We’ve all grown used to the act of driving down the street to go buy a title. Before, we couldn't simply sit at home in our big, comfy chair and download a game straight to our PC or console.
The way we buy games has changed drastically, however. Pricing models are transforming, and day-one downloadable content is ripping apart communities.
Within just 12 short years, however, the way we buy our games has changed three times. It started with boxes that could only be purchased online or in a store. Then, the market transitioned over to a digital-download platform. And now, as we speak, the market is moving to a free-to-play system.
That free-to-play world is overruled by hidden fees and microtransactions that, on the outside, seem cheap, but after a while, all of those little fees add up. Who wouldn't mind laying a buck or two down on a silly, little hat or a new multiplayer map to play on? The small price seems harmless until we've purchased so many of those things that we receive an enormous bill in our mail at the end of the month.
The quality of our games is now sacrificed for more money. I can't argue against that position because from any business standpoint, the idea makes perfect sense. But from a gamer’s perspective, the next generation of consoles is shaping up to look very different.
Our next batch of systems will be ruled by digital content. Rumors upon rumors have circled the web lately of a PlayStation 4 that ditches the optical bay and forces consumers to buy games through the PlayStation Store. The same goes for the next iteration of the Xbox. Many rumors have suggested that the system will also eliminate an optical drive in favor of a digital-distribution system.
Living in a digital world has its good and bad sides, and I think they balance out pretty evenly.
On the good side, a digital form of game distribution would lead to cheaper games or perhaps more free ones since the free-to-play structure has become increasingly popular over the last few months.
We'd also be able to buy our games from anywhere we'd like and be able to download them onto almost any compatible system. Look at the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita. The Vita can play some of the same releases as the PS3 can, and the handheld also supports cross-platform play, meaning you could start playing a game on your PS3 and later finish on your Vita. This is an exciting concept that would probably take off if it weren't for the Vita's hefty price tag.
On the other side, better hardware is probably expensive to make. With that new technology comes higher prices, which no one wants. When consumers avoid buying these devices with higher price tags, the platforms can no longer be supported, and we're back down to where we started — with cheaper, older tech.
But with services like OnLive, we can now stream our favorite games straight to our PCs or TVs with no hardware at all. We can even play some of these games on our phones and tablets! You just need a speedy Internet service. I believe that this is the future of gaming. If we can pump out amazing visuals on our big screens without the need for big, clunky, and expensive hardware, that’s a winning proposition.
Going to a fully digital distribution platform has other cons, though. What if a piece of tech becomes too old to be supported or if that tech’s maker goes under? Will the store for that system be effectively shut down as well? That would mean that all your purchased titles would be gone forever. You wouldn’t ever get them back like you would with physical copies.
Even if we aren't ready to support such a model, I fear that we're going to be forced into accepting this reality. The age of brick-and-mortar stores is over.
Stores are closing up shop left and right because no one needs them to be around anymore. Many of us are purchasing our products from the comfort of our homes instead of going out and buying them.
In the U.S., huge electronic chains like Circuit City have gone out of business with Best Buy, the only major retailer left, soon to follow. Borders, a major book retailer in the nation, went under because of digital e-readers. In Europe, major chain GAME has also experienced financial problems and is on the verge of shutting down.
I still think that possessing a physical copy of something signifies ownership, and it’s fun to show off an entire collection of games on my bookshelf when people come over.
Yet, whether we like it or not, a future ruled by digital distribution is coming.