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I recently tried and failed to buy Grand Theft Auto 4 in local stores around the day of release – yeah I know I should pre-ordered it a long time ago, but what can I say, every other GTA game I’ve played has been on the PC, so I’ve never experienced places having no stocks, plus I’m used to waiting at least 6 months anyway!
The Physical Issue?
This situation then got me thinking about the way games are still being distributed, I wondered how many other people like me were willing to pay for it on the day of release — I’d taken a day off work and everything! It eventually took me around 2 weeks till I found a store to buy it from — I’d have bought it from an online store before then, but I’d got that annoyed by the situation I’d decided to just wait for the PC release again, it was only because I saw it and it was only an impulse buy that meant they got my money this time around.
If I hadn’t succumbed to an impulse buy (which is rather rare for me actually) then the developers and publishers would have got much less out of me when I bought the cheaper PC version further down the line.
This whole experience really got my thinking about the actual practice of having to buy a game as a physical product. Surely, it’s becoming somewhat dated? – Even high street stores are beginning to stop stocking physical music CDs in favour of providing music downloads.
What Does This Mean to the Gaming Industry?
I just wonder how much money is also spent in producing, distributing, stocking it onto shelves and then having a shop assistant actually take your money during the transaction when you’re stood in the store buying it — having used who knows how much fuel to get there, so throw fuel prices into the mix too and you’ve got even more cost.
Combine this physical stocking issue with that of piracy, where the games publishers are always berating how many sales they lose, particularly on the PC due to people copying these physical discs and it really makes you why full retail game downloads aren’t happening more and are currently relegated to mini-games that you can buy on Xbox Live,and the like.
Valve have had their own online distribution system called Steam for a number of years and it’s good to see more games appearing this way and be able to download ahead of the release date. You can then be sure that you will be able to actually play on the day of release as is the case with the Half Life games. I’ve never had any problems with Steam system and clearly it works for Valve as I never hear about them complaining of piracy affecting their sales!
You could argue that you would want a physical disc to provide a backup of the game for when you next want to install and play the game — well I used to be someone liked to have his collection of games sat on a shelf on display, but these days I find I have enough clutter around the place without having physical game cases taking up space. Surely with increasing storage size, coupled with the reducing costs of memory cards, USB storage devices, hard disks, Blu-Ray and even that of solid-state drive technology — backing up your downloaded game shouldn’t be an issue?
Another point could be that downloaded games require online verification to play and what would you do if you don’t have internet access at that time? Admittedly, that is annoying when you lose your broadband connection, however more and more physical media games require ongoing online verification as part of their anti-piracy systems, so chances are you’re going to be in the same position with most of them soon.
A Digital Future…Soon?
Overall, with increased broadband internet speeds and increased storage, I’d much rather have my games delivered to me digitally and be able to play as soon as we reach the release date rather than going out to buy from a store or wait inside for the postal service to bring it to you (or not as the case may be).
What do you think about digital game downloads? Is it time to ditch those shiny discs that served us well for so many years, but now their days have come and gone? Embrace the digital world for more convenient game playing?