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Also, what happens to your Steam library if Steam goes out of business?

I learned the hard way that the Apple iTunes app store is a `marketplace' and, after the first time you download a game, you have no recourse if the app is removed from their servers and the developer does not respond to e-mails (see Is it possible to copy an app from an ipad back to a Mac/PC in cases where you didn't keep the .ipa file?). Digital downloads on Xbox 360 came with a similar warning but Microsoft's policy might have changed with backwards compatibility.

Perhaps digital games are like a good bottle of wine -- you never buy one, only rent it.

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3 Answers 3

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No.

From the subscriber agreement:

Steam and your Subscription(s) require the download and installation of Content and Services onto your computer. Valve hereby grants, and you accept, a non-exclusive license and right, to use the Content and Services for your personal, non-commercial use (except where commercial use is expressly allowed herein or in the applicable Subscription Terms). This license ends upon termination of (a) this Agreement or (b) a Subscription that includes the license. The Content and Services are licensed, not sold. Your license confers no title or ownership in the Content and Services. To make use of the Content and Services, you must have a Steam Account and you may be required to be running the Steam client and maintaining a connection to the Internet.

[...]

Valve may cancel your Account or any particular Subscription(s) at any time in the event that (a) Valve ceases providing such Subscriptions to similarly situated Subscribers generally, or (b) you breach any terms of this Agreement (including any Subscription Terms or Rules of Use). In the event that your Account or a particular Subscription is terminated or cancelled by Valve for a violation of this Agreement or improper or illegal activity, no refund, including of any Subscription fees or of any unused funds in your Steam Wallet, will be granted.

There is no provision in the agreement requiring Valve, or anyone else, to continue offering downloads indefinitely, and the agreement explicitly states that it is revocable by Valve at any time if they decide to stop offering a particular product, or in the unlikely event they decide to shut down Steam altogether.

For those unaware, the term "Subscription" in this context basically means a game that you have purchased; they characterize it as a "subscription" to emphasize the fact that you don't actually own it ("confers no title or ownership in the Content and Services").

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  • And the key implication is that selling accounts will result in a ban, due to your violation of their terms of service in the subscription, in which you do not own your games and have no "rights" to them.
    – Nelson
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 1:12
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No, Steam is not obligated to provide game downloads forever. In fact, there are a few known cases of Steam games being removed from users' libraries or features being removed in an update.

Removed from Steam libraries:

  • Order of War: Challenge (2013): Removed from all owners Steam libraries after the multiplayer servers were shut down. (Sources: Steam news, Forbes)
  • SiN (2020): On March 16th 2020, SiN disappeared from users' libraries. This was revealed to be a developer error, and the game returned the next day as SiN: Gold, a free update with extra content. (Sources: PCGamer, TechRaptor)
  • Overfall (2021): Players who bought Overfall in 2018 via Fanataical/Bundle Stars had their keys revoked in April 2021. Replacement keys were emailed out to legitimate purchasers after a few days. (Sources: Developer on Steam forums, Fanatical, personal experience)

Features removed in update:

  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2014): Ten years after release, an update was released for GTA: San Andreas on Steam which added 360 controller support, but removed 17 songs and various resolution options. Save files from the old version were not compatible, wiping player's progress. (Source: PCGamer)
  • Grand Theft Auto 4 (2018): An update for the game's 10th anniversary removed 50+ songs due to expiring music licensing deals. (Source: GameInformer)
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The other answer is good and correct, but I'd like to highlight that while it's technically possible, it's not realistic. If they'd do that to even just a single game, it has the potential to get press attention and then Valve is screwed. It's incredibly unlikely that they'd do that, unless they'd go bankrupt or something like that. But it is possible and legal for them to do so.

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    There are already 2 known cases of games being removed from users’ Steam libraries.
    – Stevoisiak
    Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 16:41

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