A pair of games based on popular cartoon Adventure Time will be leaving digital stores at the end of March. The two titles, Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom and Adventure Time: Finn and Jake Investigations, will no longer be available for purchase on Steam, PSN, or XBLA as of midnight PST on March 31st. Publishers Little Orbit made the announcement via Twitter, revealing a farewell sale of 25% off on Steam for the games and stating that anyone who's purchased them digitally by the cut-off point will continue to have access to them for the foreseeable future.
The reason for this is simple: the studio is losing the rights to the property and unless they re-up their original deal or re-negotiate a new one, their games can no longer sell at retail. This includes physical copies too, and while Finn and Jake Investigations had quite a large physical shipment across multiple systems, Secret of the Nameless Kingdom did not. Little Orbit is one of several publishers who've gotten the right to make games based on the hit Cartoon Network show over the years, but they are the first to have to delist their creations in such a manner. Deals to use IP can be complicated and nebulous and every contract is different, so whether this is Little Orbit voluntarily opting against re-negotiation or something else involving the rights holders remains to be seen.
More pertinently, this is another example of the incongruous relationship between current IP laws and the digital market. Streaming and purchasing online of digital products have only come into their own the last few years, and how we manage and maintain copyright within these spaces is an ever-growing concern. Previously to this, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game disappeared unceremoniously from the PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Arcade in 2014 and has since remained unavailable, as did Marvel Vs. Capcom Origins, both for expired licenses. They're among a growing list that ranges from banner IP to the use of particular songs and products within a game. Occasionally a heads up will be provided by the publisher, but often the title just ceases to be available, leaving fans to figure out what happened for themselves.
This is a concerning practice for games as a medium. Digital retail has become the primary option for many creators, especially those making smaller or niche projects. Shipping a physical version just isn't feasible for many and if one does happen, it's usually limited because the majority of sales still come from digital. The Scott Pilgrim game is, as far as the general public is concerned, inaccessible except to those who already had it bought. This means there's no legal way to play an officially licensed version of the, well-reviewed game based on a cult classic film. Moreover, conserving the work as a piece of gaming history is made exponentially more difficult when the only copies are tied to specific accounts of an online marketplace that's swiftly becoming out-moded and will, one day, cease to be.
And in the case of these Adventure Time games, there's also the collector's market. The buying and selling of retro and hard-to-find games can be a very competitive place and the digital version disappearing will be an instant booster of demand for copies of the product. New players or completion-ist collectors may find themselves having to pay well above standard retail price for a copy if another mode of purchase doesn't surface, further driving fans towards finding other avenues of access.
There is still a brief window with which to buy Little Orbit's Adventure Time games, but once they're gone, they're gone. Two games based one of the most popular shows of the last decade will suddenly become part of gaming past. It's a difficult situation, and one all artistic industries need to wrestle with sooner or later, lest entire swathes of our collective culture become lost thanks to expired licenses and the rollover of digital storefronts.