The Death of Digital Ownership

By Bay Posted Friday Nov 4, 2022

Filed under: Epilogue, Video Games 48 comments

This post is written by Peter. Due to a needed overhaul of the backend of the site, his post will be marked as written by ‘Bay’ for the time being. Sorry for any confusion.

On November 22nd, 2019. Blizzard announced the development of ‘Overwatch 2’, the sequel to their highly praised multiplayer game ‘Overwatch’. 

As far as I’m aware, The idea was pretty well-received; I personally was pretty excited about the news. I had been given Overwatch as a gift from my parents sometime in mid-2016. I had loved the game through my teens and was excited about the potential of a sequel. I then promptly forgot about the concept until I moved home three years later, and abruptly gained a large amount of free time to waste playing online games with my friends. 

Once again, I was excited, and even more excited to hear it would be free-to-play. That meant more chances for people to experience a game I’d enjoyed since my teens.

I’m not sure where I first heard it would ‘replace’ the original game. It was a rumor, at first. One that, when I repeated it to my family, I was reassured would never actually happen. I assume the assumption being that they couldn’t get away with taking something someone had paid for and replacing it with a different product. I wasn’t convinced. I was unfortunately proven right on October 4th, 2022. When Blizzard announced they would be replacing the game. Upon booting up the launcher Overwatch 2 would overwrite the original game, completely removing it from players’ computers. 

If you can’t feel the horror and disgust that I feel at the prospect, I want you to imagine they’d done this with a classic, like Starcraft. That, instead of a new game to play, they would just overwrite the old one. No backups, and no way for players to return to the original. Not even to play offline just to experience the nostalgia. It’s gone. A segment of history completely removed I understand most people probably don’t consider Overwatch history, and many have rightful criticisms about what it represented in the industry and its effects. but it was important to me. And I purchased it. That’s another important fact., with no chance for player-supported servers, because they wanted to funnel more players into their new game as fast as possible.

Despite Overwatch 1 players paying for the game long before the idea of Overwatch 2 even existed, Blizzard was able to easily remove and ‘replace’ it with something they have very clearly marketed as an entirely different game without anyone starting a fight. They were able to justify it by saying ‘Well, you can keep your old characters’ as if the point of the matter isn’t that they just took away something people owned and replaced it with something else.

When the announcement first came out, I expected more of a fuss. This isn’t to say nobody took issue with the situation at all. Overwatch 2 suffers exactly the problems one would expect from a rushed ‘sequel’ trying to make a quick buck, but I haven’t seen many people talking about the specific issue of them replacing the original For it to make some sort of splash that they were taking away a product they’d sold. But in retrospect, I can’t be surprised it didn’t. The concept has been slowly introduced over the past decade. As physical media is phased out, and digital media, especially subscription-based services, stand dominant, we’ve learned to accept when things just disappear. In fact, a bigger instance happened not long ago when HBO pulled dozens of well-known and loved TV series from their platform. With no plans to release them as physical media, the only way to access these shows is to pirate them. I am aware this did face backlash, but social consequences don’t mean much to companies like HBO as long as they keep making money. 

The fact that Blizzard was able to remove a purchased product from accounts and ‘replace’ it for their own benefit is a symptom of a bigger issue: the widespread acceptance of renting everything you need. 

Which isn’t to say renting things is bad, I like being able to go online and throw some money at my computer to watch a movie. But sometimes, I look at the cost of Spotify Premium and consider how much I’ll be paying them over the rest of my life and I feel vaguely nauseous. In case you’re wondering, for me, the estimate is around $9352.08, assuming they don’t raise the price *and* I make it to my 70s. As a side note, in order for an artist to make a single dollar from Spotify their song has to be streamed roughly 266 times. If I buy the song on Bandcamp the artist makes about a hundred times that in one purchase. And I can then keep the song on my computer permanently, or burn it to a physical disc or USB drive to play whenever I please without worrying it might be removed from the platform. I think I’ve just convinced myself to make a Bandcamp account. 

I find myself genuinely nervous at the implications of how easy it was for them to do this. I have friends that still play I haven’t got it in me to try. The idea of removing the old game from my computer makes me a bit sick. I haven’t opened the Battlenet launcher since the game dropped., some of whom have already begun falling into the ‘pay to play’ pit, and new people continue to funnel in by the day At least the lucky bastards who don’t have prepaid phones. Which is yet another gross choice the higher-ups at blizzard have made. Of all solutions to abuse, this is definitely the worst and most exclusionary against people in lower income brackets. Who, unfortunately, if we’re honest with ourselves, aren’t actually a part of blizzards ‘target player base.. As far as I’ve heard they’re still turning a profit. Not a single repercussion for their actions. And if one company can take away a game, who’s to say another won’t? This is something of a ‘slippery slope’ fallacy, but it is shockingly easy for me to imagine waking up one day to find Steam has removed a game from my library. Of course, Steam is generally good about these things; my mom still has a game in her library that stopped being sold about a decade ago. But the fact that it’s not only possible, but even acceptable puts me on edge. Maybe Steam wouldn’t, but there are other platforms, and other companies I am ready and willing to believe would replace or even remove a game in a heartbeat if it meant they could get more money out of the situation.

I don’t have much of a solution to this problem. I could hypothetically call this a Call to Action. Everyone knows the easiest way to get a company to stop doing something is to hit them in the wallet. And if one company gets a slap on the wrist the others will generally back off for a year or two before they push again. But I know I don’t have the audience to make that much noise, and I’m not sure I want all that responsibility. So instead, I’ll call it a reminder. 

