Trust is a One Way Street

I don’t really care to comment on the abject stupidity of Good Old Games’ recent marketing boondoggle. It was cataclysmically mishandled, and although this idiocy does not quite measure up to the level of fraud in my book and therefore does not put the retailer into the camp of never to be trusted again, it does demonstrate a level of poor decision making that gives me and my wallet pause before our next inevitable buy.

Ok, so maybe I want to comment a little bit on the matter, but the larger issue and question to me is one that is only related in a secondary way to GOG in particular. The underlying issue that GOG’s brain-dead antics casts into terrifying and startling relief is one that many of us have glossed over for a long time, but which can be illustrated as a sort of retail Sword of Damocles.

It is the bugaboo of digital distribution's dependence on a service rather than ownership, and the danger of relying on a someone else to preserve and provide the games for which you have paid so much money. If GOG had, indeed, come to a thundering and abrupt end rather than simply bungling through a rebranding campaign inspired by Joaquin Phoenix, what would have become of my games and materials.

Full disclosure, I have gotten to the point where I exclusively use Steam for my PC games, and as a primarily PC gamer that is not an insignificant statement. I currently own 85 games through the service, and while many of them are older titles, games I bought on extreme discount or lower cost indie games, I also own more than a dozen higher profile games purchased at full-price. My investment in the service is measured in hundreds of dollars.

I have confidence that Steam is a safe bet, but much larger companies in the industry have on occasion come to quick and bitter ends in this industry. It is not a business landscape where any foundation is without cracks. The reality is that my confidence is built on the flimsy assumption that Valve wouldn’t do me wrong like that.

To be honest, it’s never a confidence I’d necessarily established with GOG. I like GOG because I like their product. I like that I can download games that normally reside under the gaze of misty-eyed nostalgia, and can do so unrestriced by DRM. Ultimately, they seem like a fairly small and obviously vulnerable company, so I never invested the same kind of trust that they would always be there. I always kind of assumed in the back of my mind, frankly, that they wouldn't survive.

Their closure was not a surprise. Even the fact that they mucked up their effort to launch out of what I hadn't realized was still a beta wasn't really that surprising.

Yet, now I feel slightly gun shy about all of my digital download services as a result of their actions. A bigger question to me is actually, what would happen if Stardock went under tomorrow? I realize, of course, that they have always espoused a strong client commitment, and it's likely that they would find a way to accommodate their customers, but I also have seen them make decisions that give me pause. Honestly, I don’t even know how a Stardock closure would impact my ability to play games like Sins of a Solar Empire, Demigod or Elemental.

It’s all well and good to say that Company X is strong and we don’t have to worry about it, but purchasing through digital downloads, particularly when tied to a service that requires connectivity to access content, is a long commitment. There are no promises.

Maybe it’s good to be reminded every so often that the trust we think we have in these companies isn’t without its dangers.

Comments

True. Ultimately it comes down to whether the perks outweigh the risks. If I lose my entire Steam collection tomorrow, it will suck, but in the meantime I can enjoy not having to store hordes of discs that I could lose in any number of ways.

The fact remains that despite this stunt, no digital distribution service has actually collapsed. Until that happens and we see how it plays out, any kind of speculation as to the potential for and the impat of such a collapse is just that - speculation.

Something that's been on my mind from the very beginning and why i won't spend much money on a digital purchase.

If you purchase the disc-based versions of Stardock games then you can use them, sans updates, without any connection to Stardock's services.

It’s all well and good to say that Company X is strong and we don’t have to worry about it, but purchasing through digital downloads, particularly when tied to a service that requires connectivity to access content, is a long commitment. There are no promises.

It's things like this that get me... i mean, Live! is structured in such a way that backwards compatibility for older titles can hurt its evolution.... yet current titles will one day be the ones holding it back. It's not a sustainable situation.

But I thought GoG games were downloaded and then did not depend on contact with the service to actually play (DRM free!). It's true that if they went away you'd have to then manage backups on the binaries and stuff, but that's not quite as onerous as being permanently mind-melded to Steam.

