Digital game purchases: do we really "own" them?

By Lee Kaelin on February 10, 2012, 10:00 AM

Gaming website Rock, Paper and Shotgun has published an interesting piece chronicling the ill-treatment received by one of its readers, a PC gamer by the name of Gimperial, from Valve.The gaming firm disabled his Steam account without citing an exact reason and thus blocked access to over 250 purchased games. This is not an isolated incident, but it raises an important question -- do you actually own your games?

Gimperial, a gamer from Russia had access to his steam account disabled for breaking Valve’s Steam Subscriber Agreement. Despite admitting he did sometimes gift games for financial reward, something that's against Valve’s Terms of Service, Valve told him that this wasn’t the reason for having access to his account terminated -- but they wouldn’t tell him the real reason either.

After numerous exchanges, and a demand for an explanation of what aspect of the SSA he had broken, Steam’s customer service contacted him back saying “we will not be able to help you further with this issue,” pasting the full SSA text below the comment. They then ignored further correspondence from Gimperial.

This has happened before and other people have been less fortunate. Steam will argue that providing a reason could aid a scammer in avoiding future detection, but it seems very unfair to not know why you had your account disabled, especially for those with legitimate activity that have been caught inadvertently in the company's security measures. RPS asked lawyer Jas Purewal of Gamer Law for his thoughts.

Is a EULA subject to consumer protection law? Yes. Has that been tested in a court yet? No, although as a very broad summary it requires a company who sells to consumers to act ‘reasonably’ towards its customers. Nor have governments/regulators definitively stated their position regarding consumer protection regarding digital content yet (though that is already beginning to change, certainly within the UK/Europe). So we don’t know the exact extent of consumer protection law regarding games – although developers/publishers generally do try to comply with the law insofar as they are able.

Rock, Paper and Shotgun decided to get involved and contacted Steam on the reader’s behalf, and though there was no reply, Gimperial regained access to his account shortly afterwards. However, his trading privileges were suspended until January 30, 2022.

Owning the boxed version of a game gives users a higher degree of contol over their purchase. You won't lose access to the game as long as you physically have it in your possession and you are free to sell it second hand -- even though publishers are already trying to curb that practice. But with the rise of online purchases and digital downloads you just trust the store you’ve purchased the game from will continue to give you access.

Steam, like other online game shops generally sell games under their own Service Agreement, often overriding those of the title publisher. More crucially, those terms essentially result in you not owning your games; in many respects you’re at best renting them from the digital platform, with no guarantees that the live account required to play them will remain usable indefinitely. 

Image credit: RPS




User Comments: 48

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Guest said:

Short answer: NO!

amstech amstech, TechSpot Enthusiast, said:

Steam and Origin, for the most part, have been pretty good to me.

There have been some very annoying snags though.

For starters, Origin denied me getting BF3 for 50% off during 2011 Christmas.

Days later, they haulted the sale.

Arrgh.

For Steam, once in awhile you can't launch a game and get some wierd launch error (ive seen different ones pending the game) which basically means you need to go to local game content and then you need to "verify the intergrity of your game cache", which is cover-up for "we want to verify that your game files are indeed paid for".

This happens more then it should and a user should never had to fish for a setting to play a game.

Very annoying.

I still like Steam and Origin its great to pop and play your games from anywhere or any PC but they still have a lot to work out.

Account fraud, theft and suspension is handled terribly as well.

Guest said:

My beloved country, I weep for thee.

Greed will be our species undoing.

I remember while growing up, there was always one kid who could not afford to buy any form of entertainment. Today I see the "same" kid, and he is playing the games, watching the movies, learning the languages, and learning to play a cheap guitar after finally being able to attain some real music.

If I found a way to copy hamburgers, and thus feed the entire world, I am pretty sure I would be killed within the hour.

MilwaukeeMike said:

You dont' own the boxed version either... just like a music CD, all you purhcase is the right to listen to it. This isn't new because games can now be digital.

This brings up another question of the future of gaming and piracy. I expect all games in the future will move toward the Angry Birds model. Grand Theft Auto 16 may very well be free, but you'll be forced to watch a commercial between every level and you'll be driving by billboards full of ads.

They'll probably even have a way to change the commercials/product placement through required updates.

