Where do your Steam games go when you die?

One day you’re going to die. We all will. But what happens to your digital game library if you do? It may not be the first assignment for your family or friends, but digital assets are Doing have value: Some people spend thousands of dollars on video games over the course of their lives, much of it likely digital, through a store like Valve Corp.’s Steam.

A ResetEra forum user, delete12345contacted Steam customer service in May to ask: Can I include my Steam library in my will? Technically, this is possible if you provide your login details. Don’t forget two-factor authentication! — but the games you purchased aren’t actually transferable to another person. The response deleted12345 received was basically: We are sorry, but no. (Polygon has contacted Valve for clarification.)

It seems pretty ridiculous that you can’t pass on something you own, but the point is: you not own the games in your Steam library. The same goes for games purchased from other digital stores, such as Microsoft and Sony’s online stores. Digital games are merely licensed digital assets. Valve clearly states this in the Steam User Agreement: “The content and services are licensed, not sold.” You can argue that physical discs are glorified license keys, but the important detail is that those licenses are transferable: you can legally lend your game to a friend so he or she can play it, or sell it in its entirety.

It’s a problem not unique to video games, according to Texas Tech University School of Law professor Gerry W. Beyer and fiduciary officer Kerri G. Nipp. Beyer and Nipp wrote in Estate Planning Journal about a ultimately incorrect report that actor Bruce Willis wanted to sue Apple about his iTunes music library, which he wanted to leave to his children. Regardless of the veracity of the original claim, it brought the issue into focus: the user agreement you click through when purchasing digital assets, such as games, means you’ve agreed to the platform’s licensing agreement. Some digital stores also have rules regarding account ownership and password sharing, which adds another wrinkle to the transaction. Steam Terms of ServiceFor example, ban account sharing. Some states have laws regarding digital assetsbut they largely apply to virtual currencies – and again, the licensing hassle complicates matters.

Lawyer Claudine Wong wrote in the Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal in 2013 that “digital content is transferable to the surviving relatives of a deceased user if legal copies of that content reside on physical devices, such as iPods or Kindle e-readers.” This probably also applies to your laptop, meaning that a laptop full of games can be added to a will and passed on. “So far there is no doubt that the devices and the works attached to them can be passed on,” Wong wrote. But it’s less clear when it comes to the digital content itself that can be accessed elsewhere. Regardless of the legality of it all, Wong suggested that you still include your full wishes in your will. “(An) estate plan is an expression of what he wishes would happen after his death, and knowing what he wanted gives his family compelling arguments against the service providers,” Wong said.

What is clear is that preserving video games in our increasingly digital world continues to pose problems for users. As more games go online or digital-only, access is largely controlled by a publisher. Historically this has been a challenge, for video game curatorsbut it seems to be a looming problem as we all age.

Update: This story has been updated to clarify that Polygon has contacted Valve for comment.