Digital ownership consistently relies on the whims of the producers, even if it’s on your computer. If it relies on a host service like Steam, Blizzard, Origin, or any other program to run, it’s about as good as a long-term rental. You only own it right up until that service shuts down, or takes it away. 

You are as much of a product to these companies as what you purchase, and it would do us all good to remember that.

 

Footnotes:

[1] I understand most people probably don’t consider Overwatch history, and many have rightful criticisms about what it represented in the industry and its effects. but it was important to me. And I purchased it. That’s another important fact.

[2] This isn’t to say nobody took issue with the situation at all. Overwatch 2 suffers exactly the problems one would expect from a rushed ‘sequel’ trying to make a quick buck, but I haven’t seen many people talking about the specific issue of them replacing the original

[3] I am aware this did face backlash, but social consequences don’t mean much to companies like HBO as long as they keep making money.

[4] In case you’re wondering, for me, the estimate is around $9352.08, assuming they don’t raise the price *and* I make it to my 70s. As a side note, in order for an artist to make a single dollar from Spotify their song has to be streamed roughly 266 times. If I buy the song on Bandcamp the artist makes about a hundred times that in one purchase. And I can then keep the song on my computer permanently, or burn it to a physical disc or USB drive to play whenever I please without worrying it might be removed from the platform. I think I’ve just convinced myself to make a Bandcamp account.

[5] I haven’t got it in me to try. The idea of removing the old game from my computer makes me a bit sick. I haven’t opened the Battlenet launcher since the game dropped.

[6] At least the lucky bastards who don’t have prepaid phones. Which is yet another gross choice the higher-ups at blizzard have made. Of all solutions to abuse, this is definitely the worst and most exclusionary against people in lower income brackets. Who, unfortunately, if we’re honest with ourselves, aren’t actually a part of blizzards ‘target player base.



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48 thoughts on “The Death of Digital Ownership

  1. Garrett says:

    This has been a problem of mine for years. The idea that anything digital can be permanently owned beyond domain names isn’t always true. And even that’s riding on rough territory if digital products suddenly wane or diminish in quality. Take for instance Hitman 2, which I got on Google Stadia. With Stadia shutting down, I’m losing that game permanently. It’s as if I had never gotten it or played it for that matter. Of course, I did play it, but I’m saying that I no longer own the game once Stadia shuts down. I’d have to purchase it elsewhere just to own it.

    The only thing that justifies my purchased Steam collection, which frequently collects dust before I redownload it and play it again, is that Steam “works”. Steam has been a successful video game launcher and platform for about 2 decades now. The convenience, for now, outweighs the cons of possibly purchasing a physical copy of any game.

    The only console I buy physical and have ownership of is the Switch, because the cartridges are a lot more portable and practical. Otherwise, if Steam shutters, then most of my gaming library will be gone. I don’t really see that happening in the future, so I’m not worried, but competition could create scarcity enough that the company behind Steam has to offer alternatives or change up its launcher service. And that’s scary to think about. That at any moment, my entire collection of games, from Morrowind to Stellaris to everything in between, could be lost or placed behind a paywall to access. Gaming is already an expensive hobby as is, being forced to pay all these ridiculous microtransactions and monthly subs is just a slap in the face to people already buying the games and consoles to play on. Rant over.

  2. Syal says:

    Blizzaed actually already did this much more egregiously with Warcraft 3.

    I’m more sympathetic to this one since as far as I know Overwatch is pure multiplayer, so keeping it running would be an ongoing expense for Blizzard.

    1. Mousazz says:

      I, for one, feel like it’s not that bad with Reforged, since the previous owners of WC3 can just not connect to Battle.net and have their old version overwritten. On top of that, one can still, at the very least, pirate WC3 – not very nice from a legal, and perhaps moral perspective, but as far as game preservation goes, the original version isn’t even gone from the Internet.

      While there’s some sympathy for the server upkeep cost argument, there’s a reason why Ross Scott over at Accursed Farms almost always covers always-online games and MMOs in his “Dead Game News” Youtube series – you just can’t kill a single-player abandonware game that easily.

      1. Lars says:

        previous owners of WC3 can just not connect to Battle.net and have their old version overwritten.

        That is not a solution. That is laying yourself in chains of never playing an Activition-Blizzard title again unless it is already installed. That also means no patches for the games already installed. So if you want to play Starcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, Tony Hawks Pro Skater or even CoD with the latest patches you need to do it on another PC.
        Again: That is not a solution.

    2. Sartharina says:

      I’d say Warcraft 3 Reforged is still Warcraft 3. It’s essentially a huge patch for the game… That disabled a lot of features and introduced new bugs. A shitty patch, but still a patch.

      The *real* comparison is Warcraft 3’s sequel, World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft 2: The Burning Crusade replaced the original, and was in turn replaced by World of Warcraft 3: Wrath of the Lich King. And THAT got replaced by WoW4, Cataclysm. And so on. WoW 10 is about to launch.

  3. Retsam says:

    It’s hard for me to raise any sort of emotion on these sort of things because I think the experience of playing an more-or-less exclusively online-multiplayer game is always contingent: contingent on there being servers, contingent on there being players, and contingent on there being a good balance/meta.

    I think the combination of these makes these experiences kind of inevitably ephemeral.

    Like, I had a blast playing TF2 in college, and I’d love to relive that experience. … but even though I still have the game in my library, and there are still servers, the game changed enough that I lost interest and I don’t think if I fired up the game now I’d have anything like the experience I had a decade ago.

