In a twist that would impress even the most skilled wizard at Hogwarts, Sony recently pulled off a disappearing act with hundreds of Discovery shows in the PlayStation digital store, much to the dismay of the muggles who had paid for them. This sleight of hand brings us back to the muggle world, where the rules of digital ownership are being subtly rewritten.
The title of this article, “The Only Way to Own Anything in the Future is to Steal It,” though clearly tongue-in-cheek, points to an underlying truth about the transient nature of digital ownership. The PlayStation incident has been a reality check for consumers, akin to discovering that the Room of Requirement is suddenly off-limits just when you need it most. Sony’s decision to remove already purchased content over licensing issues serves as more than just an inconvenience; it’s a critical lesson in the often overlooked terms of digital purchases. Unlike a physical book or DVD, which once bought, is yours to keep, digital content remains subject to the whims of its providers. This incident not only frustrates users but also challenges our understanding of what it means to “own” something in the digital era.
This story, therefore, isn’t solely about Sony’s actions or the PlayStation community’s reaction. It’s reflective of a larger trend in our digital-heavy lifestyle. As we increasingly download books, movies, and games, it’s crucial to recognize that in the digital world, the line between owning and renting is as blurred as the boundary between the magical and non-magical worlds. But are kids nowadays leaning towards buying digital games, or are they asking Santa for physical game media? Surprisingly, the answer, according to recent market research, leans more towards neither. There is a significant shift in the gaming preferences of the younger generation, one that diverges from traditional desires for tangible game copies.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has brought to light that a large portion of holiday wish lists from kids aged 10 to 17 in the U.S. are filled with video game-related items. However, digging deeper into these preferences unveils a rather intriguing trend: these young gamers are showing less interest in new physical games. Their focus is instead on digital currencies and subscriptions. This trend reflects a growing appetite for ongoing, evolving gaming experiences, contrasting sharply with the notion of a one-time purchase of a physical game.
- Video Game-Related Gifts: 72% of requests from kids in the U.S.
- Game Subscriptions: Most requested at 39%.
- In-Game Currency: Second most desired at 29%.
- Physical Video Games: Trailing behind at just 22%.
This paradigm shift is largely propelled by the rising popularity of ‘forever games’ like Roblox, Fortnite, and Grand Theft Auto Online. These games are regularly updated and foster strong community ties, making them more attractive than acquiring new, stand-alone games. The younger generation is increasingly embracing a digital-first mindset, where ownership is less about holding a physical product and more about accessing and participating in ever-evolving digital worlds. This change in perception, quite different from the concerns highlighted by the Sony PlayStation incident, underscores a generational divide in the ways digital content is valued and consumed.
The implications of digital ownership and control extend far beyond gaming, affecting various aspects of our digital lives including streaming services and even areas as unexpected as farm equipment. One illustrative example from the streaming world involves the Google Pixel 5, which encountered a bug with Google’s Widevine DRM (Digital Rights Management) platform. This bug led to the phones only playing back Netflix videos in standard definition, rather than the HD and HDR10 quality that users expected. The issue arose from authentication issues and allowing HD and HDR playback for streaming services like Netflix. This problem appeared to be exacerbated by a security update, though the direct connection was not clearly established. This situation highlights a broader concern about DRM systems and digital rights. Companies use DRM to prevent unauthorized sharing of content, often by limiting higher-quality versions of media to more secure devices. However, this can result in unintended consequences for consumers, as seen in the Pixel 5 case, where users temporarily lost access to the quality of content they expected.
The issue goes beyond mere inconvenience; it underscores the fragile nature of digital ownership and access. Consumers often find themselves at the mercy of technology and policies over which they have little control, highlighting a growing need for more robust and consumer-friendly digital rights management systems. This trend isn’t just confined to entertainment and media. It’s increasingly seen in other sectors like agriculture, where farmers face restrictions due to software locks on their equipment, limiting repairs and modifications. The overarching theme is the same: in a digital-first world, control and ownership are often dictated by providers and manufacturers, leaving consumers and users in a precarious position regarding their purchased products and services.
The issues surrounding digital ownership and control in gaming, streaming, and other sectors are contributing to a worrying trend: the rise in online piracy. Digital content piracy has seen a significant increase. In 2022, there was about a 39% increase in pirating films and a 9% rise in visits to piracy websites for TV shows compared with 2021. This trend is not expected to slow down but to continue rising throughout 2023. This increase in digital piracy is a major concern for the industry, impacting revenues and the livelihoods of creators, especially smaller, independent ones. The US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center reported that piracy costs the US film and TV industry between $29 billion and $71 billion annually. Factors contributing to this rise include economic pressures and changes in the digital content landscape.
In 2022, several streaming platforms, like Netflix and Disney Plus, increased their prices. Netflix also announced measures to crack down on password sharing after reporting a significant subscriber loss. These changes, coupled with the inherent limitations of digital rights management and ownership controls, as seen in the examples of the Sony PlayStation issue, DRM problems with devices like the Google Pixel 5, and restrictions in other sectors, are making legitimate access to digital content more challenging and less appealing.
Research suggests that making content cheaper and more accessible is a more effective way to combat piracy than implementing new laws and regulations. A study by the New Zealand-based Vocus Group NZ found that 57% and 48% of people believed that lower prices and easier access could help stop piracy, compared to only 33% and 22% who thought punitive measures would be effective.
These findings indicate a need for a shift in how digital content is priced and accessed. As the landscape of digital ownership becomes increasingly complex and restrictive, there’s a growing demand for more consumer-friendly approaches that balance the interests of creators with the rights and needs of consumers. The rise in piracy serves as a clear indicator that current strategies may be pushing consumers towards alternative, unauthorized means of accessing content.
In the context of these digital ownership challenges, from gaming to streaming and beyond, my work in Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship takes on a heightened significance. As a learning futurist, I am committed to educating the next generation for a better digital future, leveraging my roles at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, MAVR Research Group, and various other initiatives.
My focus on immersive learning design, digital citizenship, and the ethics of technology directly addresses the complexities and nuances of digital rights and ownership. As digital content becomes increasingly ephemeral and controlled by DRM and other restrictive mechanisms, the importance of understanding and navigating these digital landscapes becomes paramount. By educating and empowering the next generation with the skills and knowledge to navigate these challenges, my work contributes to fostering a digitally literate and ethically aware society, capable of making informed decisions and advocating for fair digital practices. This approach is crucial in guiding the transition to a future where digital ownership and access are balanced with the rights and needs of all users.