You Don't Own What You Buy: The Tetris Edition

from the blockheads dept

In the convoluted realm that has become copyright, licensing agreements, and SaaS-style everything, we’ve had something of a running series of posts that focus on the bewildering concept that we no longer own what we buy. Between movies simply being disappeared, features on gaming consoles being obliterated via firmware update, and entire eBook platforms simply ceasing to work, the benefits of handing over very real dollars have never been more fleeting.

This has been ingrained to the point of public reaction to this sort of thing amounting to that of placid cattle being shown the slaughter room. So, when Electronic Arts alerted those that purchased its iOS Tetris game that, surprise, this game is just going to not work any longer soon, public outcry wasn’t even on the menu.

Players opening either game on their iOS devices are now greeted with a pop-up message that’s also included in the “What’s New” section of both Tetris Premium and Tetris Blitz’s listings in the iOS App Store warning them that the countdown on each title has officially begun:

Hello Fans,

We have had an amazing journey with you so far but sadly, it is time to say goodbye. As of April 21, 2020, EA’s Tetris® app will be retired, and will no longer be available to play. Kindly note that you will still be able to enjoy the game and use any existing in-game items until April 21, 2020. We hope you have gotten many hours of enjoyment out of this game and we appreciate your ongoing support. Thank you!

Hey, thanks for buying our game and, great news, you’ll get to play what you bought just a little while longer, mmkay bye! Gamers, at this point, are quite used to beloved games suddenly being unsupported after a few years, meaning that the game won’t be updated, won’t work on modern operating systems, and might not have an active online gamer platform when support runs out. What’s less common is for the game to have been constructed in a way that is completely unplayable, full stop, when the publisher flicks a switch.

So why is this happening in this case? Well, because EA doesn’t actually own Tetris. It just licenses the title to publish games. And, The Tetris Company has entered into a new licensing agreement for exclusive mobile game publishing with a different company.

Last year, The Tetris Company, Inc. and N3TWORK announced a multi-year agreement where N3TWORK will be the exclusive developer and publisher of new Tetris® games for mobile devices worldwide, excluding China. EA’s announcement that it will retire its Tetris®, Tetris® Premium and Tetris® Blitz games as of April 21 is a result of this agreement.

The Tetris brand continuously aims to bring fans game experiences that are fresh, innovative and fun. We are excited about these new changes for Tetris on mobile and plan to share more news with fans very soon.

All of which I imagine is lost on the average person who bought EA’s Tetris games, thinking that buying them meant they owned them. Can you imagine asking the average gamer if they would have made that same purchase if they realized that their game might simply disappear and cease to work if the Tetris people decided on a new licensing agreement with a different publisher?

This is a mess and it’s probably time for consumer groups to look into some kind of consumer protection rules that would either prevent this sort of thing or, more likely, make notifying buyers that they aren’t actually buying the product more prominent than some subsection paragraph buried in a EULA.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: ea, n3twork, the tetris company

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Comments on “You Don't Own What You Buy: The Tetris Edition”

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33 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Option C

@tex2us, they say you bought the right to use the game but unless there’s a clause that allows them to yank it back it’s not bought, it’s rented.

The RENTAL isn’t being offered, but SALE and sale implies you own the thing till you dispose of it. They’re committing fraud.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Tostie14 (profile) says:

This. So much this.

I’ve been complaining for years that Amazon should not be allowed to have their buttons say purchase or buy now for digital goods but instead say rent or acquire a license. I realize it is semantics, but it is unethical for them to mislead buyers into thinking they own something that can disappear or lose access to at anytime. And I write this as a content creator that has had to switch publishers and distributors for one of my films and watched it disappear off platforms out of my control.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This. So much this.

rent or acquire a license

At that point people will immediately demand lower prices. Hence why they don’t use that language.

I realize it is semantics, but it is unethical for them to mislead buyers into thinking they own something that can disappear or lose access to at anytime.

Yes it is, but therein lies the real problem: Rightsholders want total control over a copy, that the fundamental rules of the market dictates they lose once the copy is sold.

The ironic thing is that people value the idea of "buy" or "purchase", even when talking about nothing but indefinitely replicable digital bits, but say "rent" or "license" and people will realize what you’re really trying to sell them: Permission.

"Buy" / "purchase" even in the warped context that is copyright still implies that the consumer owns the copy. Not the product the copy represents, the copy itself. Rightsholders however have long decided even before that precedent was made, that it wasn’t good enough for them. They wanted a rental model from the start. One where they could charge you indefinitely for everything at whatever rates they dictated. This is why we have such broken precedents of it’s a "license" when it comes to ownership, but a "sale" when it comes to liability.

