Video game publishers are officially opposing an effort to revive online games after their servers have shut down.
It’s not uncommon for publishers to pack up their server support for older games, effectively killing their multiplayer (or sometimes single-player) components. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is seeking an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act so that hackers can modify the code for these games and reconnect them with third-party servers. The U.S. Copyright Office evaluates these exemption requests every three years.
But in comments to the U.S. Copyright Office, the Entertainment Software Association argues that the proposal is far too broad, and would harm video game publishers by opening the door to more piracy. “The proposed exemption would jeopardize the availability of these copyrighted works by enabling—and indeed encouraging—the play of pirated games and the unlawful reproduction and distribution of infringing content,” the ESA wrote in its public comments.
Why this matters: The issue of keeping game servers alive is becoming increasingly important, as many new games require an Internet connection even for solo play. Activision’s hit game Destiny, for instance, will not work offline, even though it has an extensive single-player campaign. If you want to revisit the game in 10 years, there’s no guarantee it’ll actually work, so the EFF wants the ability to circumvent copyright so players can keep enjoying what they paid for.
Got ‘em on a technicality
While gamers should be sympathetic to what the EFF is trying to accomplish, the counter-argument from publishers brings up some compelling points.
For starters, the EFF wants its exemption to apply to all kinds of gaming devices, from mobile phones to video game consoles to PCs. But as the ESA points out, running a console game with tweaked code would require users to hack or “jailbreak” their consoles, and console jailbreaking itself is not exempt from Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The EFF tried and failed to get an exemption for console jailbreaking in 2012, and while it’s trying again in 2015, there’s no guarantee this effort will succeed.
The ESA also points out several technical issues with the proposal. For instance, the lines between basic multiplayer games and large-scale MMOs are blurring, and the EFF is only seeking an exemption for the former, creating confusion as to which games would actually be hackable.
To be fair, the ESA makes some bogus claims of its own. It argues, for instance, that multiplayer gaming isn’t “a ‘core’ functionality of the video game” because it often relies on a separate online service such as Playstation Network or Xbox Live. This is clearly wrong, as games that rely entirely on server support (such as Sony’s MAG and SOCOM: Special Forces) are now worthless, even as the online service they tapped into remains operational.
Still, game publishers interspersed some strong points that the EFF hasn’t been able to easily dismiss. (Indeed, the EFF’s response to the ESA’s public comments commits the same acts of hyperbole and misrepresentation that it accuses the game industry of using.) This issue is hardly a slam-dunk, so don’t be surprised if an exemption doesn’t happen this time around.