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.

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Filed Under: copyright, expiring games, games, licenses, tetris
Companies: ea, n3twork, the tetris company


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  • icon
    UniKyrn (profile), 27 Jan 2020 @ 7:39pm

    Option C

    Here is my receipt. You owe me a working copy of the game or a refund.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tex2us (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 2:40am

      Re: Option C

      The EULA says (somewhere) that you bought the right to use the game. They own the game itself, so they decide when to revoke that right. Sorry, no refunds. Have fun playing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rocky, 28 Jan 2020 @ 4:44am

        Re: Re: Option C

        And there are places where an EULA or parts of it is unenforceable because of local consumer-laws.

        But getting that refund because of that, will mostly costs more than the refund itself...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 7:16am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tostie14 (profile), 27 Jan 2020 @ 7:54pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 6:43am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2020 @ 9:58pm

    Sue them to invalidate their copyright for lack of development or whatever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 1:06am

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 8:50am

      Re:

      Well, I sure won't be BUYING the game!!! If that is how it's going to me, F them!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      CrushU (profile), 29 Jan 2020 @ 9:12am

      Re:

      What's funny to me is that Tetris is one of the first things an aspiring programmer implements as their first game. It's a fundamental game in many ways. So there's also billions of clones of Tetris.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    techdirt, 28 Jan 2020 @ 3:21am

    I don't know why people even bother going through official channels to buy shit from companies who are going to throw them under the bus as soon as the cash changes hands. Just pirate it and be done with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 7:17am

      Re:

      Very difficult to argue against this point as what they are doing is committing fraud.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Avatar28 (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 10:42am

      Re:

      Well in this particular case, it's rather difficult to impossible to pirate it. You can jailbreak your phone (maybe) but that's really about the only option.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 10:45am

        Re: Re:

        Agreed. Free-To-Play games can't be pirated. You could illegally obtain virtual currency, but that's all you can do in these FTP games.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        bobob, 29 Jan 2020 @ 1:27pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 4:10am

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

    • I don't own what I don't buy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    jilocasin, 28 Jan 2020 @ 5:52am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 7:06am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McKay (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 7:33am

    EA loves to do this

    My kids like plants vs zombies, but all of their new games all state that they require an Internet connection. But heat they really mean is a connection to EA's servers that aren't going to be up forever. I'm not going to rent these games for $60. Or even $20.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 8:08am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 10:28am

      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".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Matt Brubeck, 28 Jan 2020 @ 1:13pm

      Re: To be fair…

      EA is shutting down two apps: Tetris Blitz, which is free-to-play, and Tetris Premium, which is not. Tetris Premium is a "purchased" app.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 1:25pm

        Re: Re: To be fair…

        Ah, so Mr. Geigner is not completely wrong. I guess I owe him an apology.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        bhull242 (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 2:08pm

        Re: Re: To be fair…

        I guessed that Tetris Premium was a separate app, though I wasn’t sure if there was a third app just called “Tetris”. My intention was to talk about any Tetris-related apps that were being removed and were FtP, including Tetris Blitz but obviously excluding Tetris Premium..

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 10:43am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 1:31pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 3:53pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 28 Jan 2020 @ 4:32pm

    Welcome to the future. It won't be long before all games for all platforms are treated like this. Sadly people have been conditioned to just accept it for pretty much all digital content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 4:40pm

      Re:

      Well, most of my PC-game-buying habits are with GOG and itch.io, and this move has only reinforced my resolve to maintain those two stores as my stores of choice and only use steam when I need to.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 4:44pm

    Re: 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)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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