Could a developer suddenly decide you can’t use an app anymore? EA says yes


An interesting message has popped up recently for those who purchased Rock Band on iOS. The game, published by EA, is apparently going to be unplayable the last day of this month, and it’s not by accident. In a sense, we really don’t own these apps, we’re simply licensing them. For whatever reason, EA decided that everyone’s time was up.

Since this doesn’t happen very often, the assumption is that EA’s hand is forced due to licenses expiring with the music labels who provide the music for the game. EA could always extend those licenses but it’s hard to say if they’ll be going that route. I wouldn’t worry about this becoming a common theme for the time being, but it’s unsettling nonetheless.

While it’s not completely similar, this reminds me of a post I made a while ago complaining about developers who can take paid apps off the Android market Google Play Store with no way for users to redownload the app later on.

I argue that software should be more like hardware, and while that is mostly true for desktop operating systems and downloadable games via consoles, the same doesn’t seem to play to the mobile realm.

Sure, subscription-based services are a whole different beast but when you pay a one-time license for an app you should be able to keep that app for as long as you want. I could go on all day about how I feel about all of this, but I’ll elect to digress. Even with EA’s hand possibly being forced due to music licenses, do you think this is right? [via iSource]

Quentyn Kennemer
The "Google Phone" sounded too awesome to pass up, so I bought a G1. The rest is history. And yes, I know my name isn't Wilson.

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  1. So are they also going to kill it on all of the other platforms out there? If not…. wtf?

  2. I kind of wonder how the game knows when to stop playing. Was it through an update that added a timebomb? If so, I would think that you could either

    1: Not download the update if you haven’t already
    2: If you have, when you want to play the game, turn on airplane mode, manually change the date on your phone, and maybe this would work.

    This is assuming that the app does a date check to determine if the game can be played. But, it also could do a date check, and if it is after the final day, it marks a flag somewhere permanently that can’t be easily changed and it then just checks that flag from then on. That way my solution #2 will not work unless you can change that flag.

    1. It’s highly unlikely to be easy to change, even assuming it is something as simple as you suggest.  This is EA, preventing piracy, copying, etc, is their bread & butter.  It’s also possible that the game checks a server somewhere, in which case you’re totally SOL.

      1.  That is true, they may check a server, but unless they require you to be connected to the internet to play the game, by enabling airplane mode, they couldn’t contact that server.

        But, you are probably correct. They probably thought of all of this already. These are just steps I would take if I had this game and wanted to play it after that date.

        1. You need internet connection to play EA games, at least the one I bought for my skiing trip, which made it useless because of that. On the bright side I learned EA isn’t only a crappy gaming company on pc and console, but also mobile.

          1.  I second this. Every EA game I bought needed internet connection, at least for the first launch to download stuff.

  3. What EA is doing is probably ok from a legal perspective, but it certainly rubs me the wrong way.  I know I have old PC games from 20+ years ago that I go back and play on occasion.  It looks like that won’t be possible in this age of online distribution+DRM.

  4. Is that message seriously all they told their users? WTF EA.

  5. that is why ea is not a good game investment, “Thanks for rocking with us” how about please reimburse me

  6. EA is evil, plain and simple.  There may be more here than meets the eye, but EA is still evil.

  7. Did anyone ever read the EULA for Origin and Steam? All of them clearly state you are licensing, not owning, and they have the right to revoke the use of the game anytime.

    1. That doesn’t make it right.

      1. No, but it’s an important piece of information I felt should be stated. Not as a defense.

        1. True.

  8. the funny thing is they did the samething with me over android with their sim city , all of a sudden its not compatible with my Evo 3D any more…! 

  9. They are basically saying, we took your money and now were ditching you, see ya, shitty move by a shitty company

    1. You meant to say business as normal for a shitty company!

  10. You could just back it up, if ur backup gets lost the w/e. Its like buying a 360 game and loseing it and then expecting ea to replace ur copy. I think if devs can pull apps then we should be able to repackage the apk file and store it somewhere.

