Nov 11, 2013
We are officially in the digital age. So when will we all be downloading our video games, the same way we do our music? (And in some cases, our movies). Well, the answer is probably sooner than you think.
Digital distribution services are becoming big business.
It’s safe to say that PC gaming is now dominated by digital distribution platforms. The most notable being Valve’s Steam, which has revolutionised the way we consume PC games. It could also be described as saving the PC from gaming extinction.
When was the last time someone ordered a PC game on disc? It’s almost as dated as the floppy disc these days (I’m kidding but also kind of serious).
There are of course, competitors. Origin and Uplay are respectively EA and Ubisoft’s counterparts, selling their own titles. Of course, this seems logical for the companies, but denying their titles on other platforms could be counterproductive; with huge titles like Battlefield 3 or the upcoming 4 avoiding release on Steam.
Other than these software-based platforms, a number of popular websites have been popping up. GreenManGaming, GOG.com and GamersGate are amongst the most popular, offering heavily discounted titles; often trumping the likes of Amazon, or Steam itself. The concept of selling keys is brilliant as a form of distribution, as any retailer can sell them, and redeemed in the correct place. However when there are sales, or surges of purchases, this can often be thrown into the lurch (as I experienced when Battlefront II went on sale and I had to wait nearly a week to play). But once these kinks are ironed out, the concept is very promising indeed. This provides a good deal for the consumer, as companies attempt to provide the cheapest price possible. Although, this is very unlikely to come to consoles, which could hinder those systems, as it is another plus for the PC.
If all these companies can unite to provide one platform to purchase games on, could it become even more popular? Many Steam users are put off by purchasing their PC games on another system other than Valve’s, and so EA or Ubisoft could be missing out on a large number of sales, despite what may seem silly to many.
Aside from the PC, mobile gaming is solely digital. Google Play and Apple’s App Store are seeing unprecedented sales, and are becoming the platform of choice for many of the public, finding joy in simple gaming pleasures for under a single shiny pound in many cases.
Consoles are now all internet-ready, and thus come with their own stores, whether that be on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. Initially selling DLC and small downloadable titles such as fLOw, the services have evolved to offer full retail titles. If this trend continues, then it could be the only way you buy your games in the coming years, as Steam has already proven that digital distribution can revolutionise an entire platform.
The physical medium has one big flaw, in that game stores are essentially bad for the consumer, even if picking up a nice new box is enjoyed by many gaming fans. They act as a middle man, and this increases end-costs. That is one of the major reasons that they cannot compete with online retailers, who have a worldwide audience.
The downside of digital distribution is that used games will become a thing of the past. However, there is a silver lining. Used games of course, do not provide any revenue for the developer or publisher. But if they are receiving 100% of the proceeds, they will be able to afford to distribute the game for less, ultimately generating a better deal for the consumer. Self-published and distributed titles can be much cheaper.
As games get more complex, it is vital that developers gain money from their games. This is why DLC, subscriptions and micro-transactions are so popular: because there needs to be some form of revenue in the long term in order for the developers to be able to warrant patches and future updates, keeping the fans happy.
The internet has done great thing for other industries, like music. We can now purchase albums cheaper, and stream entire discographies on free services like Spotify. Imagine the potential of digital distributuin in gaming. The free-to-play model is only the beginning, and it is going to get even better, with a number of free titles available for the PS4.
Ultimately, a digital future is promising on all fronts. Once the internet can cope with larger downloads nationwide, we could be in for an exciting and interesting future of games, even if it’s a strange transition for an industry that has been so accustomed to a nice disc or cartridge.
In the words of Bob Dylan, the times, they are a-changin’.