Mass Effect 3 'Expiration' Raises Questions About Our Digital Future

Mass Effect 3 'Expiration' Raises Questions About Our Digital Future

Two years ago, BioWare released Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, a free alternative ending for the controversial sci-fi role-playing game. Last Saturday, that offer technically expired.

According to the fine print on the Extended Cut press release back in 2012, the offer of free content was to expire three days ago, on 12 April 2014. Don't worry, though: BioWare tells us they have got no plans to stop offering the Extended Cut. You can still download the free DLC, which was developed and released in response to Internet outcry about Mass Effect 3's ending. It's still online.

But when the Extended Cut was first announced, the legalese implied otherwise:

Mass Effect 3 'Expiration' Raises Questions About Our Digital Future

"[That] is a legal disclaimer that our other free packs also had," a BioWare representative said in an email. "As long as the platforms are working and things can be downloaded [the Extended Cut] will be there for free."

In other words, all is good for ME3. For the time being. But this sort of disclaimer raises a whole lot of questions about the future of video game preservation. If it's standard operating procedure to add legal disclaimers on digital content just in case, what happens when publishers can't afford to keep the servers running as long as they'd like? Could we be looking at a future where digital games and DLC are obsolete, and where it's literally impossible to play a digital piece of content unless you've already got a copy?

Ten years from now, will gamers still be able to buy Mass Effect 3 and download the Extended Cut? What about 20 years from now? Is this stuff ephemeral? As more and more games go digital-only, and as consoles continue to support disc-less games and add-ons, do we have to worry about expiration dates? EA, the publisher that owns BioWare, already regularly shuts down their online servers for older games. When will they start shutting down DLC stores? If DLC isn't put on a disc, will it just stop existing?

Extended Cut is something that could have never happened 15 or 20 years ago, and a testament to the weird, fascinating collaborative status of gaming today: BioWare released a game, took fan feedback, then wrote themselves a whole new ending. At the time, it was strange and awesome and unprecedented, and I'm sure every developer at BioWare hopes all of their fans and future fans get to see it. But 50 years from now, will they still be able to?


    PC version of Burnout Paradise would like a word with you. Still want to get my Delorean on :(

      Indeed, such a good game that has had the absolute GUTS torn out of it by everything shutting down and expiring!!!

        Ever since getting a PC Steering wheel, Burnout Paradise has been my go to racing game for stupid fun with a force feedback wheel. Sucks that we can't get the DLC content, even as a freebie - pretty sure it's the same for the Origin version too.

        Just don't get why they wouldn't have something in place to offer it like the Console versions (or offer a "complete" package on steam/origin instead with everything bundled in).

        Last edited 16/04/14 1:06 pm

          We play it regularly at my place, it's a brilliant game. My 10 year old and I love cruising the map and crashing into each other repeatedly!

            Likewise. All 3 of my kids love it, especially because of the steering wheel!

              Well, I guess the answer is then, given I've already purchased it TWICE (once on steam, once in the humble bundle) to find a pirated copy that allows networking and has all the cars then...

    It is the whole problem as far as I am concerned with internet connection required games etc.
    I can still go grab a cartridge for my Atari and play those games whenever I want, even now 32 years down the track, but in the future, a lot of games simply won't exist once the servers shut down.

      So technically pirates are simply preserving our gaming history when they circumvent this nonsense.

        yeh i was gunna say

        i basically torrent old games cause i cant get them anyway else

        Yup. I don't usually run around praising piracy but digital archival and preservation is definitely one of its best functions.

          not to mention the precedent established in television whereby, if not for people illegally videotaping original episodes of Doctor Who, much of the original series would have been completely lost due to the originals being destroyed!

      Exactly - even PC games with CD keys or (shudder) Securom are at least 'yours' in a tangible, practical sense - no-one can ever stop you installing and playing them in the future.

      It's already happenning, for example M.A.G. Sure not the best game going around, but the servers were shutdown nearly erradicating it from gaming history. Titanfall has already had a substainial impact on the gaming world and to think that a possibility exists that within a decade it may also suffer the same fate concerns me.

    This is exactly what worries me about an all digital future. Once games start having expiration dates, that is when I will simply stop buying new games. I refuse to support that kind of business model.

      To be fair most physical products (game realated anyway) have natural expiration dates that mean you have to buy them again down the line anyway.

      My Dreamcast has died for example.... not much I can do about it now.
      Half my N64 carts no longer work, my TV needs an adapter to play a really old console (like a Master System).

      I've now fully embrased buying all my games digitally if i can. The convenience of having everything stored on the harddrive is awesome.

      The only thing that really worries me about it is downloading 3DS games. Nintendo are so shit at managing their online systems and the fact that the 3DS is portable make it a bit risky.
      If someone steals my 3DS (or I lose it) then I’ll lose all my games as well.

        I bought my 3DS just for Pokemon last year and I was amazed at how rubbish and user unfriendly everything was.

        Then they were like you better make sure to register then a month later they reward everyone who didn't register with a free game.

      What games do you buy now? Current games nearly always have post release patches that will not be available forever.

        Patches are one thing, and unless it's an online only game like Titanfall or PVZ:GW you should still be able to play the game sans patch. It's another thing entirely to release a game that can ONLY be purchased digitally, and has an expiration date that will stop you from playing the game.

          The last civilization is an interesting one. You can only play online UNLESS you get the patch.

    If publishers/distributors can't be bothered to make the upkeep, digital content should automatically move to non-profit public domain.

    PSH. Digital downloads. My girlfriend and I wanted to download the Lego movie game on xbone after seeing the movie last night. $20 more expensive than a hard copy at Target? Get bent.

    A bit of a reach for an example. You could argue the hypothetical or look at the practical. We already have games where servers have been shut down. The norm for EA sport titles and others. We have games or DLC where rights have expired and pulled. Marvel Vs Capcom & Deadpool etc.

    Then there is downtime too. Looking at bioware there was that time a few years back when a switch flipped and all Dragon Age DLC on PC stopped authorising against the servers and stayed that way over a weekend with no acknowlegment from the publisher or developer. I don't have fond memories of uplay's early days either trying to play Splinter Cell when I kept getting booted from the server despite a rock solid internet connection.

    Digital future will suck because of stuff like this. It's also awesome for letting someone pick up titles years or decades later for prices that feel like you're cheating the developer but can and do create long tail revenue streams. Digital future is dead. Long live digital future.

    Last edited 16/04/14 1:38 pm


    get publishers to declare something something abandonware after X years - better still, create a Creative Commons-license for such things.

    there used to be a great abandonware website called two dogs, or lone dogs, something like that, that had all sorts of impossible to find, impossible to buy, old games. they'd remove a game when a content holder requested*.

    *this sounds a bit like copyright infringement now that i say it out loud, but this site was pre-napster.

      I think it's 'home of the underdogs' definitely one of the best abandonware sites ever.

      Or get the government (lol) to make abandonware a legal term. A sort of you can do what you like with it X number of years after the developers abandon it.

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