non-exclusive, non-transferable and non-assignable licence to display, view, download, install, play and use CD PROJEKT RED games and services on your personal computer, games consoles and/or other devices/platforms that are explicitly authorised by CD PROJEKT RED (which are listed separately for each game on their respective websites),” states the CD PROJEKT RED User Agreement. “This licence is for your personal use only (so you can’t give, ‘sell’, lend, gift, assign, sub-license or otherwise transfer it to someone else) and doesn’t give you ownership rights in the CD PROJEKT RED games and services.”
This definitely works against the customer who bought the game originally. Even worse are microtransactions because, usually, players tend to spend more on an online game. Hence, if a publisher, for whatever reason, decides to put up a sale on its in-game currency or just remove the game’s existence, it would certainly work against the players’ favor.
On the other hand, almost all expansions sold are in a digital form. As Ubisoft did, other publishers can do the same. Although, I do not understand how removing expansion access can benefit a company, but that’s part of the issue. The publishers (Ubisoft, in this case), without giving a justifiable reason, can revoke access to any of its games’ servers, thereby disabling access to any downloadable content or online features for the game.
In conclusion, it is, of course, evil. Removing access to all online features and downloadable content is unfair and unethical; like what Club Penguin did by straight up removing the existence of the game and the digital products that the consumers bought. However, that was still a massively multiplayer online game, so it made somewhat of sense. The fact that this can happen to even single-player games anytime regardless of players purchasing them is truly a gruesome business strategy.