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This Morbid Patent Makes Your Games Death Proof

Sometimes video games kill people, but people rarely think about what happens to gaming accounts after someone dies. Now, Chinese tech company Tencent — which has its hand in many major gaming services and products — might be anticipating that problem with a new patent that recently began circulating online.

Daniel Ahmad, a senior analyst for Niko Partners who frequently tweets about the gaming industry, wrote, "Tencent obtained a patent this month, originally filed in 2019, that relates to the inheritance of digital items and assets after a person passes away. While not fully related to video games, it has sparked discussions online about game accounts / virtual item inheritance." Ahmad noted that Apple's recent Digital Legacy program, along with Tencent's patent, led to a larger discourse about what happens to our digital property after death. As explained by CNET, Apple's new policy allows users to designate an "administrator" for their digital property, who can log in and access certain information (excluding payment details) after a person has died. 

Though Tencent hasn't openly discussed its own legacy program just yet, Ahmad's argument stands. "As we move towards a more digital world, the idea of virtual asset inheritance has become more important among aging netizens who have long-standing online / game accounts with many digital items," Ahmad explained. Gamers that spend years amassing in-game wealth and leveling up characters in MMORPGs might want those assets passed on to someone else. 

An issue worth discussing

Several commenters on Ahmad's thread seemed suspicious of digital legacy patents. One reader worried that these laws could lead to people inheriting illegal content, then getting fined for another person's digital belongings. Another mused on the certainty of more social media accounts eventually existing for the dead than the living, necessitating the need for the world to discuss digital ownership.

It makes sense that Tencent would lead the digital legacy discussion, since it owns so many properties in the gaming world. For those who aren't familiar with the Chinese conglomerate, Tencent has a significant financial stake in the gaming world. For example, Tencent bought 40% of Epic Games back in 2011, making it the largest singular shareholder of the company. Although Tencent doesn't have a say in Epic's day-to-day business, it has a vested interest in Epic's future successes.

It's unclear when or if Tencent will unveil its own digital legacy program. There's a possibility that the patent might be a precautionary measure on the company's part. However, if the discussion going occurring online is any indications, then the world needs to talk about digital assets, and talk about them soon.