2017 already hasn’t been a good year for games. Wait, let me be more specific. 2017 hasn’t been a good year for some specific, digital versions of games. We’re seeing the consequences of the abandoning of physical media. Titles are being taken away, right from under our noses, and we’re left wondering why. There are no warnings or explanations, just confusion when we suddenly go to look for a game and find it isn’t there. And that, my friends, is just plain wrong.
The fact that it’s happened three times now in the span of a single week only goes to prove what a problem it is now, and what a disaster it could grow to be. Since 2017 began, six games have become casualties to the passage of time. Codemasters’ Dirt 3, F1 2013, and Grid and Activision’s The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan have all turned to dust in the wind that blows out of your console or computer’s fan. Each one has been removed from every possible digital distribution service. While it may be understandable, it isn’t right. Especially since these removals were handled so poorly.
Did we receive any warning about these delistings? Barely. Only GOG was courteous enough to give us a heads-up. It offered Grid in a goodbye sale, letting people know they had one last chance to grab the racing game. But the other releases? Their removal was silent and swift. We had no idea the end was near. Activision and Codemasters said nothing, which is a horrible business practice. As a courtesy to customers, they should let us know when we have one last chance to acquire something.
Were we told why any of these games were being removed? Of course not. If companies aren’t willing to show a little tact and warn us about games disappearing into the ether, do you really think they’d have prepared statements offering explanations? Fortunately, Each removal is rather obvious. Especially when we piece together information from past disappearances. All six of these games involved licenses, which tend to have expiration dates. When they expire, the companies can no longer offer associated products for sale. It’s happened before, with X-Men Destiny being one former casualty during a nasty licensing dispute between its developer and Unreal Engine creator Epic Games.
Is this right? No, but it is within the rights of the companies to do so. Which is an unfortunate and unpleasant thing. People may think that they’re buying games, but with a digital future, we’re often lending or buying temporary access to titles. Companies still hold all the power over them. When they lose their power or access, we lose ours. This means no access to The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Dirt 3, F1 2013, or Grid for anyone who missed out before 2017 struck. New copies aren’t going to be released or sold, either digitally or physically. People can still grab Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, since it’s not even a year old and physical copies are still available, but that won’t last long either. If Activision’s lost the license, then it won’t be manufacturing any more.
Of course, some may see these recent disappearances as no big loss. Dirt 3, F1 2013, and Grid are old games, while The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan aren’t particularly good ones. But that isn’t what matters here. By letting incidents like this happen and pass without saying anything, we’re condoning them. We’re saying it’s okay for games to suddenly be delisted and disappear, denying future players access to digital copies. It’s happening with games we may not care about now, but it could happen to ones that do matter to us in the months and years to come.