I’ve recently purchased a couple of games from Valve Software’s Steam service.  The service is enormously convenient – a good selection of games, constant stream of special offers, and they make it ridiculously easy to spend.  All well and good.

After a while I started to think about the fact that should the day come when Steam goes out of business, my purchased games go Poof! – as if I had never owned them.  This is because the purchased games themselves are contained within the Steam infrastructure – they are DRM-protected content that I will not be able to access without Steam.

This isn’t new, and we can see this all around us.  Kindle books are tied to Amazon’s device, and can’t be retrieved should Amazon goes out of business.  There are lots of ebooks sold today that are also encrypted in one of the many available DRM-enabled ebook formats (i.e. Microsoft Reader’s LIT, Mobipocket’s .mobi, encrypted .pdf files, etc).  In fact, my ebooks encrypted in the MS Reader format cannot be opened as there’s a problem with the activation process on my Windows Mobile smartphone.  Until recently, music purchased via iTunes cannot be played without the iPod (Apple has not too long ago made the majority of their music files unencumbered with DRM).

This makes me a little nervous.  One could argue I wouldn’t care about the games I’ve purchased by the time Valve goes out of business.  But if they were items which I owned, then at least I had the option to give it to someone, or archive it.

This brings to memory an XKCD strip that struck a chord with me: it’s meaningless to purchase a complete collection of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series on the Kindle.

The only thing that doesn’t come with DRM are actual physical commodities, e.g. dead-tree version of books.  I’ve not sunk in money in this area yet, but the pull is quite irresistible.  Especially for that perpetually-absent-from-storefronts copy of Hemann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game.

Ok, rambling over.