Ubisoft's "The Crew" Fiasco Is Just One Example Of Why We Need Games Preservation And Physical Media

It's one reason I'm still buying physical media in 2024.

QuintLyn Bowers
By QuintLyn Bowers, News Editor
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The Crew License Issue

I have a confession. When it comes to media, I’ve reverted to buying the non-digital versions of things whenever I can. It may not make complete sense at first glance. After all, digital is often cheaper (you can get lots of media in inexpensive bundles). It takes up less space in your home and is easier to move around. A thousand books on an e-reader is certainly less cumbersome than a thousand actual books, and easier to take on vacation with you. Music and video are easily accessible through streaming (unless the publishers decide to pull them). Then there’s less physical waste, which is something that I like, except then we’re dealing with devices with batteries that are a pain in the ass to dispose of properly. (We have a once-a-year event here where we take all that stuff in. Until then, it sits in our garage.)

All of those pluses and minuses aside, there is one big reason I’m back to buying physical media whenever I can, and think others should be too. We don’t actually own digital media. Sure, we “buy” it, but it’s not ours. A publisher pulls their license from Amazon, and that book is pulled off your Kindle – unless you were savvy enough to download it to your computer and change the format to use it somewhere else. One example of this would be the Discovery shows PlayStation users bought being removed from the system. Yeah, they reversed it after everyone complained, but it’s always a possibility. I’ve had albums I bought through Google’s music stuff completely disappear.

It all comes down to the people who actually own these media maintaining contracts with the people distributing it. The workaround for books, movies, and music is to buy the physical media when you can, but for gamers things are trickier.

Over the past decade or so, developers have made moves that more or less prevent players from owning their own games. No longer do you buy the game on disk. Even if you do buy a physical copy, you’re just getting a box with a game code and perhaps some goodies in it. In addition to that, even if a game is single-player, there’s a pretty solid chance that you will have to be online in some way to play it. Of course, if a game isn’t single-player, the game will usually tie into the developer’s servers in some way, no matter how many players the game was designed to have play. Even if we don’t want it, we’ve been forced into an online experience in order to play games.

A good example of this popped up just yesterday when folks on Reddit pointed out that Ubisoft seems to be revoking licenses for its racing game, The Crew. Yeah, the game and its servers have been shut down. Yes, it was a multiplayer game and it’s unlikely that Ubisoft would allow players to set up their own servers to continue running the game. Still, just taking a paid-for game (and apparently leaving players with a demo instead) isn’t sitting very well with gamers.

Of course, even with single-player or co-op games, this is a looming issue, what with developers requiring players to connect to their servers in order to play – for "security reasons" of course…

It’s very possible that at this point, everyone who plays video games has had at least one game they’ve purchased made unavailable to them. I personally got lucky on one of mine, having bought Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia and then watched Google shut Stadia down. Luckily for me, they refunded the game so I was able to buy it somewhere else. In a lot of cases, that’s not possible, as the service you’re playing on is also the same one that owns the game. There is nowhere else to play it. Your game just stops being yours, and there’s not much that can be done about it.

Cyberpunk 2077

As Redditor Sanctine pointed out, moves like these are “begging for consumer protection legislation to be passed.” If nothing else, revoking a license should be accompanied by giving the purchaser a refund. It may not be the solution we’d all like, I’m sure most of us would just like to keep our games, but it is probably the most practical at this point.

Of course, this becomes a bit more complicated with MMOs or games as a live service. What happens when MMO X shuts down? Well, people do lose everything. Do you refund for all of that? No, we’re probably not going to get full refunds for all the money we’ve spent in an MMO when it shuts down. To some extent, I’m okay with that. I don’t expect all my $25 mounts that I bought over time to support the game to be refunded. It was just part of the experience. The same goes for subscriptions honestly. I’m paying for time there. The ownership of the actual game itself? Yeah, see I bought it. I’m not renting it.

Still, I feel that with MMOs, we at least know that there’s a possibility that the game may eventually become inaccessible, but hopefully that’s decades in the future. If it’s not, and you made people buy your game to play it, they should be refunded.

Single-player or co-op games, on the other hand, are games that could likely be run on personal servers if developers weren’t like they are. The player is owed something when developers deny them access to the game they bought.

Financial and player feelings aside, there’s another problem with our current system as YouTuber Accursed Farms points out. Game developers are not good at preserving games. A study he references notes that 87% of classic video games are just unavailable. Oh, sure, some collector somewhere might have a copy, but the developers aren’t worried about it. Where ideally the games would be moved to newer media, most of them just aren’t. It doesn’t stop them from sitting on the IPs forever though, keeping those that would like to do something from being able to. (American McGee’s Alice anyone?)

Of course, Accursed Farms’ video was prompted by The Crew's situation, or likely he’d been pondering making the video for a while and this was just the motivation he needed. The video discusses The Crew’s situation a bit and, more importantly, how hazy the laws are around video game consumers' rights. He discusses the issue of games being killed and how The Crew players, due to their numbers, might be able to push the issue and encourage at least one country to step up and demand that game companies let players keep their games.

To help players be able to organize around this idea, he put together a site to direct players based on where they’re from and what their local laws say. The site, Stopkillinggames.com (two ‘g’s) Provides all the information players need. It seems like as good of a start as any.

In the meantime, I’d still like to suggest considering putting some of your digital media money back into physical media. It’s harder to do with gaming, but it is a good way to help preserve media that might otherwise just disappear. We are running into a time when even some of the most popular shows are disappearing from streaming services and viewers can’t find them again. I’ve even seen actors asking people to tell them how to bootleg their own content so they’ll be able to show their kids and grandkids movies they were in.

If you wonder whether you, as a consumer of media, keeping physical copies really matters, just remember that at one point, the BBC lost a lot of Doctor Who episodes – for various reasons. One of those reasons was that they just didn’t think they were all that important to keep.

Companies are shortsighted like that. Decades later, it’s been the fans who recorded the episodes – at least the audio if nothing else – who have been helping to rebuild that library. Yeah. It’s important, and if we can do it with games too, all the better.

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In this article: Ubisoft, The Crew.

About the Author

QuintLyn Bowers
QuintLyn Bowers, News Editor

QuintLyn is a long-time lover of all things video game related will happily talk about them to anyone that will listen. She began writing about games for various gaming sites a little over ten years ago and has taken on various roles in the games community.

More Stories by QuintLyn Bowers

Discussion (2)

viper 3 weeks ago
Hell yeah! Accursed Farms is making waves!

tekosdj 1 month ago
un pavet pour rien


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