This completely eliminates piracy. And honestly, it's probably what we deserve.

Guest said:

The publishers ultimate goal would be the "arcade" buisness model where you have to pay to play EVERY time. Don't kid yourselves folks, this will be the way of things in the not to distant future across the board. Count on it!

Guest said:

This also applies to game guides that Steam are selling. You are actually purchasing a weblink to view the guide via a third-party - A third-party weblink that Steam have no control over. In a nutshell Steam aren't selling an actual product (ie a PDF or similar). With regard to Brady game guides, Steam refuse to mention the true nature of the guide and they only intimate the weblink with regard to Prima game guides.

When I queried this with a Brady game guide that I bought from Steam, they told me to take it up with Brady Games. Brady Games were equally clueless as to what they were selling via Steam.

In a nutshell, Steam doesn't disclaim the product pages with a simple, clear, clarification that no physical product (PDF or similar) is being sold and that the product is, in fact, a third-party weblink.

TJGeezer said:

Good reason not to send money to Steam. Lots of other publishers around.

Guest said:

The copying and spreading of digital data is one of the greatest accomplishments of the human race.

The devil wants to stunt the evolution of the entire world for financial gain?

Life will find a way...

enocheed said:

Some day you will have to insert quarter in your long for an hour of breathing time. And when you run out of quarters you are put into stases.

Guest said:

The doom and gloom over this is unnecessary, digital content ownership is still a new and sticky area, but over time it'll get ironed out and various regulations put in place to enforce a set of consumer rights. In the meantime, unless you happen to be particularly unfortunate or violating the ToS then you get a lot more value from Steam than you used to from boxed games. I'm quite willing to sacrifice my right to resell in exchange for heavy discounts, continued support, cloud savegames, automatic patches, etc.

jameslr said:

Guest said:

The copying and spreading of digital data is one of the greatest accomplishments of the human race.

The devil wants to stunt the evolution of the entire world for financial gain?

Life will find a way...

The devil's plan worked. Don't you know watching TV and playing video games makes you dumb?

Guest said:

Love is the absence of fear.

Bereaving something beautiful from the people is the absence of humanity.

Guest said:

I think Obama's heart is in the right place; he will remember it before the end. He may actually prove himself to be a force worth believing in! Too bad the opposing party would slit their mothers thro%t for a dime.

Trillionsin Trillionsin said:

Wow... I never realized this. I better go back to pirating all my games again instead of buying them. If I lost access to my games... well, its not 250 games, but damn, I'm going to loose a DECENT INVESTMENT, (up to a few hundred dollars.)

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Wow, how did this diverge from the topic of digital software ownership to these abstract philosophical and political observations?

Gotta love the internet...

Guest said:

Going by my own experiences with Steam, I find it a very good service, quite fair and a good value. I'm sure they are not perfect and mistakes happen though they should give someone a reason why they have disabled his/her account.

Guest said:

Please correct me if I am wrong but I seem to remember a few years ago someone posted a question asking if Valve ever went out of business would you still get to keep all the games you purchased on the Steam account.

I guess Valve responded by saying that all digitally locked DRM games would be unlocked so you can keep them. But then I think someone pointed out a piece of I guess Eula or something saying Valve doesn't have to give you squat if they go under.

I like the first guest post. No, is a quick way to say we don't own squat from digital game purchases.

NTAPRO NTAPRO said:

Maybe the find print needs to be read more?

H3llion H3llion, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Guest said:

My beloved country, I weep for thee.

Greed will be our species undoing.

I remember while growing up, there was always one kid who could not afford to buy any form of entertainment. Today I see the "same" kid, and he is playing the games, watching the movies, learning the languages, and learning to play a cheap guitar after finally being able to attain some real music.

If I found a way to copy hamburgers, and thus feed the entire world, I am pretty sure I would be killed within the hour.

Hamburgers would just increase worlds obesity :P But I see your point.

madboyv1, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I bought a physical copy of Supreme Commander 2 when it came out (DON'T JUDGE ME~ lol) and I was rather upset to find out that it was not a standalone game, but required Steam in order to register and play. Heck, it didn't even install from the DVD, it just redownloaded the entire game from Steam, what nonsense...

At least Steam has not done me wrong yet.

ramonsterns said:

We don't own the physical copies either.

