Digital Termination

So, the other day, I was browsing through the Xbox Live Marketplace just seeing if there was anything there I might be interested in dropping some bucks for, since I had some extra scratch and was feeling saucy, and while browsing through the Games on Demand section I stumbled across Bully: Scholarship Edition. I had played the original on PS2 and loved it, so in my mind the addition of a few extra features and missions just might be enough to warrant a second purchasing of a very entertaining game, if the price was right.  Best of all I wouldn’t even have to leave my house to pick it up. I opened up the page, saw the price tag, thought better of it and picked up some Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 DLC for half the price instead (I’m very gay for anything Spider-Man related).

A few days later I was cruising through my local GameStop to place some money down on my reserve for Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 (again, Spider-Man related) and spotted a used copy of Bully: SE for a nice chunk of change cheaper than it was on Live.  While I didn’t end up buying it, I got to thinking: our society is drifting to a place where everything and anything must be served to us instantly. TiVo, movies on demand, NetFlix Instant Stream, iTunes, Amazon Digital – all services that serve up the entertainment we want, when we want it.  Now with Steam running full tilt and delivering the brand new Triple-A titles up front, how long until the not-to-be-outdone ‘Big Three’ of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo start up a service to give us instant access to the newest titles from the comfort of our own homes?

While the service would certainly be welcome, it wouldn’t come without its drawbacks.  Keep in mind that while internal hard drives are approaching sky high amounts of memory for consoles, it’s still limited.  For a player like me who buys a ton of games, I would imagine myself running out of space rather quickly; considering my favorite genres are RPGs and grandiose adventure games, my typical download won’t be small.  Add to that the sure addition of DLC and software patches, along with standard save files, and that’s a nice healthy bit of memory dedicated to a single game; my estimation would be around seven gigs for a game like Dragon Age: Origins, if not more.

After two years of standard game playing, my 120 gig Xbox hard drive is beginning to reach its limit; if the entirety of my library was in digital form, I would’ve had to have given the axe to several of my stored items many times over. And while, to some people, it may not be that big a deal, personally I would really not go through all the hassle of downloading a game a second time should I get the itch to play it a few months down the line (which happens to me a lot more than you would think).  I still play Arkham Asylum on a regular basis despite playing it since release and getting 100% completion several times over, including grabbing all the achievements. But that’s a story for another time.

This is not to say that disc based releases don’t suffer from similar catches. A regular tool I use to decide when it’s time to trade a few games in is looking at how full my library has gotten.  Should it be approaching overflow levels, then I wave adieu to some older or more boring titles and invest in new ones.  Of course, with a disc you have to worry not only about storage, but maintenance.  Scratch that disk too bad and you’re basically fucked unless you’re the lucky owner of a resurfacing machine (in which case you and I need to talk).

While this may sound like it came straight from an after school special I’m going to say it anyway: discs are good for the economy! There is almost no game in my library right now that did not involve some kind of used-to-new trade-in. With a digital-only download, there’s nothing to trade in. Without a trade-in, we lose the used game market, in which I shop heavily, particularly when looking for a new title because there’s always the one guy who trades it back in a week after release. This is someplace where I can’t see the digital market coming close.  Unless the product goes on sale or the customer lucks on a coupon of some sort, the price for the game is the price, period.  No trade-in credit, no used copy that will be a few bucks less – it’s practically like buying from a monopoly.

Once the game industry realizes they have got us by the nuts (or tits) like this, what’s to stop them from a price hike? Sure the direct downloads will be cheaper when competing against conventional discs, but once they squeeze that market out, we really won’t have much of a choice left. We could end up paying the full price of a disc based release for a pure digital one. Not only that, think of the companies that rent us videogames as well.  While franchises like Blockbuster are slowly being devoured by online competitors like NetFlix and GameFly, the loss of disc based releases would be the final nail in the coffin for an almost entirely analog store.

Then we have the political ramifications: here in California there is some senator or another stirring up a fuss about violent video games being sold to underage kids. While I’m from the school of thought that the industry isn’t to blame for this and it’s the parents job to monitor what their kids play, Capitol Hill doesn’t exactly have a track record of being rational. Think how easy digital libraries would make it for Little Todd to pick up the latest “controversial” release, when he needs little more than mommy’s credit card number. Most parents probably don’t even take the time to set up a child’s account for their kids, much less remember to remove their card information after a single use. This could place our beloved pass time in hot water, to say the least.  This all leads to the biggest and most dangerous threat that direct-to-console digital downloads presents to us as gamers, nay us as human beings: MothaFuckinSkyNet!!! That’s all I’m going to say about that.

