As a longtime video game collector and firm advocate for physical disc-based media, I never thought I’d find myself writing about the rise of digital gaming. I've been plagued by this issue ever since the new generation of consoles arrived, but it wasn’t until recently that I finally found myself giving in to the pressure. It’s games like The Division, Halo, Battlefront or any of the massive AAA titles that made me realize game discs are officially on death row. What am I talking about? The disc version of The Division, for example, takes nearly as much time to install as its digital counterpart (if you have a decent connection).
It can take hours from when you buy a game at a store to when you're actually playing it. And since most games these days are tied to some ridiculous tertiary server, you can’t even play disc-based, single player titles when the connection goes down. Ehm...HITMAN...ehm...Just Cause 3...Cough, cough. As a result, discs no longer carry the same value. Do you think you’ll have any use for the Battlefront disc a few years from now once EA officially abandons all support? Not really.
But, there’s a flip side.
After my initial frustration, I started to look at the positives digital distribution brings to end-users. On the PC side of things, Steam has already established itself as a well-functioning platform that showcases some of the benefits of digital gaming over traditional disc-based gaming. Managing a digital library is easier, and accessing installed titles is hassle-free. Most new releases can be pre-downloaded, so the games are ready as soon as they're publicly available. The digital realm also creates a more even playing field for developers and publishers.
From a customer perspective, indie and AAA games coexist equally on the digital storefront. Gamers can choose between the latest Call of Duty and something indie, like the Binding of Isaac, within the same environment. Digital distribution opens doors for other interactive entertainment to become part of the same ecosystem. There’s a whole spectrum of genres that are gradually gaining more traction within the industry. More traditional forms of game entertainment, like royal vegas casino, have transitioned to the digital realm for easier accessibility. As a result, digital distribution has created a broader, more encompassing spectrum of possibilities for creators.
On the console side of things, the industry is at a transitional phase. Depending on the game, there’s still an advantage to having discs as long as they’re small in size and don’t have a plethora of DLC lined up. Otherwise, owning a physical disc does not equate to owning 100% of the purchased experience. When you take all the post-release patches into consideration, they oftentimes replace large junks of originally released content.
So, if you were to re-install your used copy of The Witcher 3 on the Xbox One today, for instance, you’d still spend hours waiting, not only for the installation, but all the downloadable patches that follow post installation. The only thing holding consoles back are space limitations and server instabilities. Sure, you can now buy a 1TB PS4, or you can install your own multi-terabyte SSD, but I’m talking about mass consumerism and the fact that most console users buy consoles because they don’t want to fiddle around with hardware. That’s why I view this generation as transitional instead of new (and this isn’t even considering this gen’s underwhelming hardware specifications in consoles).
According to several rumors, Nintendo’s upcoming console may release without an optical drive. If this is true, Nintendo has the potential of being the one to officially shift the industry towards digital distribution. Similarly, if Nintendo doesn’t utilize the digital distribution benefits the same way (or similarly) Steam handles things on the PC, it could stagnate console evolution even further. Unfortunately, considering Nintendo’s arrogant history, I doubt they’ll be the one to offer a solution to digital gaming on consoles. I hope I'm wrong.
As it stands, digital distribution isn’t quite there yet (well, on consoles at least) but the advantages are becoming more evident with each new major AAA release. I’ve collected video games and consoles my entire life, and even though I’m the first to debate the finicky and grey area of digital ownership, it’s a reality I’m finally coming to terms with. This article isn’t meant to be a rant, but rather a confession. Any major change in technology is going to require a transitional period, but the sooner we focus on the positives of technological advances, the sooner we can address the festering issues that result from gamers and game developers/publishers butting heads.
Article by: Tin Salamunic