When Steam first debuted in September 2003, few people expected it to change the market forever. The simple app that was originally meant to make downloading Counter-Strike patches easier, in the following decade became the major force leading the revolution of digital distribution. In just a few years, video games became much more accessible. Developers, especially the smallest ones, also benefited – the high threshold of releasing a game was suddenly gone, which generated an enormous explosion of independent games.
Unfortunately, every revolution comes at a cost, and the digitization of video games' distribution is no different. The most obvious victim are physical, boxed copies of video games, almost completely gone on the PC, and slightly more popular on the consoles. The advent of digital distribution also brought about lowering of certain standards – games are often messy on release, because patching is so much more convenient for the developers, digital also opened the door for microtransactions and lootbox exploits.
What we tend not to remember so often, is no less a problem, and it's the "expiry date" of digitally-distributed games. What does that mean? Once you get your hands on the physical medium with a video game, be it a DVD or a cartridge – and if you maintain it properly – it will be virtually immortal. This can become difficult or expensive over longer time, but as long as we have the hardware capable of launching a given title, we'll be able to play.
It's different with digital. Here, if the publisher simply wishes to, they can pull the plug on any title – for example, if a license used in a game expires, the title will no longer be available for purchase. If any of the distribution platforms was to go bankrupt (we pray this never happens), players would likely lose access to all their games from that platform.
These are not empty surmise, too – today, we take a look at the most high-profile victims of digital distribution. This is a list of, in the worst case, average, and usually good, and excellent games that can't be bought in any of the online stores. And since these games were never released as physical, legally obtaining them is simply no longer possible.