    I can’t even really tell you what changed: the game changed, the community changed, Valve changed, I changed, I dunno. The idea that I could somehow metpahorically capture that that experience in a bottle (or a Jarate) and preserve it forever was never really on the table.

    And sure “you are a part of the product”, but the flip-side to this is “other players are also part of the service being provided to you”, and anything that disrupts that service makes the game worse for you.

    I assume a big part of what Blizzard didn’t want to do was to split the player-base by releasing OW2 alongside OW1. Since player-base size matters a lot for time-to-match and quality-of-matchmaking, that could have had a serious impact on the quality of the game.

    In the worst case, that could have killed both versions of the game. There’s a sort of “triage” logic here, where it might be better to intentionally kill one game than risk killing both.

    Supporting community servers may also have split the playerbase, too. Perhaps to a lesser extent, but would also change the experience in other ways, (some good, some bad) for those playing on private servers.

    And balance/ruleset matters, too. Here’s a hypothetical: what if, instead of releasing “Overwatch 2”, they released a series of patches that modified Overwatch via “content changes and balance patches” and eventually it reached a point that’s essentially identical to Overwatch 2?

    In this hypothetical, we’d be in materially the same position as today… but it’s harder to point to any point in this product that Blizzard “took away Overwatch” – it’s kind of a Ship of Theseus paradox: at some point it’s a new game, but it’s hard to point at what point in the process that actually happened.

    And it seems hard to prevent this sort of thing. I wouldn’t want to ban games from adding new content and doing balance changes… but every change makes the experience worse for somebody.

    1. Lino says:

      Yeah, I’m afraid I’m with Retsam on this one. However, I also think there’s merit to the issue of replacing a product people paid for without any input from them, and without providing any way to keep that product. It kind of reminds me of the arguments made in this video.

      But it’s a tricky issue, especially from a legal perspective (although I can’t really speak to that – I just know enough about law to know that it’s very tricky :D).

      1. Peter is still experiencing techinal issues says:

        ooh, I’ll have to give that a watch.

        I’ll admit, I’m less concerned with ‘messy legality’, and more concerned with the fact that Blizzard just proved pretty easily they can remove a paid product and nobody will care. It was talked about, but if this had happened even five years ago I can imagine it being all anyone talked about for months. People would have been angry. But with the complete shift to digital media we’ve become so accustomed to our games being in the hands of digital services. And therefore those services being able to decide what we do and do not own. And I’ll be real honest with ya, that wigs me out.

        1. Duffy says:

          Context matters, in this case they essentially updated their game and slapped a different title on it. In the end they are still running an Overwatch game service, and that last bit is important: the style of game is a service, not really a product you own.

          Now that context doesn’t negate that digital ownership is still potentially problematic (or stuff like a disc for the console that downloads the game), but I feel it’s two different problems. Service style games are becoming more common and creating more of that temporary ownership/lifetime pattern. Maybe it works fine for a game that fully lives in that context, but does it start branching into games that don’t? That’s where my concern lies.

    2. John says:

      The last time I tried out TF2 maybe two years ago, the major change that stuck out was the number of players per game. They pretty much made every official server support 32 or maybe 64 players, but many maps and game modes were balanced around 8-16 players total. So every game was just a meat grinder, where you could barely tell what was going on, couldn’t meaningfully push objectives, and often just died ten steps outside of spawn.

      1. Jaloopa says:

        That pretty much describes my experience every time I’ve tried an online shooter :shrug:

    3. Peter is still experiencing techinal issues says:

      First off, I understand where you’re coming from with these arguments. And you’re right! The game and its experience is contingent on servers and playerbase. Yes they could change the game all kinds of ways, and yes supporting fan servers would have cut into profits from the people with no interest in a new game. but in the end these don’t erase my final point. Because while yes they could have updated the game until it was unrecognizable, made it “free to play”, and hand-coded in every fresh-baked bug and glitch the new game has displayed, the fact of the matter is they marketed a sequel. And therefore set a precedent that it was a new product, meaning that their decision to remove the old product entirely was a gross disregard for the idea that anyone who’d paid for the game actually *owned* it.

      It was a purchase people made that Blizzard decided didn’t matter anymore. They removed the original and replaced it. *That* is what I’m upset about. It’s not just the fact they took away a game, its the fact that it’s acceptable. Everything in your games library is potentially temporary no matter how much you paid for it on the off chance someone might be able to make more money if you didn’t have it anymore. And that is an alarming problem to have.

      And a final point, why should I, a player, give two quarters of my rear end about how much a multi-billion dollar company might *not* make off a product? Should I pity them for having to split the profits when they have more than enough for the company to flourish either way? I certainly don’t benefit from them making more money, our relationship is purely transactional. I can’t feel bad that they might have some inconvenience because they were forced to let me keep something I bought. Indie developers who pull this shit get burned, why would I dream of tolerating it from a *triple A company*?

      1. Retsam says:

        I didn’t mention anything about caring about Blizzards profits: my point was “if the player-base were split and both games died, that’d be bad for the players“, who presumably enjoy playing the games and would be sad if the queue times/matchmaking quality got much worse and everyone left to go play Valorant or Halo (or Angry Birds or Whatever).

        I do think there’s some obvious truth to “we don’t own games” in the same way that we did with physical media… but I also think “they stopped hosting servers for an exclusively online multiplayer game” is a pretty weak signal for “everything in your games library is potentially temporary”.

        Any game that relies on external servers to play has an expiration date, by its nature. Someday, somewhere, there will be one last Rocket League match, there will be one goal scored, and there will be one last “What a Save!” and then it’ll end. In the grand scheme of things, this just doesn’t seem that surprising or rantworthy to me.

