For the first time, we are starting to see the negative effects of digital games when it comes to ownership. Before now, we have not had to face ownership issues since Digital Stores really only became the de-facto main way to purchase games during this generation.
However, this generation seems to be coming to an end with Microsoft expected to announce a brand new console sometime this year and that leads us to evaluate how online stores deal with ownership.
As you would expect, many different advantages, as well as disadvantages, go along with having a game online rather than a physical copy.
Today, we will take a look at the ways through which publishers can control Digital Games and do we ever really own digital games?
With some of the examples that we have seen so far though, it does not seem like Digital Games are as great as many people claim them to be.
However, the convenience that they provide does mean that they will probably be used more than ever before.
Advantages of Digital Games
Before we dive down to the ownership issues that may arise from having digital copies of games, it is important to look at why they have become such a huge part of our lives.
Ever since we started to get internet speeds that allowed us to download large files off the internet, digital games have been on the rise.
Supposedly, it is a win-win situation since publishers do not have to spend money on DVDs and Blu-Rays while the customer does not have to take a trek down to their nearest store not face any issues of them running out of copies.
As long as you have ample HDD space along with a decent internet connection, all you need to do is to buy the game and then you can download and play it.
However, a lot of this changed with the advent of various different online stores such as Steam and the PSN Store.
How Gaming Marketplaces Changed the Landscape?
Steam, which was initially meant to be an updater for Valve games, soon started to sell games made by Valve as well as other companies.
Steam was the first major game store that was owned by a game publisher and had thousands of different games on sale.
The massive success of Steam meant that all of the major publishers wanted to have their own stores to not pay a percentage of their sales to Valve and control the market.
Nowadays, we see many different publishers try to set up their own stores and draw customers away from steam.
When it comes to console, both Sony and Microsoft have their own proprietary stores that have a monopoly over the market due to the fact that the owners of the console run it.
On the PC, we have a fair bit of competition (although steam is still the clear-cut leader) with Origin, GOG, and many other stores.
Now that you have a fair idea of why online stores have become so popular, let us go ahead and take a look at why you do not actually own any game you purchase from the Digital Stores.
Do We Own Digital Games?
This is a very difficult question to answer as there are numerous different stores across multiple platforms that are in the business of offering digital games.
To be extremely concise, the answer is no. when you do purchase a game from the PSN, Xbox, or the Steam store, you do not actually own the game. What you do get is a license to play the game for as long as the publisher wants you to.
When worded like that, it does seem like a huge fraud. However, remember that there is little incentive for publishers to now allow you to play the games that you bought since they are surely going to want to profit off the games they make in the future.
For the most part, all of the games that you do purchase will not be affected by the fact that you just licensed them, as you will be able to play them throughout the course of their life.
The main problem that you will face will be on the consoles, especially when the consoles come to the end of their lives.
Where Digital Games Become a Problem
The first instance when your digital purchases may become a problem for you is if you lose your data for one reason or the other and had some really old games on your hard drive.
This PSN user was unable to download The Simpsons Arcade Game as it had been removed from the store.
Although this particular user was not really mad about how he was unable to download certain games, we can surely imagine how problematic this could become in the near future when some of the AAA PS3 games are retired from the store.
Sony could very well end up removing PS3 games from the store because the PS4 does not have any backward compatibility and there does not seem to be any logical reason for Sony continuing to run the store for a console that it no longer supports.
We are sure that this would not sit well with the small number of people who still use the PS3, as not only will they be unable to purchase new games from the store, but the ones that they did purchase digitally will have no way of being re-installed in case they somehow malfunctioned.
Sony is not the only one that has caught flak for the way it handles its online store, as Nintendo has been on the wrong end of the stick quite a few times as well.
Let’s go ahead and take a look at 2 specific examples of Nintendo ensuring that those who buy digital games have to second-guess themselves.
Nintendo DSi Store
In 2016, Nintendo decided to shut down its DSi store. This was the store through which users of the Nintendo DS could buy digital games as well as other DSiware.
The users of the store were given a few months to spend all of the DSi points that they had and to transfer their purchases to the 3DS family system.
In a lot of ways, the 3DS family system managed to prevent a lot of backlashes that Nintendo could have faced as you could still transfer your games to the new store and download them from there if you wanted to.
It was also still possible to purchase all of the Nintendo DS games from the 3DS family system after the store shut down.
This was made possible by the fact that the Nintendo 3DS had backward compatibility and was capable of running all of the games that were on the DSi store.
Considering the fact that the Playstation 4 is not able to do that, we can easily envision the PS3 store closing for good without a way to download the games that you have again.
The Wii Store
The Wii Store was not as lucky and is about to close as we speak. It does not have a natural successor so you are unable to do anything about your content apart from transferring it to a Wii U system.
Although it is safe to assume that most of the people who bought the Wii all those years ago have either sold it, upgraded their console, or have it rotting away in a cupboard somewhere, there might still be a few people who quite enjoy the original console.
The fact that you can never truly own digital games means that some people would always prefer to have physical copies.
However, many games (such as Mass Effect: Andromeda) also have physical copies that are essentially just a manual with a product-code inside of the game’s cover.
The convenience of a digital download has overtaken the want for control and ownership as far as games are concerned, and digital download seems to be the future.