The arguments for switching from physical to digital media are based on convenience and price but is it the right choice?
In a digital age that continues to grow it seems as if physical media is becoming a thing of the past. Lately, sales between digital and physical video games have been more or less equal. However, digital sales have been climbing each year while physical sales have stayed even. But are the people buying digital making the right choice?
One could argue that the benefits of buying digital games are reason enough to forego the physical copy. There is no need to worry about rearranging things so that there is room on the shelf, the game can be downloaded quickly, and there are many great sales where you can get the game cheaper than its physical counterpart.
In the end you are saving space, time, and money so it can be said that digital gaming is convenient. You no longer have to drive to a store to buy a game or wait for a mail order copy to arrive. Despite the convenience, though, it might not be what people expect.
Recently, Direct2Drive was acquired by GameFly and the merger highlights problems inherent in digital download.
GameFly’s FAQs page related to the transition suggests that D2D consumers should download their games and guides soon because GameFly does not support guides. When D2D goes down, people who purchased the guides will no longer have access to them. Further, GameFly’s game catalogue does not cover everything in D2D’s, which means that D2D consumers will no longer be able to download games they paid for.
Sonic Generations, for example, is a new game that can be purchased on D2D but can only be rented on GameFly. What will become of the game for those people who purchase it from D2D but fail to download it before the deadline in January? It is not available through GameFly and there is no guarantee that it ever will be.
So while GameFly assures customers that they will take steps towards all titles being made available prior to the switchover, or shortly afterwards, that is not a guarantee. Nor is it a guarantee that those who purchased the game through D2D will be able to get it through GameFly for free.
The possibility exists that GameFly might not, or be unable to, add those missing games to their catalogue. If that is the case then the affected consumer could be forced to re-purchase the game.
This brings up the point that when it comes to buying digital copies of games; you do not own them. Instead it is nothing more than long-term renting. It does not matter whether gamers purchase titles through Steam, PSN, XBL, Games for Windows, GameFly, or Origin, they are essentially only renting the game.
If one of these businesses goes down then what happens to your digital library? It could be that a grace period might be offered to allow consumers the opportunity to download all their games before the time is up. However, they might not even get that chance. But even then that poses problems in the form of the hard drive.
Console hard drives are extremely limited and while PCs have the option of larger units, they are still other limitations. The size of the hard drive and the size of each individual game itself will determine how many games you will be able to download and save. This could lead people having to pick and choose which games they will save and which ones they will lose.
Then there is the problem posed by the internet itself.
The most prevalent problem is internet speeds. Where I live, internet speed slows to a crawl during peak hours and holidays when the kids are out of school. Overall, America, back in 2009, was ranked 28 in the world when it came to average internet speeds so I am not the only one plagued by this problem.
However, even if speed was not an issue, datacaps are starting to become a staple for internet providers in an attempt to limit the amount of downloads that take place every day.
According to my Steam profile, I have 252 games in my library. If Valve were to suddenly go out of business, what do you think my chances would be of downloading my entire collection of digital copies to my hard drive?
But there is still the physical copy consumers can buy. The same physical copies that take up space in your house, force you to put them in your drive, go to the store to buy them or wait for the mailman to deliver them.
For some, it is not worth the hassle given the convenience of going digital. A sentiment that is misguided because the physical copy still means that you own it and that you still have options even if the company that developed it goes under or no longer supports it.
Take the MMO Star Wars Galaxies as an example. SWG’s official servers were taken offline on December 15, 2011 after seven years. Yet there are still private servers blazing away at lightspeed. Anyone with a copy of SWG can find a one and join in so that the saga can continue.
Those running the private servers have written their own code in order to make this possible but the player still needs a copy of the game in order to play. So the money you paid for that physical copy has not gone to waste.
With digital copies you do not have those options. If a host company goes out of business then you no longer have the game unless it is already on your hard drive.
In the end, physical copies represent ownership and possibilities. You own that copy no matter what happens and you still have options when it comes to its online components should the game come with it.
Despite the digital market’s continuing growth, buying physical copies is still the smarter choice. The economy is erratic and the video game industry has reached a point that if a company’s triple-A titles do not sell well then the high development costs could drive them out of business.
Anything can happen to any developer or publisher. After all, nothing lasts forever. Why should digital distribution be the exception?