The dangers of Steam and app stores

Buying software online through platforms like app stores is convenient, but there may be long-term consequences to keeping your installers for games and other software in the cloud.

The advent of digital distribution opened up a global marketplace to software developers, while giving end users the convenience of buying software at any time – without the worry of a store running out of stock.

It also allowed for obscure or niche games and apps that have a small audience in South Africa to obtained locally, and legally.

But what happens if your favourite digital distribution service goes dark? If one of the online game stores you use – such as GOG, Origin, or Steam – shuts down, what happens to your titles?

Additionally, what happens if a store isn’t shut down entirely, but the company decides to remove one of the titles from their catalogue?

“In all of these instances, you don’t own the software,” said Nicholas Hall, an attorney Michalsons.

“You just have a licence to use the software, and that licence can be revoked at any time. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do if they decide to stop providing that service.”

This is not alarmism – it has happened already

Using a digital distribution platform today is almost unavoidable, and even hardware that you own might be dependant on a manufacturer’s online services.

In 2009, Amazon remotely deleted copies of Orwell’s 1984 from Kindle readers because the company selling digital copies of the book did not have the rights to do so.

Mid-2008, Stardock released Impulse – a competitor to the popular online marketplace Steam. In 2011, Stardock sold Impulse to GameStop, and by 2014 the service, then known as GameStop PC Downloads, was shut down.

In 2016, Pebble was acquired by Fitbit and the companies made it clear that Pebble’s servers would be switched off. Fortunately, the companies released a patch that breaks Pebble smartwatches’ dependency on the servers.

More recently, Samsung published a remote kill switch for the Galaxy Note 7 in the form of an update that would prevent the device’s battery from charging.

When you buy digital goods or connected devices, you should place your bets carefully. Choose a digital distribution platform or manufacturer that is least likely to be shut down or mess with your purchases down the line.

Now read: What happens to your device warranty when a company closes down

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The dangers of Steam and app stores