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I can choose to do with my property, whatever I so desire!

Calvin Candie

What you own and how your ownership rights are respected is a key part of the basic fabric of civilization. One of the very first laws any society forms is a law about theft, so the concept of ownership has been around for a very long time. Hell, the concept of ownership is so fundamental that society defined property laws before even basic civil liberty, which is why slavery was a thing. The concept of property rights where a guiding principle on how society ordered itself; even at a time when basic civil liberty hadn't been implemented and simple compassion was rare.

It's important to understand just how fundamental property rights are because deep down most people struggle to actually understand what the erosion of those rights would mean. Something like "free speech" is still relatively new, as are copyright and trademark law. But I bring this up because the media and tech industry aren't just trying to screw you over by changing the more recent cultural norms; oh no, they intend to screw with the most basic concepts of civilization in order to make a profit.

In literally any other industry if you buy something you have the right to do "whatever you so desire" with that item, including destroying it, giving it away, or re-selling it to another person. This is what the "second hand market" has always been. If you sell your car, you don't need permission from Citreon or BMW to be allowed to do that. If you buy a sofa from someone second hand, you don't need to buy a "new arse pass" to be allowed to sit on the fucking thing. Property is owned and the owner decides it's fate. Pretty simple stuff, but not in video games.

Flea Market

Video games are no different than any other product, and they are a product, they're not a service; (regardless of how much games developers want to push the "live service" statement). In fact it wasn't that long ago that games where resold all the time without issue; I remember as a kid getting games from car-boot sales in the mid-90s. It was the only way I would have been able to afford the variety of games I got to play. Shops like CEX and Gamestop have their entire business models centred around the second hand market... and yet this industry is extremely unwilling to allow us our rights.

With the advent of "online passes", games publishered tried to punish people for buying a second hand game by gating off content. This was extremely unpopular and in less than 5 years the industry abandoned that practice but it was the precursor to the current system which sees software as a licence rather than a product and tries to screw people over.

First things first, when companies claim you're buying a "licence" that doesn't mean you don't own your product. You do. When you buy a DVD, you're also buying a licence. What it means is you physically own the DVD, you own the contents of the DVD, but you don't own the rights to the media. When the DVD was sold to you they did not sell the rights to the media along with it; which means you can't re-publish it and sell copies of it, you can't use it for your own works outside the bounds of fair use (which is a different article itself, I'll get to fair use), and you can't re-distribute it such as uploading it to the internet for free. Those would be violations of intellectual property and tradmark laws; but they don't alter your property rights. You still own your product, you own that copy of the media, you own the licence for that media; and you can do whatever you desire with your property. Which includes giving it away or re-selling it. So if you want to sell a piece of software you bought, you can, but you can only sell it once and the act of selling it transfers the licence to the new owner. That's what those claims of "licence" are. Is that clear? Hopefully so, because this is the biggest misconception about media ownership.

So why is this a problem? Well, try it? I recently bought 'The Division 2' digitally but was unable to allow a friend to play it. They came over to my house, logged into my PS4, and was unable to play it because it is digitally locked to my account unless I change settings on my PS4, (which I'm only able to do once every 6 months). If I'd bought the physical version, I could have handed him the disc and everything would have worked fine. This isn't specific to 'The Division 2' either, dozens of my digital games where locked to all user accounts accept mine because that PS4 isn't set to my "primary console" and games companies don't respect ownership rights.

Digital games aren't the only method that games erode our ownership rights. DLC is another. Effectively DLC is part of the game, purposely held back and released separately, that usually requires a separate purchase meaning if you buy a second hand game you still have to buy the DLC separately. Occassionally you can get complete editions or "game of the year" editions, with the DLC loaded onto the disc, but more often than not, the DLC is included as a single use download code with the game; and if you're playing on consoles such as the PS4, even though the games are region-free, the DLC is not so if you buy an EU or Japan region game and have a North American account, the DLC will not work with your account. Additionally the North American version of the DLC will be incompatible with your non-North American game. Even if the DLC is free, this is still not great. It means your game is held hostage to the online servers; once the servers go down all future attempts to play this game will be missing the DLC so you've got an inferior product that doesn't last.

