A Reminder That You’re Just Renting Those Digital Games
Some of your favorite games are disappearing from the App Store. But at this point, can you say you weren’t warned?
Back in the old days of Game|Life, before I was so jaded and resigned to our dystopian future, I went almost apoplectic at the news that Microsoft was considering “delisting” some of the games in the Xbox 360’s digital store. First and foremost, I thought it was a bad way of doing business; “shelf” space in a digital marketplace being infinite, you don’t need to remove games to make room for others. But what was quite bothersome about it was the very idea that Microsoft was going to remove games, making it impossible to purchase them outside of a certain window after having already made it impossible to back them up once purchased.
Were consumers going to accept this? Oh, boy, did we! Just two months after the “delisting” brouhaha began, Apple launched the App Store. On the one hand, it embraced philosophies that were quite contrary to Microsoft’s micro-management of its digital store: In 2008, Microsoft believed the 130 different titles available on Xbox Live Arcade were far too confusing; Apple today has slightly more at 1.5 million.
On the other hand, the odds that your favorite game would be sent down the memory hole improved substantially, as software makers could now list and delist apps with impunity. This week, with apps running into compatibility issues with iOS 9, many publishers started doing just that—temporarily, they said, until they work out the bugs. But what seems to be happening is those delisted apps no longer appear in users’ purchase histories, meaning you can’t download them again, even if you’ve already paid for them.
As I write this, there is some confusion over what’s going on here. Pocket Gamer reports that Apple UK said it was intentional. But Touch Arcade says its US Apple contact said that there has been no policy change. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. All your apps are toast.
Well, in the long long run, the sun goes supernova. So let me revise: In the short run, all your apps are toast: Eventually, some massive platform shift will render all 1.5 million apps on the App Store incompatible with the hot new phone, and eventually it will make total sense for Apple to shut down the whole thing. But nobody promised you permanence.
It’s enough to make one think that permanence was a bug, not a feature, of traditional media, at least from the standpoint of those who made and sold it; wouldn’t it be nice if you could just explode all existing copies of a book and replace them with a new version, once the old version’s existence starts to become a problem? (Or replace them with nothing?)
We can’t stop digital products from disappearing, and it’ll probably start happening en masse sooner than we imagine. (How long is Nintendo gonna keep that Wii Shop running?) This is why, to name one prominent example, Jason Scott at the Internet Archive is one of the most important people in videogames today, since he’s currently scraping mountains of floppy disks in an attempt to preserve every piece of computer software ever written by every two-bit fly-by-night organization.
The more daunting task might be attempting to preserve every app written for the App Store—not just the good ones, but everything, even the crap you don’t ever want to redownload. I saw this “joke” on Twitter today:
The year is 2025 & retro game hipsters scour buckets of ancient 3GSs at flea markets looking for installs of Drop 7. http://t.co/LdWYACmNKy
— Zak McClendon (@ZakMcc) October 7, 2015
But of course this is literally our future.