    1. except a 360 game doesn’t have an expiration date updated in the code telling it to no longer work after date X… its not that they are not supporting it anymore its that they are FORCING it to not work anymore

  11. What if I disconnect my device from an active network connection. Then I get to keep the application :-) But then it might not work offline?

    1. Depends if there is DRM built in that you don’t know about.  I’m guessing somewhere in the last few updates they built in DRM so the app will die on a certain date.

    2. doesnt work offline

  12. is that an iOS pop-up notification?

    1. Yes.  If you read the article, you’ll see that this applies to the iOS version of Rock Band only, right now.  But the larger question of “is this legal and/or ethical” applies to Android as well.

  13. EA is absolute scum.

  14. “Since this doesn’t happen very often, the assumption is that EA’s hand is forced due to licenses expiring with the music labels who provide the music for the game.”

    I’m not buying that.  I can still pop in Rock Band 1 on my PS3 and play it just fine, and it’s an older game with some of the same songs on it.  If I were streaming the music to my phone then I might see where this would be an issue, but the game doesn’t stream the music (I own it on Android) so that doesn’t make sense.

    The only logical conclusion in this instance would be that EA’s licensing agreement with Harmonix is running out.  Even then…that stinks.

    1. Harmonix is blaming EA Mobile for this.  It’s 100% on them.

  15. This a major CR law issue that runs rampant across the software industry. Its the same debate gamer’s are having with some developers locking out the ability to mod, or requiring internet connections to play, or using “online passes” to fight used-game sales–if these games were really “sales” and thus subject to the first sale doctrine, we should be able to dispose of them as we please after paying the purchase price. Unfortunately, the fact that running software on your computer would amount to an illegal copy if you didnt have proper permission makes this all a bit more complicated.

    I’d love to spearhead some legislation in this area addressing these precise issues.

  16. Their license problems are just that – their license problems.  Regardless of the legality of EA’s action, consumers should NOT be exposed to the terms and conditions of their back-end licensing without transparent, up front notice that the software has a known or potential expiration date.  

    EA – You need to make good on this, PRONTO.  If your hands are tied due to licensing, you should offer a refund or credit towards another title.  I for one will not purchase a single EA title on ANY platform unless you act to make this right.

  17. instant lawsuit material. Looks like EA is going to discover what happens here very painfully at this rate.

    1. I’m thinking they already did. Apparently they have back tracked on this statement and said it was an error. I call BS since it’s EA, but that’s what they say.

  18. Do people realize what “License Agreement” means?

    In the simplest terms, it means you license the ability to use a piece of software from the owner.  It means you don’t own the majority of software.  This has been true for many years.  Try getting into business software licensing.  You will find the CD or DVD media is the cheapest thing you will ever buy.  It is the ability to install and use said software that is (ungodly) expensive.

    1. I’m sure we all realize what it means.  But whether or not EA’s hands were tied in this matter, telling their customers “oh well, sucks to be you” and walking away is not a good business decision regardless of what the EULA says.  If they don’t work to make this good it will be a purchase decision factor in customers minds for some time to come.

  19. IT’S Rockband people, get over it, you probably spent two or three bucks on that shitty, more sophisticated version of Simon, if pressing a couple of colored buttons on your phone in a specific order gets you off just download Simon for free in the play store. My only question is do you all hold the phone like a Guitar when you play?

    1. Then you are looking at this from a very narrow perspective. Its not just rockband. Other software companies have tried this in the past. A few years ago intuit tried it with turbo tax. They limit how/where you can install it. If you install it on another machine, the software will disable the print functionality. If you got a new computer and reinstall, the software would give you the finger etc etc etc. All kinds of nonsense like that. 

      Intuit refused to acknowledged any bad customer service until a year later when they released really really bad sales figures for turbo tax and then took out a full page ad in the NY Times to apologize and retracted the nonsense in the next and subsequent turbo tax. 

      So unless people call these companies on these types of actions they will do whatever they want. EA is no stranger to this. They did the whole root kit thing with Spore a few years ago. Looks like EA needs another smacking.

