Over three years ago, Microsoft discontinued Xbox Live service support for the original Xbox. I hoped at the time that people would start to sit up and take notice about how tenuous digital content is, that whether you paid for it or not, it would take very little for a company to take it away, and you'd have no recourse. And people did, since Microsoft made the misstep of taking down some services a little early — although the matchmaking service was still operational, the content servers weren't, and people attempting to re-download some of their DLC for one last hurrah at playing them online, weren't able to.
Unfortunately, the notoriety didn't last, and people moved on, happy with their 360 service, and with the previous generation all but forgotten.
Now, it's time for another service to get shut down. Microsoft has announced that the Games for Windows Live service will be shut down in July of 2014.
The timing of this announcement was rather coincidental, as I had just decided to rebuild my laptop. I had not yet gotten around to installing all the games back on, but this notice was a good reminder.
Now, Games for Windows Live is not a terribly popular service, and there aren't a ton of games available for it, so I have to wonder if this will make too many people upset to begin with. But the thought of losing access to full, paid-for games really sours me on this idea of trusting some company to manage my game library.
It seems that the community in general has a pretty short memory as it is. If you read the comments on the announcement article I linked to above, there's one commenter that asks the same question I started asking as soon as the Xbox One was officially announced: "How long until the 360 XBox Live shuts down once the XBone is released?" The response from the site's "Community Manager" is just that it's "Different" and goes off on a tangent as to why shutting down Games for Windows Live is no big deal, like seeing the 360 get shut down is not an issue worth discussing. And yet, only three years ago, that issue very much came to life when the original Xbox service was shut down.
Indeed, I still hear arguments that the all-digital(-ish) Xbox One was a much better system when it was first announced. I just cannot understand that, how someone can actually be ok with letting a company decide when you're done playing and take away everything you've paid for. Anyone who argues that "they won't do that" are just putting their heads in the sand, because not only would they, they have and are doing that very thing. The best argument I've heard is that the promised "family sharing" feature, where you could share your library with up to 10 friends, was the best feature the Xbox One had, and everything else was worth it. I don't agree; I think the price they were asking for that feature was way too high, giving up way too many other things — let alone that I think the way they described that feature was way too good to be true.
As for me, I just have a few games that I now need to get moving on, if I ever want to play them again: Fallout 3 and all its expansions, Viva Piñata, Batman Arkham Asylum, the Age of Empires III collection, Microsoft Flight, and Game Room.
Part of what's kept me away from playing these games a lot so far, though, is that my laptop is my most capable machine, and that's not saying much. The last time I played Batman, I had entered a point where there was so much activity on-screen that my poor laptop was pushing maybe 5 frames per second — not the kind of performance that lends well to playing an action game. I had hoped that I would be able, some day, to have a machine capable of playing these games better, but now there seems like there's no chance of that (unless someone wants to donate to me a gaming PC within the next 11 months).
Of these games that I do have, most of them are digital downloads that I bought when the price was more worth what I felt (and what is being proven) was a lesser value. The only game I have on disc is Fallout 3 (not including the expansions, which I purchased digitally). When I installed that, though, it included the Games for Windows Live client (which Windows intercepted and redirected me to an updated version online — no telling how long that will remain available), I had to enter the 25-character key printed on a sticker inside the box (and let it activate online) when I first launched it, and the update was delivered only when I signed in to Live. It makes me wonder how functional even the disc-based games will be once the service is shut down.
As for the digital downloads, the Games for Windows Live client manages those; and although you can specify the directory it uses for downloads, they are not in a format that makes it obvious for making backups (a lot of GUID-named CAB files and TMP files). It does not seem possible, at the moment, to download any of my purchased content in order to make a backup before the service goes away and takes all my content with it.