SaaS is just the next move towards their goal, as is the video game’s industry’s constant hype for things like Google’s Stadia despite the massive implementation issues. They want to be able to turn everything off with the push of a button. Why? Because that gives them the never ending revenue stream they don’t deserve. Why bother innovating when you can just charge indefinitely for the same product? Truly Unethical. The whole lot.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

"The Tetris brand continuously aims to bring fans game experiences that are fresh, innovative and fun"

…and to keep them fresh we’ll make sure you’re forced to buy the new ones!

Yet another opening for a pirate who would like to give paying customers what they paid for when the legal suppliers refuse to do so.

I’m sure the usual suspects will be along to tell us how that’s evil, and having to keep paying for the product you supposedly own because someone changed a licencing agreement after your purchase is perfectly acceptable.

bobob says:

Re: Re: Re:

That may be this particular case, but in a broader context, just pirate everything. So far, all of these companies, the RIAA, the MPAA and every organization purporting to "protect" digital rights has shown themselves to be dishonest, greedy assholes. As far as I’m concerned, they are owed nothing because if you give them money, they will eventually screw you over. The only language they understand is money, so don’t speak money with them.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
jilocasin says:

It's all about the *in app* purchases

I’ll bet dimes to dollars that it’s all about the in app purchases. That insidious practice of getting people to spend money on imaginary, infinite yet disposable items.

If Hasbro has a license to sell Avengers Monopoly games for a limited time, they just have to stop making them then their license is over. They don’t send people around to everyone’s homes to confiscate the already purchased games. The same when a developer made a computer game off of licensed IP. But now, with in app purchases, the original developer you bought your copy from can’t collect any ongoing revenue and the existing game will be competing for those in game dollars.

Most mobile games, and now even AAA titles aren’t about the games themselves, just about finding opportunities to convince people to trade real money for imaginary and transitory items.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

So why is this happening in this case? Well, because EA doesn’t actually own Tetris. It just licenses the title to publish games. And, The Tetris Company has entered into a new licensing agreement for exclusive mobile game publishing with a different company.

How does this explain anything? I have no idea what the companies that made my 1989 Game Boy Tetris game have been doing since then, but I have no concern that it’s going to stop working. Thousands of programmers have written Tetris clones, and I doubt any but EA’s have ever stopped working.

bhull242 (profile) says:

To be fair…

To be fair, the Tetris® Blitz and (I’m pretty sure) Tetris® apps are free-to-play, so you didn’t technically pay for them.

To be even more fair, f&$k EA, f&$k this “live service” bulls&!t, f&$k EULAs, f&$k licenses that limit downloads and online services, and f&$k online-only singleplayer games, especially those that don’t involve anything terribly complicated for the intended device to handle!

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: This. So much this.

I’m a developer (a QA tester) for free-to-play smartphone apps, and I will say that one-time purchase single-player games have far easier job when it comes to archiving as opposed to free-to-play games such as Team Fortress 2, Fortnite, Bejeweled, or Candy Crush or Massively Multiplayer Online games such as Everquest, World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, Final Fantasies XI & XIV, etc.

It’s not just a case of "you don’t own what you buy" but "you can’t go home again".

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Also

Many of the reviews linked on Metacritic say that the game is free-to-play. So this game becoming inoperable is more like never seeing an arcade machine again than not owning what one bought.

It still sucks big time, but it’s not what Mr. Geigner made out to be. Considering this and his past lack of research when it came to video-game-related-issues, I think we should check Mr. Geigner’s facts whenever he covers the topic of video games.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Also

As Matt Brubeck has said above, Tetris Premium is a paid app, so I guess you were right about that. That being said, a clarification is in order which EA Tetris games are FTP and which cost money.

Considering the facts on the ground, EA and/or the Tetris company should do the prudent thing and offer owners of Tetris Premium a refund. Or the purchasers of apps should do what I do and never throw out a device ever because only that device will play what you bought on it!! It’s why I never got rid of my 1st-gen PS3; it still has games that were removed from the online store such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and some of the Pixeljunk games.

Anonymous Coward says:

People still buy products from EA?

They release maliciously broken games, where the (paid) DLC fixes the issue, introduce deliberate gamesave erase "bugs" to lengthen play-time, target children directly with lootboxes, then bare-faced lie to governments, all the while checking data on games silently and throwing targetted ads at children with no care or oversight, trying to turn them into gambling addicts.

and people STILL buy this crap?

their games aren’t even any good. Just rehashes of old content.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Activision's Transformers.

You know, I remember buying Activision’s excellent Transformers (as in the 1980’s franchise) on Steam. The license that Hasbro had with Activision expired a few years ago, so that meant nobody could buy the game in the Steam store. However, even though I could no longer buy the game in the store, it’s still on my hard drive and I could still play it.

So I believe this makes EA objectively worse than Activision. (For the record, I hate the phrase "objectively worse" or "objectively better" because they’re oxymoronic)

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