Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's a deal

If you buy a book and finished reading it, you have the right to resell that book. If you had spent the same money to see the movie instead, you would have no such right, even if it was technically possible to tape the movie while watching. Although in both cases you buy access to intellectual property of the author, in the case of the book you buy it as a physical good, while in the case of the movie you buy it as a service. Video games have for many years fallen on the book scale of things: In many legislations it is not only legal to resell used video games, but it is even actually illegal for game companies to prevent people from reselling. But MMORPGs are legally considered like movies, that is a service and not a physical good, and thus game companies are allowed to prevent you from reselling your account.

That understandably has made the people selling single-player offline games somewhat jealous. If they could only turn their games into services instead of physical goods, they would solve all their problems with piracy and reselling and thus make a lot more money. And that explains the current trend towards games which are at their core single-player games, but all suddenly end up offering lots of online services: Online achievements and rankings, online social network functionality, online PvP, and even online cooperative gameplay for games that wouldn't work well as PvP games. Other games are incomplete on the disc in the box, and then have a code for a downloadable content (DLC), which can be used only once. And then there is digital distribution of games on platforms like Origin or Steam.

Of course some people are very upset about this development, because by adding all these online functions to games, the game company is taking away your right to resell your old games. And (whisper it) they also take away your "right" to copy and pirate games.

But that is not the only way to see things. Not everybody is interested in reselling or copying games. My old games tend to collect dust in a cupboard until I realize that they aren't working on the current version of Windows any more, at which point they go into the garbage bin. The most useful I ever did with my old games was giving away a whole bunch of them to a "recycling station" where people give away their old stuff and others can get it there for free. Thus to me and people like me, games as a service instead of a physical good has no disadvantage. Which is one reason why I'm buying most of my games from Steam these days and do away completely with the physical good.

In exchange for giving away my right to resell games, I do receive better online functionality. Of course how useful that is depends on the game. But in some cases I do receive something for nothing, because I get some online function I like in exchange for a right I didn't use. It's a deal. I'm not saying that it is necessarily a good deal for everybody, because some people might well need to resell their old games to finance the next one, and might not be using the online functions. But this is the deal on offer, and everybody is free to take it or leave it. Expect to see a lot more games with online modes in the future. And you might want to sell your GameStop shares.

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