    2. It’s a precedent, idiot. Wake up. 

  20. How is this any different than when an MMO shuts down the servers?  It happens all the time and rarely is the server source code released.  Deal with it.  If you just bought it in the last few days sure I would be mad but it was probably what 5 bucks?

    1. Difference is that Rock Band has a Local Play mode that doesn’t require servers.  According to what little EA has posted, even local play is being disabled, not just online servers.

  21. So the moral of this story is don’t trust the #1 worst company of 2012, as rated by the consumerist against 32 other companies? Got it…

    They can take back my game when I can take back 100% of my money…

  22. There are many users who would still pay for an app (license) even if they knew there was potential for the app to become unusable at the publisher’s discretion.  There are also many who would not.  Regardless, it’s not right for a developer to sell what the average user would think is a perpetual license for game use, when the developer’s right to distribute the game content has not been secured indefinitely.  Legal or not, it’s the moral equivalent of selling something that isn’t yours to sell.

  23. Since when does this stop Android users from getting anything they want…silly companies…

  24. I do believe that should be illegal as it is considered bait and switch luckily I didn’t buy into that crap but everyone that did should get their money back.

  25. That is plain wrong. You OWN an app, you SUBSCRIBE to a service. Regardless of where the preponderance of the code resides, it’s fraudulent to sell one as the other.

  26. I kind of understand where EA stands but still it’s poopy….

  27. EA has done this before! Look up an old game “Motor City Online”, there are still to this day online petitions begging for them to make it live, or release the code to another company. 

  28. This is similar to what happened when I purchased Madden 2012. It worked fine on my Gs2. Then bam it disappeared from my phone.

  29. WOW!  All this hate on EA.   I could never hate a company that brought me all those years of hockey games.  In fact, I don’t care what any of you say it’s blasphemous at this point.  EA, especially there sports side, RAISED me!  You are talking about my Mom and Dad now and this is unacceptable.  I remember when 8 guys in my dorm played an entire EPL season on FIFA 98… ahh those were the days!

  30. Anyone still using Madden 12 on the SGS 2?  Oh, wait…

  31. As long as they don’t clearly state the fact that you buy an app for a given time – they shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

    What if I decide to write a nice app, sell it 100,000 times for $5 and decide to switch it off a week after people bought it?

    This is the same thing. People were not warned that what they bought was a temporary right to use the app.

  32. And this is why my phones, consoles, nad computers (yes I own more than one of each) have no EA products, period. Never will at this rate.
    I don’t mind one bit not supporting a shady company that does not operate transparently.

  33. everyone needs to go to the Better Business Bureau and FTC online complaint form if you bought the app.

  34. If this was temporary then EA should have had that in the description. They sold the game to users as a full game, as in they own it. Now they want to take that back. If EA were to have been open about the license issues from the beginning they could have been excused, however they didn’t and that is their mistake. Every user that downloaded the game should be given a full refund. Maybe next time EA will think their games through

  35. Game will no longer be playable? My money will no longer be in your pocket!

  36. Looks like it isn’t being pulled after all:

  37. This doesnt surprise me, its the company that won Kotakus golden poo award.

  38. Hmm not interested in rockband but this makes me hesitant to ever buy a Madden or NBA jam which i was for sure going to buy.

  39. Romeo and Juliet, classic tale.  About a boy and his games.

  40. mine now says that rock band will remain playable;e on your device

  41. This is just yet another example in a long, long line of examples of how DRM/Copyright just ends up hurting the consumers–and completely misses the intended target of Pirates.

    Pirates never bought the game in the first place. They are out $0.
    Consumers bought the game. They are out $$$.

    Pirates will be able to continue to play the game after it has ‘expired’.
    Consumers will not be able to play the game at all.

    Pirates will be able to pass this to other devices that might not have market access.
    Consumers are not able to do this.

    Pirates do what they want because a Pirate is free!
    Consumers get shafted even harder because everything is more expensive because DRM programmers and Copyright lawyers are expensive and yet it does NOTHING to the sales otherwise.

  42. I stopped dealing with them ever since my “NEED FOR SPEED: Shift” game didn’t work and they did nothing about it.

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