I was surprised to see a Eurogamer article on the steam account of dead people (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHLFUbU5ceI). The article is interesting and puzzling all at the same time. You see a view that is interesting, mainly because Eurogamer is merely voicing issues that the audience bring to their attention. Now, let’s be fair, the maker Chris Bratt also mentions the bulk of other users of this approach.
It is puzzling because I reckoned that people should have known better. You can leave your physical products behind, but digital products will not transfer. That part has been a clear issue for decades (yes, not years, but decades) it comes with clarity that certain services, especially digital services are services, not goods with a clear setting of ownership. Digital ownership tends to remain with the maker of the product and you the gamer, or user are merely ‘leasing’ that product for the length of your life and in plenty of cases not even that long (read: annual fee).
That is a clear situation in the sight of the worrying owner (the maker) of the product. So in case of software products like Adobe, Microsoft and other players, the digital arena is granting access to, to the person that paid for these services. So when that person dies, the service will be gone, because the service is no longer required for the person who bought it. In my view it is simple and clear, because this is how it has always been. Now that people are actually thinking for the first time on what happens ‘afterwards’, only now are they considering the consequences of their initial forward thinking part to embrace Steam (as a first example). So, even as their might have seemed to be an advantage, having the physical copy will always be better. So now we see that people are catching on. Yet in light of a growing nagging population, do they have a case? You see they purchased a service, not a product, the difference is not what they do, but it is the stage of physicality, the lack of a media carrier. Even then it is not a given that you have any options. The history of software products has had the setting for the longest of time that the purchased products were not transferable. Ashton Tate with dBase 3 and 3 plus (1979) is one of the earlier examples in Software, the bulk of all Microsoft products, although Windows was usually not linked to a person, but a computer. So the phenomenon is not new or unique. So why is it now getting more and more limelight? Well, people are now starting to catch on that their thousands of dollars of games are linked to their identity, to their account and when that is gone, what has been bought is gone too. We can argue on it and also argue on how valid any discussion is on the products that do come with a physical element. What is a given is that as time progresses, the option to own for life a product will fail too. You see, there is a valid case that a product bought is set to the original buyer and no further. The greedy players like Electronic Arts, Microsoft and Ubisoft have been playing with that setting for the longest time. And let’s face it; they do have a point (to some degree). They promised to service your gaming needs, not those of your children and grandchildren. Now, when this is a single player game, a case could be made to transfer the disc to whomever it ends up with, yet there is also a clear case that the services and support are set to the original buyer and without it the game cannot continue. It might be regarded as an open and shut case, but is that truly the case?
We have seen it be done for decades, but was that a legally acceptable reason? I am merely leaving the point of view open to debate. Should a game be allowed to be transferred? Is it fair on the makers of the software products for this to happen? Nowadays we are waiting for the maximised utilisation, the greed driven makers on the minimum option and to some extent the truth tends to be in the middle. This is not because it is fair, but because it is expected. We grew into the expectation of ownership from books and gramophones. Only when the time of digital installation began, only at that point did we see the change towards the expectations that the makers had on ownership and with the age of parchment and gramophones behind us, the consideration of set service terms were not truly on the scale it needed to be. Yet now, with the cloud, with digital ownerships and with downloadable content we are seeing the shift where we are no longer the owner, but the authorised user of the digital product. Now we have the shift that the industry wanted and perhaps in the view of some was entitled to.
In all this we need to realise that the power of creation is not merely remastering of older versions it is the need of revenue for the makers to continue their development and is it fair or unfair to allow for this path? It is at times depending on the point of view that the person has, and n that setting the software industry and the user are unlikely to see thins eye to eye. Some like Sony have the option to link one account to all the devices, so three people could be playing at the same time (each on a different system), some give options for multiple users for a few dollars more and some will try to fetch cash from every user. It is as I personally see it linked to where our expectations are and through history they have been set in favour of the user, now with the cloud and with digital versions that ‘advantage’ is lost to the users and it is largely depending on the others on how they allow us to set this in motion.
Eurogamer is all set towards the need of a champion with references towards Bruce Willis, but is that fair? The best setting is one that Microsoft tried (best for them that is). They wanted to disable the option of pre-owned players and that got buried real fast. Now, I am on the gamer’s side when it comes to a physical product. But in case of Mass Effect, can we truly expect that multiplayer accounts are transferred? Is it fair to continue digital server service ‘ad infinitum’? I personally do not believe that to be fair. Yet in that same push, I think that a physical copy should not be linked to one person, to one owner, but in that as the future comes pushing us, the wrong stance to have. I believe that the intertwining of services, physical and non-physical will stop or enhance the push for limited authorised access.
It is merely my view and perhaps a wrong one, but I am willing to consider that we as users must accept this shift. In this it will become more and more important to have a full physical game. We see the setting of patents in the requirement of manufacturing and physicality, yet now with the cloud and distributed usage (including cloud gaming) we see that every unit is part of the whole, so as such person X with license Y will become part of the whole implying that person X2 with license Y is another entity altogether, I will go one step further that as each player becomes a mere key of the machine, we see that physicality is set in hardware and software and as such, the combination becomes its own dimension, meaning that transfer of ownership becomes a thing of the past. Yet this also spells dangers in other ways, because as non-repudiation becomes a larger issue, any element (like email address) becomes an absolute setting, so that we are in danger of stopping ourselves to move forward with a second email address, a thing we saw with Ubisoft in the past. So once we lose our e-mail address through hackers we could in theory lose whatever we purchased through that medium. Now, most have their own registration system, yet what happens when that depository is lost, damages or altered? That is the part that is not fixed and is unlikely to be properly addressed for some time. It is even more conceivable that our children will in their lifetime see the need and growth of identity implants. Perhaps even more than one and it is at that point that the digital age of ownership takes another leap, perhaps a much larger leap than we have seen in the last 25 years. It opens up whole new ranges of opportunities and dangers. The question will sooner become, which one tips the scales of balance and how will it affect all?
So in case of your death you might be confronted with the implants of your parents, the implants of peers and siblings. In this the law is actually not ready and it is not as simple as what will happen with your games. Because as the setting is fixed it will be about bank accounts, available funds and set funding of growth and wealth. In all this we will see shifts and we will ponder where the rights of services will be set. In this it will go beyond commercial versus NGO, it will be about the shift that identity enables us to hold and that will shift the movements that we are able to do. It will be a new level of hindrance and perhaps even a step towards global discrimination, because when you realise that the age of implants is already here, consider the impairment that some people will have by allowing these changes to the body and to the external extremities.
For those in IP it is a great time to get involved with block chains and non-repudiation, because the game of games, gaming and software will be changed to much larger degrees than people realise and the initial changes as some realise them to be at present are only the tip of the iceberg.
Enjoy the weekend.