…Games are a product, or they are a service.
We have expectations of products. My lawnmower is a product. If it expires after it's warranty period, I expect to be responsible for getting it fixed or replaced. The rights and responsibilities are my own. But I also do not have any obligations to the original manufacturer. I do not need to call Sears for permission each season to use it, or for permission to use it to mow my neighbor's lawn. If I want to loan it to my neighbor, that's my right. If I want to sell it at a yard sale, I also have that right. If my daughter wants to make money during the summer using it to mow other people's lawns, that's also our right. Likewise, beyond the product's suitability for its advertised purpose and some reasonable assurances of safety and quality (though what it "reasonable" has certainly been twisted in the U.S. under the manipulations of the legal profession), there are no obligations on the part of the manufacturer or seller. The implied consumer contract with products is both simple and natural.
A service, on the other hand, is a different animal, and is neither so simple or so natural. But we've made it work. Any "implied" contract is trumped by often confusing written ones, but there are some expectations there, too. We pay for … well, a service. There are greater obligations for both parties, particularly on the part of the service provider - but in return they get greater control over whatever it is they are offering. For example, services are often non-transferrable. I can't just let my neighbor "borrow" my insurance policy for a trip to the emergency room.
The online activation thing feels to me a lot like a case of a publisher trying to have its cake and eat it too. (Not that I ever really understood that phrase - I guess after you eat it you no longer have it or something.) They want to restrict the consumer rights as if it was a service, but they don't want to take upon themselves the obligations of truly being a service provider…