/ Technology

We’ll lose out if gaming goes digital-only

Close-up of PlayStation controller

Recently, Electronic Arts’ CEO John Riccitiello stated that revenue for game downloads will overtake traditional box copies in 2011. In my eyes this sets a worrying trend in which we’ll eventually lose out.

With a thriving second-hand games business, it’s not too hard to see why gaming companies might find the prospect of digital distribution enticing.

As our recent research highlighted, there’s lots of money to be made from pre-owned physical video games, but the game companies don’t see a penny of it.

Making games digital-only absolutely removes the second-hand market overnight. That’s great news for the game publishers, but a raw deal for the consumer looking for a cheap bargain.

We’ll lose control with digital-only games

Of course, another aspect of digital downloads, for consoles at least, is that there’s only one retailer. If I want to download Halo 10 on the Xbox 720 in a few years time, and it’s a digital-only platform, my only choice of retailer will be the Xbox Marketplace.

This means that all prices will be dictated by Microsoft (and the games’ publishers), eliminating the sort of prices we see online and on the high street thanks to healthy retail competition.

This was one of the issues we identified with the PSP Go when we first reviewed it. Removing the PSP’s physical disc drive meant you could only buy games from the PSN store – a bit frustrating when we often found the same games at a much cheaper price in a physical format.

There’s also the question of what happens to all this digital content in the future. Will everything I buy digitally now be supported and accessible in five years time? There’s no guarantee, but I do know that my old Nintendo cartridges will still be going strong twenty five years after release.

Steam shows how it should be done

That’s not to say that digital distribution in gaming is always a poor deal. Steam on the PC is a fantastic example of how digital content should be handled, and regular sales mean users can bag themselves real bargains, often cheaper than retail.

However, whilst Steam works ok for PC gamers, it’s hard to imagine PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo following a similar model, given each of these lack competition on their own platforms.

The benefits of digital distribution seems wholly weighed in the manufacturers favour. While such services are no doubt valuable (Xbox Live Arcade and the PSN store have given us some fantastic original titles, and Steam has revolutionised PC gaming), digital and physical should exist alongside each other.

Otherwise, as far as I can see, the only winners in the race to digital-only platforms are the manufacturers themselves.

Comments
Guest
Mitch. says:
12 January 2011

Music, DLC, handheld games, small games etc. should all go download.

It’ll be great for there to be an option to have most things via download.

But I hope movies/series/concerts should always be available on disc as well as full games also being available on disc. It’s nice to hold something, to collect something, to even go out and get something.

I recently got the Avatar Extended Edition 3 disc Blu-ray, I forgot how nice it is to have it in your hands, something special.

Guest
Gamer4Lyfe says:
12 January 2011

I always buy new, never used. If I buy bargin bin style, it’s factory sealed. The day gaming goes strictly digital is the day I quit gaming altogether. I’m a collector & I love to look at a game case for nostalgic memories. PSP GO was a failure because it was digital download only.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Guest

They’re releasing Mass Effect 2 on the PSN store as a download on the same day as the retail box copy. The size of the download is 12GB. Since my broadband is the slowest in London, downloading that would probably take a week or so. And then there’s the fact I only have a 60GB PS3. I’ll be going retail thank you very much.

Guest
ItsEvan says:
13 January 2011

Indies win. That’s good for the industry, its usually the lil’ guy that innovates and makes gaming a form of art rather than entertainment.

Guest
Linse says:
13 January 2011

Why exactly should they get a cut of the 2nd hand sales? Do the car manufacturers get a cut of the car sales when you sell it? do authors when it is resold at a 2nd hand book shop? or artists when thier work is on sold?

I take more of the issue with the game shops selling 2nd hand copies so close to the new price within 48 hours of launch, if they want to curb that happening, have a launch code that can only be used once in a 48 hour period, after that it can be reused.

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Guest

Agreed – I’ve occasionally been to my local Computer Game shop and was appalled by the enormous cost of second-hand and new software.

It is why I buy my second-hand and new software from Ebay and Amazon.

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Guest

Forgot this point – The owner/ author/producers of plays and films do get income from each and every public performance.

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Guest

The issue with 2nd hand digital media and downloaded programs is that compared with Books, and most other 2nd hand items is it doesnt wear out or deteriorate.

Surely 2nd hand prices are set by the “what the market will stand” method and the shops reckon they make more money selling a few copies at very high prices rather than many copies at a lower price.

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Guest

Well…. I have several books well over 100 years old (one 200 years) – still perfectly readable. I have several magnetic discs that have deteriorated in 30 years I’ve had them. Even DVDs are supposed to have a finite lifespan . So I disagree it is the permanence of the media – but much more to do with the intellectual content. That is what the copyright notice implies…

I don’t doubt it is the shops exploiting the ignorance or laziness of potential buyers – which is why I buy most of my software (and books) – from Ebay and Amazon.

Guest
simulacra says:
13 January 2011

Games going DLC…not everyone like DLC for a lot of reason network issues, not everyone has internet, etc. Thnx but No Thnx I’ll stick with retail.

Guest
Oldgamer says:
19 January 2011

DLC is great for those who wnat their games quickly, but what about transferring games from PC to PC as you upgrade, what do you do in the event of a disk crash? In many cases the DLC vendor pays lip service to these issues but doesnt really care as he already has your money, and you may even pay again. I cant see him worrying over that…
Based on the current state of the market if you want to transfer a game that is more than a couple of years old you have had it as the support will have disappeared.

Guest
moaner says:
20 January 2011

as was mentioned for the “psp go”, i am worried that “download only” games will still be the same price or higher than discs.
when digital music was available to download it was still the same price or higher than a cd with all the costs of the materials and transport and retail mark ups and delivery taken in to account versus a few minute of their hard drive spinning and sending it down a wire to your pc.

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Guest

Did anyone see the price of Mass Effect 2 on the Playstation store? It can be yours for just £47.99.
I think this should serve as a warning sign for those pushing for digital only releases. Considering that most retail and online stores are selling the physical product for about £10 less, the pricing seems somewhat surreal. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has purchased it from the PSN…
Fantastic game though!