Consumer Rights In The Era of Digital Media Consumption

Media May 08, 2020

There is a general feeling that consumer rights are being eroded slowly but surely, specially in the digital media space, by the push to always online DRM schemes. Personally, I think this has been mostly prevalent in the gaming industry.

DRM
Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies attempt to control what you can and can’t do with the media and hardware you’ve purchased. Bought an ebook from Amazon but can’t read it on your ebook reader of choice? That’s DRM. Bought a video game but can’t play it today because the manufacturer’s “au…

Before the rise of digital media consumption, physical media was prevalent. And by buying a physical copy of a movie or video game, that person owned that physical copy. He or she is able to sell, rent or lend that copy to another person. But with digital media, even if one has bought a copy from a digital store like Google Play Movies or Steam, that person can't exercise the same rights onto it. It is a troubling fact for video games because the publisher/studio has the right to remove its game from the store completely or to move it to another one (let's say, Epic Store). Sure, no publishers/studio would do that, unless they want to face huge backslash.

Let's take a real example. NVIDIA recently launched its game streaming service called GeForce Now. It's model is really simple, Nvidia loans you a server onto which the Steam client is installed. You log into the server and into Steam. And, poof, your entire Steam library is available for you to play on a high end server against a small monthly cost towards Nvidia.

Now, onto the backslash part. Game Studios/Publishers. Since, GeForce Now is a cloud gaming service which works on several devices, consumers need not to buy the same games again to enjoy it across his/her devices. That means less money for those studios/publishers. Following the launch of GeForce Now, several studios/publishers have removed their games from the platform. As of Friday April 24, games from Codemasters, Klei Entertainment, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Xbox Game Studios have left the service. They aren’t the first. Activision-Blizzard, 2K, Bethesda, and Konami have refused to work with Nvidia on GeForce Now as well.

Nvidia’s GeForce Now Loses More Publishers - ExtremeTech
Nvidia’s GeForce Now service has lost several more publishers. The way we distribute games is fundamentally changing, and that’s causing tension with existing product models.

In simpler terms from what I can derive from the situation Nvidia is going through, is that ME, as a consumer who owns a copy of a game on Steam; cannot play my copy on a rented server, without the permission of the studio/publisher. Now if we remove Nvidia from the situation and that I rent a personal server from AWS, I  will be infringing the game's agreement if I install the game on my server and stream it to my laptop (given that i overcome latency & connectivity).

Contrasting GeForce Now with another game streaming service, namely Google's Stadia, the latter has not undergone the issues Nvidia has been facing. Why? Because, apart from being a game streaming service, Stadia is also a store just like Steam. So, if I want to play a game that I have already bought on Steam, I'll have to buy it again on Stadia.

This situation gets rehashed for game consoles too. Someone owns a bunch of digital games on PlayStation and now he/she decides to switch to an Xbox or Nintendo Switch. Now, that person has to forgo all the games bought on the PlayStation Store and buy them again on Xbox's or Nintendo's store.


The Other Side

I understand the logic behind paying twice for the same content across different platforms. For game consoles, since the underlying tech and architecture is different for each consoles, games must be optimized for each. Often, games needs to be remastered in the case of PS3 and PS4 and it takes time and resources to achieve this. However, I do not agree that the costs for both version should be the same. If I own a PS3 game and I want the PS4 version, the latter's price should be cheaper. Porting a game is obviously less expensive than making one from scratch.

Game developers have addressed the controversy surrounding GeForce Now. As per The Verge, the reasons boils down essentially to licensing issues or the fact that big game publishers would rather charge customers a second time for a separate license to play a game on a cloud gaming service, regardless of how it’s structured.

Nvidia’s GeForce Now is becoming an important test for the future of cloud gaming
Another developer has pulled their game from Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service. Except this time, the developer Raphael van Lierop, creator of Hinterland Studio’s The Long Dark, said why. The thread has illuminated the current challenges of cloud gaming’s economic model, and what needs to ha…

I do agree to this developer's tweet. He should be able to control where his game is being sold. But, I think as a consumer, one also has the right to decide on which platform he/she should play his/her copy of the game.


The Future

Let's look at the future and possibly a brighter one. And that is: UFC-Que Choisir v Valve Inc.

The Paris District Court ruled in this particular case that Steam is a digital store which sells goods and not subscriptions (which is in contradiction to Valve's agreements). And, under EU Law, all goods (which includes digital goods) sold within the EU must be able to be resold without permission from the person who originally sold them.

French court rules users can resell Steam games - Green Man Gaming Newsroom
The District Court of Paris has ruled that, under EU law, it is permissible for Steam users in France to resell games on Valve’s PC game distribution

Valve has appealed to the decision of the court and during that period the decision will not be in effect. However, I am hopeful that Consumer Rights will be defended.

Another bright future may arise; Project XCloud. Microsoft is not a company which one will take as example for being customer friendly. It has a history of being a monopoly and anti-competitive practices. However, the Xbox Play Anywhere program is enticing. A person buys a game from the Microsoft Store on Xbox One and that game is also available to him/her on Windows. Not all games follow this path though, it is upon publishers/studios to participate in this program.

Xbox Play Anywhere | Xbox
Experience the freedom to play your games wherever you want with Xbox Play Anywhere. Play on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC with Xbox Play Anywhere games.

As for Project XCloud, there are only rumours surrounding the service due to its closed beta and small game library.

If rumours are true and Microsoft has a customer friendly approach, games bought on the Microsoft Store will be available on Project XCloud. Albeit, I suspect that Microsoft will need studios/publishers approval to do so.

Writing all the above made me ponder on my current situation and how I would really love of a unified way to own digital content and use them on whatever platform that I want. I hope that the future of digital media ownership will be bright for consumers as well as content creators.

Aditya Bholah

One of the curious chaps who's into tech, AI, physics and humanity.