Last week I wrote an article denouncing DRM – which at this point in history is about as controversial as denouncing asbestos – so this week I thought I’d talk about something which, to date, has received very little attention, but which I think is almost as important as the DRM debate. I’m talking about download limits.
This is obviously something which only applies to digital distribution. When you go to a store and buy a physical copy of a game, that disc should last you a lifetime. But when you buy a game digitally, you have to worry about what happens if your hard drive dies. If digital distribution is going to succeed, then customers need to be able to rest assured that their investment will not be lost a few years down the road.
We think that’s important, so when you buy a game from us, you can rest assured that we will never force you to buy a game when you’ve already purchased it before.
This policy hasn’t always been easy for us to uphold. We have orders dating all the way back to 1998, and we’ve gone through several online stores during that period. The transition between these stores hasn’t always been seamless and we’ve spent a lot of time over the years looking up old orders and recovering downloads for customers who had thought they’d lost them. With our newest system, you should be able to retrieve your downloads as long as:
A: You can remember the email address and password you used to place your order (assuming you didn’t place your order through one of our older stores that didn’t ask you to set a password).
B: You still have access to the email address you used to place you order, in which case you can reset your password here.
Of course, lots of people have lost access to their old email addresses over the years, so we’re still going to have to spend time manually retrieving downloads for older orders, but it if keeps our customers happy, we think it’s worth it. If you fall in this category, feel free to email me personally with your order details, and I'll fix your account for you.
The importance of download limits was made clear to me when I started shopping at other sites. (Yes, it's hard to believe, but sometimes I like to play games made by other people.) I discovered that it’s fairly common for sites to limit you to three days worth of downloads, or to limit you to three downloads, period. I’ve even seen sites that limit you to one (one!) download! I dread the thought of the hoops one might have to jump through if your single download had failed!
There’s an even more sinister scheme in place at some stores. I’m talking about the concept of so-called ‘Download Insurance’ or ‘Extended Download Service’. Before we started running our own store, one of the services which we used to sell our games was guilty of this little bit of fraud. In fact, they still are guilty of it, which is one of the reasons we stopped using them.
"Download Insurance" works like this: normally you’re only allowed to download your file for 60 days after purchase, but if you spend $8 extra, they’ll “keep a back-up copy of your digital file” for an extra 2 years.
Of course, it's all a lie. It's not like they'll actually delete your digital file — or even any of your order details — regardless of whether or not you pay the $8 extra. When they revoke your access, it's not for any practical reasons; it's a completely artificial limitation, and calling it "Extended Download Service" is all just smoke and mirrors to try to justify forcing you to pay for something that doesn’t really exist.
The justification many use is that we do have to pay for bandwidth. Every time one of our customers re-downloads a game from us, we have to pay for the bandwidth they used in the process. But consider how many customers download a game demo and never buy the game. This is called the ‘conversation rate’, and most stores only see one game sold for every 100 demos downloaded. So why should we be afraid of letting that one paying customer use our bandwidth, when we’re letting 100 customers use our bandwidth for free?
When I ask people what they think about digital distribution, the most common worry always seems to be that if you buy a game digitally, you'll lose it somewhere down the line. It’s a very valid concern, but we’re committed to proving that digital distribution can be a safe way to buy your games.