Towards the digital-only future you’ve chosen

If you’re one to go around video and computer games media, you’ve probably already a few things that are happening with digital media. First is that Sony’s announced that after the 31st of August, users will be unable to access Studio Canal properties in Germany and Austria, 314 and 137 titles respectively. Sony cites evolving license agreements as the reason, which means altogether nothing. It can mean Sony doesn’t want to pay for Studio Canal’s license fees, or that their license agreement just came to an end and nobody in Sony was eager to continue. Hard to say, but license issues are like this; the consumer will get shafted. According to Sony themselves, they’ll be removing these items from the user’s libraries. A Variety article points out that Sony was to allow access to these titles via on-demand, but the whole removing them from the libraries seems to be the overriding thing now. As for refunds or anything of that nature, of course, there won’t be any. As anti-consumer groups want to tote, you don’t buy to own when it comes to digital; you purchase a license to lease that item and the provider can take that license away from you any time for any reason they wish to.

The second thing is how Ubisoft managed to piss people off again by announcing Decommissioning of online services. This means killing off a number of titles’ online functionalities, ranging from patches, multiplayer, and DLC. This has happened before and will keep happening as long as the games-as-service model exists and functions are tied to being online. They also managed to stumble harshly with Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD on Steam, where they had the game -75% discount, and announced they’d be pulling it off after they made the sales. The language on the Steam store page makes it appear as if the game would be completely unavailable for the platform, but Ubisoft called their PR people to convince the people who had already “purchased” the game would still be able to access the title, but not its online components. The whole shebang comes from Ubisoft wanting to close down uPlay on certain platforms. It was a massive PR failure on Ubisoft’s part, but things were as expected.

The third bit is how last year’s news about Apple being sued for terminating his Apple ID has made some rounds as a result of the two previous bits. The plaintiff Matthew Price had spent almost 25k dollars on content attached to his Apple ID. Of course, when Apple closed his account, citing violations of terms and conditions, he lost access to all of it. Price says his account was terminated without notice, explanation, policy, or process, nor does the claim itself state what were the alleged violations. He wasn’t the only one who found themselves losing access to content he paid for. David Andino is the leading plaintiff in a class-action suit against Apple over the deceptive use of “rent” and “buy.” ArsTechnica had an article on it, and it covers all the basic bases just as well. Be it Valve, Sony, Apple or Netflix, they have the same unvoiced thing when you sign in and give them your money. The only difference here is that Apple voiced it as an argument in this case; “no reasonable consumer would believe” that content purchased through iTunes would be available on the platform indefinitely. US District Court Judge John Mendez rejected this, and Apple’s motion to dismiss the case. Amazon’s in the same pickle jar, having to defend themselves from consumers who have lost their digital libraries.

Back in 2019, the French court ruled that Valve should allow users to sell the goods they’ve bought on Steam. Valva argued that they were a subscription-based service, but the court disagreed, as the games were sold in perpetuity. This led Valve to change its terms and services as well as revise the language used across Steam. Steam still geoblocks titles and has differences in pricing, as well as preventing resales of games you’ve “bought.”

The whole issue stems from the languages these companies use. The terms buy and purchase give the idea of gaining ownership over an item. Digitally, ownership has been drastically eradicated from the equation. Without reading the Terms of Service, you wouldn’t probably know that you’re more or less buying a license for an item, which the corporation has any and all power over. If they wish to take away that license from you for any reason they wish to, they will. Physical media may be going the way of the dodo slowly (though it was first supposed to be dead in 2006, then 2012, then by 2020…), but ownership should not. Not only Valve’s practices with Steam have eradicated almost a generation’s worth of idea of what owning something and carrying the responsibility for it means, but we’re also taught that owning nothing means we’re going to be happier. Leasing and renting are being pushed as the future, yet that kind of future is looking grimmer and darker with every new iteration. Ownership means responsibility, which is being taken away from you, willing or not. If you carry no true responsibility for your actions and items you have, there is no reason to care or put effort. However, you’ll also be prevented from modifying, working, or doing anything to the same items, as they are not yours. It will lead your life being led into a box, where these companies are able to fully dictate how you act and what you consume. All because you’re dependent on their products, and even a small violation can lead to contract termination, effectively losing your way of living.

This may sound like a dystopia. Mostly because it’s all the little things that are piling on top of each other, but also because there are worldly political and economical factions that are gunning for it at your expense. Losing ownership is going backward in the overall progression of western civilization. One of the reasons companies like John Deere have had a hard time striking through the African heartland is that outside the major farmers, the land is owned by community leaders, not farmers themselves. At any moment, their land can be seized from them and given to anyone else. There is no incentive to put the effort into nurturing the farmland, which Africa has about nine of every ten farmable acres in the world, because the moment you make it work, it all can just vanish. All the modern and big equipment you might need to run a successful farm, alongside the workfoce, just isn’t worth investing in. Not to mention sabotaging these people putting the effort in isn’t uncommon, be it via damaging crops or just outright breaking the equipment. So, it becomes easier just to go with the minimum effort so you could keep the small bits that you don’t even own. This sort of lack of ownership isn’t uncommon in world history, and every time people get to own their land and their equipment, they start to care and put the effort into it. The exact same applies to the ownership of common good items and digital entertainment media. When the customer is given the responsibility of the product, be it what they produce or buy, there is care given. When it comes to working, things like giving the worker more responsibility and ways to properly do their work are highly important. For example, putting effort to develop new methods to make the work more effective and easier is rewarding in itself, and employers should take note of this. Sadly, the modern work environment is very stuck to certain ways and methods, and any sort of development that doesn’t come from the middle management tends to be shot down.

Funny that, ownership is very much individual freedom, something that you can express yourself through. That too is part of personal responsibility, something that is being slowly but surely eroded away from you.

So, the future of digital property will be the lack of it at this pace. You’ll put your money into subscription services and never consider it a loss, although, in the long run, you’re the losing party. All this can be changed if the customers will it. Everything runs on money, and you yourself know the best whether or not corporations and their products are worth it. When it comes to digital goods, be it on Steam or a sub to Netflix, take a few moments to consider whether it’s really worth it. You probably already have tons of games and movies around in one way or another. Don’t follow the new dangled shiny things in front of you, but put more time into the things you still have unfinished. It’s never going to go away; it’s digital after all. It’ll never truly vanish, not even when licensing agreements are to expire.

Unless it is a games-as-service model. Then you can just ignore it all and wish some hacker manages to make the online work via custom servers and hacks. Even better if you take up the mantle and become that hero yourself.

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