The Digital-Only Future

Digital distribution is always a hot topic. There is a huge divide between those on the ‘We want physical copies that we have control over’ side of things and the ‘Digital distribution means quicker access and possible cheaper avenue’. For the longest time I thought I was in the former of these two groups. I pride myself on having nice collector’s editions. Next to me sits my signed copy of Diablo 3 to which is now the main exhibit in my collection. Yet there is a problem, I’m a PC player.

This means Steam dominates my purchases, retail stores tend to only stock the latest edition of the various Simulator games and maybe copies of The Sims or World of Warcraft at phenomenally high prices. Through this I’ve somehow converted without my knowledge. As someone completely against the digital only approach for a long time I’ve been downloading games digitally for the past year!

But you know, that is not so bad. Come to think of it, I actually like it! I get most of my games at cheap prices and from the comfort of my chair. With a quick internet connection this isn’t a hindrance at all. I am aware that whilst doing that I am part of the reason why my local retailer only stocks the latest simulators and such.

My covert transformation aside, there is an issue when it comes to Digital downloads. Do you ever really own the game? If Valve closed Steam tomorrow, even though I have the data on my hard drive, would I be able to play the games I’ve bought? It is a constant fear maybe not for Valve and Steam as they have things locked down on that front. But smaller services do have that issue.

Another issue is how the Digital format is spreading. Services like Origin now mean that getting your favorite EA games now require this service on PC. From my experience the words ‘great deals’ and the company EA don’t really mix. If you want to play Battlefield for the PC you are still looking at top dollar for the game. It also means another sign up, another password and another application taking up the computing requirements.

EA for me are the main issue when it comes to downloads though. I don’t wish to ‘hate’ on them as I enjoy many of the games they publish. Yet I can’t help but feel in terms of their success they are to use a magician’s phrase ‘Stacking the deck’. They have boasted incredible number of sign ups, touting their success to anyone willing to lend an ear. Thinking about it for a second of course you will see an incredible amount of sign ups and users getting your service if it is the only place they can access the content they want.

I would love to see the chart of people signing up for the service simply because they had to versus those who voluntarily joined. I’m willing to admit that I may be wrong on this but I have a sneaking suspicion the scale would be in the favor of the former. There are also questions surrounding a recent EU law that was passed. This now means that all future and any past digital content can be re-sold. This means that at least in the EU companies cannot use digital sales to combat the pre-owned conundrum.

Looking at new services Ubisoft has recently re-launched Uplay into a more service like application. As with most distribution services there are many issues, not even Steam started out as a fan favorite. I do however; agree with Uplay more than Origin as Ubisoft are not limiting their content so far to being Uplay only products.

I guess the big question is ‘Is digital only the future?’ As with many ideas like free to play services, streaming game services and the like, I feel that we haven’t hit that magic formula yet. I at this moment in time wouldn’t make a call on what will be the future of games. There are many options and many variables, so if I may be so bold I’d like to make a prediction, sort of, thing.

To me this generation signified the change in gaming it took all the established formulas and completely tore them apart. As such we now have a plethora of services in infancy. I believe the next generation will mark which of these becomes victorious and thrives. I believe that with applications starting to hit consoles it won’t be long before you see Origin hitting the Xbox dashboard and the PS store.

A digital only future is certainly possible. I feel that if done correctly it could even work. But at the same time there needs to be something that is equal to what we have now. It is like changing from having our petrol powered cars to moving to greener, more environment friendly alternatives. There are other options in place, but they do not offer what we have today. It is the same situation. I’m still going to want to have special copies of games; however all the best will in the world won’t make it possible to have a digital copy signed. I know I’m not alone here, so it is up to those at the forefront of the change to provide the alternatives. So EA, if you think you can go into the future being download only, then show us what you’ve got planned.

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