I’m Not Afraid of Digital Distribution

I’m Not Afraid of Digital Distribution

Okay, okay, so we’ve all talked about it at least once. The digital distribution renaissance; a forthcoming time where physical video game media will be no more and all game sales will occur digitally, with the used game business amicably crumbling. Most shun it while some embrace it, but everyone feels a little afraid. The consistently growing virtual consoles and downloadable games market, rumors of all game manuals going digital and the substantial growth in the used game market…it definitely leaves you wondering.

Fellow gamers, I will attempt to dispel these fears and enlighten you all as to why digital distribution is truly a revolution in games, and it should be welcomed with open arms instead of being something of nightmares. Some of you may ask why anyone would want physical copies of games to perish. It’s simple really – I detest the used game business.

I hate the fact that retailers take these “used” games in exchange for a measly few bucks to then resell the games at near full price. It takes money from the game creators, which is where we really want all of our money to go, not to some grubby used game retailer. Why should I pay Game’n’Trade’s bills when I could be increasing the chances of seeing a sequel or continued support for a game I love?

I’m Not Afraid of Digital Distribution

I know that many people love used games and also the reselling of their games to the aforementioned retailers, and I definitely understand that. But, the prices of new video games could drop substantially in the digital distribution era. Sure once you’ve played Shooter XZY to completion you won’t be able to turn it back into currency, but at the same time you probably won’t have to pay sixty bucks for it.

The majority of people who trade games in do so in order to make another game more affordable. Imagine – and this is purely speculation – if new, fully priced titles where just forty dollars. That’s a whole 1/3rd cheaper, and that would bring you much closer to any new game. Forty bucks would be even cheaper than games last console generation, and that’s because they, too, used physical media.

Not only that, but we would probably still be able to resell our games, they just wouldn’t be used. Say for example we began using a licensing system, where we purchased licenses to games. This license would be tied to a database kept by the game creators for identification purposes. What would stop you from selling your license to another?

Nothing except you’d have to lower your asking price for the new game, because if not they could just buy it from the creators, which is again beneficial to the industry. We could also still trade games. What would stop me from trading my license to RPG XZY for your license for Shooter XYZ? If they both retail for the same price, it’s perfect. So that takes care of the used games business.

I’m Not Afraid of Digital Distribution

Another reason the idea of digital distribution scares people is because nothing beats the security of the physical copy. No matter what happens to the network or the console or the servers, you’ve still got your copy. What if this physical copy was simply a card lined with keys and numbers, no different than a credit card? You could use this card to download your game, restore it in the case of errors, and even take it to a friend’s house to play while away.

Of course, that friend would have to be connected to the net for the downloading and identification purposes, but who isn’t nowadays? So right there you’ve got all the functionality of a disc, without a disc. But it doesn’t stop there. Ever break, scratch, drop, step on, crush or decimate a disc? I know I have, and countless times a game I paid good money for was rendered useless because of some “physical” issue.

That would never happen again. All your games would play perfectly, never a skip, bump or blemish during gameplay. Ten years could go by and your game would still be mint and this is something that exceeds the capability of the physical disc. Even the mighty Blu-ray can be injured. It has happened to me in the past.

I’m Not Afraid of Digital Distribution

Physical discs could exist exclusively for limited or special editions, and even those should include an ID card for the game, so your physical copy can sit on your display, timeless and perfect forever (many people do this now by simply buying two copies of each game but we’re not all made of money).

So, now that we’ve cleared the physical copy and the used games business, the two bastions of the digital distribution argument, on to the yet impossible, the undone, the things we can’t achieve until the DD era. First of all, you would never have to worry about a game selling out or not being available. When BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger dropped, no game store in my city had a copy.

Has anything similar ever happened to you? It would never happen again. You could always download your game and get your ID card in the mail the next day, five, ten, twenty years after release. Every game available for the console would be right at your fingertips. Secondly, the lack of a physical capacity would allow games to be bigger and more extravagant than ever before.

I’m Not Afraid of Digital Distribution

Games could be engineered that would even surpass the next console generation (that is of course, if they used physical media). All developers would have equal access to a nearly limitless pool of memory and utility; it would be unprecedented. Thirdly, and I just had to throw this in there, it would do the earth a largesse of good. It would produce absolutely no waste or carbon footprint that would outlive us. It would be utterly and entirely green.

Fourthly, and perhaps more importantly, it returns all profit to the creators. The destruction of the used games business would give the hardworking developers and publishers every well deserved penny of the returns and this is exactly how it should be.

A boost like that to the industry could change the face of gaming as we know it. Look into the light fellow gamers. The road is unbeaten and untraveled but it is ascending. The mental security of a physical disc can be mirrored by the ID card which would exceed previous functionality. The lack of memory restraint would take games over the edge.

The rerouting of profit to the creators would create a healthier industry. No longer would retailers be able to blindly rob both consumers and developers by way of used games. No more expensive importing of region specific games.

No more broken or damaged discs. No more ridiculous prices for legacy titles. No more buying high and selling low.  No more multi-disc games. No more loading. No more choosing between which versions of a game to buy, No more waiting in lines. No more sold out or out of print games. No more staggering manufacturing costs. No more tons and tons of landfill waste. Yes, we will certainly lose some things in the conversion to the digital era. But does the gain not more than suffice?

I’m Not Afraid of Digital Distribution

Join the Discussion

  • Guardian_Bob

    So I’m sorry, but I have to respectfully disagree with this article. Let’s start with the pricing issues.

