Buying games online: are you actually renting it or do you own it?

By Kin Boon on Mar 24, 2017

Image credit: Good Games Glasgow
Image credit: Good Games Glasgow

The debate of buying games online vs getting the physical copy has been ongoing ever since video games flooded the digital market for commercial consumption. There are a lot of arguments to counteract the positives of getting a digital copy, such as non-refundable policies (you can actually get a refund, but it’s definitely harder and more complicated as compared to physical copy refunds), no trade-in value, and heavy reliance on internet bandwidth, but the most compelling argument of all is the concept of ownership. This question might not have crossed the mind of most gamers, but it’s worthwhile to think whether we are actually owning the games that we bought online or we are just renting them.

Buying a physical copy of a game gives consumers a license to own that particular piece of physical media, allowing you to resale it, trade with another game, or you can even give it away for free, as long as you are not breaching any multimedia laws such as making pirated copies. However, if you choose to buy a digital game, your rights are limited under the agreement between you and the console developer, such as Sony and Microsoft. This means you technically don’t own the rights to the digital titles that you bought, allowing the developers to revoke it with ease. An account suspension or a server crash is all it takes to cut off access to your collections, unless you stored them in a hard disk. With that said, you are still at the mercy of the developers, especially in this age where cyber-attacks can happen to the biggest of companies. This shouldn’t be the case if you are paying the full price for a digital game, albeit they are slightly cheaper than physical copies.

So this begs the question again, are you actually owning the games you bought online or you are renting them? The game rental system have undergone a slight evolution over the years, but the basics are still the same, pay a minimal fee and you’ll be given access to a particular game for a predetermined period of time. Of course, buying digital games gives you “permanent” access to them, but who’s to say that your online data or even your account can be preserved forever? With that said, we can expect the gaming companies to protect their customers’ interest to the best of their ability, but as I’ve mentioned above, we have to place a lot of faith in their competence.

Such a thought wouldn’t have an adverse effect on the video games industry, since most consumers are accustomed to the fact that you can buy digital or physical copies of a game, and both of them has their own pros and cons. And besides, the digital sector of video games consumption is not dying anytime soon, but it’s still a worthy thought for gamers to think about before making a commitment to creating a full digital games library. Personally, I prefer to get digital titles just because they are cheaper than physical copies, so I just have to trust the “pseudo-rental” system and hope for the best.

Kin Boon
About the Author
Just your 'average' media newbie. Have interest in gaming (duh), superhero series, and I enjoy getting engage in conversations about footy. With that said, slight biasedness might be present if we are talking about Chelsea FC. Hope to see the world with my own pair of eyes in the future instead of viewing it through Instagram or Snapchat filters.
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