Cloud stored content – the future money hole

So, “long time no see”, I think to my blog. Been a long time since I planned on being more frequent. Again success!

More importantly, I have been thinking. Thoughts in my head, I believe, mull around by themselves for a while before surfacing, as they always seem to be fully formed when they do. I’m also a bit tipsy on far too little alcohol.

Cloud stored content, simple premise, you pay an amount of money, usually significantly less than a retail boxed physical copy, and you can download some content of some form wherever and whenever you like. Be it games from Steam, music from Google Play or comics from ComiXology. I partake in all these and to be honest, for the most part I find the services to be great and just what I want, but what happens when they go belly up?

ComiXology got me thinking along these lines, not because I expect them to disappear, but because I think they would be the most likely of the lot to do so. The thought really has spawned from Microsoft and the Xbox One. To start, I’m probably not going to buy one, I’ve really fallen out with console gaming on the basis of graphics. 6 months past the PS4 and Xbox One releases they’re are going to be outstripped by PCs in every way. That’s just the way the world works, and between Microsoft’s desire for single user licenses (that’s actually good in my opinion, if only they had done it right) and the lack of dedicated content to a platform, there is no value in the new Xbox. Also it looks like an Atari, just missing the wood veneer, I have one of those already. Nintendo are a different story, I find their consoles quite innovative, but that’s another discussion.

Cloud stored content is good in many ways, I can access my things anywhere with an internet connection and usually from a broad range of devices. In the case of Google Play Music I can listen to my own music from CDs or other mp3 downloads without taking up space on my mobile device. The other benefit is that it reduces costs, a game bought through Steam, just a few weeks after launch is usually 2 or 3 time less expensive than a physical medium copy, and this is because they can assign the copy to you, I can’t share it without sharing my Steam account with someone, and even then they could lock it down theoretically so only one internet connected client could use it at once. This is why it can be cheaper, your mate wants to play, well he’s got to buy his own copy. Where as they used to get one £40 payment for a physical media that could be shared around tens of people potentially they now get a £10 payment from all those people. They get more money, we get cheap games, everybody “wins”. (Obviously consumers as a whole haven’t won as we’ve paid £10 x every person over 4 that would have shared that one copy)

My problem is with the future. In 5-10 years time, I may think, “Yeah, I’d really like to play that old game” and find that, although I paid for the right to play the game, the provider has disappeared, or ceased support. This to my mind is an issue. What happens when a company no longer supports something you paid money for. I mean fair enough, Microsoft are pulling support for XP, it’s over a decade old, you should have upgraded by now, but what happens when they do the same for the Xbox One? All my Xbox One titles I bought over their online market just disappear? The goods I bought from you just stop existing and you keep my money? How is that fair.

It’s not is the obvious answer. I’ve not read the EULAs, let’s face it, how many people have. I think I may have read the Steam EULA once before, but I don’t remember anything about end of life and I sure as hell haven’t kept up on any updates to it. To my mind, when you buy a game or music, or comic, or anything from an online retailer who is giving you cloud access to something which you can not get a physical DRM-free copy of from them, they should be prepared to provide this service forever, or at a future point in time give you a DRM-free copy of the software with sufficient notice for you to collect. If you lose that then it’s as though you have lost the physical media, in which case I am happy to say, screw you, should have looked after it better. But that’s just my opinion on it and I bet more than likely, sometime in the future, hundreds, if not thousands of pounds worth of content I have paid someone for is going to just *poof* and be gone forever.