Game companies are big on the idea that they’re just providing us with a “license”. Or lately, they’re trying to turn software into a “service”. The addition of the internet has made it possible for someone else to administrate your software. Setting aside the morality and legality of this deal, how do these various schemes work out? Assuming the user doesn’t resort to piracy, what’s expected of them, and what do they get in return?
- The original Model: You buy a disc and install the software wherever you like. As the user, you have all the power. You also have all the responsibility. It’s your job to take are of the disk and whatever accouterments accompany it. If the disk is lost or scratched, it’s your fault and your problem. Buy another one.
- The Steam Model: Valve has all the power. They decide if you own the game. They decide where you can run it. You can’t sell it, or even give it away. You can’t run it in more than one place at a time. If the Steam servers go down, your game will vanish and you will have nothing. On the other hand, Valve also takes on all the responsibility. Once you register your game, you don’t need to care for it at all. You can throw the disks away. All you need is your login and a ‘net connection. No matter where you go or how many times your computer gets wiped or how often you reinstall or upgrade, Valve will always let you download the game.
- The Online Activation Model: The publisher – 2kGames or EA – has all the power. They decide when and where you run it, etc. But you bear all the responsibility. You take care of the disc, the manual, and the serial number. If you need to re-install later, the publisher will demand proof that you posses one or all of these objects before granting permission. If you lose the disc or the proof, you lose the ability to play the game.
When the publishers complain the online activation is “just a slight change” from earlier schemes, they are missing the fact that they have taken all of the power from the user and left them with all the responsibility. Upping the install limit from three to five does not change this. Neither does “relaxing” the install limits. Or allowing unlimited installs. As long as the user must ask to play the game, and as long as it’s their job to take care of the physical media, this is a raw deal for the consumer.
Me, I always prefer #1. I’ll grudgingly accept #2. But #3 is a scam and I want no part of it.
EA Games president and God of Mountebanks Frank Gibeau recently said:
As far as I’m concerned, you have already done so. And I think everyone understands what a huge problem piracy is. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the second largest problem facing the PC platform today.