Blog Archives

Digital Resale

As you might have heard, a French consumer group is suing Valve over, amongst other things, the inability of customers to resell their Steam games. The actual likelihood of this case being successful is rather low, as a German consumer group sued Valve (for the 2nd time) and lost last year. Which is interesting, considering reselling software licenses was ruled legal in Europe back in 2012.

The entire issue is fascinating to me though, as it touches on a lot of philosophical, economic, and even political points. There has been this historical dichotomy in gaming since at least the 90s, where we (in the US) have just simply accepted that computer games cannot be resold, but an entire industry can be built around reselling console games. I mean, think about it: why? Why the difference?

It seems we just kinda decided – rather arbitrarily, I might add – that because the PC disk wasn’t necessarily after installing the game, or that it’d be too easy to copy, that we shouldn’t be able to resell it. But what does that actually matter from a rights perspective? “You don’t own the game, you own the license.” Yeah, unless it’s an Xbone copy of Call of Duty, or a music album, or a DVD, in which case it apparently doesn’t matter.

If you have been following this blog for any particular length of time, you might know that I am a stalwart consumer advocate. And thus, I also agree that we should have the right to resell game licenses. None of the counter-arguments are at all compelling, and mostly seem to revolve around “it’s always been that way” or “think of the children game developers!” About the only halfway interesting one was something along these lines:

As a consumer I do care about this, as I can only see digital resales being viable if the game enforces online authentication every time you start up the game. Physical games don’t need this as they use authentication with the physical medium, you need the disc to play.

Some people also brought up the Xbone launch debacle. The problem is… these are non-issues. The Xbone was going to require a constant internet connection, or at least the ability to phone home every 24 hours, which has nothing at all to do with licenses. Requiring a connection for when you purchase or sell a license? Uh… yeah. That’s fine. You’ll presumably need a connection to download or sell the goddamn game in the first place. There is zero reason to require verification after that, other than to be nosy.

As for the impact to game developers? I mean this in the kindest way possible: not my problem. Nor is it yours. It is intellectually dishonest to wring your hands over such a development if you aren’t already very concerned about, say, Steam sales in general. Businesses are abstract, amoral entities that don’t give two shits about you. They are not your friends. If it were up to them, games would cost $2,000 apiece and require you to drive to their headquarters to play them.

Will game companies start doing more micro-transactions/DLC/services bullshit to recapture funds lost by a used game license scenario? Maybe. Then again, that sounds exactly like the same dumb argument that we shouldn’t be paying fast food workers more because it encourages businesses to replace workers with robots. Guess what? They’re going to do it anyway.

Honestly, just like with everything, it’d be best for everyone involved if game companies got ahead of the legislation on this. I don’t see any reason why Value couldn’t implement a system of resale that includes a cut for both Valve and the developer. When I sell a Steam trading card for $0.10, Valve takes two cents. No particular reason why Valve couldn’t take 30% (or even more) of the resale value for facilitating the transaction, and give X amount of that to the developer. If Valve, et al, tries to fight the future on this one, they might be stuck with a defined activation fee at best, while gamers trade licenses on eBay, Craigslist, etc.

Wait, When Did THIS Happen?

European Courts have ruled that it is legal to resale digital software licenses:

Buying and reselling any form of digital software is perfectly legal, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled. Software authors – or in the gaming world, publishers – can not stop customers from reselling their games, even if the publisher attaches an End User License Agreement prohibiting resale.

“The exclusive right of distribution of a copy of a computer program covered by such a license is exhausted on its first sale,” the court has found.

This ruling covers customers in European Union member states, and games bought through services such as Steam or Origin. […]

Okay, so I do know when it happened: July 3rd, 2012. But… who… when… huh? That is damn near a year ago. Has anything gone forward since then?

I mean, the absolute latest news was April 2nd, when a US District Court stated that reselling iTunes songs violated copyright laws. Conversely, buying textbooks from Thailand and selling them in the US for profit is legal, according to the US Supreme Court. As is streaming TV service Aereo, for that matter.

Looking at that European ruling again, I would actually say there wouldn’t be any contradiction in reselling a license. You aren’t copying any files, you are merely removing your own rights to a digital good and granting them to another… and they’re the ones downloading it. Hell, in an always-online-esque DRM scheme, such a transfer would arguably be the safest for the publisher considering the seller literally cannot access the game anymore (as opposed to the honor system when it comes to reselling music CDs).

Obviously every publisher everywhere would fight tooth and nail against this breaking of their digital monopoly, just as companies like Microsoft (and Sony for a while) contemplate ways to smother the used game market. But the question of licenses has yet to be settled, and I am inclined to show uncharacteristic optimism in this regard. Most people would not look at playing Halo at a friend’s house as piracy or consider yard sales as theft, and yet that is what these companies would want you to believe.

Personally, I think it is only a matter of time until logic and common sense forever strip the asinine “you don’t own a videogame!” argument from corporate apologists everywhere. Physical game or license, you nevertheless (should) have the right to sell it. Nothing less makes sense.

SimSlum

I have less than zero interest in the latest SimCity.

Granted, I have not played a Sim City since SimCity 2000, or Streets of SimCity if that counts. Indeed, Streets of SimCity was perhaps one of my favorite PC games from the 90s (has it really been two decades?) precisely because you could import your SimCity 2000 save files and then drive around at street-level. One of the augmentations to your vehicle, aside from rocket launchers and machine guns, was a sort of gliding mechanism that allowed you to fly around if you hit a sufficiently high hill. So, of course, I would use the infinite money “cheat” (about as silly as saying Minecraft building-mode is cheating) to construct the largest possible hills and then sail my way across thriving metropolises. SimCopter, I believe, also allowed you to fly around your own cities, but I never had that game.

Regardless, the latest SimCity has a number of fairly baffling changes to the core formula, the foremost of which is a sort of forced multiplayer integration, from which all other terrible design flows. Yes, you can play it single-player… by creating your own private region and not inviting other people in. But the concept of “regions” at all exists because the default is building cities connected to other peoples’ cities. Which, in a vacuum (preferably the vacuum of space), is fine if it were not for the results:

  • No offline mode.
  • No individual Save/Loads. As in, you cannot build your city up, unleash a disaster, then reload once you’ve had your fill.
  • Rollbacks due to server strain/lag/failure means you can lose hours of progress.
  • Individual cities are microscopic compared to the series.
  • No ability to landscape the terrain.

If I have mischaracterized any of the above qualities, please let me know.

Again, this is somewhat moot considering I skipped over SimCity 3 and 4, making it unlikely I was going to purchase SimCity 5 to begin with. But… well, this sort of direction for a venerable franchise makes me less likely to ever buy back in. I never really “got” the people who decried radical franchise reboots like Syndicate until this version of SimCity came out. Interacting with individual Sims is cool and all, but the rest of the social nonsense was never what these games were about, at least to me. And yet, now, to an entirely new generation of gamers, it will be.

Sigh. Get off my lawn.