While I realize this went from general musing to conspiracy theory real quick, it doesn’t distract from the point I was originally trying to make: to give gamers something to think about. While it sometimes seems like we have very little influence on the industry (all the workout games come to mind), we as a collective have the strongest voice of all as the consumer. We control where our media comes from and how to move forward in the future. Do you think we would be where we are now if someone didn’t yell out of their little corner: “That Mario model ain’t done yet! I want to see the stitches on them overalls!!” Our purchase decisions dictate what comes to us in the future; we still haven’t been graced with a Psychonauts sequel, but look at all the crappy Madden titles we have to wade through each and every year because one sold and the other didn’t.  So stay strong my fellow media crack-addicts, and let’s march on into our future… hopefully Terminator free.

Last five articles by Adam R



  1. Michael Author says:

    The prices for games on demand on the XBox Marketplace are terrible. How can Micro$oft be selling Crackdown 2 for £30, but Ghostbusters for £15? Ghostbusters is the vastly superior game, yet it has it’s multiplayer removed, and gets a crap price put on it. Crackdown 2 was a shit game, and really not worth the money!

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I noticed a strange thing very recently, and that was how some people were actually charging MORE for the digital distrubution version of a game than they were the brand new boxed version. I can’t for the life of me understand WHY this would be the case, as there’s clearly no manufacturing costs, no distribution costs other than bandwidth which is generally free and unlimited these days anyway, and no tangible product that has to be moved around by warehousers and packers.

    The link below shows Two Worlds II as a hard copy tangible product for £24.99 from GAME while the digital distribution version comes in at a ridiculous £29.99… so they’re charging £5 more for a product that is likely being sold on a commission only basis whereby they didn’t have to buy in any stock or even sign a commitment for a particular number… there’s no shipping fee, no packaging, nobody to handle the actual fulfilment side of the process, the product itself ts TECHNICALLY free to produce (software would handle the distribution and master file would have been made once) and yet GAME are somehow adding £5 on to this price.

    I really don’t understand it. I think digital distribution is a great idea as an additional option for how you want to purchase games/music/literature etc but, for me anyway, it would be reserved for those moments where I think “You know… I REALLY want to play [insert game here] right now and can’t wait for a hard copy!” and that’s about it. I’d rather have something that reminds me that I spent money on it rather than a virtual product that exists only as ones and zeros, or whatever, somewhere on my hard drive. I certainly wouldn’t pay more for something if I wasn’t being given a tangible product as I find that an insane way to work. If we ever reach the point where physical copies are removed from the equation and we are only able to use digital distribution methods then I suppose I’d just have to suck it up, but I’ll be doing so reluctantly.

  3. Ste says:

    I do actually like digital distribution, my man love for Steam is well known however I have to agree that the prices of games are pretty scandelous compared to an actual hard copy. I tend to buy my games during the Steam sales or the weekend deals. As MarkuzR said there isn’t really an excuse for it either. But it seems that digital distribution is becoming more and more popular all the time and as long as there are people willing to pay the high prices then the prices will remain high. Simple economics!

  4. Greg Greg says:

    Companies will clearly always prefer the Digital Distribution method for the very reason that they make such a relatively large profit per unit sold compared to a ‘traditional’ retail model. And I hate to say it but Adam hits the nail on the head when he points out that its down to us as consumers that we are in the situation that we’re all bemoaning here. The simeple fact is that, like any industry, the games industry will charge whatever people will pay. If NOBODY had bought a PS3 for the first year of its life, then believe you me the price would have dropped pretty sharpish – anyone remember how quickly the original xbox dropped from the launch price of £400 to £200 (about 3 months if I remember)

    People are clearly paying silly money for DD versions of games – maybe they are stupid, maybe they have more money than sense, maybe they just REALLY can’t wait the amount of time it would take to get to the shops to buy the game or for an online retailer to send them a ‘proper’ copy. Whatever the reasoning, until it stops they will keep doing it. Xbox marketplace has ridiculous prices on all sorts of things but especially the Games On Demand, but again, if people weren’t paying the prices then they would drop.

