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Overwatch (1) was a multiplayer first-person shooter video game created by Blizzard. It was released in 2016 and cost around 40€.

Earlier this year, Overwatch 1 was shut down:

  • The servers are down.
  • The game is not playable from the official Blizzard game launcher.

It has been replaced by Overwatch 2, which is considered its "sequel" by Blizzard and is free to play, but with very high-priced in-game cosmetics.

I do not understand how this is considered a legal action for the following reasons:

  • I paid 30/40 bucks for the right to own Overwatch 1 (did I?) and to play it.
  • Overwatch 1, for which I paid, is now completely unusable for me, so the service (if not the product) I have paid for is now not available
  • It is replaced by a free to play game (what happened to my 40 bucks)

While playing OW1, I earned ingame credits which allowed me to purchase cosmetics (so, basically, I got those cosmetics in exchange for my time, not for my money). Those cosmetics have been "transferred" to OW2 and they now cost an insane amount of money (something like at least 10 dollars each, and there are a lot of them (purchasable and than I unlocked in OW1)). However, as I just said, I did not purchase the cosmetics, I (think I) purchased the product and the service provided to use it.

Questions

  • Did I pay for the right to own and play Overwatch 1, or just for the right to play it?
  • Why is it legal (I assume, as they did it and I did not hear about some legal action taken to them for that) for Blizzard to shutdown completely (more like "take away from customers"?) a product and a service for which customers have paid?

PS: I used the and tags as I am French and live in France and Blizzard Entertainment is a USA company.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Nov 15, 2022 at 20:33

4 Answers 4

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I believe you have just misunderstood what you paid for.

Blizzard's End User License Agreement says:

Your use of the Platform is licensed, not sold, to you, and you hereby acknowledge that no title or ownership with respect to the Platform or the Games is being transferred or assigned and this Agreement should not be construed as a sale of any rights.

It also says:

Blizzard may change, modify, suspend, or discontinue any aspect of the Platform or Accounts at any time, including removing items, or revising the effectiveness of items in an effort to balance a Game. Blizzard may also impose limits on certain features or restrict your access to parts or all of the Platform or Accounts without notice or liability.

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    These agreements often contain unenforceable provisions. Is this part enforceable?
    – user253751
    Nov 15, 2022 at 5:11
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    @user253751 "These agreements often contain unenforceable provisions" is an unprovable generalisation, which entirely negates your question.
    – Ian Kemp
    Nov 15, 2022 at 14:16
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    @iankemp No it doesn't. His question is "Is this part enforceable?", That is answerable whether you agree with the exposition or not. Do you have an answer?
    – Edward
    Nov 15, 2022 at 20:03
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    @user253751 I would imagine that it would come down to what is reasonable. Is it reasonable for blizzard to shut down the servers 2 weeks after release? I think everyone would say no. Likewise is it reasonable to force blizzard to continue hosting the servers for 20 years? again most people would likely say no. The question lies, where exactly between those two extremes is the limit. Is 5 years for $60 enough? I would probably say that it is understandable at that stage, but also probably disappointing for a lot of people.
    – Aequitas
    Nov 16, 2022 at 4:06
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    @Aequitas Is the question for contract terms like this (or whatever the EULA is, if not a contract) reasonableness, or whether the terms are unconscionable? I'm coming from a US perspective which I know has a different legal system than France.
    – nasch
    Nov 16, 2022 at 19:00
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When it comes to (comment by usul)

"licensed, not sold" - Almost certainly they clicked a button that said "buy" or "purchase" when they paid for the game (excuse me, paid for the license). So it seems relevant whether that language was illegally misleading.

I'm certain you will find something regarding this in the EULA/TOS of the launcher/webstore that defines the wording definition. Just because a button says buy or purchase doesnt mean it refers to the product. it could just as well just mean buy "a license to access to the product" which is defined in the clause that you do not own anything.

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    Counterpoint: Just because the fine print says that X means Y, doesn’t mean it can’t (also, or instead) mean Z, based on common usage. Courts can and do rule that words mean what a reasonable person would take them to mean on the face of it, rather than a technical or situational meaning. Not saying that would happen here, simply that it could. Nov 14, 2022 at 17:13
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    In court, consumer contract law seems to be evaluated based on what a "reasonable person" would think, given the context of the contract and each participant at the time of execution. It hasn't been tested in court, but it's a well-established fact that nearly all (reasonable) people ignore the EULA/TOS and just click the button that finalizes the process. Given this common knowledge, I think eventually it will be incumbent on the seller to force the buyer to overtly prove an understanding, rather than just saying "I understand" before finalizing the agreement. ATM, I think it's all debatable.
    – Aiken Drum
    Nov 14, 2022 at 17:24
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    @AikenDrum I do understand where thats coming from, but it seems like a weird precedent. Not reading things and clicking "I agree" really is a pretty bad practice. I'm guilty of it too, but I do know what's in a typical EULA at least.
    – JMac
    Nov 14, 2022 at 19:00
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    @JMac I do too, but on the rare occasion I feel like I actually better know what's in there, I've sometimes found stuff I wouldn't have expected. It's really bad that the current system presents the user with something enormous that they probably cannot understand properly without a law degree and then expects them to abide by every letter of it. At some point, it'll come to a head and we'll get a system, maybe something conceptually like labeling laws, where most of the contract is conveyed in a standardized way and you only need to agree to any exceptions they bring up.
    – Aiken Drum
    Nov 14, 2022 at 19:03
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    @AikenDrum Though the "reasonable person" argument might backfire in OP's case, since a court might also determine that a reasonable consumer also needs to expect that an online game will not be maintained forever.
    – xLeitix
    Nov 15, 2022 at 12:45
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Yes, this is totally legal in the United States. It's probably still legal in France, despite the stronger consumer protection laws. I say that because large international companies generally have large teams of people working to ensure compliance with the rules in the jurisdictions they do business in. Sometimes they screw it up, and sometimes they deliberately flout the rules, but generally they try to stay on the right side of things, because class-action lawsuits and regulatory actions are expensive.

