Several years ago, there was a story about iTunes involving an audio engineer. He turned on his computer one day to discover all his music and audio samples were gone. Instead, iTunes had added their equivalents to his account. So instead of having a copy of a song saved on his computer, he had permission to stream and re-download said song from iTunes. This came with several problems.
Right off the bat, samples/ques/parts that he himself had developed were gone. Most deleted, and some replaced with permissions to use similar sounding (though not identical) ones.
He also had everything saved in high quality WAVs. This was both for work, and for his personal music collection. However, iTunes exclusively works with MP3s. Which are great for shoving a lot of songs onto one device or CD, but not as high quality.
On a personal level, he had a rare studio recording of a band working on an upcoming song. That recording was deleted and replaced with the official CD release version of the track.
When he called Apple to ask what had happened, he was told “this isn’t a bug, this is a feature.” Apple reserves the rights to delete your music (and in this case audio files period,) and replace it with permissions to stream/download it from iTunes. Thankfully, he had backups. He uninstalled iTunes, restored everything, and shared his story as a warning.
Fast forward several years.
A little while back, Sony shut down the PS store’s ability to remotely download games onto the PS3 and Vita. Most likely to simplify things for the PS4/5. It was a convince feature, but hardly fatal. However, several months after that, it was announced that Sony would be shutting down the PS3 and Vita stores all together. Anything you had ownership of you could re-download, but nothing new could be purchased.
This creates two major issues. The first is around patches/DLC. If I lend my friend Ratchet and Clank into the Nexus, will they be able to download the patch that fixes one of the side-quests? What about Metal Gear Solid 4 and the patch that let’s you install all chapters at once? Or Bayonetta and the patch that fixed the game ruining lag that it shipped with? If someone buys the disk for a fighting game, will they be able to buy the DLC characters or costumes?
The second and much bigger issue is game preservation. There many many digitally exclusive games for the PS3 and Vita. Not to mention games that are hard to find by disk, but can still be purchased digitally. Outside of pirating, these games would be lost forever. When looking into this, I was shocked to find how many download exclusives the Vita has. It’s hardware is really easy to develop for, and even still had updates as recently as 2020.
Sony eventually revered their decision. But in the process, another problem came to light.
In an attempt to stop cheaters, the trophy system for the PS4 is tied to the internal clock. However, the CMOS battery that powers that part has a shelf-life of 10 years. If that runs out, the system will need the PlayStation network to check the time. If your battery dies, and the PlayStation network no longer supports the PS4, the system can’t load trophies. Unfortunately, you then you get locked out of playing games period. People tested this by removing the CMOS battery and trying to load games without being online. The system complained it couldn’t load trophies, and kicked the player back to the main menu. Without a patch, this would mean every PS4 not connected to the internet will eventually become unusable as a game system (you could still play Blu-Rays.) If the PlayStation network stopped recognizing PS4s, then your $400 gaming system will become a paperweight.
Moving away from gaming, there is an advertising company in the UK called Mirriad. They’ve developed a technology for music videos that identifies unused space, and inserts advertisements. This can be anything from a billboard, poster, or even adding a table with a product sitting on it. They’ve also been working on technology to “deep fake” adds into old movies, using The Great Escape (1963) as test example. The theoretical endgame for this technology could see movie companies like Disney and Netflix shooting movies and TV shows with blank cans and posters, only to have adds inserted (and changed) in post. One week, a show could have the characters drinking Coke while talking next to an iPhone billboard. The next week, that same scene has them drinking Dr. Pepper while next to a poster of an upcoming movie.
It’s the endgame for advertisers. The ability to sell permissions has much longer term profit then selling products. If you buy a music CD or movie, the company has no way to know that, but if you stream that same content from them, the company can advertise similar products to you. Tracking what we consume has become more important to companies and advertisers then selling us a product.
Gaming has a similar problem in terms of how it’s consumed. Companies want to move to digital to cut out the middle man of stores. But it creates a commitment that we’ve seen they don’t want to uphold long term. Many years ago, EA Games shut down the servers to the always online game Darkspore. Everyone who had legitimate purchased the game was now locked out of it. It was a small number of players, but the point was they had bought a product that no longer worked through no fault of their own. This wasn’t an MMO with online servers, it was DRM for a instanced multiplayer game that could be played singleplayer. EA was forced to make a patch to allow the game work work offline, or pay quite an amount to everyone who currently, and may ever own the game. A similar problem happened with Gears Of War for the PC. The DRM expired, and you had to go to the main website to download a patch to get the game working again.
We’ve been seeing a growing concern among people with what companies and advertisers know about you. Targeted adds and emotional manipulation is causing real problems in the world, and influencing the direction of technological advancement. Companies also want to control what media you consume in general, and in what way. But the solution, at least as far as escapism, is straight-forward.
Own your entertainment. Buy physical whenever possible. Disks of all types are still being made. And if something is dependent on online, make sure you know in what way*. I have a huge library of movies, TV shows, and games. By indisputably owning these pieces of entertainment, I can access them whenever I want, while also preserving them in their current state. The makers can’t suddenly take away my permission to do so, add advertisements to it, or remove “problematic” scenes. There are many copies of The Professional, but this one is mine and uncut.
Buy physical, own your entertainment.
*Steam, for all it’s problems, has a master code in place that will allow the app and all your games to function without ever needing to check in on the sever (presumably behind some nuclear style 2 key system.) And Valve has promised to deploy this should the Steam store ever be shut down.