What do people mean when they say you don’t actually own the games you buy digitally?


I guess this comes under both technology and economics.

But yeah I don’t get it. You pay money for a game, you now own that game. That’s how a transaction works. If I don’t own it what on earth did I pay all that money for? How can companies get away with this?

In: Technology

You own a license to play said game. You don’t own a copy of the game to do what you like with it.

No, that’s not how transactions work. For example, you pay to see a movie, you don’t own that movie. You’ve paid for the right to see it once.

You walk into an apartment and pay the landlord for an apartment, you don’t own the apartment, you’re renting it.

It used to be you could go to the game store, buy the game and it was yours. Now (and especially with streaming and digital games such as you get with Steam) there are a whole hosts of terms and conditions you are agreeing to when you download the game.

For a non-game example, I used to have a copy of a drafting software. I could load it up and use it whenever I wanted. It was, for all intents and purposes, mine. Well, it soon became out of date so I looked into purchasing a new version. Except the company that made it wasn’t selling a new version, they were selling a license to use the new version for a monthly cost.

And they get away with it because that’s how things work. It’s their software and they can sell, rent, and distribute it however they want. You aren’t entitled to be sold something if they don’t want to sell it to you. And when you see that big block of text and click “I agree” you are, in fact, agreeing to the terms and conditions under which you are accepting the software, which may include the fact that they are only giving you permission to use or play it, not that you outright own it.

Imagine you wake up tomorrow and Steam says, “we made enough money, we quit, Steam has been permanently disabled.” (Obviously it wouldn’t happen quite like that, but still.) You don’t have a way to play the games you paid for. You don’t have a physical copy of it that you can just play without support from an outside source. You are relying on the service to continue existing.

If you buy a paper book, you own it. Nobody can stop you from using it. But if Amazon wanted to, they could brick your kindle remotely and hold your books hostage for more money or a subscription service or something else.

That’s really what people mean when they say you don’t own digital media; you’re paying for access to it and must use it within the framework of the digital supplier.

I would also add that you don’t “own” something you buy on physical media either. You own the disc, box and manual but don’t own the contents of the disc. Digital licensing is basically the same thing other than the absence of the physical items.

You have a license to play the game, you don’t own a copy of said game.

This is how almost any software is distributed these days.

Ita buried in the terms of service for the game and digital store front you use.

You are allowed to play the game, but not duplicate, alter or otherwise do anything other than what the developers allow.

If you owned the game, you are free to do whatever the hell you want with your own copy.

Back when disks stored actual games and not keys to games, u bought a game and got physical access to all a disk with all the code that would run. When I buy a game online, all I get is a key stored on something like steam servers. This doesn’t have any value until the game manufacturer looks at that key and says it is valid on their servers. One day, the game manufacturer (they would get boycotted for doing this) could literally single u out and just say, u no longer own this game. And that would be the end of it. Alot of the reason people say u dont own the game is because there is no ability to resell. i guess one of the aspects of ownership to people is the concept of the item being transferable.

It’s similar to a permanent rent than ownership.

Imagine that you rent a home but only pay for it once, no monthly fee. You sign the usual contract and you can move right in.

Most of the time it feels like it’s your own home. You live there, you have your own keys, you can lock it, you can buy new furniture etc.

But you’re not allowed to resell it, remodel it, change the locks without notifying your landlord or rent it out yourself. You also don’t own anything that was already in the home when you moved in, and you have to preserve them in good condition.

The landlord can also evict you at any time, but it happens very rarely.

If you break the rules you’ve broken the contract and the landlord can evict and sue you.

Similarly, when you buy the game, digitally or physically, you don’t really own it. You can’t resell it, you can’t dissect it and use assets from it for your own projects, or make derivative works. (Sometimes you can get away with it but officially most of these are not allowed)

You can, however, play it as the developers or publishers intended. The only difference between digital games and physical disks is that they can’t take your disk away.

Think about it like this, if you buy something like a house or a car or a computer or whatever, you have the exclusive ability to do whatever you want with it. You can use it how you want, sell it, damage it, give it away, whatever you want to do (within reason) with it you can.

When you buy a piece of software, you’re not getting that. You’re essentially purchasing a *license* to use the software according to a specific set of rules laid out by the publisher. For a digital copy all you have is the license, for a physical copy your purchasing the license as well as the physical media (such as the disc) it’s stored on. You haven’t purchased the software itself, just permission from the publisher to use it.

When you bought a game (or music or movie) on a disk, you were buying the physical object (sometimes with restrictions on its use) and the rights to play the game/music/movie that was on the disk (usually with restrictions, such as not broadcasting or exhibiting it.). You were never buying the game/music/movie itself. The restrictions haven’t really changed, but in the old days we’d have a physical object that we’d feel we’d *bought*. Now there is no physical object involved, so the restrictions (that were there all along) are more obvious.

One thing that has changed, of course, is that there is now no physical disk that can be passed on to others.