This Proposed Law Change Could Help Aussies Keep Their Digital Games For Good

This Proposed Law Change Could Help Aussies Keep Their Digital Games For Good

A growing group of Australian gamers wants the Federal Government to stop video game publishers from pulling old or end-of-life games from sale on digital storefronts, believing the practice is a violation of Australian Consumer Law. A new petition on the Parliament of Australia website is currently gathering signatures to help put their request in front of the right people.

A convenient and recent example (sorry Ubisoft)

I don’t want to paint Ubisoft as some kind of sole villain in this story — it isn’t; it merely provides a convenient and recent example of the kind of move the petition is targeting. In December last year, Ubisoft took the unusual step of not just delisting its racing game The Crew from digital storefronts but removing it from the libraries of players who had paid for it too. The Crew‘s end-user license agreement clearly stated that Ubisoft, as the game’s owner, had every right in the world to do this.

Its removal happened because The Crew was, at its core, an entirely online experience, one that was going end-of-life and would receive no further support. Once the servers went offline, the game would no longer be playable in any capacity. Thus, Ubisoft had it removed entirely. Even if you don’t agree with the decision, you can at least follow Ubisoft’s business logic — if the game won’t work once the servers go offline, it’s better to remove it entirely rather than leave it in people’s libraries. Leaving it there could confuse people trying to reinstall or play it, people who will then turn to the support team, who’ll have to explain its closure over and over. It creates a resource drain, and the whole point of turning the servers off is to stop bleeding cash on a game that has run its course.

Because Ubisoft owns The Crew in its entirety and customers have no access to its codebase, there’s no option for hobbyists or modders to try to restore the game to some semblance of working order or host servers themselves. It shuts down any attempt at preservation and renders The Crew (or any game disappeared under similar circumstances) lost media. It’s this aspect, more than anything else, that gives the organisers a possible legislative advantage in Australia. The question is fairly simple: If you’ve paid for this game in Australia, should its corporate owners be able to take it away from you like this, even if the publisher’s ability to do so is clearly defined in the game’s end-user license agreement?

The Stop Killing Games initiative

The petition was created by Ross Scott, who runs the YouTube channel Accursed Farms as part of his wider Stop Killing Games initiative. Scott’s crusade around digital ownership has been well documented on this very website. Consumer protection laws that could prevent publishers from taking this kind of action differ greatly from country to country. Australia is one of only a few nations with consumer protection laws that feel strong enough to present any kind of significant threat to the practice, but in a case like this, even our laws lack clarity.

Thus, the petition.

“Unlike normal software, when a publisher discontinues such products, they do not simply end development and technical support,” reads the petition’s rationale. “(I)nstead, they choose to render all copies of the software inoperaple, effectively withdrawing customers’ rights under the Australian Consumer Law to ownership and undisturbed possession of their purchased goods. Many companies go to great lengths to prevent customers restoring their property to working order, withholding vital components of their function from end users.

“Due to the technical nature of software productions and current legislative ambiguity, clearer legislation is needed.”

So, what are the results the petition would like to see?

  1. Require software sold in Australia to remain in a functional state after the end of the product’s support period, continuing to operate without any intervention from the publisher.
  2. Require publishers selling additional features/assets for their software to leave said software in a functional state after the end of the product’s support period, so customers can continue to utilise features/assets they purchased without any intervention from the publisher.
  3. Establish that these requirements supercede [sic] software End-User License Agreements, as many such licenses attempt to strip customers’ right to ownership over their purchased goods, as guaranteed under schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

What now?

At the time of writing, the petition has around eight days to go before it closes and has amassed 6,848 signatures. If you’d like to add your signature to that number, you may do so here. It takes about 20 seconds to sign. Should the petition amass enough signatures, it will then be taken to members of the House for consideration.

Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess. As we move further into the 21st Century, as we live in an increasingly all-digital world, and as the games industry moves towards always-online titles, this kind of publisher move should be expected to occur more and more. There is now a real and serious concern that an entire generation of video game media could be lost because, to their corporate owners, keeping them alive isn’t worth the expense.

We’ll keep you posted on where the petition ends up.

Image: South Agency, John M. Chase, iStock, Kotaku Australia

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