I wrote this grumpy letter to Edge magazine two years ago, annoyed about Sony’s removal of OtherOS. It was letter of the month in Edge 217 (August 2010) and bagged me a DSi XL. It’s the first piece of writing I got published and remains, word for word, the highest earning.
Sure, most of us were probably never going to install PS3 Linux (Edge 214), but that can’t be the point here – or it shouldn’t be. Sony’s move to force owners of older PS3s to remove OtherOS, a feature they’d purchased, via an update, is radical and a precedent for potential future post-purchase meddling that should be of interest to the gaming community at large.
Whatever you thought of OtherOS – and it’s clear most people thought it a useful gimmick at best – it was apparently OK for Sony to deny its customers online gaming unless they threw away something they’d bought. And Sony’s not the only publisher playing fast and loose with traditional concepts of ownership, as Edge has previously reported (Edge 200): in an ongoing legal dispute against developers of a World Of Warcraft bot, Blizzard is arguing that buying a piece of software actually only amounts to buying a license to use it under terms prescribed by the publisher. Another high-profile example is a case brought by Autodesk, in which it claimed (with similar reasoning) that purchasers of its software infringed a licensing agreement when they tried to sell that software secondhand.
Luckily, Autodesk’s claim was rejected, but the potential implications this kind of boundary-pushing has for the games market are significant. (Consider also Sony’s and EA’s recent introduction of an additional fee for buyers of secondhand copies of online games: was online play part of the original purchase or not? It isn’t clear.)
There’s obviously something fishy about this, but what exactly? Courts have long rejected attempts by vendors to impose after-sale restrictions or undesirable alterations. The only difference now, it seems, is that vendors of networked software can readily impose post-sale restrictions over the internet. With future distribution likely to be via some mix of digital marketplace and live streaming, the notion of software ownership and the rights that come with it become even less clear cut.
Before embracing this heady future of ubiquitous and instantly accessible gaming, shouldn’t we take publishers’ recent behaviour a bit more seriously? I for one won’t relish a future in which I have few guarantees that, once paid for, my cherished gaming experiences will remain unchanged.
TrackBack URL :