Digital distribution and the fall of gamer pride

For any dyed-in-the-wool gamer, amassing a collection of games is but an eventuality. Rows of boxes and jewel cases adorning the shelves, stacked on top of each other, their myriad of colours mingling together forming a testament to the individual's passion for gaming. Special editions, irregular shaped boxes and odd gaming memorabilia add further character to what was once an empty space.

Naturally, no discussion would be complete without mentioning the pride that comes with owning an impressive collection. You could own hundreds of titles, the entire Treasure catalogue, or boxed copies of Umihara Kawase. Heaven forbid a Nintendo World Championship cart may even be featured. Maybe your library consists solely of expensive japanese imports. No matter the configuration, every owner has something to feel proud of. Nothing brings out gamer pride quite like seeing your personalized collection on display and having others validate it with favorable (and usually awe-stricken) comments. Without a doubt, half the fun of being a gamer comes from building a personalized collection.

With the advent of online portals like the Wii Virtual Console, Xbox Live Marketplace and Playstation Network, it seems inevitable that the industry is poised to shift to this model predominantly within the next decade, heralding the demise of gamer pride. Anyone who has ever bought anything from the Big Three's networks will be familiar with how this model works. Pay for a license, download a game file. The need for physical media is bypassed entirely. If publishers had their way, all games in future would be available exclusiely through these online channels. The driving force(s) behind this shift varies depending on who you ask, but that's an article for another day. The PSPGo might be a failed commercial experiment but is a portend of things to come.

When I purchase a disc-based game now, I know my money is spent on the physical item I hold in my hands in addition to the derived gameplay experience provided. In future, there is nothing tangible to validate the purchase other than intrinsic knowledge that I own the concept of a game in digital form. At best, maybe I'll be sent a package with an ID card containing activation codes. At worst, I receive a printout of my online receipt verifying my purchase. How does one go about building a collection of any sort then? Will my future PS5 game 'collection' be relegated to a folder of receipts resembling credit card bills? No matter how one looks at it, game collections will cease to exist.

For this author, a gaming collection represents a legacy, a historical and often-times humorous testament defining the individual. I can see how my tastes have varied over time and how I've grown as a gamer. That game Coolspot sitting there? Expensive lesson on impulse buys. That faded $129.00 price tag on Battle Arena Toshinden? Ouch. What about that Dragonball fighter? Best-thing-ever. Then there's the packaging. The box, manual, maps and leaflets add a further dimension to the overall game, beckoning the player with promises of fun and excitement. I remember my experience unboxing Final Fantasy II (IV if you prefer) for the first time. It came packaged with a slew of additional materials including maps and Nintendo Power subscription forms. The manual even included a strategy guide that covered the first 8-10 hours of the game. You knew this game was something special before the cart ever got anywhere near the console.


What about game collecting? Hunting for good deals online, yard sales or speciality stores is an experience relatable by all gamers. Nothing is more satisfying to a collector than successfully acquiring a piece of gaming history, be it an ultra rare prototype or missing title that completes a collection. One needs dedication, luck and usually lots of money to build a collection worthy of praise. In future, this practice would become redundant because entire catalogues of games would be available for download anytime, anywhere. Gunstar Heroes is available on the Virtual Console now for a song, but a digital ROM can never compare with holding the physical original copy in one's hands, and I'd venture to say no gamer out there with a working Sega Megadrive/Genesis will opt for a digital ROM over the cartridge, even if the cart is slightly more expensive.

Another blow to gamer pride is the diminished intrinsic value of games overall. I liken this distribution model to an elaborate form of legitimate piracy. Wait. What? Let me explain. Any real gamer will tell you supporting originals is the only recourse but think about this. Do we support originals solely to attain a sense of moral high ground by contributing to the pockets of developers? Or is it more because an original game looks and feels intrinsically more valuable than a cheap bootleg? Gamers are willing to pay up to 1000% more for an original game due in large part to the overall packaging and presentation of the game. If the Modern Warfare 2 Limited Edition is any indication, its proof that gamers are not only willing to spend, but prefer to pay for the bells and whistles included in the package over the plain game disc. How different then, is Metal Gear Peace Walker on the Playstation Network different from a ripped .iso torrent of the same game? Can anyone deny that a rack of the entire Dreamcast library looks and feels far more impressive/valuable than a harddisk containing the full library of yet-to-be-released Xbox1080 titles?

DC collectionPortable HDD

With networking technology advancing at such a rapid pace, it is only a matter of time before downloading hundreds of gigabytes at once becomes the norm. Likewise, big-budget game releases will eventually become feasible for distribution on a digital platform. It is not farfetched to imagine that Final Fantasy XVII and Killzone 5 may eventually reside exclusively in digital format online. Personally, I can only hope this day never arrives, and that gaming can take a cue from the music industry such that physical vinyls and CDs can exist alongside iTunes. It will be a sad day for this author when game collections become a relic of the past, and gamer pride no longer represents anything more than an immaterial Gamerscore or Leaderboard ranking.

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