Digital Distribution is it Right for Oz ? – Truth, Australia Can’t Handle the Truth!

Truth ? Australia Can’t Handle the Truth!

Is Digital Distribution Right for Oz ?

by dkpatriarch:

Eds Notice – XboxOZ360:- Welcome, welcome to the 6th installment of Blog Banter, the monthly blogging extravaganza headed by bs angel! Blog Banter involves our cozy community of enthusiastic gaming bloggers, a common topic, and a week to post articles pertaining to said topic. The results are quite entertaining and can range from deep insight to ROFLMAO. Any questions about Blog Banter should be directed here. Check out other Blog Banter articles at the bottom of this post!

This months topic is:

Digital distribution of games vs. buying physical boxes and discs, which do you prefer and why?


Truth ? Australia Can’t Handle the Truth!

Is Digital Distribution Right for Oz ?

© 2008 David Hilton

“`The truth is out there….in cyberland. In our increasingly cashless society we are using digital transfers of everything from money in banking and buying to songs, films, TV shows, and software. The future is heading toward a place where tangibles make way for cyber-versions of real things. Games are no exception: we already have Xbox Live, Wii Shop and Playstation Store which offer mini-games, demos, classics, and new content. STEAM and Gametap already provide downloadable games for PC. But is the full digital distribution of games the way to go for consoles in Australia?

Certainly Shane Kim, Corporate Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Microsoft, thinks the future is bright for digital distribution. He says, “Is the world more of an online world than a hardware-oriented world? I think there are some really fascinating opportunities in front of us”. Former Vice President of Xbox Europe, Sandy Duncan, argues, “There is a definite convergence of other devices, such as set top boxes.

There’s hardly any technology difference between some hard disc video recorders and an Xbox 360, for example. In fact in 5 to 10 years I don’t think you’ll have any box at all under your TV, most of this stuff will be virtualized as web services by your content provider.”

Even Sony sees the future is digital: SCEE president David Reeves said recently ‘The key to the future is the PlayStation Network; games put straight onto PSN are the big opportunity. We do believe that the disc-based delivery system will fall as the power of the network base rises. At the same time, the overall industry growth will continue to go upwards as we push out into emerging markets.’
Of course the truth is that companies like Microsoft would benefit from this sort of model. The production costs would be lowered, they cut out any middle-men, there would be no trading-in or resale of their product reducing their sales, they could set whatever price they want with no competition, and payments would become almost too easy for consumers…credit card debt would just keep going up and up as it is just too easy to click ‘continue’ and not even hand a card in.

There are also benefits to the consumer. Digital distribution is environmentally friendly as there are no booklets, plastic cases, metallic discs, or even any petrol used on freight. Game prices may (I repeat may) be lower with less distribution costs. We won’t have to wait until a launch that may either never come in Australia (as with some banned or obscure titles) or a launch that comes late.

The stores may run out of launch copies or older games but this wouldn’t happen with a digital version of the game off an internet service. If you lived outback somewhere where there are no games stores you could still get a title as fast as anyone else. Finally, downloading full games onto the console would also mean much less clutter in your cupboard or next to your TV or monitor, guaranteed to improve relations with mum or wife (or dad or husband?).

“`Is digital distribution going to win everyone over in Australia though? I don’t think so. Blu Ray, High Def TVs, Xbox Live, high-end PCs: all of these are increasingly found in Aussie homes, but not at the uptake rate predicted. People still use VCRs amazingly enough and the Wii console still dominates sales due to its simplicity and casual appeal. I doubt many Wii owners actually connect it to the internet, let alone download Super Mario.

The inflation currently in Australia is putting so much pressure on families that luxury goods (and yes consoles are not necessities, despite what we think) will be cut out first. Sure, wealthy families and young childless people with a high disposable income will still be part of the gadget-mad society and have no problems dropping cash on the latest on offer, but there is an increasing gap between haves (those who have the knowledge and understanding to use all this new tech) and have nots (those who are increasingly left behind, baffled and threatened by the incredible speed of change).

Many casual and most potential gamers will look the other way. Kids can only grow up as gamers if their parents see a benefit for price in buying a console. Too many complicated details or added cost and you lose them.

Many of us, myself included, also like having a physical product when we purchase something. Can you touch or admire the game art on a cover of a brand new copy of your favourite game when you digitally download it? Can you have a special Limited Edition version with lots of fun extras like a Big Daddy or artbook on your digitally downloaded masterpiece? I remember feeling terrible annoyance when I bought a more expensive PSP pack that ‘included’ PSP Media software only to get a bloody piece of paper with a code to give a website. No disc, no manual, nothing.

A game collection to rival all others, but do we have THIS much room in our house these days ?

A stupid cheaply presented code number that arrogantly assumed I had internet and that hardly made me feel that I purchased anything extra at all. Can you get a digitally downloaded guitar for Guitar Hero or download a Wii fit board? What stores are going to stock such things for your downloaded games if they don’t even get to sell the game for it?

What about the social aspects of a midnight launch or discussions with game store staff about a game’s best moments? What about the ability to trade a game with a mate or on PALGN, or to re-sell it on Ebay so that you can get another game without paying full price again? Or the sheer joy of discovering a heavily discounted copy of a game you were after at a store’s stocktake sale?

