You Don’t Own What You Buy: The Tetris Edition

In the convoluted realm that has become copyright, licensing agreements, and SaaS-style everything, we've had something of a running series of posts that focus on the bewildering concept that we no longer own what we buy. Between movies simply being disappeared, features on gaming consoles being obliterated via firmware update, and entire eBook platforms simply ceasing to work, the benefits of handing over very real dollars have never been more fleeting.

This has been ingrained to the point of public reaction to this sort of thing amounting to that of placid cattle being shown the slaughter room. So, when Electronic Arts alerted those that purchased its iOS Tetris game that, surprise, this game is just going to not work any longer soon, public outcry wasn't even on the menu.

Players opening either game on their iOS devices are now greeted with a pop-up message that’s also included in the “What’s New” section of both Tetris Premium and Tetris Blitz’s listings in the iOS App Store warning them that the countdown on each title has officially begun:

Hello Fans,

We have had an amazing journey with you so far but sadly, it is time to say goodbye. As of April 21, 2020, EA’s Tetris® app will be retired, and will no longer be available to play. Kindly note that you will still be able to enjoy the game and use any existing in-game items until April 21, 2020. We hope you have gotten many hours of enjoyment out of this game and we appreciate your ongoing support. Thank you!

Hey, thanks for buying our game and, great news, you'll get to play what you bought just a little while longer, mmkay bye! Gamers, at this point, are quite used to beloved games suddenly being unsupported after a few years, meaning that the game won't be updated, won't work on modern operating systems, and might not have an active online gamer platform when support runs out. What's less common is for the game to have been constructed in a way that is completely unplayable, full stop, when the publisher flicks a switch.

So why is this happening in this case? Well, because EA doesn't actually own Tetris. It just licenses the title to publish games. And, The Tetris Company has entered into a new licensing agreement for exclusive mobile game publishing with a different company.

Last year, The Tetris Company, Inc. and N3TWORK announced a multi-year agreement where N3TWORK will be the exclusive developer and publisher of new Tetris® games for mobile devices worldwide, excluding China. EA’s announcement that it will retire its Tetris®, Tetris® Premium and Tetris® Blitz games as of April 21 is a result of this agreement.

The Tetris brand continuously aims to bring fans game experiences that are fresh, innovative and fun. We are excited about these new changes for Tetris on mobile and plan to share more news with fans very soon.

All of which I imagine is lost on the average person who bought EA's Tetris games, thinking that buying them meant they owned them. Can you imagine asking the average gamer if they would have made that same purchase if they realized that their game might simply disappear and cease to work if the Tetris people decided on a new licensing agreement with a different publisher?

This is a mess and it's probably time for consumer groups to look into some kind of consumer protection rules that would either prevent this sort of thing or, more likely, make notifying buyers that they aren't actually buying the product more prominent than some subsection paragraph buried in a EULA.



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