And that brings me on to the last point. Online connectivity. Most games now require it, even single player games. When was the last time you played a game that DIDN'T have to download a patch or software update? Exactly. Now imagine the PS4 library without those updates, those games would be considerably worse, glitch ridden, and in some cases unplayable. Imagine your PC games library if Valve went bankrupt, it would basically not exist; we lose Steam and we lose the majority of video games on PC from the last decade and change. By making these products reliant on online systems they make them intrinsically value-less. I can buy a cartridge for my SNES or Mega Drive and I am guaranteed that it will work, without patching those games either released working of they where forever shit. Modern games don't need to do this and that's a terrifying thing when you consider the preservation of games.

How many games since 2005 work without the internet. Almost all PC games past 2005 are digital only and require DRM, so PC may as well be irrelevant for this discussion. On consoles, past 2005 patches and online updates became more and more common; with it being effectively mandatory over the last 10 years. How many of those games are still going to be playable in 20 years time? You may scoff at that but I've been playing games for 30 years and I still go back and play games from more than 20 years ago regularly and why shouldn't I? Do you refuse to watch TV shows or films from more than 20 years ago? Do you refuse to listen to music or read books from more than 20 years ago? Video games are in their infancy but they're reaching the point of diminishing returns where the games of 20 years in the future won't be so much more advanced than the games of today.

PS4 vs SNES

This is compounded even further however with "live services". It's entirely possible to have a game playable after it's disconnected from the internet. As much as it's a problem, it doesn't destroy the game. Sure, it'll require you to have already downloaded the DLC and patches prior to the system being disconnected, but PSN disappearing tomorrow won't stop me from playing 'Spider-Man' or 'Horizon: Zero Dawn' complete with all the DLC and patches as I already have them. In theory, we could back up those patch files and emulate them on PC, which at least lets us preserve the games even if it is a pain in the arse to do it. "live services" however are far far worse.

While the idea that a game might not be supported in 20 years and you may have to put up with the unpatched version might seem like only a mild complaint, (though I don't feel it is), what about all the games we play online. I've resisted online gaming for a long time but now I'm firmly entrenched in the online gaming culture. I enjoyed 'Red Dead Redemption' and 'Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit' on the PS3, and I play 'The Last Of Us: Remastered', 'Path Of Exile', 'Tom Clancy's The Division 1 & 2', and 'Monster Hunter World'. That list is only likely to increase too. What happens to these games?

Some of them like 'Monster Hunter World' are specifically built so they also work offline. And others like 'Path Of Exile' are actually free to play so you don't have any ownership rights here, though in the interests of preserving a great game I'm still concerned for it. What happens when 'The Last Of Us 2' comes out. Does the online portion of the first game just stop existing when the servers are closed. What about 'The Division', that game is only 3 years old and it's already got a sequel? Are Ubisoft just going to close the servers to the first game? The day they do they are literally taking your property and rendering it unplayable. They're doing the equivalent of breaking into your house and snapping the blu-ray in half. How do we solve this? Well, maybe they could release a final patch that enables the game to be playable offline once the servers close. It wouldn't take much effort to do that and it would be a nice way to keep the game preserved for the future. Perhaps they could keep direct lan-play in so that the game remains playable as a multiplayer experience. Or perhaps they could release the source code for their server as open source and allow anyone to set up their own server. It's not quite the same as making it available offline, but it still gives you the option to preserve the game if you care enough. The thing is, none of these things are done often.

One of the biggest problems currently is that the games industry isn't respecting our consumer rights or property rights here. This move to online dependency makes preservation harder and property rights less reliable. It's anti-consumer and it needs to be challenged.

Aaah, but that's just the nature of intangible products right, that's just what happens with media and digitial goods. Oh no, they do this with physical hardware too. But that's for another time, so I'm not quite finished with this topic yet...