The real digital frontier for video games looms as the industry shifts from physical media to online distribution. In the near future, the discs that hold your cherished games will be replaced by electronic libraries residing on the Internet.
It's increasingly apparent that the digital-distribution market is a lucrative one. Steam’s user base and profit margins have jumped exponentially over the past few years. Breaking into the market will be hard since giants like Steam have dominated the space. Exclusive releases aren't enough to reel in customers because a service needs to be somewhat functional for them to stay.
Valve and Steam have a loyal customer base due to ever-popular sales, great customer support, and an accessible interface. Origin, Electronic Arts’ creation that has high hopes of knocking Steam off its pedestal, simply doesn’t deliver what customers want.
We have seen such a shift in other industries. The birth of iTunes prompted many forms of media to go digital, such as books, magazines, and newspapers. Video games have and will continue to follow. With influential next-generation consoles coming soon and increasing Internet speeds, the Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 will hopefully further streamline their digital-download services and maybe even exclude the use of discs altogether.
Consumers might be rejoicing, but brick-and-mortar stores are certainly not. Currently, these retailers lie between a rock and a hard place. Soon, they will be irrelevant. They will have no more physical copies of games to sell or trade, and ultimately, they will lose customers. Within 10 years, they could disappear from your main street.
This is something that publishers and developers want. EA is looking to cut the middle man out of the equation. Brick-and-mortar stores make most of their money through trade-ins. A quick, cheap, and easy alternative that most customers, given the amount of money saved, would inevitably choose.
What most people don’t know is that these events are having a huge impact on developers. A large chunk of game sales go directly into the pockets of the stores and nowhere near developers' wallets. The gaming industry loses millions each year as a result.
The shift to digital is a positive step for players and studios alike. Developing will become a more profitable occupation. I will be able to buy Viva Piñata without being judged by a cashier, and I’ll never have to see the light of day when purchasing video games.
And a midnight release will be, for once, a cozy affair.