It's not the download that should make you "nervous". It's the ongoing requirement of contact with the service to actually play the games that is a potential issue.

Of course, with non-download games, you have lots of other issues

1. losing disk
2. losing disk
3. destroying disk
4. child eating disk

And then there is still nothing keeping the game developer from requiring the existence of some kind of external service to actually play the game (xbox live, WoW, Ubisoft key servers, etc).

In conclusion, it's not clear that being nervous about needing a service to play the game is something that is unique to downloaded games.

Psu,

That's what I was trying to drive at. My point was that while GOGs closure would have had minimal impact -- for the reasons you illustrate -- it casts a longer shadow.

Or, in short, I totally agree.

The fact remains that despite this stunt, no digital distribution service has actually collapsed. Until that happens and we see how it plays out, any kind of speculation as to the potential for and the impat of such a collapse is just that - speculation.
This has actually happened several times with many of the pre-iTunes music stores and it wasn't pretty. I don't think games will be as volatile as the music industry, but it doesn't hurt to stop and think about it before making a digital purchase.

Psu points out something far more likely, that the game is dependent on a service from the publisher that they then discontinue. That happens more often than we'd care to admit, honestly.

And that is exactly why I support cracks for PC games to bypass ridiculous DRM, and emulation for consoles. To make sure we can always play the games we own, even when they're ancient (in technological terms).

I think a good comparison is what happens when an MMO goes belly-up. You get nothing and there's no one involved in the wind down that looks out for the interests of the consumer. Hellgate London for example - held on just long enough to let the lifers get to the $10.00 per month for their $150.00 subs. APB - the recent casualty - leaves players with nowhere to go if they have unused "points" sitting on their account (points which they paid real dollars for I believe). I've seen enough bankruptcies and business failures to be too cynical I guess, but I fall in the camp of not believing any stated good intentions of "we'll make sure you can download before we close up for good" or "you'll still be able to play after we shut down our authentication servers". The simple fact is that there won't be any money to pay for download bandwidth (and let's be honest, the crush of people will bring the hardware to its knees most likely) and unless the code to allow play without authorization is already baked, ready and deployable, you have again the bandwidth issue coupled with the "who will pay the programmers to make this happen" issue.

Bottom line - digital distribution where you can't burn a CD / DVD for yourself to reinstall at your command without approval from anyone else is nothing more than rentals in my mind. I think the prices don't reflect that reality at all, which is why hardly ever buy a PC game at a full "new" price, but have no qualms about dropping the $60.00 on a PS3 game. I'll always have the disc and the ability to play (single player at least - multiplayer is a separate animal)

(so says the Steam junkie that has a lot of purchases there too).

Bottom line - digital distribution where you can't burn a CD / DVD for yourself to reinstall at your command without approval from anyone else is nothing more than rentals in my mind.
Then everything is a rental on the PC at this point as it's rare to find something without online internet activation required.

PyromanFO wrote:

Psu points out something far more likely, that the game is dependent on a service from the publisher that they then discontinue. That happens more often than we'd care to admit, honestly.

Surely that would never happen! I mean, we have dedicated servers and it's not like EA and Activision (and other companies) have ever taken down a server!

j/k

I've been thinking about this a lot recently with regard to Xbox Live. Earlier this year, my console died, and I bought a new one. I was able to immediately play the XBLA games I'd already purchased on my new unit so long as I was logged in to Xbox Live, but when I moved shortly thereafter and didn't have an internet connection, I wasn't able to play them. (I had done a license transfer but hadn't realized that I still needed to re-download everything in order to authorize them for offline play.) If I hadn't been able to access Xbox Live not because I didn't have an internet connection but because Live no longer existed, I would have been out of luck and unable to play my games. It's made me gun shy about buying games I'm interested in both in the Arcade and in the Games On Demand section.

(Somewhere, Lard is dancing.)

PyromanFO wrote:
Bottom line - digital distribution where you can't burn a CD / DVD for yourself to reinstall at your command without approval from anyone else is nothing more than rentals in my mind.
Then everything is a rental on the PC at this point as it's rare to find something without online internet activation required.