I could think of worse choices than trusting my games to Valve.

Ranger1st Ranger1st said:

and once again, 'unlocked' copies with private servers gain another 1-2% of the total gamer population.. These companies need to learn that TO survive they need to cater TO the customer.. not beat him over the head with a mace then ask them to pay for said beating.

MilwaukeeMike said:

1) If 99% of people in violation of the EULA weren't trying to steal something, maybe they'd be more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. "legitimate activity that have been caught inadvertently in the company's security measures" yeah... i'm sure there are a lot of them.

2) If you think a company protecting their assest and their hard work is greed, you have an entitlement issue. Fighting piracy is NOT greed.

Guest said:

The 1%er's incessant will to quench the population's wishes to embrace the future and immense benefits of file sharing is disheartening, discouraging, and outright sad.

Guest said:

The government is supposed to serve the people, and I believe the people have spoken; they want to share their files.

I am spiritually moved by people who upload their stuff in the spirit of sharing. The oppression of such behavior would be the final testament that society is corrupt to the very core, and that politicians cater to those who would see the end of the world before they would loosen their ill-begotten grip on the monetary channels of society.

Mindwraith said:

Another reason pirates have to justify their actions.

Guest said:

So, a Russian, with over 250 games, loses his account for an "Un-named" reason. I'm absolutely sure it was unjustified.

Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are Russian, and only a few of them are ridiculous hacker/file sharing scammers.

Where is the justice?

Guest said:

Mindwraith,

why don't you walk on to a car dealership lot and drive off with a car without paying for it. They charge way too much anyways, and the car sucks to boot. Your actions are indeed justified.

Darth Shiv Darth Shiv said:

If they lock off my legit purchases, why pay for games? Pirate groups have better customer service.

Guest said:

Why pay for only the games you like, and steal the rest?.

Why use being busted for stealing a few games as an excuse to steal all of them?.

I swear, you people are morons. This is peoples lives your messing with. Developers have staff who work tirelessly, sometimes 60 hours a week or worse. Maybe a dozen employees, or maybe hundreds. All of them have wives and children. Utility bills and doctor bills, morgtages and car payments, just like you. (Well, maybe not just like you. Your probably sitting in your parents basement eating goldfish crackers and feeling smug about the "free" stuff you download on the net, and pushing the 300 pound mark).

You can't possibly truly believe that this is :

A: Justified, and,

B: doesn't affect the bottom line of these companies.

Grow up people. If you're going to steal from people, at least have the decency to put your name on it so when the developers strike back, (and they will), they at least know who thinks the fruits of their hard earned labors should be for nothing.

I work in the Motion picture industry, so I know first hand what Piracy does to profit.

Can one of you ****** tell me what it is that you want?.

I mean aside from free stuff.

What do developers need to do to stop you from stealing?.

I honestly don't think any one of you "Pirates" has an answer.

You are all just too lazy to go get jobs and pay for what it is that you want.

I guarantee that not a one of you would have the balls to walk out of a Target store with a game disk in your pants. Not a one.

Darkshadoe Darkshadoe said:

Guest said:

Mindwraith,

why don't you walk on to a car dealership lot and drive off with a car without paying for it. They charge way too much anyways, and the car sucks to boot. Your actions are indeed justified.

Ok..lets treat piracy like a car dealership. At the end of the year the dealer has to pay taxes on every car in the inventory so lets charge software developers a tax on each and every copy that can be made of each of their titles minus the ones sold or pirated. I'm sure 50 cents x infinity wouldn't break them up too bad.

Guest said:

Your joking?, right?.

Darkshadoe Darkshadoe said:

Guest said:

Your joking?, right?.

Not at all. If a car dealership has a car stolen, that comes out of their inventory, correct? They also have to pay taxes on said inventory.

Why treat software developers any different? Every copy is part of their inventory so they should pay tax on each and every copy. Now, people will say "..but their inventory is only ONE master copy that copies are distributed from so they would only have to pay tax on that one master copy" Fine..then that copy can't be stolen when someone illegally downloads because they the company still retains that master copy. Hence..no theft.

So...if these companies insist that illegal downloading is "Stealing" then they should have to follow the law like everyone else and pay taxes on ALL of the inventory which would be approx. infinity copies. Same with record companies and digital music.