When you "buy a game" you are not buying the game, you are buying a license to play the game (essentially all AAA games have had that in their EULA for decades now). That license is revokable. In addition to that, in the case of a multiplayer game, it is not expected nor reasonable to expect that the company maintain the servers that enable that multiplayer experience indefinitely: you aren't paying a subscription each month but the AWS bill still comes due. Even if you are (or paying the equivalent in microtransactions), supporting that takes operational resources that they would likely prefer to spend on the shiny new thing at some point.

I totally understand that stings when something you enjoy is taken from you, and I am dreading Nintendo finally deciding to shut off the servers for a particular game I love where some of the content is gated behind online components myself. But products and services come and go. Companies come and go: if Activision Blizzard filled for bankruptcy you wouldn't have a game either. Short of games open sourcing their software, which has it's own problems, there's no real way to square this circle.

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    "there's no real way to square this circle" Sure there is - boycott anything with always-online. If you can't host the server yourself, you can't in good faith make complaints like the OP's. Sadly too few of us care enough, so it'll never change. Nov 14, 2022 at 15:05
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    "it is not expected nor reasonable to expect that the company maintain the servers that enable that multiplayer experience indefinitely." This line of reasoning is a false dilemma. Their only options are not to "charge a subscription to run indefinitely" or "shut it all down" per se. There was a tried and true (though likely not as lucrative) model where the hosting binaries were distributed with the game, so users could always host at their own expense. This is possible with current success stories still today, e.g. Minecraft.
    – ttbek
    Nov 14, 2022 at 16:12
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    @JaredSmith It has also historically worked for a great many primarily PvP online games, including many prior Blizzard hits like Starcraft, Starcraft: Brood War, Warcraft, Warcraft II, and other RTS games like Age of Empires (other developers) and Age of Empires II (still played competitively until quite recently, maybe AoEIV is moving some players now though). It is particularly MMOs that are difficult, not PvP or multiplayer. I also rarely ever see anyone playing Minecraft alone, it seems like the social interaction with friends is a major selling point.
    – ttbek
    Nov 14, 2022 at 16:34
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    As of the 1/1/2022 it appears to me that Directive (EU) 2019/770 means that the general customer guarantee law applies, requiring a minimum of 2 years between point of sale to a customer and shutdown. Nov 14, 2022 at 16:35
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    @ttbek Interestingly enough a big reason Blizzard stopped this model was it was working too good. Stracraft had professional leagues popular enough in Korea games were broadcasted on TV. Blizzard wanted to make sure in the future they were guaranteed to get a cut of that revenue stream, and a big part of that was taking control of matchmaking.
    – Chuu
    Nov 14, 2022 at 16:38
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Did I pay for the right to own and play Overwatch 1, or just for the right to play it ?

You paid for a license to the client software. Which isn't really either, but closer to the second. You don't own anything.

Why is it legal for Blizzard to shutdown completely a product and a service for which customers have paid ?

You haven't entered into any contract for that service. You may have given them money, but you didn't give them money in return for a promise that the service would be available over any given period of time. You paid for a license to the client software. Granted, that client is only useful in conjunction with the service, but:

  1. That's the way a sizable fraction (probably the majority) of online games have worked for decades,
  2. It's not reasonable to think that your one-time payment obligates them to run the servers forever, and no specific timeframe was agreed in advance,
  3. The fact that the game needs Blizzard servers to run wasn't any kind of secret,

so it's hard for anyone to claim that they didn't know what they were buying.

And, not really legal commentary here, but six and a half years is not such a bad run. Someone who bought the base game in 2016 for $40 and played until shutdown paid $0.52 per month for the privilege. They cut the price to $20 in early 2019, so someone who bought it then and played for the remaining 3.75 years paid $0.44 per month. Only those who joined in the last year or so got a particularly poor deal.

As for any in-game purchases, it's pretty much a guarantee that you paid for the enjoyment of them "as long as the service is provided", so any transfer is a bonus.

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