Not too long ago, there was a time when you could buy and play games on a PC, and games companies treated you with respect and welcomed you buying their games.  But in a few short years, PC gamers have gone from valued customers to illegal pirates.  These days every PC gamer is treated like a pirate and isn’t trusted to honestly buy games to play.  And the worst thing of all, is that PC gamers have willingly become pirates…We’ve done this to ourselves.

I’ve played video games since my childhood, beginning with a Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis) and later on PC.  Despite owning more consoles after that, I’ve always found a love of PC games, and over the years I’ve enjoyed so many different games and own so many that I’ve lost count.  PC games have always been plentiful and very diverse with a good mix of RPGs, Racers and Strategy games, among my favourites.  Buying games and installing them on my PC has never been a difficult process, requiring just the disc for installation, and sometimes a key – a code made up of numbers and letters – which was found on the manual inside the box and proved that I owned a legitimate copy of the game.  Owning the disc, essentially meant I owned the game.  It’s not like I owned the copyright of that game, but I could install to my heart’s content on as many different computers as I wanted to.  The game was mine to do with as I pleased, and if I didn’t like it, I could give it away or even sell it to someone if they were willing to buy.  But just a few years ago things began to change, and it wasn’t for the better.

Dreaded DRM

Some PC games have always carried some DRM or digital rights management.  To check that people have a legitimate copy of a game, the DRM would check your system, sometimes you’d have to key in a code to play a game, and you’d often need the disc in the drive to play.  This wasn’t hard to have though and for most people, keeping a key safe wasn’t difficult, although occasionally people did lose it.  But on the whole this DRM check, like some other early versions, was relatively simple, and regardless of a short few seconds of putting the disc in the drive or typing in a code, you could have you game installed onto your computer, and you could have as many installations or re-installations as necessary.  But in more recent times harder DRM has kicked in, tough DRM that has not only angered people but also possibly damaged computers.

The first time I encountered such DRM was with a game called Spore.  I desperately wanted to play Spore, it was like The Sims (a game franchise I have loved since its start!) but on a weirder and bigger level where you grew a single cell organism into a planet of unique creatures.  These creatures could then explore other planets of creatures.  the concept was new, exciting and the game was created by Will Wright, which to me was a bonus.  But Spore shipped with some terrible DRM.  Apart from forcing an online activation, the game installed some nasty software onto your PC and could only be installed three times.  If you had problems with computer crashes and had to reboot and reinstall your whole PC from scratch, or wanted to upgrade to a newer system more than three times, you were forced to buy a new game.  Spore wasn’t the only game to ship with DRM, others like Worms 4 (another franchise I love!) installed other software on your PC that checked for the disc all the time, to the point that there were rumours it could damage your disc drive!

The online route

In order to fix previous DRM issues, companies began a new style of DRM – online activation.  I don’t know which game it began with but Valve’s STEAM soon started forcing people to install it’s program along with any game you bought.  Installed STEAM meant you were forced to create a STEAM account, go online and verify that you had bought your game.  You had to prove to Steam that you owned the game, you could no longer just buy it from a store and play.  Soon after, more and more companies created their own online stores, Ubisoft’s UPlay, EA’s Origin…They all forced the same online activation, forcing gamers to prove they owned the game.  You no longer really did, not without going online to activate it.

Many complained at first, but soon, everyone was praising the companies.  Everyone soon supported the online activation, and told those who didn’t want it that they were the problem.  A few years earlier, when The Sims 3 was being created, the idea of online activation enraged the community of gamers so much that they threatened to not buy the game.  EA had to back off and remove that form of DRM…But just a few years later and The Sims 4 appeared, with online activation a must have, and gamers, many of a younger generation, now supporting it.

PC gamers who wanted to own their own copy of a game, those who went to a store, spent money and supposedly owned their own copy, couldn’t play their games.  They had to go online and prove they hadn’t pirated a copy.  They were essentially asking the game makers, permission to play a game…Something they didn’t have to do with consoles.

Owning a physical copy of a game is like owning a physical copy of a book or DVD.  DVDs and books can be watched and read the moment you buy them from the shop.  The transaction with the cashier, makes whatever you bought yours.  You own whatever you bought.  But imagine if you had to go online before you could watch a movie or read a book.  Imagine that every book you bought from a shop was blank, with words magically appearing in it only after you’d gone online and verified you own a legitimate copy.  Imagine if you couldn’t read that book or listen to any music or watch anything without first having to log in online to prove that you indeed did buy it with legitimate money.  You had to prove to an uncaring company that you haven’t stolen anything, that you aren’t a pirate.  Think about how stupid that idea really is…Then ask yourself why have PC gamers accepted it?

The sad truth of online

PC gamers having to activate their games online will never own their games.  They can’t be traded, or sold, you can’t install them forever if circumstances change, despite what many think.  Owning a digital library means you trust the company will live on in years to come, but what if one day the internet goes down, even temporarily -enough to disrupt major systems?  Or the system or your account is hacked?  What if one day someone else takes over the business, someone who doesn’t care about your custom?  People take  a risk with their digital games, books and films.  But physical copies are for you to own.  However when games require online activation, it doesn’t matter that they are physically on the disc…Without that online activation, that account login, you don’t own your game either.  It’s no longer a physical game.  It’s a digital one.

The future of PC gaming is bleak.  There are many other reasons why PC games are not what they once were, reasons I plan to discuss in future here, but the fact that not one PC game today can be played without online activation, is a big part in why many people like myself no longer play PC games.  I can install and play the hundreds of games I already own, and I can install them for years and decades to come.  But I cant’ say the same about the games that require online activation…Will those companies and those servers still be around in a few years, in ten, twenty or fifty?

-I’d like to clarify that I have no issues with digital gaming, and digital libraries, they can be good and I recognise the argument that you can constantly re-download a game..  They are good to have if you enjoy that style of owning your games.  But taking away one and forcing all people to be digital is wrong in my opinion, especially as this is not the case with film, music and books which also have digital libraries.

Do you play PC games?  What do you think about digital versus physical games?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