Editorial: Digital Future

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.

Don't buy gold from the Chinese then!
It is possible to lose all ones games by getting banned from a digital service.

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.

Hey, Square Enix, look. Cheap games do make money!
Angry Birds has seen major success in the mobile market.

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!

8 comments

  1. I don’t really care for digital distribution. I have Steam but as a MAC person I don’t use it much. In general I prefer owning things. I have hundreds of games on a shelf. Its part of the appeal to me. This article brings up two things. Digital distribution in games has brought many new consumers into the market. Casual consumers via phones to be specific. This is bad IMO. To main stream any hobby you have to debase its appeal to sell it to the the average mongoloid. As we have seen happen to gaming in the last decade. Secondly, digital distribution is an effort by publishers to destroy private property. It is to prevent resale, gifting, lending etc. Publishers want to sell you a license. If they can ever fully get away with it the raping of the consumer will be unprecedented. Just look at DLC. At least old PC expansion packs had substantial content and were almost sequels. I’m not entirely a Luddite as I enjoy Steam sales and cheaper products. However, in the end the cost to the consumer and our liberty will not be worth it.

  2. My feelings about Digital Distribution are complex and contradictory.

    First, when I consider things like WoW and other such PC games, I think it is probably a good thing. I was rubbish about keeping boxes and instruction manuals for PC games because, after a few years, the games simply didn’t work on my PC anymore. There was little reason to keep things like that around–the resale value was zilch and I usually ended up throwing them away, anyway.

    With console games, things are different. As long as I have the console, the game will still play. I certainly didn’t keep my old PCs (who would?), but I did keep my old consoles. As such, I kept the boxes and manuals for everything.

    Now that we are seeing digital distribution making its way onto consoles, I naturally pull back. Whilst I realise it is a way for small developers to get out a title which they otherwise would be unable to release, I also think of the damage it does to the industry as a whole in terms of restricting the access people have to their own games, even insofar as allowing a company to simply shut off a user’s access to *all* of their games remotely, or preventing second-hand sales.

    So, as long as it is done responsibly and with an eye to providing numerous checks against corporate rapaciousness, it can be a good thing on PCs (like Steam).

    As for consoles, it just seems to be a way to fuck users by offering the ostensible benefit of ‘convenience’. Thanks, but I think Amazon release-day delivery of new console games is convenient enough, and doesn’t depend upon my internet connexion, either–and I can always sell the game on if it sucks (and, these days, that’s more likely than not).

  3. I dig digital. But considering how many costs are cut in that method of delivery, it’s still way too expensive. I still buy physical copies of full-retail titles unless they’re “free” on PSN+.

  4. I think where things are right now, are a good deal for both physical and digital distribution. Steam has allowed me to find a lot more smaller, independent games that are amazing, which I have no use for boxes, which are easily transferable to computers, and I don’t think they’ll be unoperable for a long time, right? On the console side, I love being able to play some of my favorite classics on TV, easily accessible via my Wii and PS3on wireless controllers. That has to be my favorite aspect of the current generation (after the games of its time). On the other hand, I strongly feel that eliminating physical games would be a detriment (and I like collecting video games as much as music and books). A game like Ni No Kuni, for instance, I just want to have the copy of.

  5. I really love making digital purchases on my Vita. I have a card full of wonderful and interesting games that I don’t have to swap-out physical media in order to play.

    This is probably how Ethan felt about his PSP Go, only more hetero.

  6. I play mostly online or games that require a connection (WoW, D3 & SC2). Having lost my internet for the better part of yesterday, I realise how scary it is when you can’t access half your library of games.

  7. @Imitanis: Rethinking that dedication to online-only offerings, are you?

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