For several years now, companies have been offering consumers the ability to download (primarily) PC games in lieu of going to an actual physical location or even having them shipped through Amazon or eBay. Services such as Valve’s Steam digital distribution platform have proven that consumers are prepared to forgo the previously required experience of digging through physical product in a store to find the particular game for they were looking. The only prerequisites now are a fast broadband connection and the system requirements for the games themselves.

 But what if that short list of necessary items was limited solely to a broadband connection, the quality of your system taken almost entirely out of the equation? 

That’s called progress.

Whether we like it or not, digital distribution in some form or another is the future of video games. Whether we as consumers want it, or the console manufacturers, it doesn’t matter. Developers and publishers are very excited about the prospect of being to develop whatever they want and know that a) the potential audience for their products will be huge as anyone with a PC and internet will be able to play and b) there is absolutely no threat of piracy since the consumers never actually obtain the product, they merely interact with it. No downloads, no cracking, no SecuROM. The DRM will be built into the infrastructure itself, safe and sound.

Onlive got people talking back during this year’s E3, mostly shouting bullshit. The idea of streaming games over current connections with no downloads or installs while some remote server plays them and spits you back the video seemed preposterous to most, myself included. Add in the fairly low rate of broadband penetration and the concept seems to be floundering before it ever gets to market. I had just bought a new 3.0 GHz dual-core processor and 4 gigs of RAM to help along my aging system; I didn’t need some startup business telling me that those were somewhat wasted purchases.

Then today I read a short story on 1UP talking about Gaikai the “other” cloud computing gaming service, with a short video demo showing David Perry jumping from several games almost instantly, including Spore, Mario Kart 64, and even World of Warcraft. The only thing the service requires is Adobe Flash, which to be honest, if you browse the Internet frequently at all, is almost impossible for you to not already have it installed. The video itself is a bit low res but the tech seemed solid and very exciting to say the least.

I’ve made all of my 40 odd PC game purchases through Steam so the lack of a physical media means little to me. But of those purchases I’ve made, games such as GTA 4 and Far Cry 2 receive almost no play time from me. Not because I don’t want to, but because my system can’t run them in the settings I wish to play them at. I don’t want to run in fog filled jaggy edged Liberty City. I want to witness the beauty of those promised commercials from last year and roam those dirty streets. The idea of spending $200 on a new graphics card and another $100 for a new power supply for the new card is unfortunately not a bullet I wish to bite. Then I think about how my girlfriend’s dusty single-core P4 can barely run the Sims 2, let alone the Sims 3 which she’s been drooling over since its release. She’s looking to buy a laptop for law school next year and she’d be beyond ecstatic if she knew she could make a cheaper purchase and still play higher end games without breaking the bank.

Hug your discs close, pore over your black and white instruction manuals, lay in a pile naked with all of your collective cases and Halo cat helmet. Whatever you feel justifies your need for stuff. If one, or both, of these companies can pull it off, the gaming world looks bright, promising, and hassle free.


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