deadpoolBecause I’m sure sooner or later someone’s going to bring this up as an example of the impermanence of digital media, and how you should never buy anything from a digital store because they can always take it away from you, I figured I’d better cover it first. The big news that broke in the video game scene yesterday is that Marvel, a subsidiary of Disney, has just pulled a number of popular computer games based on its properties out of all digital distribution outlets: Steam, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network. The games include Deadpool, several Spider-Man titles, and several X-Men titles.

Apparently this only came as a surprise to people who hadn’t been paying attention; the Amazing Spider-Man Game’s Facebook page posted a notice a couple of weeks ago that the games would no longer be available as of the new year. That was why they were on sale.

On a similar note, Netflix gave the axe to over 90 of its streaming titles on New Years Day. (But it added at least 66 new movies, including 26 that were specifically highlighted to the Huffington Post by Netflix PR.)

So yes, there are a number of video games and movies that are no longer available instantaneously, digitally. But it’s not because digital is impermanent, it’s because licensing agreements are impermanent. The new year is a pretty common time for licenses to come up for renewal, and thus for licensors to decide they would rather go some other direction. In the case of the Marvel games, Marvel decided not to renew its licensing agreement with Activision, meaning that Activision can no longer sell games based on Marvel properties, digitally or physically—even Deadpool, which only came out six months ago.

The people who bought the game already will still be able to download it, at least as far as Steam goes. The Deadpool FAQ on Steam’s community notes:

Q: If I already bought the game, can I re-download it at a later time?
A: Yes. It has been removed from the store, it has NOT been removed from your inventory. If Steam ever does this, they will compensate you with another game.

And anyone who can still find a physical copy of the games in stores can still install them, too.

And the revolving movie titles on Netflix is normal, too:

In a statement, a Netflix spokeswoman said “due to the nature of licensing deals and windows renewing/expiring, we constantly have titles coming on & off the service.”

See? Nothing new. You really have to check search-aggregator web sites like canistream.it to find out where anything is these days. Sometimes availability can change from day to day.

In the end, these titles vanishing is not anything you can blame on “digital.” You can blame it on contracts expiring that affect both digital and physical goods. It’s got to be a risk for any game company to license content from major rights-holders like that, knowing that at any time it might not be renewed and they might lose the chance to recoup their investment in a game title after as little as six months.

Where does that leave fans of the games? Who knows? Maybe Activision will get the license back someday. Maybe the games will eventually end up on Good Old Games if the rights issues can be ironed out. But anyone who bought the games should probably feel lucky they did, because odds are they’re not coming back any time soon.