Picture this: you buy a product for, say, fifty or sixty dollars. You are very satisfied with the product. In fact, you may even love it. It is something unique, something that obviously had a lot of effort put into creating it, something, in short, that you consider well-worth the price.

Then, a year or two year later, the company you bought it from destroys the product. You can never use it again. You are left with nothing and the company keeps your money.

I expect that sounds insane to you, but this is increasingly becoming standard practice in the video game industry.

More and more video games are being designed to require the user to connect to a central server run by the company, with the idea that this will allow for more regular updates and other additional features. Key portions of the game – logic routines, spawn points, and so on – are stored on the master server, to which the user must connect in order for the game to function. This is done for both multiplayer and single-player games (even for games as simple as snowboard racers). Then, once the company decides it is no longer worth the cost of hosting, or chooses to roll out their next product, they shut those specifically dedicated servers down and the game becomes unplayable.

And this needs to be emphasized: the game does not become buggy, or substandard: it simply ceases to exist.

It must also be understood that this is not something that can be solved by ‘buying physical media’ or piracy, or anything else of the kind. The code that is required for the game to run is never placed on the user’s device at all. The program that is installed locally – whether from a disk or from a download – is an incomplete program that can only be completed by connecting to a server.

The only way a game designed in this way can be ‘repaired’ is if someone goes into the game code and reverse-engineers the missing functions. However, since most companies also encrypt the code as a protection against piracy, the code has to be first decrypted before this reverse-engineering can even be attempted.

In summary, video game companies are destroying the products that they have previously sold to their customers without providing any compensation. One does not have to be a gamer to see that this is a predatory and unjust business practice.

Enter YouTuber Ross Scott, proprietor of the Accursed Farms channel. Ross first achieved moderate fame as the creator of Freeman’s Mind, a comedic play through of the classic game Half-Life, and now mostly produces reviews of odd and obscure video games. For a professional YouTuber, Ross comes across as remarkably genuine, which, along with his deadpan sense of humor, is a large part of his charm. He legitimately seems to be an intelligent and creative guy who speaks on subjects that he is sincerely interested in.

Over the past few years, Ross has been raising the issue of companies that kill their own games with increasing vehemence, to the point of producing a near-two-hour, exhaustively-researched video on why he considers the practice to be fraudulent.

But even beyond the fraud aspect, he argues (and I agree with him) it is an unconscionable practice because it destroys art and culture, and because it robs future generations of the chance to experience these games. For, games, as Ross points out, are unique experiences; you can’t just replace one with another and have it be ‘just as good.’ Moreover, Ross argues, “While it’s debatable if video games are art, they undeniably contain art...When you kill a game, you lose all of that.” Meaning, when you destroy a game, you also destroy the graphics, the art design, the worlds, the soundtracks, the stories (and so on) that make up the game. It all vanishes forever, leaving nothing but whatever screenshots or recordings that the players have managed to contemporaneously capture.

Now, after years of trying to find ways to combat this practice, Ross is leveraging his medium-sized fanbase into an all-out legal assault.

The catalyst for his action was The Crew, an open-world driving game created by the French company Ubisoft. Now, The Crew was a very popular game, at one point topping twenty-million players worldwide, as well as being an artistically significant one, as it was set in a miniaturized but highly detailed map of the contiguous United States.  However, on April 1st, 2024, Ubisoft shut down service, effectively destroying the game.

As soon as this was announced, Ross set plans in motion to fight back in as many countries as possible. Putting in a truly impressive amount of work and research, including consulting with lawyers and other experts across four continents, he put together an international “attack on all fronts,” detailing exactly what people can and should do in each of a dozen different nations in order to try to bring this practice to an end, which mostly included contacting consumer advocacy groups and creating government petitions. A precise breakdown of ways for purchasers to take action in each country, as well as a thorough FAQ explaining the issues, can be found at the website stopkillinggames.com.

As Ross put it, “we don’t need to win all battles to win the war.” Since gaming is a global market, and since it is relatively easy to make a game so that it can still function once support ends (especially if the company plans on it from the beginning), all it takes is a single country with a significant gaming market to penalize this practice in order to make it not cost-effective for the video game companies.

The goal of all this (which Ross has striven to be laser focused on) is very simple: a company can design a game however they like, run it however they like, shut down support for it whenever they like, but when they do decide to shut down support, they must leave the customer with a functional, or at least potentially functional, product. ‘Potentially functional’ here means roughly a state in which a competent team of programmers could be expected to get it working again without having access to military-grade decryption software.

One must admit, this would be is a pretty modest standard to achieve, and it says something about the state of our society that it is considered to be so controversial.

Now, Ross has been admirably honest throughout; he’s repeatedly stressed how much of a long-shot this is (including writing the United States off as a lost cause owing to its tendency to prioritize contract terms) and has emphatically urged people to delay sending monetary donations until he can see a viable use for them (e.g. a class-action lawsuit with a reasonable chance of success, which so far, he hasn’t found, though research is underway regarding options in Brazil). And, as of this writing, Ross has been able to report that things have begun to move in a positive direction. In fact, several of his petitions have already received enough signatures to require government attention. A number of EU politicians caught wind of the effort and have reached out to him to begin looking into the issue. If nothing else, he is succeeding in calling attention to the practice, which by itself would be an improvement.

However you feel about gaming, anyone who cares about maintaining the concept of ownership ought to join me in wishing Ross and his allies every success.

Photo Credit- ign. com