For a long time now I’ve been stubborn about my physical gaming media. It’s currently the only entertainment medium I haven’t fully converted digitally to. Books, TV (online, not cable), movies, and music are all consumed by me, 90% of the time, in the digital format. But why not games? Why was I such a hold out, and a stubborn one at that? Looking back, I had something addicts call “a moment of clarity”. In reality that moment wasn’t really a moment, it was more like 12 hours glued to my computer monitor watching E3 press conferences and coverage. In the following days, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Now two months later, here I sit typing this article and declaring with firm conviction…
I’m switching to digital.
First off I’d like to answer the question I addressed to myself. I’m a bit of a game collector, not the “1000’s of games owned” or “complete console collection” type of collector, I’m more along the lines of; “I’m never going to sell back the games I’ve bought and want some other crap too… collector”. Physical discs are tangible proof of my gaming accomplishments and are something I could put on my shelf and marvel at their dust collecting capabilities. Most of those games are from this generation, as this gen was the first console generation I’ve been able to fully dive into. I didn’t really play games in High school; during the last half of the Xbox/PS2 era and was too young to buy any game I fancied during generations preceding that. Needless to say (but I’m going to anyway) I’ve missed a lot of good games over the years. With HD collections/remakes and the ever expanding list of retro games available on Steam, PSN, Xbox Live, and the Nintendo Network I am able to play a lot games I’ve missed. This can all be possible without 1) buying dozen’s of retro consoles and 2) taking up all the space in my apartment. In my moment of clarity I realized I don’t need mountains of games. I don’t need to spend $500+ on a complete copy of Earthbound (but I might anyway… because I’m an idiot). Once that hurdle was cleared, I literally didn’t see a single reason not to convert to digital.
It’s obvious to say that prior to this generation of consoles; the only way to play a game was to buy a physical disc or cartridge. That all changed during the past few years. I have bought some digital titles, but never could fully go digital (because of my personal reason) and also because of the lack of unified digital distribution. By that I mean, not every game was available day one, like the physical disc. Sometimes, the game didn’t even receive a digital release at all or I had no idea that it was going to be available online day one. Slowly that started to change and of late and day one digital games have thankfully become the norm.
Previously, driving to a store and buying a game was quicker than waiting for a full AAA title to download. 2 GB takes me a long time to download, and that’s on the smaller end of AAA titles. The future is now (cliché phrase that logically doesn’t make sense) and the coming generation will introduce the feature of playing a game while it’s downloading: wait time has almost been eliminated. This coupled with relatively fast internet allows us to can play our games immediately without ever getting up from the couch. Downloading now provides the game quicker than the disc version without you ever having to leave the room, pay for shipping costs, or wait most of the day for it to arrive on your doorstep. Hell, you don’t even have to get up to swap games.
Another enticing prospect of digital gaming is the services provided by Sony and Microsoft in the form of PS+ and MS Gold. I admit I was a late adopter of PlayStation Plus. How late? This is my second month having the subscription. PS+ has given me a literal cornucopia of games. I’ve downloaded Saints Row: The Third, The Cave, Machinarium, Little Big Planet Karting, Uncharted Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Gods Eater Burst, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, and Jet Set Radio… for free (after paying the subscription of course). That’s not counting all of the game’s I didn’t want for free or the countless discounts. I am not joking when I say this; with PS+ I don’t have to spend money on a single game all year… physical or digital. Most of these I haven’t even installed on my system yet and probably won’t get to play some them before the year is out. I don’t have to deal with impossible to take off stickers or the chance of a scratched disc on a used game. Hopefully my hard drive can take a beating…
Faster internet and downloading advancements make digital ever more enticing to consumers. However, these consoles do not have an endless amount of space to keep all of this digital gold. Many gamers might find themselves running out of hard drive space with all of their game downloads and DLC. Sony has made the right call on this one by providing a removable hard drive. If you don’t feel like 500GB of space is going to cut it, then upgrade. While 500GB of space will be plenty of room for the majority of gamers, there are going to be more than enough who will hit the 500 mark. In this aspect the Wii U with its 32 GB storage space will not be able to offer digital content on the same level as the PS4 and Xbox One. In the eventual discontinuation of physical discs hard drives will be an important area of emphasis on future consoles. With larger hard drives, Xbox’s emphasis on cloud gaming, and Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai for streaming games could reduce the amount of space needed on gamers’ hard drives. These companies don’t want to start handing out multi-terabyte hard drives with every console which would cost lot of money to do and drive console prices up. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the PlayStation Vita. The limited space on memory cards and their crazy high prices are what drive me away from purchasing the handheld. In the long run, with the possibility of more people switching to digital, or just buying more digital games, expensive memory cards will keep PS Vita’s on the shelves.
If you follow video games on websites you have probably encountered the NPD Group. The NPD Group is a massive company that follows business markets in many industries, and one of those industries is video games. For awhile now, they have delivered dire news about falling sales of both hardware and software sales. However, they did not include digital sales of video games. That’s about to change, in July, the NPD Group announced that they are transition to report on the sales of both physical and digital sales (GamesIndustry International)
In an article by GamesIndustry International, they give a report on the Game Developers Conference in 2013; digital game sales are growing at a rate of 33% every year, 40% of game sales are digital in the United States and Europe (up from 28% in 2011). 2012 saw a total revenue of $14.8 billion for the game industry. $7.1 billion or 48% of the total revenue comes from the retail games market. The other 52% comes from other revenue (digital games, DLC, used games, online subscriptions, social/mobile games, game rentals). So retail games are $7.1 billion and digital games and DLC are at $2.22 billion. From 2011 to 2012 new game sales (retail) dropped 22%, used games dropped 17.1% while digital games and DLC together amassed a growth of 33.9%.
If Microsoft’s PR team told us anything, it’s that consumers go crazy when things are new or don’t make sense. In order for gamers to truly embrace the digital age, we have to be assured that the games we bought are our games. I need to know what would happen if my console breaks or gets stolen. Could I get all my games and DLC back on a new console without fees, repurchasing games, or other miscellaneous hurdles? If something happens to my consoles now I have my physical discs to fall back on. How could I prove to Microsoft/Sony that my console was stolen? How long would the process take? Especially when there is limited amount of downloads allowed for different consoles. Some users just don’t have luck with consoles, multiple red/yellow rings, bricked consoles, stolen etc. These are policies and solutions that need to be addressed for gamers who will be purchasing a lot of digital games, to be assured that consumers won’t have to jump through 50 hoops to get their games back on their new system.
Digital only gaming is on the horizon and will be here sooner or later. Generation 8 could be the last gen to incorporate physical discs however; it will depend on which format consumers spend most of their money. Digital gaming is now more accessible due to the increased focus on providing digital games; their availability and the ease of downloading. Bigger hard drives result in the condensing of cumbersome game cases while at the same time eliminating the need to swap out game discs. Play while downloading provides almost instant access to games without having to drive to the store. PS+ is offering an amazing service, and by the looks of it Microsoft’s Gold service is heading in the same direction. Streaming games and using the cloud put a further emphasis on digital games, providing ways to play your games that physical discs cannot compete with.