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Default Rampant Games - Why Online Activation Sucks

December 30th, 2008, 11:05
The latest entry over at Tales of the Rampant Coyote looks at the 'games as product versus service' argument and the perils of online activation:
…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…
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December 30th, 2008, 11:05
I quite like the suggestions for online activation & login giving additional perks with a basic vanilla game playable without any additional checks.

Not sure that the possibility of game publishers going under in time and the game then becoming unplayable because of a lack of online activation makes any excuse for piracy initially though. Once the company goes under, if they've made no provision for ongoing support for their games and there's pirated copies on the net that can still be played, then I'd say there's nothing wrong with getting a pirated copy.

Getting a pirated copy in the first place while the company's still going because you might need a pirated copy in the future though is just nonsense.

Don't get me wrong, I think companies should have the good sense to effectively remove their DRM after a few years, spread patches that convert legitimate copies into DRM free, no online activation copies etc. Not to mention make sure that they add all their games to somewhere like GOG cheaply enough that they can be picked up again as needed etc.
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December 30th, 2008, 13:40
I guess this doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would. GTA IV has a deactivation process that you can go through if you uninstall the game. It's one of the few things that they got right.
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December 31st, 2008, 11:54
I would be fine with all of this if they automatically killed activation after 3-6 months for a DVD-check only, and removed that after a year. Since the entire basis seems to be built upon squashing pirates for the first few weeks of release, this seems like a reasonable compromise.

My main point in all of this is - I'm playing old games by dead companies on new computers … will I be able to do that with *your* game when your company is dead? If not, you are not living up to your side of the EULA and need to take action to protect *me*.

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December 31st, 2008, 13:24
Originally Posted by Benedict View Post
I quite like the suggestions for online activation & login giving additional perks with a basic vanilla game playable without any additional checks.
This is how Stardock works - though of course, the additional perks in this case are patches and multiplayer support (Sins of a Solar Empire is the example I have in mind). Obviously, such a method wouldn't work for RPGs or many other genres, but if it works for RTS, then it should be used!
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December 31st, 2008, 14:57
The title of the article is a bit misleading. He spends most of the time complaining about the ability to endlessly download a title, and not so much about actual online activation.

The lack of the ability to endlessly download a title doesn't really bother me (unless like in one of the cases he shows, you can't back it up to disk). However as I've been playing a lot of older games lately, the inability to activate online could be a real killer.

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January 4th, 2009, 18:32
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.)
Yep that's what it means. Why is this phrase a source of so much confusion?

My main point in all of this is - I'm playing old games by dead companies on new computers … will I be able to do that with *your* game when your company is dead? If not, you are not living up to your side of the EULA and need to take action to protect *me*.
Even if the current EULAs say something about the company giving you a perpetual right to play the game (god knows I don't read those things), it would be a trivial matter to amend the agreements to take online activation into account. Presto. But that's nitpicking.

Look, I'm Mr. Lovegoingbackandplayingoldgames, especially old RPGs that spare me the 30 hours of crappy voiceacting. But do we have some fundamental right to eternal games? If your old VHS tape copy of <Whatever> finally wears out, the company won't replace it for free. If you buy a book and the binding starts losing pages after ten years of reading and re-reading, I don't think you should have a cause of action. I see that there's a conceptual difference between losing access to your game based entirely on the game company's fortunes and my examples in which your own actions play a part, but isn't the end result the same?

I buy games, so of course I prefer a solution that lets me keep them forever and ever, and thankfully our old friends the pirates will probably be able to circumvent anything the companies throw at us. But is there really a fairness problem with buying a game that you can only play for 5 years? For 3?

I dunno.
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January 4th, 2009, 20:40
@Yeesh:

I don't think that's a fair comparsion - you are talking about simple degradation of degradable media (paper or magentic tape). Barring such things, you *would* expect to be able to play/read them "forever". With digital media - joy of joys - you can simply copy you data before it degrades - copyright and copy "protection" permitting, of course. And despite the stated lifetimes of CD/DVD's (still very respectable) I've yet to have one bomb out on me due to age.

The issue, imho, is really one of our rights and how these are being trampled upon by publishers under the guise of "fighting piracy". I really think if you *buy* the product (at full cost), then you should be able to "plug'n'play". Just as I can pop in a DVD I bought and play it (on my region-free DVD player ;-) , or open a book I bought and read it etc etc. And the insistence that you need an internet connection to play a non-networked game strikes me as ridiculous - and no, phoning a foreign country at great expense and getting bounced from one idiot to another to "activate" my purchase is not acceptable either. So basically, I have to spend my money - either in phone line call costs or part of my cap (even if it's a small portion) - to even get to play my purchase? Why do we put up with this? What alarms me more is the widepsread passive acceptance I see: "that's the way it's got to be to stop them durn pirates"… (because the corporations say this it must be true, and of course they care about us! All hail the corporations…! *dribble* *drool* Pass the Brawndo!)
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