EA probably unleashed the biggest banhammer in the history of video games this past week. A Reddit post from user “trivial_sublime” has revealed that the publisher has blocked access to its digital distribution platform Origin for the entire country of Myanmar (and several others).
The post, which found its way to the top of Reddit yesterday, detailed one user’s complete inability to access any of his games on the service:
“I live in Myanmar, and I own about 20 games on Origin, and have spent hundreds of dollars on the platform. I’ve bought the full editions of all of the Battlefield games up to this point, with their season passes. I was trying to log into Origin a few days ago, and got a bizarre “Access Denied” message. I googled it, and found that “Origin is no longer available in Myanmar.'”
Regardless of whether or not the Origin account was started in another country, which is the case in this instance, the fact that trivial_sublime is attempting to access his account from inside Myanmar has meant that he is unable to access is games or even visit the Origin website.
trivial_sublime attempted to contact Origin’s customer services and figure out why he has been completely denied access to his games. Games which, it’s worth noting, he paid for. It took him some time but he was finally met with a dispiriting response from an Origin Champion (grammar lifted directly from quote):
“with the Origin 10 update, US laws (which is where EA is based) forced them to block certain countries. Unfortunately you live in one of those countries. I’m sorry but there is nothing we ca do here to allow you access again.”
So that’s it. In an instant everyone living in Myanmar was denied access to the games they legally purchased. Refunds have not been offered to any affected users.
EA, it seems, was quite happy to take their money while they had the chance, but now that “US law” has forced them to revoke their access, they seem equally as happy to simply cut and run with barely an apology.
I used the term “US law” in quotations because it’s not actually US law that is the problem. Or rather, it shouldn’t be. The update that has caused this problem was issued after United States President Barack Obama announced that trade sanctions would be lifted on Myanmar. These trade sanctions haven’t been in place since October 7.
While this is an absolutely ridiculous situation, it’s most likely just a mistake on the part of EA. They clearly programmed Origin Update 10 to include these restrictions in advance without taking into account the change in trade status.
Quite why they decided to enact these restrictions without warning their Myanmar-based users directly is anyone’s guess. Probably because a bunch of news sites would write about it. Keeping quiet about it and slipping out the update quietly would give EA a greater chance of avoiding the scrutiny of the Internet.
Because that’s how the Internet works.
It’s worth noting that Myanmar was not the only country affected by this update. Origin is now completely unavailable in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and the Crimean region of Ukraine.
Again, refunds or compensation do not appear to have been issued to any users in the affected areas. EA have so far not answered our requests for clarification on this point.
Of course, this issue only serves to highlight a major potential problem with digital distribution platforms such as Origin, Steam, uPlay and others – you don’t own the games you buy from these places. Not fully. Your access to them can be revoked at any time.
As trivial_sublime himself puts it:
“This is a much, MUCH bigger problem than just a few gamers in Myanmar. This highlights a crucial element of the TOS of big game companies – the money that you pay them gives you essentially nothing in return, except for an empty promise that the game company may let you play their game until they decide you can’t.”
This is one of the major problems with DRM-based storefronts. If the company running the operation goes out of business, it will take your games with it. If the country you live in is hit with trade embargoes, you won’t be able to play your games. If you’re banned from a platform, your games are gone. If Gabe Newell decides he doesn’t like you, you’ll likely lose access to your games.
Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch, but it highlights the absurd nature of the terms of service that we’ve all been forced to sign up for to actually use these storefronts.
After all, where else can you get the majority of these games?
GOG is an alternative to Steam, allowing you to buy DRM-free copies of games that you can backup and access even if the company went out of business. But it doesn’t have the library of games that Steam has. EA games can only be bought and played through Origin.
Even buying PC games on disc (which is generally cheaper in the UK than buying them through digital stores) will only give you access to these games through Steam/Origin/uPlay. Heck, some physical copies of PC games only come with a Steam redemption code in the box, offering you no protection against revoked access.
Essentially you’re renting games as opposed to buying them. The only real difference is that you don’t have to give them back after a set period of time. Rather, you’re forced to rely on the platform/developer/publisher continuing to allow you access to the game you just spent your cash on. Providing you don’t live in the wrong country.
The worst part of this equation is the lack of compensation available for the people affected. It’s not trivial_sublime’s fault that United States law “forced” EA to revoke his access to Origin. To suddenly be denied access to the games he bought legally and in good faith because of political reasons that have nothing to do with him seems highly unfair.
Perhaps instead of fighting about framerates and resolutions and which square box makes games infinitely better, we should try to spin something positive out of this mess of a situation. At the very least Origin, and other digital distribtion services that act as thinly-veiled DRM, should be pressured into inserting a clause into their Terms of Service to offer compenstation to users who lose access to their purchased video games despite not being at fault.
You’ll be doing yourself a favour. After all, you could one day find yourself on the recieving end of US trade embargoes that nullify your Steam library. Have you seen who’s running for President in the US this year?