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The Future of Game Distribution

The Future of Game Distribution

Sep 10, 2013

The gaming industry is currently in a transitional stage, between the traditional disc-based distribution of video games, and downloadable titles from various online marketplaces.

The standout in the crowd is Steam, Valve’s online game platform. Only delving into third-party software as recently as 2005, the platform gained traction over the coming years, with the rise of broadband, and titles including Bioshock released via Steam maximized its popularity. Now, Steam gains over 6 million players logged in at a time, and dominates the market for downloadable titles on PC. Myself included, many take pride in expanding their Steam library, and basking in the glory of their online gaming archive of past games to the newest releases. Origin is EA’s platform for releasing titles, and also seems set on matching its runaway success, despite a more restricted library.

If Steam can revolutionize the way we interact and purchase games in just over five years essentially, then the future seems very different. Much of Steam’s popularity however, may rely on the fact PC gamers tend to be a tech-savvy market, and the past games it has to offer can be smaller in size. The development of the so-called ‘Steam Box’, a Linux based machine revolving around downloadable games, acts as a console, surely furthering the audience for digital PC titles.

Origin is EA's online store that rivals Steam

Origin is EA’s online store that rivals Steam


The current generation of consoles brought the PlayStation Network, and the Xbox Marketplace. Moving from DLC and small titles, to now releasing full, disc-based games for download, it seems they are embracing the idea of downloadable games. Yet for this move to gain traction, prices need to come down, as most people are not prepared to fork out up to £60 for a downloadable title.

Microsoft seems ready to jump to the digital age, yet it seems the market is not quite ready yet. With the Xbox One announcement, their always-on connectivity was controversial, perhaps highlighting the public are not ready to transition quite yet. However, pre-loading for digital games is in the pipeline for the Xbox One, showing Microsoft are looking to the future for this method. The director of Xbox, Albert Penello, recently stated digital-only will happen in the near future,  and once internet bandwidth and infrastructure catches up with this vision, it is sure to happen. Other forms of media are quickly becoming fully digitized, such as music and movies, and so time will tell when the game industry joins them.

Yet many gamers are put off by digital purchases due to the lack of resale, which discs otherwise provide. However, Microsoft are considering a future whereby you can resell and trade your digital purchases with your friends, which could prove to be an effective way of winning over those skeptical of an all-digital future. If this catches on, then it is sure to pave the way for this business model.

Aside from this, broadband speed is not quite ready for all-digital downloads yet, as even in Britain and other obscure places, it could take several days to download a single video game. And when considering the expected size of next generation games, which could be around the 50GB mark which Blu-Ray discs offer, the online infrastructure needs to improve significantly before this is possible.

Dwindling CD sales and the popularity of downloadable movies shows that the public are embracing the digital age, and it only makes sense for the video game industry to do the same, when the time is right.




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