Tencent recently obtained a patent relating to digital asset inheritance that might allow games to pass on in-game items and currency when they die. According to video game industry analyst Daniel Ahmad, who first spotted the news on Monday, the Chinese tech giant originally filed for the patent in 2019 before securing it earlier this month.
“The timing is fairly coincidental given Apple recently announced its own digital legacy service that lets users assign an administrator that can access their digital assets after death,” Ahmad said, referring to a feature Apple rolled out with iOS 15 last month. “Tencent’s patent is similar, but allows direct transfer of items if stated in the will.”
As our lives have grown increasingly digital, so too have our possessions. Digital items, while less tangible than, say, furniture or gaming consoles, still arguably hold some innate value. Accessing assets after death might be as easy as leaving behind usernames and passwords, but the ability to transfer legal ownership to a member of your family or a friend is something we may need to consider moving forward.
But I still can’t help but laugh when thinking about how this patent will work in practice. Who gets the Team Fortress 2 hats when grandpa passes on? What about his horde of Fortnite V-Bucks? The idea of writing, “Oh yeah, I want my son, whom I love very much, to get my hard-earned King Kong pieces in Godzilla Battle Line when I finally kick the bucket,” into a legal document is innately hilarious.
All that said, this filing also raises concerns about Tencent’s control of the idea. Will this keep other game developers from implementing similar inheritance systems, à la the Bandai Namco software patent that put a crimp on competing fighting game developers’ training modes for some 20 years? The full text of the patent has yet to be made available in English, and it’s definitely something to keep in mind moving forward.
Tencent’s made no public indication of its plans regarding digital inheritance, but seeing as the company is busy buying up a heap of studios and developers, it’s not a stretch to think the patent will play a part in its corporate strategy moving forward. Generational wealth: it’s not just for meatspace anymore.
Clarification (07/16/2021, 4:43 p.m. ET): This story’s original headline has been changed to better reflect the general nature of the patent.