Forbes magazine has brought to light a significant event that appears to have slipped below the general gaming industry news radar. Earlier this year, for the first time, Steam removed a game from user libraries which had become unplayable thanks to a combination of online game server shut-down and the game's always online DRM requirement.
Previously games have disappeared from the Steam Store, no longer available but Order of War: Challenge is apparently the first game to be 'wiped from history' in this way, as if it never existed, or was never purchased. The game was published by Square Enix which took down the servers in September. Shortly after that the game was removed from all user libraries. As mentioned in the intro the game's main thrust was of multi-player online combat which required the servers but it also did contain 18 single-player missions, reports Forbes.
The story of the removal of Order of War: Challenge really does bring home the feeling of uncertainty about buying digital goods and ownership. Forbes reminds us that as part of Steam's TOS we consumers don't really own the games but they are leased to us. It is within Valve's rights to remove games – though it would not be good for the reputation of the store for this to become a regular occurrence. Also the always-online DRM in some games leaves you vulnerable to the continued health of the publishing company and/or Valve.
On one hand sellers of digital goods like music, video and games want you to respect their property just like it was a TV or a car but on the other hand this kind of removal of your goods would never happen for a fully paid up purchase in the real world.
In the last year I have really boosted my collection of games on Steam, due to some attractive sales and bundles. After reading the Forbes article I'm wondering what would be left in my library, if left untouched, in 10 years time. Would it contain just the DRM free Humble Bundle type games I have?