        Yeah, obviously this is a lot sooner than these sort of things normally go (for a successful game)… but also they are replacing it with a free game that is AFAICT, essentially more of the same game? It seems like the lack of outrage here is because for most people, that fact seems to hold a lot more water.

        I think my hypothetical of “what if they just updated OW until it was OW2” is actually probably not too far from how a lot of people are thinking about this. I think it’s probably close to how I would think about it. Like, yeah, I’d be annoyed if the new version was worse, just like I’d be annoyed if any game patched with an update I thought was worse. But I don’t think it’s particularly deserving of outrage. (But maybe that’s easy for me to say as someone who isn’t emotionally invested in the game)

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          But it’s not just “server based multiplayer games”. Blizzard also did a similar thing with Warcraft 3 Reforged and while I have no evidence I think the only reason they didn’t do it with Diablo 2 Resurrected was the immense fiasco that W3R was. As recently as September Ubisoft was shutting down “online functionality” of some of their older titles which apparently also meant locking people out of some of the DLCs they paid for, admittedly I have not followed the developments super closely so the situation might have changed (I also dare you to ask me about my Might & Magic X experience).

          And yes, this is just a handful of examples. Heck with OW2 I’d actually be willing to take the argument that this isn’t so much replacing a product as something similar to a major patch that migrates the game to a new engine or something. The reason why some of us are reacting to this with agitation is that this is not an entirely unexpected development and on more than one front. On the one hand many online games come in with either an expectation of a shorter lifespan than in the past, or feel much more like an experiment along the lines of “let’s throw it at a wall and see if it sticks, if not we’ll kill it in a year” than they did in the past. On the other hand it’s part of the broad topic of “erosion of ownership rights” particularly as relates to digital media ownership and the important thing is that most people remain blissfully unaware of just how much of their right they’ve given away. I’m sure Actiblizz’s massive legal department ensured that they had every single possible right to replace their customers’ Warcraft 3 copies with the remake, but ask yourself the following: how many of those customers were aware of this when they bought the original game? Heck, how many were aware of this a month, a week, a day before the announcement? How many would consider it a real possibility if you told them in advance? It’s not whether at the end of the day Ubisoft did or did not lock people out of the DLC they paid for, it’s that they could legally do it and people had no awareness of it. Can you, with all honesty and certainty say that you know to what extent the publishers of content you consider you “own” on a digital platform can interfere with it or remove it from your “possession”?

          And at the risk of stepping too far into politics don’t for a moment doubt that at least some major companies will use these tools to force, or at least “encourage”, paying again for content you already bought, or limit your legal access to their own products that compete with later iterations. The push for liveservice and monetization mechanics in singleplayer games exists almost entirely for this purpose, FOMO drives people to spend money on content before it becomes inaccessible but it’s availability is dictated entirely by the whims of the developer or publisher not by some esoteric conjunction of the stars. We’re talking the same people who pounced on, and in many cases insist on holding on to the decomposing flesh of, NFTs, the artificial scarcity created in an environment that was once hailed as bringing universal accessibility. As a hypothetical: I have no idea how EA sports games work but I’m sure someone in there is positively salivating at the idea of replacing a copy of FIFA 20XX with 20XX+1 and giving the player something like “10 gold player packs for their leagues” in return for the number of achievements they got in the previous iteration, but at the same time making it so that playing at the level they did in that old game requires buying another 20 of those packs or an expansion.

    4. Olivier FAURE says:

      Side note: if you want to recapture some of that original TF2 experience, I’ve found OpenFortress to be pretty good.

      Most servers run free-for-all modes rather than teamfights, but overall the weapons, level design, art direction and general vibe all feel incredibly nostalgic.

  4. Narkis says:

    That’s a nice Shamus-style rant, and I agree completely with your point. There’s a reason “You will own nothing and you’ll be happy.” has become a meme in certain parts on the internet.

  5. Amstrad says:

    There was a time when I was willing to engage with these free to play titles with their slow drip of free content and was willing enough to simply play my way into earning said content. When they started adding stuff like battle passes however, I pretty much checked out of any game using them. The FOMO aspect is far too strong and I generally don’t have the kind of money to be spent on ephemeral content for a digital product that might just up and disappear one day. Blizzard are far from the first ones to be pulling this sort of crap and they won’t be the last and I’m done supporting companies who insist on this model for delivering a game.

  6. Adam says:

    Even if a company can be trusted now (which for me is pretty much Steam and GOG) they might no be trustable tomorrow. See the current state of Twitter for instance.

    1. WarLadle says:

      Re: Twitter, I’m worried about ‘Steam after Gaben’ which will arrive eventually. What happens to that enormous platform once the private company that owns it changes hands?

      1. Lino says:

        Now THAT’s a scary thought! For all this time, the main reason Steam is able to put consumers first is because they’re privately owned and they don’t need to wow shareholders every quarter.

        But you’re absolutely right – what happens after Gabe retires? What if the new onwer gets suckered into the idea of making Valve public? After all, they’re the biggest marketplace for one of the hottest industries in tech. On paper, it makes total sense to go public.

        But once they do, then their priorities will immediately change. If you think they’re only after profits now, just wait until they have to answer to a board of investment banks and holding companies that don’t give a pinch of a rat’s ass about the gaming industry, PC gamers, user experience or any of thar crap. Instead, all they care about is if the numbers this month are higher than last month’s numbers. And once those numbers stop increasing, then the bright ideas start.