Except (dundundundun) through gog.com.

I have nothing but respect for what they did. It's a wake-up call to people who use call-home digital distributors that yes, that EULA you signed means your stuff can disappear at a moment's notice.

With gog.com, you're safe and sound once you've downloaded your game and made a backup.

The fun thing is nothing has changed. People just might be more aware of the conditions of what they're buying.

Having said that, reading Not Always Right shows that some people are unreasonably and wilfully ignorant of what they entitle to from a company.

Bankruptcy is only one of the bad things™ that can happen.
Glitches in the system is another one. I once purchased an expansion for a popular MMO, only to find my account banned the next day. After creating another account to contact customer service, they tell me my credit card company issued a "chargeback". I phone the bank, they say everything looks fine from their end. You can see where this is going. Anyway, I gave up after they tell me the hoops I'm going to have to jump through to reactivate my account. (Nice way to treat your customers by the way, banning them by default with no email notice or anything). I've seen similar stories on the steam forums.
There's also the recent steam bans of people playing Modern Warfare 2. Forget all your VAC-enabled games. No discussion possible.

And yet I absolutely love Steam, don't get me wrong. I try to be careful and not to put all my eggs in one basket though.

So...was this a dealbreaker, as far as your GOG advertising goes? I was going to make some more purchases soon and, since I heart you guys, I was going to go through your GOG ad so that y'all can make a few pennies off the transaction.

Let's all just have a good laugh--albeit with lessons learned--and get the GOG ad back up on your site, and have everybody make a little money.

Good read. I've come the following conclusion. It is possible for a service like STEAM to come to a screeching crashing halt, rendering the games I've spent hundreds of dollars purchasing unplayable.

The scenario to compare that against is not "What if the service never ended" but, "What If I had purchased those games on disc instead."

The likelihood that STEAM will come to a sudden end within my period-of-interest (the duration of time after which I'm likely to never play a specific game again) for the games I own on it is probably less likely than the likelihood that my game discs will either be lost, damaged, or separated from their all important serial numbers.

For how much of the gaming market is a game is something you play for a short period and then move on to something else? I have a shelf full of PC games that I will probably never open again. Plus, even if you lose the source of your downloaded game, it's usually available someplace else at a huge discount to the price you originally paid. So I feel the pain of hardcore gamers with big libraries at risk, but for most people I'd expect this won't be a big issue even if the worst happens.

django wrote:
There's also the recent steam bans of people playing Modern Warfare 2. Forget all your VAC-enabled games. No discussion possible.

VAC bans are game-specific, not account-wide.

I thought they extended to all VAC games.

benu302000 wrote:
G

The likelihood that STEAM will come to a sudden end within my period-of-interest (the duration of time after which I'm likely to never play a specific game again) for the games I own on it is probably less likely than the likelihood that my game discs will either be lost, damaged, or separated from their all important serial numbers.

Except of course for the games you buy a week before the unfortunate hypothetical collapse

Can anyone imagine a future where storage and distribution becomes a utility-esque product (across all forms of media and content) similar to what is happening and has happened with bandwidth itself? Platforms would then become essentially skins over the top of a communal underlying storage infrastructure.

I've got a metric ton of games on Steam, and generally don't worry about it. However, I actually bought a physical copy of Civ5, only to find that inextricably linked to Steam.

That just bugs the heck out of me. There's no freaking way I get to use that if something happens to Steam, and something like Civ would be a game I might possibly maybe come back to in 5 years.

... or not - they'll probably keep milking Civ long after Sid is RIP. But what if this is the last good Civ they make ?

I have to say that the relying on digital distribution and licensing is sketchy. Now that it is slowly becoming the norm I do worry about the cost to me in the long run. Will this new model inevitably save me money or lose me money, compared to the old brick-and-mortar system?

I personally think physical media is great. For movies, television, and music I get the best picture and sound available. In the video game world I get to trade in or sell my old games to help support the next purchase. I really like that system.

