Digital Heartache

When digital distribution first started to appear I was firmly in the opposite corner, opposing it in every way possible, pitch fork in hand and ready to combat it head on.

Colour me old fashioned but there was something about carrying home a freshly bought copy of a game that was slightly satisfying, so to think I could do away with the hard copy all together was quite an eerie thought, and for a while the unboxing and reading of the manual on the bus journey home was a pivotal part of my gaming routine.

It’s all a bit déjà vu though as I’ve felt this way before, back when I started moving from brick and mortar retail outlets to online shopping.

Brick 'n' Mortar - A dying breed?

Awaiting the postman is certainly far more stressful and ten times less enjoyable than actually walking into a shop and picking up a game yourself but these days it’s the way I conduct at least 90% of my gaming purchases, primarily down to the monetary difference between the two outlets.

Things do change over time and maybe, just maybe the early signs are indicating it may well be time for a change once again.

Over the Christmas period my Steam account took quite a battering, with many of the daily deals ending up sat proud as punch in my Steam list. But since then my purchases over Steam have dried up, the occasions when I have found something that tickles my fancy – again it’s been in one of the quite awesome weekend sales.

So while I’m sort of heading towards digital distribution for my games it has a long way to go before I’d consider making the majority of my purchases via it.

Again, it all comes down to money, and more importantly what you get for that money. It wouldn’t be so bad if games sold via digital distribution channels were priced the same as regular online retailers, but when you can have a game delivered to your door, that comes in a box, manual and a hard copy of the games cd and you can get all this cheaper than a digital distribution copy then for me there’s only going to be one option.

A glimpse into the future... warring GOD factions take out all the local GAME headquarters

Let’s take a look at some current real world scenarios:

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
Steam – £39.99
Amazon – £29.70

Aliens Vs Predator
Steam – £24.99
Amazon – £14.99

Just Cause 2
Steam – £29.99
Amazon – £24.99

Now while I’ll be the first to admit I do suffer from ‘Postal Rage’ I think I can cope with up to an extra £10 in my pocket for the inconvenience of having an actual hard copy of the game delivered to my door. Sure with the Steam version you could be playing relatively quickly depending on your download speed but surely that can’t be worth that extra £10?

'Ere... 'ow many times 'ave I told ya NOT to spend all our gold?? Just 'cos you can get 'em quick don' mean it's worth payin' extra! *clobber*

But what about consoles, how do they fare in the digital distribution stakes?

I took a glance at the Games on Demand (GoD – excellent acronym for the record) and again it’s clear that you pay a premium for not owning a hard copy of the game:

Fable II
Games on Demand – £19.99 – £9.99

Fallout 3
Games on Demand – £19.99
Zavvi – £11.95

Grand Theft Auto IV
Games on Demand – £19.99
Zavvi – £14.95

Not great findings should you happen to be flying the digital distribution flag, but I guess someone must be paying those prices for them (publishers) to keep charging them, and at the end of the day business is business.

However at a time when my gaming shelves are becoming quite crowded, to the point where with the exception of putting up more shelves some of the older games might have to be boxed away or I’d have to take down the few collectors editions that I have scattered around.

When digital distribution first started to gain momentum I locked my gaze onto its beady little eyes and stared it down like scorning it with pity and hate. But as time has gone on I’ve grown too actually like it, but as much as I want to embrace it I simply can’t.

Games for Windows Live

Most will have never seen the PC side of Microsoft's gaming arm, surprise!

There’s just part of me that will not physically let me purchase something for more money than it would cost to get a real physical copy, my brain just won’t allow it and errors messages of “does not compute” ring in my ears.

That said, there are times when digital distribution is wonderful, and when I’ve found myself looking at deals and sales it’s very hard to stop me from getting out the old debit card and watching in delight as my Steam list grows that little bit longer. But why is it I have to wait for a sale to come around before picking up a game? If the games were priced more reasonably for what is in my opinion less of a product you receive then my online gaming purchases my find a new competitor to its throne.

So while I’m not quite at the stage where I’m ready to jump ship from online purchases to those of a digitised variety, I am stood outside beating on the door, pleading to let me in.

Note: All prices correct at time of writing.

