Steam, Origin and other services make it possible to buy your games whenever you want. The Xbox, PlayStation and even Nintendo’s Switch all have eShops available to buy digital copies of the exact same games that you might find on the shelves of your local games retailer. A lot of companies have found out that there might be a huge future in digital downloads. Take Microsoft for example, if recent reports about the Xbox Scarlett are to be believed, its low-cost streaming-only platform means they’re heavily investing in a digital-only future. And while there are people around who definitely hate the idea of not having a boxed version on their shelves, we are increasingly moving towards a future in which digital downloads are becoming even more important than ever before.

Downloading games is, depending on internet speed, a fast and more convenient way of obtaining a lot of games for a cheap price when such games are on sale. Take the Steam Sales for example, which make it possible to get backlogs for the cheapest prices you can imagine. You never have to be bored. Even when the local stores are closed you can always buy that new game you were desperately waiting for. You will never have problems that you cannot buy a game like Octopath Traveler because it sold out way quicker than expected. And while there a lot of good things about this ‘digital future’ there also are a lot of pitfalls consumers will deal with.

Just recently Reddit user, Flying Officer, reported that he has lost his Origin account and so he lost access to all of his games. His account was deleted, but he claimed he never asked EA would delete his account. He tried to get his games restored but EA’s technical support was not helping him much since Flying Officer claimed that they were rejecting all of his support requests and EA told them they could not do anything since there was no account and no way to confirm his story. He put his story on Reddit and after gaining a lot of attention, EA might have feared this bad publicity since suddenly they started helping this Reddit-user. Flying Officer thanked everyone who helped him on Reddit:

“Although when it comes to Electronic Arts. I do have a lot of complaints and won’t stop criticizing it for being so money hungry and pathetic (especially User Support and Business Strategies). I wish DICE wasn’t associated with EA but that is far from getting real.”

A lot of people actually helped in getting awareness on this issue so the story might have been different if the gaming community had not helped this guy who just felled suppressed by EA. People actually tweeted they won’t support EA any longer if they did not help this customer on getting access to his games again. A problem like this starts a debate about whether you can trust companies like EA on managing your digital game collection since you never know if they accidentally delete your account.

You might think that this is a one-off problem, but consider that services like Origin and Steam run into this kind of problem more than once. Since the service started a lot of people claimed on social media that their account was suspended for no reason. Recently Steam banned 90,000 Steam accounts to keep Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive cheaters out. On Steam a lot of people complained that they are banned for no reason and since Valve does not disclose the cheats that were detected it is hard for an outsider to judge whether they are rightfully banned or not.

Such services have all the rights to suspend accounts. You might not be aware of the agreements of using such services (and for that it is debatable whether you cannot be blamed even if it just is a boring long text where everyone quickly scrolls along to press ‘accept’), but you do not actually own any digital game you buy with your own hard earned money. Valve’s Subscriber Agreement clearly states:

All title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to the Content and Services and any and all copies thereof, are owned by Valve and/or its or its affiliates’ licensors. [.] The Content and Services contains certain licensed materials and Valve’s and its affiliates’ licensors may protect their rights in the event of any violation of this Agreement.”

Other services like Origin also only give you a license. With only having a license there is no certainty how long you can keep that license because it can be withdrawn at any time.

There are a lot of violations where you can get your account suspended on such services. When you are a child holding a cartridge or a disc, you definitely feel like you own a game since you can physically hold it. You can resell that disc whenever you’re done playing it. Here is another problem with digital games, since the agreements of such services mostly state that when you subscribe it is a personal account and you are not allowed to sell the account and including games to others. While selling your account might not be “illegal” by law, it is against the subscriber agreement of digital services like Steam, Origins, PlayStation Store and therefore you will lose your account.

In a ‘digital download future’ there also is another problem: what if the service goes offline? Will you ever be able to play your digital games if services like Steam and Origins go bankrupt or decide to change their business plans? Some publishers might give you keys for different services, but you can not rely on that to happen for sure. You might be able to run those games you had downloaded, but it will be difficult to download them on another computer again if that computer crashes. No medium or data storage will last forever, but still physical copies might have a longer lifespan if treated right.

And yet there is another problem with a digital download future which involves Nintendo. While some countries have a distance selling return/refund policy whereby you get your money back within 7 days after a purchase made online, the agreement of Nintendo states differently:

“[.] all Product purchases (including pre-purchases) are final and non-refundable and Products may not be returned or exchanged.”

If you change your mind the PlayStation Store at least let you request a refund to your wallet within 14 days from the date of the transaction if the game was not downloaded and played yet. Steam’s policy is a bit of the same since the title has to be played for less than two hours.

In need of any entertainment? The first step will be reading yourself to boredom. A digital download future will definitely involve signing a lot of agreements which you definitely never want to read. You will scroll your way along indecipherable legal texts and all you want to do is clicking instantly on that ‘accept’ button. Even if the that means you accidentally sold your house, cat, wife, mother or in this case will never own any video game at all. You only own a license.

Next time you hit a ‘buy now’ button. You might want to overthink it as a ‘borrow now’ button.

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2018/07/23/microsoft-is-building-low-cost-streaming-only-xbox-says-report/

[2] https://store.steampowered.com/subscriber_agreement/

[3] https://tos.ea.com/legalapp/WEBTERMS/US/nl/PC/;

[4]https://www.playstation.com/en-us/network/legal/terms-of-service/

[5]https://www.nintendo.com/purchase-terms

[6]https://steamdb.info/stats/bans/

[7] https://www.reddit.com/r/Battlefield/comments/96aluu/ea_deleted_my_origin_account_and_ea_help_is/

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Kevin de Bruin
Freelance game, tech and movie journalist from the Netherlands.

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