        “A lot of our users have bought games they never play. And some of them are starting to catch on. Our average spend per user has gone down! This is an outrage!”

        “Hmmm… What if we reset everyone’s libraries and create a subscription service where we dole out games each month? Yes, you lost your library of over 200 games, but you weren’t playing them anyways! And now there are over 1000 you can play within our new subscription – all of them carefully selected by our algorithm just for you! We’ll even give you one month for free!
        Yes there’s a lot of shovelware in there as well – this is Steam, after all – but there might be something in our list you’ll like! And you who are you to complain – you never really owned your games in the first place!”

        And once Steam turns to shit, where will we go for all our PC gaming needs? We could only hope that GOG and the like will rise to pick up the slack (unless a similar process doesn’t befall them, too). That’s certainly a chilling thought…

  7. Zagzag says:

    This is a weird situation, and I think how you react to it will depend on how you consider the line to be drawn around what counts as a game versus an update, which isn’t always clear cut with online games that can change dramatically over the years. Others in the comments have already mentioned Team Fortress 2 as an example. The game today is so massively different compared to on launch that it would probably be fair to say it’s a “different game”, but it still has the same name and ID on steam and is still technically the same in many ways that count.

    I admit that I don’t know much about the case of Overwatch 2 and never played the original, but if they’re letting you keep your unlocked characters, then isn’t this really more like a radical overhaul to the game that just happens to be branded as a sequel? To put it another way, if they had released a massive patch to Overwatch that turned it into the game Overwatch 2 currently is, but it wasn’t being branded as a sequel, would anything really be different to what actually happened? In this hypothetical scenario it would be just as impossible to go back and play the previous version of the game before the changes were made, and this is something that routinely happens when games receive major updates that introduce sweeping changes. Instinctively this makes it sound like this is more of a marketing stunt for a major overhaul patch than a new game.

    As for the points about “removing a purchased product from your account”, this is a debate that comes up practically every time a paid product goes free to play (though usually, but not always, without rebranding itself as a new game). It’s common for a chunk of the community to be vocally upset and to feel that by making the game free when they had to pay for it originally, something has been taken away from them. There are even plenty of cases out there of failing online games rebranding themselves and relaunching under a new name, which seems like a pretty close match to what Blizzard did here too.

    To add another relevant example. Destiny 2 (another game I don’t play), which while an online game is one with a sizeable PvE component, has a reputation for periodically removing significant chunks of content from the game, including expansions and DLC that people paid for. This means that all new content essentially has a limited shelf life, and despite the game being story based a new player who starts now is not able to play all of the past story content as some of it has been condensed or removed entirely. In this case I know this is something that players do get very upset about, and it somehow feels much more egregious than what Blizzard did here.

    I can’t even fully explain why it’s worse, but my intuitive sense is that Blizzard introducing what sounds like a massive overhaul to their online PvP game in a way that means some gameplay experiences are no longer available (and happens to be rebranded as a new game with a new business model) is way less of an issue than Bungie repeatedly doing something similar to a game that is PvE focused, and removes PvE story content that people paid for as DLC on top of the original purchase price.

    1. Richard says:

      To some extent it’s how it’s marketed.

      If Overwatch 2 had been marketed as a patch, adding a “free-to-play” and revamping the engine etc, then I suspect nobody would have been particularly bothered.

      Much like TF2 is now a totally different game to what it was ten years ago.

      But it wasn’t. Blizzard marketed it as being an entirely new game. Which perhaps it was, to the team that developed it – after all, chances are none of them had worked on the original, given the industry’s general propensity for using people up then spitting them out.

      And that’s the precedent now. Blizzard execs will be able to point to OW2 and say “look, we did it before, we can do it again”

  8. Dreadjaws says:

    It’s the old “frog in slowly boiling water” tale. Put a frog in boiling water and it’ll jump out instantly. Instead, put it in water at room temperature and slowly raise the heat little by little and it’ll stay there until it dies from heat. It’s not true, obviously. In real life a frog will jump out when the temperature reaches a certain point.

    But this only highlights the point that frogs seem to be smarter than humans, because humans absolutely will fall for this shit. Videogame companies have been doing it for years. Yeah, you can have a disaster by creating a hostile environment from the start, like it happened with the launch of the Xbox One. Too many inconveniences together at the same time and people will revolt. But instead, introduce them slowly, one by one, and people will come to accept them all. This is how we ended up with day 1 patches, DRM, microtransactions, lootboxes, games as a service and, of course, product erasure.

    It’ll eventually come a point when people won’t just accept this practice, but actively defend it against protests from other customers, as it happens with all the other ones I mentioned. It’s absolutely insane and it makes me weep for our future when I see how prevalent it is. Blizzard, Ubisoft, EA and Activision in particular have been guilty of so many awful anti-consumer practices than in a sane world they would all have either changed for good or gone out of business long ago. Instead, they’re thriving.

    That being said, when it comes to online games… eh, this sort of thing is pretty normal. Granted, Blizzard has, of course, done a few things worse than usual, like killing the game to make sure people would move on to the next one and not due to lack of a userbase, or the fact that they didn’t stop selling it for a while after killing it. But most online games have an expiration date all the same, and it’s understandable. At some point diminishing returns will turn into losses and it’ll be more costly for a company to maintain a game than to kill it. Pair that up with a very low player count and it’s reasonable for companies to shut them down.

    Granted, again, Overwatch was nowhere near this point. The game was still stupidly popular. It’s clear that Blizzard’s priorities were to squeeze more money out of players, even though the new game is F2P. I’m certainly not going to be taking their side on this. Just making the point that it was likely going to happen sooner or later.

