Hitman 3 released today to critical acclaim, with Metacritic aggregating its score to an impressive 88 points.
As part of the support for Hitman 3, IO Interactive promised to grant players access to all levels from Hitman 1 and 2 for free if they own these games. Unfortunately, Hitman 3 released exclusively on the Epic Games Store, upsetting many players who purchased the previous games on Steam.
Epic exclusives and loyalty rewards for Hitman 3
While it’s commendable that IO would want to grant purchasers access to the previous games’ content free of charge, it is a little unfortunate that the realities of modern PC gaming has become an obstacle to this. Modern gaming limits and redefines what it means to own something. In the traditional sense, ownership implies the right to resell, give away, or otherwise use as the owner sees fit.
Modern PC games are rarely ever owned by their purchasers. It’s more accurate to say that they are licensed to them, a frustrating distinction that frequently causes problems.
This licensing workaround is meant to help publishers combat piracy and free digital distribution. Gamers accept these limitations because the alternative could harm studios and limit their ability to continue developing games.
Hitman 3 has run into one of the obstacles of this arrangement: non-transferability. It’s generally impossible to have a game bought on one digital marketplace transferred in any way to anywhere else, be it other digital accounts owned by the same player or to other digital accounts. Anyone who bought a physical game can, once they’re done with it, give it away or sell it at will, but this is impossible with digital games.
Why digital games have unique problems, and what can Hitman 3 do about it
The main reason for this is because digital games violate a key part of the act of selling. An object, once sold, can not then be retained by the initial seller, but digital games are never given, merely copied.
The solution for Hitman 3 and other games that want to offer similar experiences isn’t something a single studio can come up with. Rather, the solution will have to come from the market owners like Steam, Epic Games, and CD Projekt’s GOG. Unfortunately, cooperation between these groups is not likely to happen as they have little reason to make it easier to shop at their competitors’ markets.
With this in mind, the legislation explicitly defining digital ownership in consumer-friendly terms would go a long way in forcing Steam and other markets to cooperate.
Regardless of when, why, or how these groups decide to cooperate; once they do, it will probably be by sharing digital information regarding game ownership across clients. This would allow the digital landscape for gaming to more closely mimic the physical one.
In much the same way that players can link their Spotify and Discord accounts to certain gaming clients, players could link their Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG, Itch.io, UPlay, and EA Origins accounts to share metadata about which games were purchased and where. Without a framework like this in place, studios stuck in this position will have to develop other strategies or offers to offer the kind of loyalty features.
Chances are IO and Epic will solve this one by offering Epic Games Store codes or something similar to owners of the previous games purchased on other markets. Until a decision gets made, Epic and IO have reiterated their commitment towards finding a solution for Hitman 3.