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Google Stadia & Co–How Cloud Gaming Will Erode Your Consumer Rights

One of the biggest conflicts in the gaming industry in modern times, at least for gamers, is finding the ever-precarious balance between convenience and one’s own consumer rights. Most of us will be quick to say that we value consumer rights above everything else. Who wants to be labelled a corporate bootlicker after all, right? Reality paints a slightly different picture. Over the years, more and more anti-consumer practices have slid into our lives, often without us even noticing. How did that happen? We were fooled by our own desire for convenience, and we should make sure that it doesn’t happen again with cloud gaming.

The kind of convenience I’m talking about is the convenience of not having to physically insert a disk anymore to install and play your games. When we accepted digital storefronts over physical media, we voluntarily gave away an important part of the ownership that we supposedly have over the products we buy. What was once fully under our control, is now at the behest of faceless corporations who might decide to either pull the plug or remove your access to your own games at any point in time.

Google Stadia was thankfully an instant flop. I hope it remains that way.

There are many more examples of consumer rights in gaming that were either compromised or disappeared completely over the course of the years, but the switch from physical to digital was certainly the most impactful one. And you know what? You, your friends, and I, are probably fine with this. The digitization of gaming is saving us so much time, after all. It’s this complacency that is so very dangerous to us as gamers.

Now, let’s have a look at cloud gaming. What the big players want to offer us sounds good on paper. You don’t need to have a beast of a PC or the latest console, all you need is a relatively quick and stable internet connection, and you can play all your games directly from a server-center located dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of kilometres away from you. You don’t have to deal with hard drive space, you don’t have to deal with drivers, updating your hardware, it’s just pure gaming convenience. But the price, oh the price is so steep.

OnLive’s attempt at cloud gaming didn’t last very long.

With digital storefronts, the game that you’re playing Is still on your hard drive. In the case of a store shutdown, should the promises of most stores to disconnect your games from any DRM not hold true, all the game’s data is still in your possession. A No-CD patch is all you need to continue enjoying your purchases. Not so with cloud gaming. If a cloud gaming service shuts down, it’s all gone. Say bye-bye to all of your acquisitions.

Multiplayer games, especially MMOs, will be a genre whose aficionados will suffer the most. As of now, when a multiplayer game shuts down its official servers, gamers are either able to continue playing on private servers, or in the case of MMOs, wait until a crafty group of coders develops an emulator. City of Heroes is a good example of that, as well as Star Wars Galaxies. But with cloud gaming? Nope, it’s all gone, because the coders who would’ve created your emulator never had access to any client/server packages, nor did they ever have access to any of the game files.

This particular problem comes with another, perhaps even greater problem: games released solely in the cloud may be lost to consumers forever, after the company that produced them decides that they are not profitable anymore. Archiving old games, so that they are not lost to future generations, is something that avid gamers should take very seriously. Imagine if we didn’t have access to gems like Super Mario Brothers, Leisure Suit Larry or Pac-Man anymore! Gaming history would be – quite literally – wiped out.

In my interpretation, they left out mouse and keyboard because they’re afraid of PC gamers. /s

That’s exactly what would happen if cloud gaming would reign supreme. As soon as a game would not be worth the bandwidth costs anymore, it would vanish from the face of the earth. Taken down from and by the cloud service, and put into a dark corporate storage room, forgotten until the end of time. What a sad vision of the future.

I truly think that cloud gaming is something we all should resist with fervor, unless companies come up with EULAs and ToUs that guarantee consumers certain rights. At the very least, they should guarantee that all streamed games can be downloaded DRM-free after their run on the streaming service is over. A declaration that they are committed to preservation of gaming history would help too. As long as those two factors are not considered by Google, Microsoft & Co., it’s a no from me.

— Falko (for feedback, please tweet me @thachampagne)