Guess who owns your games?

Look out for Matt.  He's an angry, angry man.

Spoiler Alert: The answer is probably not you.

The news that THQ’s upcoming game, Homefront, will require an “online pass” to unlock all of the game’s multi-player features has led to broader discussions of who exactly owns the games that you purchase.  I’m not entirely averse to the trend where publishers technically license games to you.  With games purchased through Steam,  in exchange for omitting a physical copy of the game the consumer will be given virtually indefinite access to games they have purchased.  No matter where they are.  It’s not as easy for digital games to be stolen, and it’s impossible for them to be broken or destroyed in say a house fire.  And when Steam puts on one of their notoriously awesome sales, it’s a deal that’s almost too good to pass up.  For whatever consumer “right” is given up it would appear that others are emerging in their place.  If I tried to go to Gamestop and ask for a replacement copy of a game I’d only get a blank stare and then be asked if I want to pre-order $300 of new games.

What I’m not entirely thrilled about with the trend are the instances where these changes aren’t being made known upfront.  With Steam, at least I’m immediately aware that games I purchase there can’t be shared in the conventional sense with other people.  Homefront on the other hand is presenting itself as a game that is entirely contained within its physical format, and its price tag reflects that.  In reality you’re buying a discounted game with the online multi-player pass in one package.  And for the time being, that’s somewhat misleading for someone who believes that they are buying a full priced game and will be able to do everything that they’ve been able do with games in the past.  Homefront is not a game you can loan to your friends (in its entirety), and if you lose the code for your pass and have to play the game on a new console then you’re going to need a new pass.  And unless the game is discounted for used purchases (on top of the discount from the new purchase price), I can only imagine being annoyed and disappointed when I find that I need to purchase something else in order to unlock the full game.

This would be easier to swallow if either it was made clear at the point of purchase (e.g. on the game’s cover) that you’re buying the game and a pass.  Or if you were given the option to buy the game sans multi-player pass, then purchase it online later if you really want to. I don’t imagine that would go over so well with gamers who already pay a monthly fee to Microsoft for access to multi-player.  The online pass, or game license approach isn’t unreasonable so long as the process and product are transparent to the consumer.  It will probably be more accurate in the future to think of game purchases as being analogous to the admission fee to movies, a carnival, or a show that you can keep coming back to whenever you want.  Or they can be thought of as one-time fees to rent digital real estate to house your games.  In any case, it’s as important as ever to understand what exactly you are getting when you hand over your money.


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