Last five articles by Ben



  1. Rook says:

    The only digital distribution I’ve been involved with is DLC on the 260. Unlike physical copies in the stores, downloadable copies don’t seem to drop in price other than a sale and then the price goes back up again. After some time, a game will be cheaper in the stores to help clear stock / because it’s old / there’s an enhanced version coming out, yet digitial copies dont change. Microsoft have their deals of the week which helps, but if you don’t get them while there are on offer you may not get the chance again.

    The notion of the digital copy being more expensive than the physical copy does sound backwards to me though. Surely, the box, manual and cd/dvd/blu-ray all go into adding to the price. Stange that digital costs more, very strange indeed.

  2. Lee says:

    I’ve never understood the games on demand pricing either.
    Crackdown for £20?? errrrr nope i wasnt much more than that when it came out. The only thinking behind it that i can come up with is if the GoD were more reasonabley priced then it would bugger up the pricing theroy behind the “bigger” live arcade games? in real world money the most some of the GoD’s are worth is about £15 – some less than that.

  3. Ste says:

    Im the same, I only buy stuff on steam if its on a weekend deal. I cant fathom why the games are more expensive digitally than hard copies. I do like digital distribution though. Its a brilliant idea and I love how I can log onto to any computer and play my steam games (PC performance allowing) but this benefit for me still doesnt outweigh the financial cost. Especially as I have only played one of my games on someone else computer exactly once!

    For the moment its all the way for me!

  4. Lorna Lorna says:

    I also find it odd that Games on Demand and digital copies are more expensive…not as if they have higher productions costs or a lucious glossy manual after all. For me, it is just another reason to stick with physical media!

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lee Williams, Knikitta and Ben W, Debbie Fulton. Debbie Fulton said: Digital Heartache « Gaming Lives: When digital distribution first started to appear I was firmly in the opposite c… [...]

  6. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Forget odd, those pricing schemes are patently retarded. Of course, you know my position on this argument already… hard copies every time where possible. I recently bought Toca 3 on Steam, but it was £1.74. So I don’t think it counts… I spend more than that on a chocolate bar that lasts me a little under a minute before being gone.

    Still, interesting to see an article written by someone on the other side of the digital divide. Especially since it reflects on something I mentioned in passing as a negative against digital distribution… looks like despite our differences about the whole philosophy of the thing, we can agree on particulars in some areas.

    We should form a coalition government. Heh.

  7. Adam Adam says:

    I went through a really nasty bout of this a few weeks back when I was trying to get hold of a copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum on Vic’s advice for the PC. I didn’t want to spend more than £15 on it as I knew that was all the standard edition of the game was worth (with the release of GOTY edition) and I hadn’t had much luck finding it at retail, new or second hand.

    I went through just about every site I knew, from Steam to D2D, and a whole bunch of US sites too and everywhere I looked I was being forced to shell out the full RRP for a game over 9 months old, that I wasn’t going to have a physical copy of and wasn’t going to require any middle men. I couldn’t understand why in some circumstances its more expensive to pay the publishers direct.

    Still, I remain a champion of Steam and the Digital movement. I love not having to go looking for disks nor having to back up copies of the latest builds when I reformat. It’s such a joy to be able to just look at a list and pick and choose what I think I’ll be wanting to play. Lately, Steam have really pushed the boat out on sales as well with them even now GIVING AWAY Portal. It’s just fantastic and I look forward to the day where we’re not chasing up Amazon, the Post Office or a retailer thats only going to mis-order your limited edition as always happens with Lee

  8. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I’m impatient. If a game comes out and I can get it THAT NIGHT and spend a couple of quid more, then I’d likely do it. Having said that, I’d only want to do that on the actual RELEASE night as I’d only be happy to pay for the immediate distribution… thereafter it would have to be dramatically cheaper for me to even consider it over having it arrive the following day as a tangible product.

    As someone who knows all about server running costs, it’s easy to see why they can charge full price for a game – the amount of storage is gigabytes rather than bytes and every person who requests a download would expect it at a satisfactory speed, which ultimately means having a huge pipe to ensure maximum speeds at all times. These things aren’t cheap to run or maintain, but I think they should also balance out with the fact that they don’t need any stock holding, no fulfilment, no packaging costs, no shipping fees… and bandwidth/server costs are miniscule compared to labour and material costs.

    I suppose, as with everything else, anyone who wants to pay for it will and those who don’t, simply won’t. I can see it from both sides though, as I’m an impatient swine!!

Leave a Comment