Editorial: The Merits of Digital Distribution

This poster is funny because it is true
Lusipurr.com has its priorities in order.

G’day my Lusi-sprites. I have long been a proponent of digital content as opposed to hard copies of games. A few recent events have made me question my preferences, and I thought this might be a fine time to revisit the digital versus physical debate. I shall praise the merits of each and likely fail to come to any definitive conclusions.

Purchasing and storing games digitally is particularly attractive to folks such as myself who tend to be a bit lazy and messy. I freely admit to losing game discs, putting discs in the wrong cases, and damaging discs. It was not uncommon to find a stack of 30 discs just sitting atop my television, waiting to be put away. It just seemed like so much effort to put a disc away when I was finished with it. Eventually the teetering pile of loose discs would topple over and become scratched or worse before I finally cleaned the mess up. Having games stored digitally just made my life so much easier. Please note that this little segment is written largely in the past tense, as I am currently quite neat and tidy and quite good about putting my toys away.

Bypassing the need for physical copies of games can not only be beneficial to the environment in one’s home, but it is beneficial to the environment as a whole. Digital content bypasses the need for manufacturing plants to create discs, jewel cases and manuals. Digital content also does not need to be shipped, eliminating countless trucks from the roads. Bypassing manufacturing and shipping not only reduces our carbon footprint, but has the potential to lower the price of digital versions of games.

Digital content allows gamers to store extensive game libraries without having to actually devote a significant amount of space to games. Not everyone actually has room for shelves or boxes of games. College dorms and bachelor apartments are notoriously tiny and anything that can be done to optimize the space available is a great thing. Even gamers with more square feet of living space may not wish to devote much space to their hobby. On the other hand there are also those among us who take pride in their game collections and enjoy having them on display. I must admit that one of my favourite things about my new apartment is the bookshelf devoted to gaming paraphernalia that takes up some prime real estate in the living room.

What if there was an earthquake?!
This just will not fit in your dorm.

Although there are many benefits to digital content, this is still a relatively new distribution method, lacking firm industry standards. Not all games are available digitally, and those that are typically were released some time after hard copies were available. There are multiple distribution channels for digital content, and they do not all adhere to the same guidelines. Some allow for multiple downloads, others place restrictions on when and how often a game can be downloaded or installed. Some services require an active internet connection in order to play games, while others do not. It is for these reasons that some consider it simpler, less complicated to continue to purchase hard copies of games.

One of the recent events that leads me to question my preference for digital media is the introduction of Usage Based Billing (UBB) by my internet provider. They, like many other providers, have instituted a monthly download cap, and charge $1 for every gigabyte used over that cap. Suddenly purchasing and downloading the next World of Warcraft expansion directly from Battle.net seems less desirable when I consider that it would likely devour 20% of a custiomer’s monthly allotment.

The other recent event that has me rethinking my preferences is the hacking of the Playstation Network. Servers and game consoles are not infallible. Distributions channels such as PSN or Steam can go down, and someday may be discontinued. Our consoles can die, potentially taking with them our digital libraries. A case on a shelf, while vulnerable to scratches, is far more likely to endure than digital content. Perhaps in ten years I can look back at digital distribution channels and see that they too have a been able to endure long-term.

What do you think? Do the risks of digital content outweigh the inconvenience of storing dozens of game cases in your house? Does the convenience of digital purchases outweigh the loss of having an actual game collection to display? Does anyone else have the shadow of UBB looming over them?


  1. The problem i have with downloading games is
    1. I usually forget i “own” said game and never play it, where as if i had/have the physical copy i see the case and think to myself “damn i really want to play that right now”

    2. It seems that the prices for Digital Downloads of games never seem to go down, the service that has the biggest problem with this is the PSN where, to this day, some games are still more expensive then there physical counter parts. Although on the other side of the coin we have steam which puts MASSIVE discounts on many popular and indie games all the time.

    3. Like you said, showing off my game collection in a way is a big thing for me, i like to hear peoples reactions to all the games i physically own, i like to hear “oh you have that game!” and other such exclamations.

    I do think Digital Downloads are, sadly, the “way of the future” for the video game industry but, i do see the merits of non physical game ownership.

  2. I would have no problem with digital distribution, were it not for the fact that there is an increasing number of games that I can get no other way. I can see that in ten years time only a dwindling collection of games will be physically available for purchase (if any at all).

    That said DD is a boon for Indy devs who can’t get major publisher backing, and services like Good Old Games are just fantastic!

  3. although all DD sites/programs should have cloud based saves much like steam or the new iCloud

  4. My problem with digital distribution is that it’s generally packed with DRM. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Steam and have some stuff on there. But the potential to end up losing access in any form to some titles is a problem for me. Sort of how those Satellaview/Sega Channel stuff got lost.

    I generally like to have a physical copy of games, but usually make an .ISO image that’s sitting on a HDD that I end up using. I don’t really want to play PSX games on an actual PSX (or PS2), so it’s more convenient and a better experience. I did the same thing with music CDs years ago (well, ripped MP3s), but with cheap massive HDDs available now a gigabyte or three isn’t that much space for the convenience.

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