    When I first bought Warhawk off of PSN it was ~ $30. Imagine my disgust when I walked into a Gamestop a month later and found it for $20 with a physical copy. The PSN price hadn’t decreased with market forces, but the physical one did.

    The reason for this is there’s a monopoly with respect to digital download. It is not like I can go to a competing PSN and get the same game.

    What’s really annoying is that the pricing isn’t lowered for the digital download, it is increased. And don’t kid yourself that Sony isn’t taking a big portion off the top there for the privilege of using their store.

    Second point, about physical media wearing out. Did you know when you download an item it is stored on physical media? The flash in your PSP, cellphone, iPad and digital camera wears out just like any other media. It has a limited number of read/write cycles before it starts giving you the wrong answer. A Bluray disc can sit on a shelf for decades and never lose a bit, where as flash media needs to be powered periodically to keep your information.

    As for copies of discs, there’s a big problem with most digital downloads, known as DRM. When I buy something off of PSN, I can load it on only 5 PS3s. Ever. I lose my account, they are gone. I have to trust the company that they will not screw me, instead of holding the power myself.

    Oh and what happens when DRM servers go offline? You can no longer play your single player game. They do that to “save on the costs of piracy.” Let me ask, if it free (minus the bandwidth) and games were price accordingly, why would someone break the law? DRM is all about making you buy the same thing over and over again. All in the name of more profits.

    As for physical media limiting developers, flash and ram are two separate beasts. RAM is what developers really need to fully utilize a CPU, how does changing where the data is stored affect the ram in the slightest? The read/write APIs have been abstracted to the point that the game can switch between the two seamlessly. The loading screens are still there, and you’ll still see them as developers continue to push the limits of the device.

    You make a point about less waste and less gas used, which is true. In addition, making as many copies as needed no longer consumes resources, again true. So why would the digital copy ever cost as much or more than a physical copy, as was the case with Warhawk?

    What you’re suggesting is complete control of every game by these digital distribution companies, which is anti-competitive. Now let me make it clear, I don’t fear digital copies. In fact, making a digital copy of a game so you can keep the BluRay in pristine condition makes a lot of sense to me, I just object to giving up my rights to play the games I bought, when I want to, how I want to.

    • Guardian_Bob

      Sorry, got myself in self editing. The line that says:
      Let me ask, if it free (minus the bandwidth) and games were price accordingly, why would someone break the law?

      Should say:
      Let me ask, if it is free to make copies (minus the bandwidth) and games were price accordingly, why would someone break the law?

  • Kenpachi Mishima

    While you form some valid points, the majority of them are arguable. let’s infer
    firstly, the fact that you found a cheaper physical copy probably attributes to the condition of the game: you didn’t exactly specify if it was a used or new copy you found, but either way your download was mint.
    Secondly,they don’t have to use flash media. Between you and me, blu-ray hasn’t been on the market for decades so we honestly can’t speak on its shelf life, but the game data could be stored in nonvolatile memory, why would they use volatile?
    Thirdly, i am aware that physical media will still be used in the form of the storage media, but consider this
    HD w/50 DL games VS 50 games, cases, manuals, etc. not only would the hard drive outlast the 50 discs, but you won’t be switching between 50 games when you want to enjoy them .
    Fourthly, the xbox uses dvds as a storage medium. It has been proven that MGS5 cannot fit onto a dvd. Does that not pertain to the storage memory?
    I don’t see how you would lose the right to play your games how when and where you want to. All those merits would still be in tact.

    • Guardian_Bob

      1.) Good point, both copies were brand new.
      2.) Non-volatile memory is Flash. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-volatile_memory
      3.) I have had CDs and DVDs that have lasted for decades. A top of the line Seagate drive comes with a 5 year warranty.
      4.) Ah now you’ve caught me in a subtly that I missed from that article. Back in the day, we used this things called floppy disks. I remember installing 20 disk onto my hard drive, why can’t the XBox 360 do that? There’s no technical reason they couldn’t, it just is a bad choice of the game developer.
      5.) I point you to this article: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/98927-Ubisoft-DRM-Authentication-Servers-Go-Down

      Digital downloads and DRM go hand in hand. If you have to be online to download the game, then it isn’t unreasonable to expect that you have to be online to play it, thus making it easy to have DRM. On the other hand, if you get a game disc, in almost every case it works without the internet. Notable exceptions include any game that is explicitly an online game.

      • Guardian_Bob

        After reflecting on things some, I think I can be more succinct in what troubles me about digital downloads. It is not the downloads themselves, rather it is the fact that games, movies and other media are being changed from goods you buy to services your pay for.

        When a game is a good, you own it and can do what you want with it. When instead you have a service, you’re limited by the contract of the said service. Digital download is the way that this transformation is happening, which is why it causes me such grief.

  • Sebastian

    I think the service of digital distribution is still at the very beginning with all the ups and downs of a new market. Many shops as well as publishers and developers are still experimenting with the new business models. So we see all kinds of new variations popping up. Even Steam is the 5pounder there is quite a number of other shops around. I found this list that gives a good overview: http://blog.deals4downloads.com/2010/05/04/the-largest-list-of-steam-alternatives-and-digital-download-shops-steam-competition-on-the-rise/

    There are shops without DRM (e.g. GOG.com), shops where you can resell your games (Greenmangaming) or were you earn games be reselling them to your friends. It’s going to be interesting to see how they will develop over time.