An Open Letter to Ross Scott of "Stop Killing Games"

Hey Ross,

I'm a long time viewer of yours. Game dungeon is my favourite series on the internet. It is how I found you. So, if for whatever reason you actually ever see this I just want to say thanks for the hours of entertainment game dungeon has given me.

More recently, your movement with Stop Killing Games has gotten my attention. I feel as if Stop Killing Games is really about predatory licensing which is not exclusive to video games. Big tech, primarily Microsoft, has been very predatory with commercial software licensing and forcing commercial software to the cloud.

As someone who is interested in open source software I do keep my eye on the news for any movements regarding unethical practices of big tech. I just wanted to share some of my concerns that I have seen arise in the commercial software space that I believe could raise issues in the future and lead to unintended consequences which might end up hurting gamers and stifling innovation if Stop Killing Games does lead to policy change.

What is important to remember is that governments are the largest consumers of software. Namely, Microsoft's largest software client is the United States government. A lot of the policy and law regarding software licensing is based off this business relationship with governments and the way that relationship interfaces. Given the dependency institutions have on commercial software, make no mistake that big tech will exploit this.

Prior to cloud computing, commercial software was like any other product. It was sold to a customer, given post-sales support where updates were pushed out or provided as customers found issues. Most of the time the licenses were a one-time use, or tied to a physical piece of hardware, which represented a user. Now with the advent of cloud based computing pretty much all commercial software has a cloud equivalent and businesses forced into cloud licenses.

The world-wide migration into the cloud has been a nightmare. The flexibility of the cloud has been a lie, which taxpayers have paid for. Microsoft have had several anti-trusts and anti-competition claims lodged against them for feature restrictions and price increases for using competitors software on their cloud services. Not just in the United States, but also Europe. As of writing this there have been no adverse findings against Microsoft in any jurisdictions.

What does this have to do with video games? Well, video games are considered software as you would know. In all honesty, minus loot-boxes and strategies to optimise engagement, what we get with video games compared to commercial software is a blessing. What companies could be doing is much worse given what is gotten away with in the commercial space. What is important to remember with video games is that they are the most purchased consumer software despite there being no legal definition difference between say Grand Theft Auto and Microsoft Office.

When we consider this its very important that you need to really define an endgame, Ross. "Stop Killing Games" is noble at heart, but the scope of what that looks like is just too broad. What I worry about is the possibility of this ending up as a worse deal for the consumer. Whether it be unintended consequences of legislative changes or distribution becoming a compliance nightmare that hurts independent games. There just really needs to be some consideration about what the other side of this looks like if something is to come of it.

As it stands currently I interpret Stop Killing Games is aiming to prevent the planned obsolescence of games. Its not as if publishers are specifically going out of their way to plug gamers from the rear – from my perspective all software is equally predatory in the current year. The method of using a central server for software to authenticate and function is such a common practice that it would more or less upheave the entire software industry if it was to change. I just can’t see that happening. Rather, I could imagine video games being legislatively singled out and further exploits happening to gamers.

I do genuinely believe that Stop Killing Games may end up hurting creators, innovation and the consumer. Whatever compliance needs to be upheld will obviously be most obtainable by AAA companies. The little guy, the AA companies and the indie developers just don’t stand a chance. Keep in mind that Stop Killing Games does target digital distribution and the nature of licensing from digital distribution more than anything else.

While the Crew is being used as the test case for this, its an egregious example within a vacuum. I can’t think of another example of a full price single player game going “offline”. It isn’t representative of the more common examples of buying a game from Steam that eventually doesn’t launch on your operating system due to not being updated, or buying an MMO that eventually goes offline due to financial issues. What is the real irony here is that demonised monetisation models or subscription services actually save games from these fates by making them financially viable for longer.

Overall, I deeply appreciate what is happening with Stop Killing Games, but I cheer it on quietly with cautious optimism. The practices that Stop Killing Games is targeting is rife in the software industry. I have legitimate fears that any policy or legislative changes brought on by Stop Killing Games may hurt games, innovation and the consumer due to new compliance obligations. Stop Killing Games needs to more clearly define an endgame as to not let unintended consequences occur that hurt gamers further. I sincerely hope this is not taken as a criticism, but rather as a perspective to encourage improvement.