A couple of days ago we posted the results of a recent earnings call for Electronic Arts, where the publisher stated that it wouldn’t do “anything unnatural” to push digital over retail sales. After reading the post and digging into the comments, it seems that the handful of console owners who were discussing the post were still completely against digital and I thought to myself “Really? Why are we still upset by this? Why are we — as console owners — fighting digital so hard?”
Video games are essentially the newest media format available today. Film, Books, and Radio all came some time before videos games, and I don’t think it’s too far of a reach to say that the format we all love has also evolved the quickest (and the most) in the shortest amount of time. Yet all of those other formats are (on consoles at least) beating video games to the digital punch. The lack of adaptation for consoles rests on our own shoulders and it stems from our obsession to holding on to physical media.
From a collecting or collectors perspective, I can totally dig it. In my quest of maintaining my youth, I have been building a modest sneaker collection that I’m proud of. And there are even days that I’ll get home from work and take a few moments to just look at, examine, and clean my favorite pairs. It’s therapeutic to me. And so, in that respect I can understand the appeal of amassing a collection of physical discs, one that you can actually hold, sort through, organize and admire. But for me, unlike older video games, my sneakers are actually frequently used.
When looked at from that point of view I can envision a video game collector planning fun gaming weekends where they dig out titles they haven’t played in a while from their archives. I just have trouble visualizing this as being the status quo for a majority of gamers out there.
Recent events, both of which occurred as we segued into the current console generation made me re-think the whole notion of being a devout collector of physical disks and coming to the conclusion that, for me, it just isn’t practical.
The first was when fellow DualShockers editor Yaris made his way from London, England to his most recent place of residence outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. You see, Yaris is originally from New York City, and thus before leaving for London (knowing that his move across the pond wasn’t going to be permanent) he decided to throw his ridiculously sized video game collection into an equally ridiculously sized storage unit.
On his journey (back to the States) to Utah, Yaris crashed at my place while spending the week in transition sorting through his belongings and shipping things off to his home out west. It wasn’t until we finished taping and labeling the final box that we both realized “What the f*** are we doing here?”
We joked as we rummaged through his piles of games, saying things like “Oh, this was a good one,” and “This one had so much potential.”
But then the reality settled in: Why was X-Blades still in his collection (seriously, it’s the worst)? Was he ever going to re-play Namco Bandai’s Enslaved: Journey to the West? Was he ever going to dust off his PS1 copy of Xenogears and put in another 100-plus hours of grinding into it?
I asked myself the very same questions during my moment of clarity, a couple of months after the PS4’s launch. The PS4 had completely taken over my living room and so it was only right that the PS3 would take refuge in my bedroom just in case I was in the mood to take a quick trip down memory lane. I stashed stacks of “classic” PS3 titles into a bin and placed it where I can easily and quickly access it. And do you know how many times I’ve turned the thing on and dug through the bin since the PS4 came out? Not even once.
With that said, It’s hard for me to rationalize creating towers of video games that reach all the way up to the ceiling (or in my case, stashed in a bin); especially if, just like my movie collection, they will very seldomly be touched let alone given the appreciation that they deserve.
I had to better understand what it looks like from the developer and publisher perspective. They are the ones making the games we play after all. I reached out to Terry Nagy, COO and Co-Founder of Apogee Software, the publisher who helped to revive Rise of the Triad in 2013. Rise of the Triad is a game released only digitally on PC. Because of this I thought that it would be good to hear it from someone whose company’s entire foundation is currently based on digital distribution.
I asked Nagy his opinion on what is holding back digital from becoming the norm on consoles and specifically who has to “make the move” in regards to focusing on digital over retail (and whether it’s the console makers or software creators who enforce that decision).
Nagy replied by saying, “With the previous console generation, there really wasn’t an option for digital releases to happen until later in the production runs of the consoles. However, with the new generation consoles being sold, both Microsoft and Sony have opened the doors to allow AAA digital releases. Since the users can only access games from the hard drives, the option of a AAA digital release is only a matter of time and who is going to do it first.”
Nagy added that it’s still going to be a challenge. “In my opinion, the console digital release will have to go through the same adjustments as PC releases did ten plus years ago.”
I asked Nagy what will become of the digital perks, such as lower pricing, earlier release, and additional content. We’ve seen seen these kinds of incentives being thrown around with the most recent being The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt which offers $7 off the retail MSRP and allows players to access and play the game at least 4 hours earlier than retail. “Consumers feel as though they are getting more with a physical copy, thus feel as though they need to be compensated for buying a digital copy. So the ‘extras’ will have to be included with the purchase of the digital releases until digital is the only way to get the product. After that, then the extras become a marketing tool to increase sales.”
Nagy broke down how it benefits the companies making the games, mentioning that “producing millions of physical copies can cost millions of dollars, but digital copies are free except for the distribution costs of the platform delivering the game. If you can lower your cost of expenses by not having inventory, then the benefit to developers/publishers is instantly clear.”
Yes, the developers and publishers will benefit monetarily as we shift from retail to digital on consoles. And we would be naive not to think so. But if developers and publishers are able to increase their chances of a higher (and quicker) return on investment, that can potentially help us all in the long run because, in theory, such a move would allow video game companies to go back to shipping more features and content-rich titles right out of the gate. Hopefully, that would translate to video game creators and publishers not needing to depend on strategies like “Day 1” on-disc DLC or micro-transactions to recoup any lost revenue opportunities.
There are a ton of questions surrounding our digital future and what actual “ownership” looks like as we’re still on the new frontier of digital rights and whatnot (especially on consoles). It’s easy to point fingers at what folks like to refer to as the “greedy publishers” just trying to make more money; at the end of the day, video game companies are in the business of making money.
However, if developers and publishers are able to save money on the cost of the logistics of printing, packaging, and shipping a physical game, then (hopefully) those savings trickle down to us, the consumer. Instead of the collective knee-jerk reaction of clutching on to the nearest pile of video games that we’ve all collected but don’t actually play, we should be less apprehensive of letting go of physical media and embracing the change as it has potential to benefit us.
It’s crazy to think that if we become just a little more accepting of video games we can’t physically hold in our hands, we may very well start seeing the most “complete” video games we’ve seen in years.