For years now PC gamers have had little choice but to download their games, and for many they’ve never thought twice about it. Console gamers usually act a little differently, and that’s mainly because they’re not used to downloading their games. They grew up buying, renting, or borrowing games from their friends. While it’s true PC gamers can claim the same; for many different reasons PC gamers are used to digitally downloading their games from services like Steam. The thing is though, when one downloads from Steam, what happens to the games they buy?
Valve, the company the runs Steam, will say that the games are yours forever, but read the fine print, Steam is essentially the world’s largest rental chain, that just so happens to have only one store. Whatever you buy from Steam isn’t technically yours. At some point in the future when the Martians invade and Steam’s servers disappear, those digital downloads you’ve purchased will stay on your hard drive. The question is, what happens when that drive is stolen by our intergalactic superiors? In all honesty, the games are gone for good, and that’s not taking into account the ones that require a check-in with Valve’s servers to ensure the games are authentic.
This subject has always been one that has fascinated me because I own a large amount of retro controls, and I like preparing for the inevitable invasion. It’s nice to know that my NES, and Intellivision will be there to cuddle me when I’m placed in an incubation chamber awaiting my next probing. Sadly that won’t be true for many games moving forward. As much as I love the conveniences of digital downloads, I’m not oblivious to the fact that when I download something I’m essentially renting it for an extended period of time.
Let’s take Nintendo as an example, only because the 3DS was the first videogame platform outside of the PC where I actually downloaded a ‘large’ portion of games. I say large, but it’s more like six or seven. Whatever the case may be, what I’m getting at is this. What will happen when our new rulers arrive? When Nintendo no longer has an eShop for the 3DS up and running? Will my 3DS suddenly stop working, no, it won’t, meaning all the games I’ve downloaded to it will still work as well. Will I be able to download my games again in the event the aliens blast my 3DS XL? Sadly no, I won’t. So where does that leave me, and what does that mean about digital downloading in general?
Well it should be clear by now, but for some reason many folks don’t seem to get it. When you digitally download a game on a home console or on your PC, unless it doesn’t contain DRM and you’re able to make multiple copies of it, you don’t actually own anything at all. It’s just an illusion because one day, maybe soon, maybe many years from now, but one day that digital download will eventually be useless, unless the hardware it is downloaded to never breaks, seizes, or become obsolete. With the impending doom almost upon us though, that’s not exactly a guarantee.
When you download a videogame, do you think about things like this? What would have happened to all the old Jaguar games had they been downloaded to the console all those years ago? That system bombed astronomically bad, so no one would be able to buy a used system and connect to their servers to download software. You’d basically have what was on the machine, if anything, and that would be it. Again, that’s assuming there was no server check-in required. What about systems like the PS2? Remember how faulty the original launch models were. Well what if that system had stored all the digital downloads on it, and it stopped working? With no PS2 servers still up and running, it would essentially be a useless platform.
So are we better off buying the physical format and lug around five thousand games every time we move? Is it better to have to wait in lines at midnight to get our hands on games when it’s minus fifty degrees out and pouring? Well when you look at it like that, maybe the alien invasion wouldn’t be so bad after all.