    1. Syal says:

      Tangent: friends of the family reported a camping trip wherein a frog jumped up on the rocks around the campfire, and the rock’s heat immediately led it to jump again. Forward, into the fire. Apparently they had more than one frog do that.

  9. Chris says:

    At the one hand I agree, at the other hand I think it is the nature of modern always online games. Overwatch 1 also changed a lot through its updates. If you fell in love with release OW then the overwatch you got just before OW2 might also turn you off. No multiples of the same character, various balance changes and hero additions you may or may not like. OW2 fits in the same sequence. Its more “overwatch 2.0” than “overwatch the sequel”.

    I think the way it turned into OW2.0 instead of overwatch 2 is also a reason they shut down OW1. OW2 obviously had a lot of problems during development. Jeff Kaplan left, the whole mccree tragedy, the numerous other issues. I can imagine the team is facing a lot of issues and have low morale. At the same time the suits want their sequel and push for battlepasses and F2P, especially now lootboxes got pushback. Shutting down the original OW saves them a lot of legacy maintenance, the shame of “overwatch classic” outperforming the sequel and whether buying OW1 would get you all the unlocks in OW2.

    That said I do miss sequels, it was a lot nicer than the endless updates of live service games. If there was a fundamental problem with a game that was difficult to change without radically changing the entire game, the sequel could fix that. People would complain if a patch did that, since it took away their game, but the sequel is a blank sheet, devs can make radical changes. It also creates clear cutoff points for changes. If a game gets to a healthy state, the devs can freeze the game in carbonite and start on a sequel. I personally love company of heroes 1. Sure, the sequel is better, but COH1 is still there, waiting for me if I want to play it again.

    I think its the curse of live service games. Having a sequel every few years would be my preferred option, but constantly updating a game and milking the fanbase is safer and more profitable. Whatever game you lose in the process, well thats just a casualty in the process.

    Also I think spotify isnt that bad. Sure, if you calculate how much a lifetime of spotify premium would cost you, its a lot, but imagine buying an album every month and a single every week.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Also, Spotify has a free version. And the ads are annoying, sure*, but even paid it’s not quite the same service offered.
      While the CDs I own are blessedly ad-free, I can’t just track down that random earworm that I woke up with using them.

      *Mostly by repetition. The exact same ad, at the beginning and end of every single episode of a podcast?! I know you have to make money, guys, but can you at least mix it up a tiny bit?

  10. Wilson B. Wilson says:

    Another reminder that Blockbuster died for our sins.

    On a serious note, this is something that’s been on my mind for years now. Even though I very rarely purchase games not available physically (or even AAA games for that matter), I’m more likely to keep a backup of games I only own digitally. This is why I have a lot of external hard drives – maybe it’s a form of hoarding, but I consider it preserving history. I’m a big fan of old, weird, and obscure games, and I’ve gone on some hellish deep dives trying to find some certain titles.

    The bit about the prepaid phones is something I feel hard. I’ve only ever had prepaid phones and I live in a place with bad signal, so the advent of phone verification has been intensely annoying over these few years. It’s not like I can even take advantage of streaming services or download the oversized modern AAA games with my bad, limited internet connection. The AAA market continues to move further and further towards excluding me entirely. (It’s not like I’m interested in a lot of the available selection, but still.) These days, what money I can spend overwhelmingly goes to DRM free sources and platforms that actually pay its creators.

    It’s odd, having always lived in rural areas, games and consoles used to be really slow getting to stores in my childhood. By the late 2000’s, that all really changed and you’d be playing stuff on release day like everyone else. And now it’s somehow regressed in it’s own way.

    There’s a lot of ancient cultures and their media we know so little about as result of strong oral tradition. It simply didn’t get passed on, whether by accident, or by force. Its footprint on history is minuscule, stored nebulously in the human brain in electrical signals. I can’t help but feel there’s a similarity in that and our digital only media of the current time.

  11. RCN says:

    I’m a dirty damn communist. Just like Shamus (though he was no communist), I took offense at the idea of digital ownership the moment Steam debuted because I knew capitalism would ruin it eventually (said the same about Netflix at the start and people groaned that I was complaining about a better system. Now that people have to pay for 6-7 streaming services and none of them are friendly about users sharing accounts anymore I feel awful that I was right).

    I was an Impulse user, the gaming client that Stardock created to compete with steam. The funny thing is? It was superior to steam in almost every way. Games you bought there were actually yours. You could just download the installer and have it forever. It had no DRM whatsoever. You didn’t need to run Impulse at all to play them, not even in offline mode. Oh, and it had a RETURN POLICY. It was a client that had complete trust in its consumers.

    Even to the point that the games were not user-exclusive. I actually successfully played a 4-way strategy game with all computers logging in to the same impulse account and needing only 1 copy of the game in question. Still, people scoffed at it for not being steam because you already had diehard valve fanboys back then.

    The problem with Impulse is that Stardock actually wanted to continue making games and Impulse was getting too big to allow them to do anything else. And if you look at how Steam eventually became all-consuming of Valve’s technical talent’s time, you can see how it can happen. And while Valve decided it wasn’t a problem not being a video game developer anymore because Steam was more profitable, Stardock didn’t. So it sold Impulse to Gamestop.

