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Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has a rabid cult of fans, and its rerelease on XBLA/PSN along with a full-fledged sequel were high points of the last console generation. Both are still popular in the fighting game community, but soon those games will be unreachable through any digital means. Capcom announced that both games (along with their DLC) will soon disappear from Microsoft's and Sony’s services, with no sign they’ll ever return. This has to be disappointing for fans, but it also serves as a warning for anyone diving into our new digital future.
The plan is for UMvC3 and MvC2 to be delisted on 12/17 for PSN and 12/26 for 360, and that includes the huge number of DLC costumes and the extra game mode. Anyone that bought the digital content before then won’t lose what they paid for, but future players won’t be able to touch any of it, and would-be MvC2 newcomers are completely screwed out of enjoying the game without digging up a highly collectible copy for Dreamcast or PS2. This is just another sign of what’s to come for downloadable games, particularly ones that tie-in to outside properties like Marvel.
Licences for massive entertainment properties like Marvel Comics can end after a few brief years, meaning games starring Spider-Man and Wolverine shift from publisher to publisher. Discs versions eventually go out of print, but digital releases have no copies to publish and no shelves to be taken off. So when franchises like Marvel vs. Capcom disappear, it exposes some of the red tape involved in creating games like it. Even if Capcom is willing to sell them forever, Marvel seemingly isn’t, leading to situations like this one that could only get worse in this digitally focused next generation.
And it’s popping up frequently as we approach what should be a simplified digital future. Multiple games left the Wii’s Virtual Console with little explanation, several Ninja Turtles rereleases vanished a couple years ago, and a title as big as GTA: Vice City can be (temporarily) taken off Steam thanks to contested song rights. With so many corporate deals in play, even one misplaced agreement can get a game removed without a trace using the same tech that’s supposed to make them easier to own.
Some of this can be sidestepped if you stick with physical copies, but Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s situation also reveals another next-gen problem for gamers. If you don’t buy UMvC3’s DLC before next week, it looks like you’ll never be able to touch it again. UMvC3 doesn’t have much in the way of substantial downloadable content, but we’ve already seen next-gen's growing attraction to micro-transactions. As more core content gets sectioned off into downloadables, how useless will retail copies be after a game’s substantial DLC vanishes thanks to the end of some business arrangement?
These types of situations are always going on behind the scenes, but the immediacy of digital platforms now forces players to deal with them when they’d rather just be enjoying their purchases. It’s a tough situation that seems to be unavoidable given the massive corporations involved in making games. So hold on to your retail copies while you can, because today’s games come with expiration dates--some of which, like Marvel vs. Capcom’s, won’t be known about until the last minute.