Battle for the right to play old multiplayer games take shape.

Acronyms are flying as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently requested an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) from the Library of Congress (LoC?) to allow users of older computer games to set up their own multiplayer hosting servers.

In the current commercial state of planned obsolescence par excellence, where nearly every consumer-oriented industry is exclusively driven to sell1 products loaded with so many new 'features'2 that they fizzle and blow-up almost before their first birthday, all to appease the Januseque god of Profits and Plastic.

In any event, this desire to grow more and sell more ad infinitum affects the videogame industry as it does every other fiat industry. The result for gamers is that the multiplayer support plug is regularly pulled after only two years, certainly for games with annual releases as we see with sports titles.3 This has the intended effect of forcing gamers to buy the latest greatest, even if the newest version blows harder than a hurricane and the owner was quite happy to continue using the original thank you very much.

The EFF would appear to be making a reasonable appeal to an unreasonable piece of legislation, namely the DMCA, more properly known as 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1).4 However, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA),5 and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) disagree, to no one's great surprise. Their collective comments,6 however, are seriously weak. To take but one example :

This proposed class of works should be rejected because circumvention related to videogame consoles inevitably increases piracy and is detrimental to the secure and trustworthy innovative platforms that videogame publishers and consumers demand.

Um… really? If consumers were demanding so much 'innovation,' do you think they'd be putting up a stink like this? What's say videogame publishers cool their jets on their very superficial and wholly self-interested use of this word. What's more, piracy can only be a thing if you don't own the software you're using. You can't pirate something you have sovereignty over, it just doesn't work like that. So either gamers are being leased games, as appears to be the present state of affairs, in which case annual dues might make more sense than 'buying' ; or gamers are buying the games, they own them ipso facto, and may do with their property as they please, as doesn't appear to be the case at all. Needless to stay, this triumvirate of the old guard is teetering for balance like a drunk boxer after a heavy loss.

Overall, what this EFF case demonstrates is that users of computer software (and hardware!) are tired of pointless 'improvements' that compromise their enjoyment, their freedom, and their security. There's never been a bigger opening for hardware manufacturers and software publishers who respect stability and continuity than there is today.

While Bitcoin is certainly the leading driver of this movement, this case is a reminder that there are other concurrent forces guiding computing in this most favourable direction.

To brighter days ahead.

  1. Note that I didn't say "make" here. Apple doesn't make jack shit. That's Foxconn's job. 

  2. This can be something as trivial as an in-car infotainment system that vibrates when you touch it or a dishwasher that sends you an e-mail when you forget to take out the clean dishes. These are not particularly useful or world-revolutionising functionalities, but they're whipped up into a furious flurry of 'must-have-or-else-it's-old-fashioned-which-is-the-same-as-not-cool.' Such is one of the many afflictions of modernity : what you currently have is never good enough, meaning that you're never good enough. But that's ok, because salvation, however brief, is always for sale. 

  3. This came as quite a shock to your author, who quite enjoyed playing the original Starcraft for nearly a decade after it was released. 

  4. The EFF's appeal can be read here, in PDF

  5. You might remember the MPAA from their seemingly endless and quite obviously unwinnable battles against torrent sites over the past decade, including Pirate Bay and Megaupload

  6. Available here in PDF

5 thoughts on “Battle for the right to play old multiplayer games take shape.

  1. Yeah, except the part where the entire "industry" hasn't created anything worth the mention since the 90s.

    Maybe if the oldies come back in style the current crapola producers end up forced to actually sit down and pay attention.

  2. I normally agree with everything on here (and most of the stuff on #b-a) but I think its unfair to say that the entire game industry is just creating useless entertainment. There are great games new and old (I enjoy RCT, but I also enjoy CS:GO). Although obviously its not a particularly academic discussion.

    • Well, I'm probably in the #b-a minority in that I liked the new Bethesda Fallout games and Deus Ex Human Revolution, but then again I don't like many games that demand exceptionally upon my time. I prefer the gaming equivalent of a pulp novel. Creates the opportunity to grind on absurdities that seem interesting personally at the time, like suppose I get drunk IRL and in New Vegas make it a goal to punch Ceasar to death in front of his entire Praetorian Guard. It's hard but possible, but it comes not from a game prompt but your own abuse of the game's openness.

      • Indeed – I think you just summarized the real reason behind the success of most open world games. Landing a motorbike on a jet after jumping off a skyscraper? Yeah lets do it.

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