Gamers seek legal win that would stop developers from rendering online games unplayable: 'It is an assault on both consumer rights and preservation of media'

Image for Gamers seek legal win that would stop developers from rendering online games unplayable: 'It is an assault on both consumer rights and preservation of media'
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Ubisoft pulled the plug on The Crew this month, rendering the 10-year-old racing game unplayable due, it said, to "server infrastructure and licensing constraints." It's hardly the first time an online game has been sent to a farm upstate by a publisher that neither wants to continue supporting it nor offer players a way to play it offline or on private servers, but rather than accept the status quo, YouTuber Ross Scott is putting up a fight.

Scott has launched a new website, Stop Killing Games, to rally opposition to the games industry's "assault on both consumer rights and preservation of media," as he puts it.

With The Crew as its prime example, the campaign directs consumers from around the world to sign petitions and submit complaints to regulatory bodies such as the DGCCRF, France's consumer protection agency. The basic legal argument is that videogames are "goods" rather than "services"—regardless of the terminology game publishers may use—and goods shouldn't be rendered inoperable by the seller after we buy them.

The most obvious legal defense for publishers is that when we buy games digitally these days, we're actually buying a conditional license to play the game—with the main condition being that the license can be revoked for any reason. Steam's subscriber agreement is explicit about this, saying that the games we buy "are licensed, not sold."

But if put in front of judges, those agreements won't necessarily hold up in every country, argues Scott. It'd be hard to get a favorable judgment in the US, but the hope of the campaign is that if one country, such as France, decides that publishers have to find a way to keep their games playable indefinitely, the industry will adopt new practices globally.

Scott isn't asking developers to operate game servers until the heat death of the universe, suggesting a compromise: When a developer has decided to stop supporting a game, it should furnish owners with some way to keep playing—usually that'd be private server support—with the understanding that some features may be lost in the transition.

There are a number of cases of unsupported online games being kept alive by players, with or without help from the original developer or publisher. Earlier this year, for example, NCsoft gave an official license to a fan-run City of Heroes server which had unofficially been keeping the defunct MMO going. At a GDC talk last month, Velan Studios director of marketing Josh Harrison urged developers to make a plan for the inevitable day they stop supporting their online games, and said that the best thing they can do is to give players private servers, as Velan did when it ended support for its competitive dodgeball game, Knockout City.

The Stop Killing Games campaign is having mixed success so far, Scott tells PC Gamer. He's seeing lots of complaints about The Crew being filed (estimated from emails he's received), but has been frustrated by the slow process of getting government petitions approved. None of them are open for signing yet, despite being submitted three weeks in advance of the campaign's launch. 

"As it stands, I'm optimistic at least one department of the French government will examine the legality of this practice, and with fingers crossed, possible French court action, and further examinations from Germany and Australia," Scott said. "Everything else is still up in the air at the moment."

Scott has been banging this drum for a while. In 2019, he posted a lengthy video on his YouTube channel in which he argued that the whole idea of "games as a service" is phony—a way for developers to avoid the responsibility of keeping their games playable after the end of official support. His new video introduction to the Stop Killing Games campaign has accrued about 200,000 views at the time of writing.

Ubisoft declined to comment on the campaign.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.