    For me, I wouldn’t buy a ‘proper’ game (i.e. a game that was available in a traditional retail format) on DD. I download the occasional arcade game on Marketplace, and I try demos and use DLC, but full games? No thanks. I use itunes, because I can get cheap songs that are hard to track down anywhere else and often they are songs that are on albums I don’t want, and I can sort of see the attraction in ebooks I suppose, although I’d always rather have the actual book in front of me. But games? I just can’t see it catching on. I now confidently predict that because I have said that the entire games industry will be DD based by next Tuesday. :)

    Nice article man – I never would have thought it was possible to get Skynet, conspiracy theories, Arnie and the price of games into one article, but you managed it well :D

  5. FC360 says:

    I’ve purchased 1 Game online via games for windows for 10 MS points, Age of Empires 3 and I haven’t even played it yet lol. I stay away from games on demand services due to the higher prices I have never seen a gamer cheaper on steam or GFW then Amazon or tesco. I have been informed by Game on twitter, really polite ppl btw, that their on deman service is run by a third party so the prices are slightly higher so this third party will make some money too, probably as Mark mentioned, Game get the £24.99 which the games on demand provider get the £5 they added.

    Aren’t blockbuster currently bankrupt? I have no idea who NetFlix and GameFly as their not out here, well I know of netflix, but their not here in UK. The service thats killing Blockbuster UK is Lovefilm and I can’t see anyone doing them any damage unless another company decides to buy them out and fucks up the company. The thing is you can be with Lovefilm and not know it, if you get rentals from tesco it’s lovefilm, WHSMiths uses Lovefilm, CDWow uses lovefilm, its all lovefilm.

    I don’t think game downloads will replace game discs since the internet speeds suck and you would be waiting several hours to get a game that you could head onto a website with click and collect and then order it and pop down to the store and collect it in less time. Click and collect is such a brilliant service I would like to kiss the person who created it.

  6. Ste says:

    @MarkurZ and @FC360

    If you click on that link to the game website then actually click on the download button it re-directs you to somewhere else on the site and the price is actually £39.99 and not the advertised £29.99 as it states originally. For those of you who cant be arsed to do the math thats a 62% increase! Maddness!

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    Great article and it raises some interesting points, as Greg mentioned. Essentially, someone must be buying DD games at stupid prices in order for them to have remained at that price. While I have recently bought DD games for the first time ever, via Steam, they have been games that have not (and will likely not) be released in this country, or those which I own or have had, but which the disc has been lost to operating systems past.

    Those are the only times, aside from needing a game instantly (after many hours download, that is) for whatever rare reason, perhaps for review, that I would buy them. I have always, and will always prefer a physical copy of a game, just as I would a magazine, book, or CD. I like the touch, the smell – yes, I’m weird that way – and the feeling that I actually own something…especially if the net connection vanishes or the game stops being supported at some point in the future and I can no longer obtain it or play it if I need to.

  8. Ben Ben says:

    Digital distribution, it’s the future :)

  9. Edward Edward says:

    A great article, and it raises some incredibly important issues.
    However, something that Markuz touched on is what sticks out to me, and it’s the main reason it hasn’t caught on anywhere near as much as it should have:
    It’s cheaper to get it in stores and give the companies less money as a result than it is to buy it digitally, despite having only a digital copy, instead of a hard copy you can keep for as long as possible. It doesn’t quite seem right, does it?
    However, we have proof it’s not a sustainable model of business yet:
    The PSPGo.
    Horribly Marketed, digital copies cost way too much and too few developers were willing to create digital versions for it. Plus the process of doing it was so long and boring there was little point to it anyway.
    I believe Digital distribution will work in the future, and if companies are brave enough to put sales on and provide incentives, then it can work. Take TelltaleGames: They regularly put their games on sale, and once the season is out they then give you the option to buy them all on one disc for only the cost of delivery if you bought the season off their site. And Steam give enough crazy sales and incentives that I find myself lamenting my wallet’s state everytime the sales come up.

  10. Lee says:

    I think there could be room for both disc and digital much like it is now on xbox live – they just need to work on their pricing and catalogue. I’ve been trying to get hold of a copy of bfbc2 since Vietnam came out and I can’t get one in a shop anywhere! I wanted it there and then at the time (still do) so I haven’t ordered it online – I just wish it was on live for download at a sensible price.
    But I don’t think we’ll see the death of the disc for a while. There are to many consoles in the world that aren’t hooked up to the Internet.

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