Yes this is extreme, but if you are going to make car dealers pay tax on each car in their inventory, then why shouldn't software developers do the same.

tonylukac said:

If I had a replicator something like in star trek and replicated my own car, it would be like I was manufacturing my own car and I would think I could even sell it.

Tygerstrike said:

LMAO!!! SOooooooo many ppl dont think it is stealing. They try so hard to justify their actions. BUT if it was them that was getting stolen from, dear god! They would raise so much hell. I always try to explain, just because YOU dont think you should have to pay for something, doesnt mean YOU dont have to pay for it. Yes you can get still in movie theaters films, yes you can download that new hot game. And all for free!! But should you?? Where is YOUR honor? Where is YOUR morals?

If it was your money <profits> or your property that was stolen, you would attempt to find a way to stop ppl from stealing from you.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I think one thing which people need to keep in mind is, no matter what EULA or any other licensing text may say, if it is infringing upon people's legitimate/legal rights in one way or another, law of the land will prevail, rendering EULA irrelevant. Having said that, I was surprised to see that no one have challenged that in court, I am sure in coming years this may change for good .

Now to the topic, seeing such blockings I'd say we don't, simply, because they can block access at their own will for whatever valid / or stupid reason, hence, 'convicting' users of a 'crime' without a fair chance of clearing things out.

Guest said:

That's why I prefer GOG.com. You buy a game, you own it.

treetops treetops said:

I hate not being able to sell steam games on ebay when I am done with them or find that I do not like them on purchase. Same goes for blizzard and origin games too. Unless of course you made a new account for each game.

Richy2k9 said:

hello ...

in the end we own nothing ... I agree that any company should protect its work. I wonder though .... will my kids inherit my account ? ... in 20 years will steam still be around with all my games attached to my still active account ? .... hummm ... *shivers*

I'm for Steam & never had any issue ... sorry for those who run into some problems, but often they do deserve.

cheers!

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

No, I don't own the games.

And if Steam, or anyone else, screws me over in denying me access to the games I paid for, I won't get mad or sue, I'll just get back to pirating all my software and carry on without missing a beat.

I pay for games cause I choose to, not cause I have to.

Darth Shiv Darth Shiv said:

Guest said:

Why pay for only the games you like, and steal the rest?.

Why use being busted for stealing a few games as an excuse to steal all of them?.

I swear, you people are morons. This is peoples lives your messing with. Developers have staff who work tirelessly, sometimes 60 hours a week or worse. Maybe a dozen employees, or maybe hundreds. All of them have wives and children. Utility bills and doctor bills, morgtages and car payments, just like you. (Well, maybe not just like you. Your probably sitting in your parents basement eating goldfish crackers and feeling smug about the "free" stuff you download on the net, and pushing the 300 pound mark).

You can't possibly truly believe that this is :

A: Justified, and,

B: doesn't affect the bottom line of these companies.

Grow up people. If you're going to steal from people, at least have the decency to put your name on it so when the developers strike back, (and they will), they at least know who thinks the fruits of their hard earned labors should be for nothing.

I work in the Motion picture industry, so I know first hand what Piracy does to profit.

Can one of you ****** tell me what it is that you want?.

I mean aside from free stuff.

What do developers need to do to stop you from stealing?.

I honestly don't think any one of you "Pirates" has an answer.

You are all just too lazy to go get jobs and pay for what it is that you want.

I guarantee that not a one of you would have the balls to walk out of a Target store with a game disk in your pants. Not a one.

Maybe that is a lesson to not f&^k your customers with dodgy DRM.

Darth Shiv Darth Shiv said:

To add to that, I'll gladly pay for something if it works. You want to dictate to me the circumstances I may use the content I pay for or the times etc then I'll tell you to get f%$ked. Let your outdated industry practices die and the employees that are supported by said practices. It's time to smell the roses and realise that the consumer expects to be treated BETTER. You won't get MONEY otherwise. Which is all your industry cares about apparently...

Darth Shiv Darth Shiv said:

gwailo247 said:

No, I don't own the games.

And if Steam, or anyone else, screws me over in denying me access to the games I paid for, I won't get mad or sue, I'll just get back to pirating all my software and carry on without missing a beat.