    So I know precisely how you feel about Overwatch 2. I saw my entire library from Impulse basically not be mine anymore overnight. Sure, I could still play the games on Impulse, but not the way I bought them in Impulse for. I could no longer download an installer and simply just install the game whenever I felt like on a laptop without internet connection. I could no longer use the same copy to play an obscure game with friends without the need for everyone to buy their own copy. And, with time, Gamestop ran Impulse into the ground and I don’t have access to the library anymore even on its own terms. I had dozens of games in Impulse. Sins of a Solar Empire, Supreme Commander, Total Annihilation, Elven Legacy, Galactic Civilization 2, Elemental, every single Telltale game released back then, Demigod, and several others. Most of them I ended up having to buy again either on Steam or Good Old Games (thankfully Ironclad kinda re-released Sins of a Solar Empire with all its DLCs and expansions included when it launched the Rebellion expansion, one company of dozens).

    From one day to the next, I regretted not simply having backups of every installer of every game I bought on Impulse. The next day, they were all gone. Games I paid money for.

    I don’t blame Stardock (they chose to keep making games, and I respect that). I do blame Gamestop though since it obviously didn’t know how to deal with a digital platform and only went after one thinking it would all sort itself out.

    Unfortunately that’s capitalism. Things only exist to make a profit. And if they don’t, they have no reason to exist.

  12. AndrzejSugier says:

    What Bungie is doing with Destiny expansions is somehow even more egregious. They regularly remove whole paid expansions, with their campaigns, loot, etc. from the game. Giving some asinine excuse of being unable to keep supporting those huge sections of the game. This led to a situation where I bought the “Forgotten” expansion, sat on in for about half a year, having other things to play, just to find out it was removed from the game and I can no longer access it. And there is no refund policy or anything. I just gave them money for NOTHING.

    They publicly stated that “Sundowning” will no longer be a thing, but have some serious trust issues towards a company who decided it was ok to do that in the first place.

    1. AndrzejSugier says:

      Damn Bungie and their one-word names for everything, of course I meant the “Forsaken” expansion, not “Forgotten”

    2. MelTorefas says:

      This is what happened to me basically. My friend had been raving about the game for ages and I finally gave it a try and enjoyed it. I bought the season battle pass thingy and the current content, as well as the oldest expansion available (Forsaken) so I could try and experience the story ‘in order’.

      It was all on sale, thankfully, because I was playing sporadically due to my chronic illness, and suddenly they were removing Forsaken forever and I would never be able to complete the experience I had paid for and invested my limited energy in. That was absolutely it for me. Uninstalled the game and never looked back.

    3. Simplex says:

      “They publicly stated that “Sundowning” will no longer be a thing, but have some serious trust issues towards a company who decided it was ok to do that in the first place.”

      I think they called it “vaulting”? Like it’s put into a vault. Another corpo-speak term for removing things is “sunsetting”.

  13. William H says:

    I haven’t given Blizzard any money since I preordered Diablo 3

    That was enough of a lesson that I won’t repeat that mistake

    What Blizzard did with Warcraft 3 reinforced that

    Imagine a universe (it’s not hard to do) with Overwatch & Overwatch 2 games both live

    The way Overwatch 2 looks, I think that most Overwatch 1 veterans would have stayed with or gone back to it

    The community for the old game would have been better, for a certain definition of better, that the new game’s

    That would have been a huge embarrassment

    This was a way to control the player population

    I would post Shamus’ image of the PRC flag with ‘Blizzard’ overlaid on it

  14. Mokap says:

    I think most people see Overwatch 2 as more of an update to Overwatch 1, since so little has been changed. And most people don’t really care about the fact you can’t access old builds of games, which is why there’s not much of a hubbub about this in particular. I do agree with the central premise though, and it makes game preservation an absolute nightmare

  15. Luka says:

    This is something that has worried me for a long time now — ever since buying my first Steam-activated game in 2009 and realising that I couldn’t just, you know, install and play the game, but had to first connect to the internet and download a massive update that gobbled up a substantial chunk of our monthly data cap. Of course, patches have existed for a long time, but over the last fifteen or so years, we’ve seen a steady rise in the reliance on secondary programs/accounts and inability to truly own what you purchase. Services like Steam, Spotify and Netflix are convenient, but I shudder to think that those models will become the complete norm after not too long, with no alternative. While the odds of Steam going bust are infinitesimally low compared to those of, say, Windows Live or Stadia, the simple principle of potentially losing access to my games library is why I either buy games from Good Old Games or briefly activate my Game Pass subscription rather than “buy” games through Steam or other platforms like Battle.Net.

  16. Jason says:

    Not quite the same thing, but a few years ago I was playing (and attached to) the Higurashi games on Steam. Then one day they cheerfully announced that all the music had been updated and that was that. There was no option to use the old music, so I uninstalled the games and abandoned the series.

    I assume it was something to do with licences, and I think they updated the music to the versions that came with the original non-Steam editions? I forget the exact details now. I just remember that I was attached to the music and furious that someone had blithely changed it without giving me any choice in the matter.

    I know there are weird workarounds and other things you can do but I don’t feel I should have to fiddle around with my installs, and I don’t like people fundamentally altering a game I’ve already purchased (unless it’s to add options or content).

  17. MelTorefas says:

    I had no idea this had happened (never have played or cared much about Overwatch) and you’re right, it is both horrifying and not terribly surprising. They also did this when Warcraft III: Reforged came out. Technically the ‘new’ game still included a way to play the ‘original’ game, but only in terms of graphics; all the same bugs were present and the release of the new game completely broke the original for a huge number of people (and ran worse on old systems or failed to work on them entirely).

