Everyone seems to have a very different opinion on the future of physical media.
There’s obviously quite a lot of good reasoning behind the confusion – as sales of games in most retailers have been in a slow decline this year, the sale of digital copies of games from the likes of Steam have been going up – much to the annoyance of the GAME group, who have become more than public in their utter hate for Steam, to the point of branding it anti-competition (which is ironic when this company owns GAME, Gamestation and the online retailer Gameplay – three of the biggest names in the retail games sector all owned by the same company. Nothing anti-competitive about that at all, right? 😉 ).
And it’s the shift in game sales of late that is causing more confusion – the absolutely fantastic Wii JRPG Xenoblade launched in this week at a respectable 7th place in the top 10 charts, and games like Zumba Fitness still continue to dominate the upper regions of the charts for absolutely no good reason. And the games that usually dominate – science fiction shooters – are starting to sink without a trace, regardless of their quality.
It’s how people are getting their games that is the topic at hand though, so let’s look at this more objectively and divide the lines somewhat between Indie and Commercial releases, and Console and PC versions of games.
When it comes to dividing them up, it’s fairly obvious that the number of indie downloads, and PC downloads, dwarfs that of their console counterparts – often even dwarfing X-Box Live Marketplace. The PC is, of course, the natural home of downloading content so it is probably no surprise that this is the most successful niche it has, alongside breakthrough hits this year like Minecraft and Terraria, as well as fan favourites like Project Zomboid and EyE. That said, Steam and other digital download services are seeing more games downloaded -moreso digital collectors editions, despite these versions often being rigidly fixed at RRP for many months, where physical media copies are often sold 20-25% cheaper.
For the PC, it is convenience. Downloading games makes sense on a PC because more often than not, it’s a very straight-forward process. Unlike the X-Box Live Marketplace, which often flits between pages, is sometimes a convoluted mess and promotes games at times when they can’t be bought at all. Getting points for Arcade purchases is so often easier on a PC, which usually you use to save a credit card onto and make sure your XBL purchases are one-click.
Another thing is that I find the X-Box download service to be very throttled at times. I completely understand why they do this, I really do, with so many playing on their network and downloading there’s only so much they can give. An eight-hour Tales of Vesperia download is a testament to that, when on Steam a similarly-sized game is about 2-3 hours tops.
But Tales of Vesperia is a game those of us in the know went for – because physical copies are rare, and retailers know this and charge accordingly. So getting it for £15 digitally – despite the wait – was perfect and not something many of us could argue with. 99% of my X-Box 360, Wii and PS3 purchases, as well as 3DS, are physical copies. It’s not that I don’t like what is on their digital services, but these games are distractions often when you are downloading something on the PC, or running system diagnostics.
And it’s the instantaneous nature of them. It’s just put it in and play – something consoles have over the PC. The simplicity of them, almost idiot-proof, and there’s so little risk. Networks automate patches, unlike most PC games (Steam being an exception but even then, it can often patch badly), and within minutes you are playing them. As long as a console can continue to provide that kind of instant gratification of entertainment, it’s hardly a surprise that physical media tends to be the bigger seller on consoles.
I doubt very much that in the future this will change very much. PC Users are usually knowledgeable enough to download intelligently, whereas console gamers are often savvy enough to shop around for a better deal. I’m not sold on Cloud Gaming, or Stream Services, because these services – for all their potential good – are an extension of a rental service. You unsubscribe from them, and they will remove your rights to the games. No service that restrictive or harsh will take off, and it’s hard for them to negotiate themselves out of it. And besides, people like ownership. Ownership is good. Owning something is good.
And I don’t believe that the two sides – PC vs Console, Commercial vs Indie – will change much either. I think downloads will always be a staple of the PC. I think the PC will see a significant reduction of physical media in the future. There’ll be no need, with the advent of 4G LGE internet services being touted here in the UK (and in my native Cornwall) things will only get faster. PC Users will find more options available to them – and regardless of what the GAME group feels, it will be competing not just with Steam, GOG, D2D and Get Games but a number of newer, innovative games provision services that will try and get the most through your tubes.
But consoles – by definition – are a different species. And I think console games, for the foreseeable future in any case, will be very much tied to discs and carts. The PSPGo! was a great example of it. Whereas digital downloads were booming on the PC market, the Go! failed miserably. Microsoft are very much coy that they actually make losses on the X-Box Live experience, which is a shock but then, that was the point of the X-Box division of Microsoft. It was their little money sink. Their pet project. So I guess we can forgive them that.
Kind of like the line, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, you are talking about two very similar and yet ‘organically’ different types of being. And the two sides may not really fully understand each other, but some of us are faithful to one or the other, whereas some of us like to snuggle up close to both of them and ask if they’re up for a threesome.
There’s nothing wrong with the two being different. Any argument over the future is wasted energy – see what happens, because for all my thoughts and predictions, the market is a fickle, fickle thing.
And anything, but anything, can happen.