The Dangers of Digital Distribution

Every once in a while you run into one of those situations that you knew would come up eventually, but you ignored the possibility because the alternative was just so darn convenient. Or cost effective. Or popular. After all, 50 million users can’t be wrong, can they? In my case, exclusive digital storefronts were the culprit of my gaming irritation that admittedly could have been much worse.

It all started quite a while ago, when I decided to buy The Sims 3 and subsequent expansion pack “Generations” through Steam. I believe I got them both via some kind of sale around two years ago. But wait! (cries the worldly game consumer) You can’t buy The Sims on Steam, because EA chooses to distribute their games via their own digital storefront, Origin! Exactly. But such was not always the case. Once upon a time, EA was playing well with Steam and (likely grudgingly) offering some of their titles via the Steam storefront. Being one who likes to keep all of my stuff in one place, and also one to take advantage of the occasional sale, I figured a purchase of The Sims 3 via Steam would be a good way to keep everything nice and tidy and updated and flexible. Never mind that EA still heavily persuaded you to log into their launcher in order to “take advantage of the entire experience” (ie cash shop). At least they provided you the option to play offline.

Everything went along just fine until the most recent round of holiday sales caught my eye. Quite honestly, I have no interest in the most recent incarnation of “The Sims” and prefer to load up on expansion packs for the last-generation version now that they’re starting to appear on sale. I find that “Sims” die-hards pay a hefty early-adopter tax for a much more anemic experience when they purchase the base game when it’s new. So, when I saw that the Sims 3 expansion packs were recently on sale for a fraction of the original price, I scooped up about four of them. I didn’t even give a second thought to the fact that these packs were being sold directly from EA instead of through Steam.

Switching from one digital distribution platform (for the base game) to another (for the expansions) meant that I could not simply enter the expac keys into steam and update my already-installed game. When I attempted to install my new content via the Origin installer, it told me that I did not have the base game installed at all. It was at this point that I started to realize that this was not going to simply be a plug-n-play end user experience.

Admittedly, if I was in the mood to spend several of my gaming evenings doing research on this subject, I may have been able to make it work. As it was, however, I decided to try a few quick tricks in an attempt to save my current configuration and install the expacs, but once those failed I decided the best thing to do was to start over. In short, I tried to point my origin install location to the steam folder where my original game was installed to see if I could get it to install the expansion packs in the same location, but Origin wasn’t having any of that. Luckily, EA did allow me to enter my steam keys into the Origin system and re-download my previously purchased Sims content via Origin. This meant starting from scratch from a saved game perspective (again, I probably could have found my saved games and transferred them over, but I wasn’t really that interested), but at least I could install my new DLC on top of a fresh install. So, Origin got what they wanted, and I said goodbye to Steam for Sims stuff. Forget what the consumer wants, we’re forcing you down our path. Oh well, I am grateful that they allowed me to use my Steam keys on Origin. If that wasn’t possible, I’d be out of luck as far as playing my newly acquired expansions.

Which brings me back to the original point. We’re really at the mercy of these digital distributors now.

Wesley: Our games are going to get hosed up by these digital distribution storefronts.

Buttercup: Nobody gets hosed by digital distribution storefronts!

Wesley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has!

The possibility is real. Just like EA was under no obligation to honor my licenses granted though Steam, Steam (or Origin or whoever) is under no obligation to continue granting us license to play our games should something unforeseeable happen – or for no reason at all. It’s a fallacy of the software licensing system that we do not own any of the software that we’ve paid for. Granted, this system was in place back in the old physical media days, as well, but at least back then the more enterprising could likely figure out a way to install and use the software so long as they had the disk in-hand. Not so, today. Today, software and distribution companies are exactly where they want to be: in control.

5 thoughts on “The Dangers of Digital Distribution

  1. We ran into that same problem with The Sims 3. Both my daughter and DNL wanted the game and I bought them the base game and an x-pac or two each via Steam. Then my son bought a hard copy of another x-pac … it only wanted to install via Origin. DNL had to start from scratch and redownload the games she already ‘owned’.

    On a slightly different front, I originally bought Kingdoms of Amalar through an Origin sale. You can’t go from Origin to Steam like you can with the Sims (Steam to Origin). Wound up buying it again through Steam just so I could A) get the achievements Steam offers and B) have KOA:R on Steam with *most* of the rest of my games.

    I’ve been using Origin since it started (before it didn’t have a client, was just EA) and have always hated it. Prefer Steam and I wish I could have all my games there.


    1. Paying twice for the same content seems to be a staple in the content distribution industry. I don’t know how many times I’ve purchased the Star Wars movies. I suppose it’s not the most terrible thing in the world, as long as we go into it with our eyes open. Buying a software license with the promise of being able to install it anywhere forever gives the exact opposite impression.


  2. My wife has over 1000 songs on itunes. When she dies, she loses the right to access those songs. She can’t leave them to us as a family. Itunes you don’t own songs either, it is a non-transferable licence. All sorts of fun reads on that.

    I am assuming that is the same for Steam as well. I suppose my 9 year old won’t really care about Batman: Arkham in 40 years from now anyway (god willing I live that much longer) but hey, something to be said about flipping through old albums/books….

    Liked by 1 person

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