The board rooms of some of the largest corporations in the games industry are buzzing with anticipation of what the future may hold; however, it is becoming readily apparent that that future may have room for only one method of distribution: a downloadable one.
Let’s take a step back and look at the console market as of now.
We have a number of companies vying for the accolade of ‘top dog’. Namely Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo each delivering exclusive content for their systems from first party developers and allowing for second and third parties an opportunity to provide content for their consoles. What do we end up with? Useless competition, I’d say.
It seems as though Valve had the right idea when they decided to release Steam way back in 2003. The online store provides gamers with a large multitude of titles that can be otherwise found in retail all with the convenience of allowing consumers to stay seated in their own home. A future in which all video game content is downloadable is highly probable and it’s genesis is just around the corner.
With Steam rumored to be making its shift to console hardware it seems like only a matter of time before we find ourselves in a fit of rage whenever we are forced to pick ourselves up from the otherwise sedentary state we had previously assumed and carry ourselves to the nearest retail store in order to acquire a copy of our desired title. This is a future, of course, that doesn’t favor retailers one bit. This is why, as an obvious response to Valve’s success with Steam, Gamestop and EA have instituted their own PC download services (Impulse Driven and Origin respectively) to compete for this market. Mass Effect 3 is not even available for download on Steam as its predecessors have been and this only marks the beginning of content exclusivity in the wake of competition for the downloadable games market.
However, this competition empowers consumers to the greatest degree for, from the safety of one’s own home, an individual can experience all the pros of having these large corporations’ downloadable stores at their disposal. A tool set that allows for consumers to achieve a higher level of entertainment – and save on gas as well. Home console manufacturers have to realize that the industry is reaching a point in its life where three boxes (of varying lengths, colors, and shapes) are not necessary for a consumer to enjoy all the content available to them.
In this future, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft may find themselves strictly as content providers for these downloadable services. This will come as a great relief to consumers who may indeed have their favorite exclusive games as of now while, at the same time, enjoying the breadth of non-exclusive titles as well. Once again, this future benefits video game fans the world over. It will allow for a greater degree of freedom concerning how their dollars are spent. Sure retailers may sob at the mere mention of a downloadable future but, as Gamestop has shown, it is a future that they may indeed have to adopt.
This model would fuel a form of competition that is common to other media services such as television: competition for content itself. If a downloadable model were adopted by major publishers in the games industry, developers would simply have the choice of selecting a medium for which their content would be sold – whether it be through EA’s Origin or Valve’s Steam – rather than selecting a box to which their content can find it’s home. In all truth, the quicker the video game industry snaps a strong hold on this every-growing model – and indeed it has begun to do just that with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo delivering exclusive and non-exclusive downloadable content on their respective online services – consumers will see a whole new wave of possibility in terms of how far their dollars can go.
It should also be understood that the downloadable model favors not only consumers but developers as well. For, with the advent of modern-day online download services, it has become possible for independent developers to make names for themselves developing commercial hits such as Super Meat Boy which has found its way into over 1,000,000 homes according to Indie Game: The Movie, a recently released film that highlights a handful of independent games in the industry.
It seems to be the obvious choice moving forward in light of all the benefits that it has allowed for the industry as a whole. Consumers should look forward to a day where they need not worry whether or not a title is to be released on one console or another but, rather, which downloadable service will tend to their needs the best. A video game market with this model has no limits.