Games that vanish from Steam should have a Netflix-style countdown timer

At the weekend during an audit of all the crap I've accumulated over the years, I found an old review copy of Deadpool on Xbox 360 that I pondered throwing out. It's not my favourite superhero game by any means, but I like knowing I can play it on my increasingly broken-sounding old Xbox if I want to. Especially as I forgot to buy the game it vanished from Steam for a second time in 2017. I probably won't play Deadpool again, but having the option in 2019 would obviously be nice.

Games disappear from Steam for all kinds of reasons, like music rights or licences expiring. Sometimes you find out early enough to buy the game before it's delisted (it might even get relisted if you're lucky), while other times you don't

On streaming services like Netflix, you get a warning when a series or film is going to vanish. Using Netflix on desktop, if you click 'details', you'll get an availability option in the menu that'll tell you if something is about to expire, as well the date it'll disappear. Sometimes you'll get the warning in the corner while you're watching something, too. It's a really handy message that helps the viewer decide how to prioritise their viewing. Steam would benefit from that extra layer of transparency. 

See the right-hand column. I don't know what Goat is. Is it about a goat?

When a game's about to expire due to licensing reasons, or whatever else leads to a game being pulled offline, it would be super useful if you could see a similar message on the game's Steam page. Obviously, the onus is on the publisher or developer to communicate that the game is going to disappear—but it's surely to their benefit that this information is shared. It could lead to a rally of last-minute purchases, and a new surge of interest in the game. 

This ideally wouldn't happen just a few days or a weekend before, either. If a game's being delisted in a month or three months, that's well worth knowing, too. 

Some standardised process for communicating this would be really useful, I think. Maybe there are contractual reasons this sort of information can't always be shared—if that's the case, it's unnecessarily secretive. It's good for everyone involved to have some notice. 

As it stands, I don't think enough is done to explain why games disappear from Steam or other retailers. It seems obviously linked to licences in the case of something like Deadpool, Transformers or the James Bond games. But why did 2006's Prey vanish, for example? When Mafia was removed from Steam for many years before reappearing in 2017, was it because of music rights? How about the original Grand Theft Auto? Will no one think of the tie-in game to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs?

Instead, these things just get debated on Steam forums for years after, and people look to key resellers to find the games instead (there's a big list of the titles removed from Steam here). To Remedy's credit, when Alan Wake was pulled in 2017, they told people it was due to expiring music licences. When Fallout changed owners, the classic games were temporarily free on GOG before they were delisted, which was a terrific gesture. 

Steam could benefit from how Netflix relays this kind of information. The more people know, the better decisions they can make. In the case of Deadpool, admittedly, being pulled from Steam arguably just stopped me spending money on a game I'd probably never pick up again. Perhaps only having five days' notice saved me cash in this case. 

But it'd be comforting to know it was there in case I changed my mind. 

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.