I pay for games cause I choose to, not cause I have to.

Exactly. This is the point the movie and games industries just don't get.

Guest said:

Piss and moan all you want about piracy but it isn't going to stop. A great movie or great game is going to make 100's of millions of dollars despite piracy. A crapy movie is going to suffer. One thing piracy does is make it harder to make an indecent profit off of a crapy product. And to my mind that is not a bad thing.

Darkshadoe Darkshadoe said:

Guest said:

"Why pay for only the games you like, and steal the rest?."

Its not stealing. It is copyright infringement. There is a difference whether you believe so or not.

"Why use being busted for stealing a few games as an excuse to steal all of them?."

Why not, it is a good as any excuse.

"I swear, you people are morons. This is peoples lives your messing with. Developers have staff who work tirelessly, sometimes 60 hours a week or worse. Maybe a dozen employees, or maybe hundreds. All of them have wives and children. Utility bills and doctor bills, morgtages and car payments, just like you. (Well, maybe not just like you. Your probably sitting in your parents basement eating goldfish crackers and feeling smug about the "free" stuff you download on the net, and pushing the 300 pound mark)."

Developers usually get advances during the project so I highly doubt they are starving. I have yet to see some developer standing by the side of the road with a squeegee and a sign that says "will code for food" That, and the fact that no triple A game maker has went out of business solely because of copyright infringement tends to make me believe your point is doo doo. Although you did a nice job of categorizing all illegal downloaders as 300lbs, goldfish cracker eating, basement dwellers because we all know that is true.*rolls eyes*

"You can't possibly truly believe that this is :

A: Justified, and,

B: doesn't affect the bottom line of these companies."

A) Its a justified as software companies and movie studios using IP addresses to extort people without due process.

B) Really it does not effect their bottom line. If Joe Bob buys a movie at Walmart, copies it, and puts it on a torrent site. The movie studio got paid by Walmart and Walmart got paid by Joe Bob. Just because the movie studio thinks it did not get paid enough for that movie is just greed talking. There no sure fire way to tell that one of those people who downloaded that movie would have actually went and bought that movie. The movie studio may consider it a lost sale, but reality does not.

"Grow up people. If you're going to steal from people, at least have the decency to put your name on it so when the developers strike back, (and they will), they at least know who thinks the fruits of their hard earned labors should be for nothing."

...and yet you post under the name "Guest". If you expect people to say "Hey I downloaded X" and sign their name, then at least take a couple minutes to make an account to post your opinion. This post just sounds like you are some MPAA lackey just spouting propaganda. Do you really think your "boo hoo developers are starving" schtick is going to have any credibility without your name behind it?

"I work in the Motion picture industry, so I know first hand what Piracy does to profit."

Okay..prove it. I doubt you are a script writer though because your sentence structure is just terrible.

"Can one of you ****** tell me what it is that you want?.

I mean aside from free stuff."

World peace, clean water, hookers. If you can't manage them all, forget the first two.

"What do developers need to do to stop you from stealing?."

Illegal downloading and copyright infringement will never be stopped and you are kidding yourself if you think it will be. Generally, when a product is of high quality at a fair price and you have good customer support, people will buy it. Steam is a good example. Netflix is another (although they have been in the pooper lately, Netflix is still a decent deal at 8 bucks for all the movies you care to watch).

"I honestly don't think any one of you "Pirates" has an answer."

See above, I have provided lots of answers. You may or may not agree with them, but they are still answers.

"You are all just too lazy to go get jobs and pay for what it is that you want."

Hmm..this argument is kind of lame since IP addresses from inside Congress and professional sports teams have been caught illegally downloading material. Even addresses within the RIAA have been caught and I am pretty sure most of these people have jobs.

"I guarantee that not a one of you would have the balls to walk out of a Target store with a game disk in your pants. Not a one"

That is a different crime altogether. Also, if you ask any store security team, they will tell you that items are shoplifted on a daily basis, even video games.

Guest said:

thats pretty deep brother.

Guest said:

Any man who gives up freedom for security deserves neither...Ben Franklin

Guest said:

I buy games on Steam but I know I'm at their mercy :/

PS: At least I feel less bad when I pirate games hahaha

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