By and large, my blog is focused on retro games. A quick look at past posts will confirm this. Still, I do pay attention to what’s happening now, even if I rarely write about it. Today though, today brought a fun piece of news that I feel compelled to discuss.
The below quote come courtesy of one Philippe Tremblay, Ubisoft’s Director of Subscriptions:
One of the things we saw is that gamers are used to, a little bit like DVD, having and owning their games. That’s the consumer shift that needs to happen. They got comfortable not owning their CD collection or DVD collection. That’s a transformation that’s been a bit slower to happen [in games]. As gamers grow comfortable in that aspect… you don’t lose your progress. If you resume your game at another time, your progress file is still there. That’s not been deleted. You don’t lose what you’ve built in the game or your engagement with the game. So it’s about feeling comfortable with not owning your game.
Hoo-boy! This went over about as well as you can imagine it did (I used the story at IGN for this post). A quick look at Twitter, sorry, X, or a quick Google search will give you a glimpse at the criticism this received. And, for the record, I think it is valid criticism, but, Mr. Tremblay continued:
I still have two boxes of DVDs. I definitely understand the gamers perspective with that. But as people embrace that model, they will see that these games will exist, the service will continue, and you’ll be able to access them when you feel like. That’s reassuring.
I disagree with the entire notion of not owning a piece of property, but Mr. Tremblay is not entirely wrong when it comes to movies, music, and even books. There is a large segment of the population that owns digital rights as opposed to physical mediums. My wife relies on Amazon music and rarely buys an album anymore. How many people buy a movie digitally via Amazon, Vudu, etc…? It has to be a decent number of people, right? So, I’ve a couple of thoughts on this.
First of all, these people are crazy. No, not really. I mean, my wife is crazy, but that’s unrelated to her music streaming habits (it’s more likely related to being married to me for twenty plus years). Anyway, the most intriguing thing about purchasing digital rights to any medium is that, in many cases, you don’t actually “own” anything. I recommend reading this story from the New York Times from 2021 (or this one, pertaining to books, from last year), but to hone in on my point:
What you’re purchasing in most cases is a license to watch that video or listen to that song. Effectively that license is good for as long as it really matters.
Exactly. Digital ownership is often a license. Now, I don’t think anything that I own digitally is going to disappear anytime soon, but it could happen, and I’d have very little recourse. Beyond the ownership though, is the ability of digital files being edited. There was some furor last year over the editing of books by Roald Dahl, R.L. Stine (shout out to the Goosebumps series), and Agatha Christie. In each case, the digital version of these books received stealth edits that took place even if they digital version had been owned. It’s easy to imagine this being applied to movies, music, and video games. You know what wasn’t edited? My tote of physical Goosebumps books. Score one for the hoarder.
Secondly, focusing solely on video games, we’ve watched in real time, just in the past few years, specific video games become completely unavailable. I’ve written about this a couple of times now, I think, but quickly, with the closure of the Wii eShop, we lost titles such as Nyxquest, Lost Winds, and the ReBirth seriers from Konami. They are gone. If you had them and your Wii or WiiU bites the dust, there’s no getting them back. The same is true with any of the Virtual Console titles. Sony was on the verge of closing their stores for the PS3 and PsVita, but backed off due to fan outcry, thankfully (though I do wish they’d do a sale on there every now and then). Kudos to Microsoft here for vowing to prioritize game preservation even after the closure of the Xbox 360 shop this year.
At the end of the day, I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Tremblay was trying to make a point in the worst way possible. He was speaking in regards to Ubisoft’s upcoming Ubisoft + subscription services, and essentially fell all over himself. I would have pitched it by saying that Ubisoft is hoping that gamers will see the value in paying a monthly fee for a variety of games being at their disposal versus the price of buying all of said games individually (call me Ubisoft, we can work something out). And in defense of Ubisoft, it’s not like they aren’t publishing physical games. I have a pre-order in for Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown right now. Still, even giving Mr. Tremblay a ton of benefit of the doubt, I’m still not a fan of what he is trying to sell.
I’m an old school guy, and I’m aware that the world is changing, but I don’t know that I’ll ever pick digital ownership of anything over holding it in my hand. Knowing that it’s real and tangible and never going away. I noted above that my wife utilizes Amazon Streaming Music. I still buy vinyl albums. We went to a thrift store this past weekend and I walked out with two Dean Koontz novels. This was a day after I found a book I’d purchased the last time we’d gone thrifting and forgotten about it. And, when it comes to games, I’m still collecting physical copies. Using some of my Christmas bonus, I finally got a physical copy of Super Metroid (for the Super Famicom, I can’t swing the cost of the North American version) after having to sell mine some years ago. I search out the limited physical copies of digital only games that some companies are specializing in now. I’m old and I like owning items I own. The time is coming when, I suspect, digital will be the only choice, and I’ll adapt. But for now, I’m extremely comfortable owning my games, and extremely uncomfortable at the idea of not owning them.