Subscriptions. A rant.

By | Monday, March 31, 2014 at 6:18 am

I am so frustrated with how things are these days with tech, services, and just about everything else.  For one example video games.  Back in the day, you could buy a video game and that was it–you could play it normally, privately, or play it online, if the game offered that feature.  There was no fee to play online, no “online pass” you had to own, and no other fees other than the purchase of the game itself.  It was the same with movies.  Buy a DVD, and you could play it anywhere, on any DVD player, on any TV.

Today, things are quickly changing.  Luckily, you can still buy DVDs, but I know that’s going to go away eventually.  The same with video games.  Everything is “going digital” and you’ll eventually only be able to obtain games, movies, and music digitally.  All of your purchases will only be for a “license to download” things, so you’ll never really “own” anything.  Stop paying a subscription fee, and you lose access to everything you had access to with that subscription.   We will soon “own” none of our media, and we’ll only have a temporary license to play it.

Whether that’s a good thing or bad, I guess, is up to you.  Maybe I’m “old school”, but I prefer to have something physical for what I pay for.  Whether that’s a DVD, a Blu-Ray, a Music CD, or a game disc.  As far as I’m concerned, I own that disc, music, or game, and I can install or play it wherever and whenever I want, and not have to pay anything for it ever again.  At this point in this “revolution”, however, I’m a bit stuck in the middle with this stuff.  By that, I mean I now prefer the convenience that comes with having everything digital, but I hate the idea of having to pay a constant monthly fee for the right to access them.  To this end, I have found an efficient way to extract–or, as they call it these days, “rip”–all of my CDs, DVDs, and BluRay discs to media files, so I have everything readily-available, all the time, from my computer, and I can move any of them to any of my portable devices as I want to, without having any extra fees to pay. Ever.

I took this convenience one step further recently after discovering “Plex”, an awesome media platform that allows me to have ALL of this media on a “server” of my own, then stream it, totally free, to any device or other computer I want–even to my TV.  Plex works great, supports all the major formats for music and movies, has apps for all of the smartphone types, and even has apps for all of the set-top boxes like Roku, Google TV, etc.

The latest generation of game consoles (Playstation 4, X-Box One) recently took a very bold step into the fee-based cesspool:  They released both systems as non-backward-compatible!  This means that everyone who has a Playstation 3, or X-Box 360 (the generation of consoles that came out right before them) will no longer be able to play their previously-purchased games on the new consoles.  All of the money that I–and hundreds of thousands of other people–spent buying great PS3 games before, will basically be wasted when our PS3 consoles eventually die or break down.  If we’re lucky, when that happens we might be able to dig up an old, working PS3 somewhere just to keep our came collection viable.  But we know, soon enough, it’ll all be gone.

Now, if a particular game you like was popular enough on the PS3, and the developer is still around and developing for the PS4, you might see a PS4 version of your game made available, but you can sure bet you’ll be paying for it again if you want to play it!  It might have a “cheap $9.99 UPGRADE fee”, but you’ll be paying for it again, regardless.  Games of this type can be found in the “PS3/PS4” section of the Playstation Store on the PS4…And this is a very small section.  The titles here are games that are PS4 versions with equivalent PS3 titles.  If you own one of the PS3 versions and upgraded to the PS4, you’re lucky enough to be allowed to pay for your game again!  I guess we’re supposed to feel good about having to pay for our games a second time…?  You bought the game once though, why should you have to pay ANYTHING for it again?!?!  I know, I know, the developers worked hard to provide the new version, and they have to get paid, etc., etc., But don’t they get enough from the users who buy the game new, who obviously pay double or triple the price of the “upgrade”?  Obviously, the “upgraders” are getting the same version of the game, so the developers can afford to sell a copy of the game for the lower price if they want to.  Ah, but remember now, that “upgraded” copy of the game is now only a “license” to the game… it’s not a physical disc copy of the game.  So you can never re-sell it to anyone else, and I’m sure, by the time the NEXT generation of consoles comes out, it’ll be completely worthless.

Movies are also moving quickly toward this path.  Services like Netflix, Hulu and Redbox already off vast collections of thousands of great movies and TV shows, with everything they offer available to you all at once, for just a low monthly subscription fee.  It’s like having your very own Plex server, except with thousands more movies (but no music–those would be another, completely different subscription service), except that, as soon as you stop paying the monthly fee, it’s snatched away from you completely, and you have nothing.  You own nothing.  I know, I’m old-school.  I’m just ranting.

So these days, as we work hard to earn the money to pay down and eliminate all of our debt, finally getting financially stable, and able to pay our mortgage, gas & electric, cell phone and property taxes to keep living normally, we can add to that a half dozen or even a dozen perpetual subscription fees that will never end, for all kinds of things that we’ll never own.  For me, I’m trying to get by with as few subscription services as I can, as most other people probably are, but as the new game consoles prove, it’s only going more and more–quickly– in that direction.

If you do the math for the subscription scenario, then compare it to the math to actually buy all of the DVD, BluRays, and Music CDs as well as the hardware required to build your own streaming server, sure, you’re going to find that paying the monthly subscription fee will end up costing you thousands of dollars less in the long run, and will take tons less time to build, maintain, and keep up than your own server would.  But then again, I’m a geek who enjoys such things, so taking that time and extra effort is something I’d rather do with a chunk of my time instead of just being twice the couch potato and watch movies for two-thirds of my day.

Rant complete.

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