The thing is, I have no idea which is more cost effective.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
(Somewhere, Lard is dancing.)

I'm amazed he hasn't already jumped on this oppurtunity to sh*t on downloaded games/content for the 28125163894th time.

For games with online ties like steamworks, I'd say to pull your network connection and try it in offline mode to see what you might expect without steam. I imagine that's the very least independent efforts could restore if steam goes down.

We actually pulled the GoG ad when it seemed like they'd closed. Now that they're back ... I'll probably put it back up. If I stopped working with people every time they did something stupid I'd be a lonely man.*

*Doubly true if other people held that view.

PyromanFO wrote:
Bottom line - digital distribution where you can't burn a CD / DVD for yourself to reinstall at your command without approval from anyone else is nothing more than rentals in my mind.
Then everything is a rental on the PC at this point as it's rare to find something without online internet activation required.

Really, it's true. The courts have pretty much said as much: you don't ever own software, no matter how you acquired a copy of it, unless the license specifically says so. Normally you just have a license to use it in certain ways, but your continued ability to use that license is almost entirely up to the whims of the people who granted it to you.

My solution to the "Steam problem" is clear; if Steam ever goes away, I'll pirate the games I've purchased. This is copyright violation, but I honestly can't be bothered to care.

A lot of people create a lot of justifications for piracy, some of them more transparent than others. My stance is a bit more nuanced, although still clearly "wrong" under law: if I've paid for a software product, I deem that I have the right to continue using that product even if the publishers decide to revoke that right later. To me, the laws regarding this issue are so defective that I would feel no qualms about breaking them.

In a way, it's sort of a self-fulfilling fear. If gamers collectively become so anxious against purchasing games through a digital download service that we don't use them, those companies will not turn a profit or have the ability to maintain their service and will shut down.

Seeing that I now read that Digital Distribution in aggregate has surpassed physical sales I'd say that we just all need to put our big boy pants on and realize that nothing in life is certain.

Life is to short to worry about $5 games not being able to be re-downloaded.

If Steam died tomorrow and I lost access to my over 90 some games I'd look at the HUGE pile of Xbox 360, and PS3 games I need to still play through and realize that in terms of being a gamer you can't get much better than right now with the over abundance of gaming choices we have at our disposal.

I mean its really no different than the dozens of $200 Philadelphia sports team jerseys I have of players that got traded the year after I bought their jersey or decided that sit-ups in the front lawn was better than playing football.

Or died in a car crash...

Checking my closet I see nothing but big boy pants. No evidence of poor jersey-buying decision making though.

Elysium wrote:
Checking my closet I see nothing but big boy pants. No evidence of poor jersey-buying decision making though.

Your a Packers fan.. your entire Jersey decision revolved around to Favre or not.

Or you could be that 1 out of 12 that went with 92

This whole thing is funny to me... we as gamers are so finicky and choosy about our outrage.. we all probably own MULTIPLE Nintendo devices of various colors (note no added functionality) we treat so much of our hobby as disposable that outrage seems misplaced at this juncture.

TheGameguru wrote:
Seeing that I now read that Digital Distribution in aggregate has surpassed physical sales I'd say that we just all need to put our big boy pants on and realize that nothing in life is certain.

Life is to short to worry about $5 games not being able to be re-downloaded.

If Steam died tomorrow and I lost access to my over 90 some games I'd look at the HUGE pile of Xbox 360, and PS3 games I need to still play through and realize that in terms of being a gamer you can't get much better than right now with the over abundance of gaming choices we have at our disposal.

I mean its really no different than the dozens of $200 Philadelphia sports team jerseys I have of players that got traded the year after I bought their jersey or decided that sit-ups in the front lawn was better than playing football.

Or died in a car crash... :(

Amen!

Besides, games are constantly losing value. I could buy ten full price games on Steam today and spend $500. In a year, they're worth no more than what I'd have to pay to replace them, which is probably $200 or less. In five years, we are probably talking about $50 in value. I have DVDs and games that have cost me thousands. Today, they're probably worth a few hundred bucks, max.