Many of us download our games digitally these days. Where once there were only a couple of digital providers serving games from multiple companies, publishers are now also distributing their games through their own services. In many cases this means logging into multiple accounts to access ones content. But it is not all bad. Some services, Steam in particular, run regular deals on games. As soon as a month or two after launch a game could be found for half the launch price. Going purely digital has its pros and cons, so I will be looking at digital gaming as it is today.
Blizzard have been delivering their games digitally for several years now. World of Warcraft and its expansions have been available to download for almost as long as the game has been out. It is only in the last two years that the expansions have been available for purchase digitally. Since the launch of StarCraft 2 Blizzard have offered all of their games for download through their battle.net service. This service also ties each of the games together, so players can chat to friends across the games while playing.
All modern Blizzard games also require a constant connection to the internet. Many vocal players asked if this was absolutely necessary for a series that has been playable offline in the past. Other companies are also trying to head down the always-online route as well. EA and Ubisoft are both using an internet connection as a form of DRM, requiring the player to keep a stable internet connection or risk losing progress. With games making increased use of a constant internet connection, companies are able to not only ban players from the game they are playing, but from each other game that company owns as well. EA recently had to remove an offending clause from the SimCity beta EULA which was too broad even for them.
An internet connection has lead many people into casual gaming who would otherwise have never picked up a controller. Facebook is setup to keep people browsing the website for as long as possible. Having game available to play only encourages them further. Some games there are fun for five minutes, but most games are copies of each other. There is little in the way of innovation; most games are setup to part players with their cash in exchange for hastily advancing what little plot is contained in the game. The same can be said for the majority of the games on the iPhone as well, but at least on iOS people are trying to innovate still.
The iPhone has its own share of problems aside from games stealing content from one another. The phone market has traditionally seen games priced cheaply or even free. Both are commonly supported with in-app purchases to speed up gameplay. As larger companies enter the market, we are seeing a greater number of games released at either a price comparable to the hand-held market, or with enough content locked behind purchases to make little difference. Yet some people are willing to pay for this and ask for more.
Nintendo have long been clueless about the internet. While they are trying to incorporate online functions into their games, they have often done it in the most complicated ways possible. Unlike Sony and Microsoft who have a single account binding all their devices together, Nintendo instead chose to tie gamers to their devices instead. This means that it is often difficult to impossible to move games from one device to another. Even if one is to delete all the games from a system before selling it on, it is possible for the new owners to download them all again, as we have found in the case of the Wii U.
If the future is looking bleak, it is because many companies have not yet managed to streamline their systems the way Steam has. As long as consumers vote with their wallets, overvalued mobile games will come down to a reasonable price. Nintendo may never get it right, but will continue to print their own money. As stands now though, brick-and-mortar games shops could become a thing of the past. We are already seeing high street vendors allocate an increasing amount of space for selling codes to download games from digital services. It is still early days though, and until people find out what happens to their digital purchases when we head into the next console generation, people will hold off on embracing a totally digital future.
How large is your digital game collection? How many boxed games did you buy last year? Let me know in the comments!