    In this case the offline portions of the game can still be obtained and played via torrenting, but the original online experience died forever. I think people had to rebuy the game as well even if they just wanted to play with the old graphics, though I could be wrong about that. Some folks raised a fuss, but of course nothing that constituted real consequences, and obviously Blizzard just kept marching down that road. And you’re right, I am sure we will see other companies do similar things if they aren’t already. :/

    (And of course MMOs have been doing similar things for quite awhile.)

  18. Abnaxis says:

    Despite Overwatch 1 players paying for the game long before the idea of Overwatch 2 even existed, Blizzard was able to easily remove and ‘replace’ it with something they have very clearly marketed as an entirely different game without anyone starting a fight.

    Speaking as an avid Overwatch player who pays attention to these things, the reason why nobody is starting a fight is because people ARE starting a fight over the fact that, given the current state of OW2, the game isn’t a separate game by any reasonable definition of the word ‘separate.’ Every single thing you bought in OW1 has been ported to OW2. Every single skin, every single credit. Every single update to OW1 carries over to OW2. Every single map that existed in OW1 is in OW2. Hell, they didn’t even clear the player performance data they use for matchmaking players, they ported it directly over to the ‘sequel’ as-is. Every single change between OW1 and OW2 (that the player sees, at least) could have existed as an OW1 balance patch, they just decided to abandon all support for OW1 in favor of developing the new ‘sequel’.

    Calling OW2 ‘re-defining the sequel’ instead of gradually introducing the OW2 changes to OW1 was a stupid decision made by the higher echelons (who, it’s important to note, no longer work at the company) in Blizzard three years ago, and now the devs are (rightfully) taking heat because they’re trying to market a back-end update as a sequel*. That’s why nobody is raising an issue with them shutting down OW1–Blizzard didn’t shut down OW1, they renamed it. They deserve heat for that idiotic branding**, but it’s not fair to say they’re taking away something you already bought, because that’s not what they’re doing.

    *To be fair, a free-to-play sequel so they’re not trying to sell you the same game twice, but still…
    **And I want to stress again, to be fair they were painted in a corner by bad promises made by previous leadership.

  19. Mark Ayen says:

    This was literally the plan of the villain in the (underrated IMO) film, Free Guy. When your business plan is exactly the same as a cartoonish villain’s, maybe it’s time to rethink your plan.

    1. Simplex says:

      Shoutout to Free Guy!

  20. Mersadeon says:

    Agree on all counts. The fact that my friends didn’t even blink about this worried me. It’s… such an extreme thing. I mean, I wasn’t going to play it anyway (what with the whole sexual assault and union busting), but I feel this will truly be a new step. They surely noticed how little flak they caught for *entirely removing a whole game*, just to funnel more of them into the new one.

    I fear this may be the new model. Yeah, sure, official servers for something will be shut off eventually, but this feels so much more transgressive.

  21. Scerro says:

    Overwatch 1 was dead to me a long time ago, and Blizzard’s incredible ineptitude at balancing ANY of their games continues to help me keep them at arm’s length.

    OW2 is a very different game. TTK is through the roof, it often feels like I’m playing a first person MOBA more than I’m playing a FPS.

    I still pine for being able to play OW2 during Season 2, it was mostly balanced and Ana was around, but none of the broken changes were there yet. Junkrat wasn’t absurd. Orisa wasn’t around with busted shields that made Reinhardt obsolete.

  22. Mistwraithe says:

    Nice article, I enjoyed the read :-)

  23. evileeyore says:

    Hello, this is twenty years ago calling; We Told You So.

    In fact Shamus had been saying this was coming for years. Even Steam can’t be trusted, if they close the servers down, you’ve basically lost any games you haven’t already installed… and then what do you do when you build a new system?

    This is why I don’t support Steam and burn copies of all my GOG and Humble Bundle games. Sure, I might have to chase some DOSBox fixes in a decade, but, I still own the games I bought.

  24. MidniteTease says:

    I have historically been a big proponent of online distribution and digital ownership, but when I was still an ardent capitalist my point of divergence was that digital ownership would be fine because there was no incentive to *take away* something you had bought short of an actual technical or market failure. My abandonment of capitalism was fueled in part by coming to understand market failures were now planned economic shortcuts that allow a producer to bypass the need to achieve the best success possible to fuel profits. All the glitches in the system aren’t bugs, they’re features. (By an interesting coincidence, I have also abandoned baseball because the MLB has adopted this idea as model.)

    This also brings up that I owe Shamus a half-apology, as he argued against the digital ownership model from the beginning. Although I don’t think for the same reasons that led me to agree with him.

  25. Danni says:

    I miss Darkspore. The game lived for five years, but after it went down there was no way to even download it, less so to play it. There’s been rumours of private servers and the like. Still, I’d like to be able to interact with it legally in some way, which EA doesn’t allow.

    I get that implementing LAN compatibility is another cost for a company – and when you work for pure profit, you want to avoid as much of that as possible – but I feel angry that companies don’t just make the concession, but have to be held responsible and legally poked and prodded into providing stuff that would have been nice to have from the get-go.

  26. PPX14 says:

    I don’t have much of a solution to this problem.

    GOG, Itch.io, (and physical copies of console games, such that that works these days, with always online consoles and mandatory updates), seem to be the solution. Putting the money one spends on games into DRM-free platforms that do exist.

  27. EOW says:

    the worst for me was blizzard fanboys attacking everyone by saying “you got your money’s worth” which is absurdly untrue because tf2 costed me less and i can still boot it up so it’s objectively less value.
    tho if i have to he honest, i think the game was marketed wrong. in trying to generate buzz blizzard tokk 3 years worth of delayed patches, released them all at once and called it a sequel.

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