A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Digital Download Services – What happens when the lights go out?


I was considering the prospect of purchasing a physical copy of Diablo III versus getting the digital version of it from Blizzard and it occurred to me that I don’t know what would happen if a particular digital download service disappeared suddenly. By that I mean, what would happen to my games if Steam, Origin, or some similar software program just went away. Here’s my thoughts on such a matter. Oh, also, I’ve done no research into these programs beyond my casual use of them, so if their terms of use agreements specify anything, well, I didn’t look. This is just a thought dump.

I have quite a few games from digital download services and I’m going to talk about some specific examples to keep things simple-ish. From Origin, I have Mass Effect 3 that requires Origin to be on and active for me to play multiplayer. From Steam, I have the original X-COM series that requires Steam to be signed in to and connected to the internet for me to turn on my games (and possibly to keep them running). From Ubisoft, I have Splinter Cell: Conviction which requires a connection to UPlay (their in-house service) for me to even play the game at all. From Impulse, I have Sins of a Solar Empire, which needs Impulse to update.

So, what would happen should these companies decide to stop their services? Do my games keep working as normal? Is there some guy at every company ready to send out the emancipation program that allows everyone to play their games without the service? Will I lose just the functionality that the service provides (updates, multiplayer, save games)? Will all my games just cease working?

Did anyone think of what to do if/when this happens? Say Electronic Arts goes out of business tomorrow. What happens to Origin? Will there be someone there to offer his condolences to all of us who depend on their service for our daily dose of entertainment? Is there a contingency somewhere to ensure that we who rely on their software aren’t screwed out of our investments? Are they being overconfident, hopeful, arrogant in assuming they’ll continue forever or are there plans in some safe somewhere for the potential apocalypse?

To be honest, I’m not a fan of any situation that requires I be connected to the internet to play a single player game like X-COM UFO Defense, the single player campaigns of Splinter Cell: Conviction and Mass Effect 3, and many others. I can understand some form of digital rights management, but I really didn’t mind the old code sheets for games like Sim City or even looking through the manual for word 17 on page 83 and line 8 for games like Starfleet. Hell, the code wheel for Starflight was awesome.

A lot of the time, I genuinely don’t know what to think about these things. Mostly I console myself by saying, “I’m not going to be playing this game for the rest of my life. There have been games, there are games, and there will be more games that catch my eye and make me happy.” If Steam went away today, I’d be a bit upset that I can’t play Bastion or X-COM or Mass Effect, but I’d get over it eventually.

So, to the people running these services: Thank you and may you be successful and never cease operations. Well… at least for a while.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. Have some Shakespeare:

If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not;
Speak then to me.

– Macbeth, Act I, Scene 3, Line 58

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