“`Competition in the marketplace both online and off for physical copies of a game often brings prices down too. If the producer and seller of the game are the same and nobody else can sell it, then where is the competition to lower prices? How often have you wondered when an Xbox Live Arcade title will lower in price eventually only to see that it never does?

Another potential problem with digital distribution based consoles of the future is if they have the same licensing problems many of us with dodgy 360s have had. When we’ve re-loaded our previously paid for content onto a new and sometimes even repaired console we’ve had it not work unless the console is connected online. Because the content is licensed to both the console and the gamertag, you have to be signed into Xbox Live online in order to access your content on a new or changed console.

Some people do not have the extra wireless network adaptor they need if they have their 360s in another room to their computer and some just don’t want to be signed in all the time to internet just to play what they paid for. Having to do this for their full retail game might really annoy if this problem is not resolved in future consoles.

Which brings me to my final point: big wigs in the bigger markets seem to assume everyone has the internet capabilities and connectedness they may have over there. If consoles of the future are download-only, we will be seeing some countries left far behind. Maybe those countries are not a ‘big market’ but gamers there will suffer. In Australia, at the ‘arse end of the world’, we are a small market and aren’t, forgive the pun, up to speed with North America’s internet abilities and pricing.

“`Unlimited download plans are rare and expensive and internet speeds are only just improving. If we had to rely on downloading full games for all our gaming and if we didn’t advance significantly and quickly, gaming could become unaffordable to most.

“`So, back to the truth. The truth is that digital distribution is the future. It is already happening and next gen consoles may very well focus on it. But the truth is also that Australia can’t handle the truth. We are not ready. Drastic improvements in internet quality and cost must arrive before it is viable here. Many people simply don’t want it.

“`Microsoft has not released downloadable movies here yet for those reasons. The only solution to reconcile the present and the future is to offer continued choice. As with Sony’s upcoming SOCOM: Confrontation, we need to be able to chose between downloading the game or buying a retail copy. Only this choice will enable all gamers everywhere, even in the smaller markets, to enjoy gaming into the future.

© 2008 David Hilton:

Additional Blog Banter Articles on Digital Distribution #6: Living EpicSilvercubloggerMahogany FinishVideo Game Sandwichthoughts and rantsweblog.probablynot.comZath!Delayed ResponsibilityGamer UnitHawty McBloggy

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Published by

dkpatriarch

Co-owner and EIC of oxcgn.com

10 thoughts on “Digital Distribution is it Right for Oz ? – Truth, Australia Can’t Handle the Truth!”

  1. An excellent read with so many truths backing it. Many of these also apply to the market here in the United States, though I can’t attest to how comparative these issues are. I don’t really keep up with developments in Australia past the recent Left 4 Dead business.

    People are always going to want physical copies of the media they possess. Maybe not everyone, but most likely the majority of consumers for the foreseeable future. Sure, most of the hardcore, vocal pieces of the gaming community are going to shift their eyes to the horizon from where digital distribution offers a more convenient and space-saving collection method, but they hardly amount to a large quantity of people in the larger picture.

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  2. Good article OZ and awesome point Boony. Given the hardware structure of the 360 this would have to be on MS’s list of ideas. It would also save me time/space on downloads. 🙂

    Oz your point with the DVD 9 is valid in adding more content to a disc. But that may well sacrifice the read speed advantage that DVD maintains over the much larger Blu Ray where developers commonly use the extra space to duplicate code across the disc so as to speed up reading of data. The other alternative is mandatory installs, which with the exclusion of hard drives on arcade 360’s has been rendered impossible on 360 titles.

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  3. Actually Boony, you’re right on the money. Apple via a thing called Norton Disc-Doubler used to do something very similar, And the amazing thing about the software, and Apple OS combined, and I’m talking back in OS 7.2 era, is that it could compress, uncompress, use, and rec0mress files ON THE FLY even Photoshop, Quark Xpress and the like.

    I know, I used it to get almost 1.5 gig of data on 2 “monster” 500 meg HDD’s . . My poor 6100 mac had a “massive” 500mg HDD, and an additional 500mg HDD (not gig younger one, just meg) and the combination of the Apple OS with it’s PowerPC processors (which basically power the 360 btw) could open, use and then zip files on the fly without a hint of it being done in the background, and this was high volume files used for multimedia, print-press etc.

    So given that, something very similar could be easily done today. And you’ll find many 360 developers use similar techniques now with their games to fit the huge games they have onto one 7.6 gig DVD9 disc.

    We’ve fallen into the old, “If it’s big, it must be better” syndrome yet again. When in fact, if you leave a developer and programmer together long enough, they will find many ways to make their product work even better than first thought.

    It’s often the publisher that slows things down, or requires cuts or various measures to sell more goods.

    It could be done easily through one of the cores and software, as the 360 does in fact have 6 multithreading paths running through its 3 cores, so giving one of those threads the sole job of doing such things on the fly isn’t quite out of the question, in todays technological era.

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  4. As far as downloading games in general even when it comes to consoles, developers could be smart and rather than dumping the whole to a HDD (similar to Xbox Originals) they could create a compressed install file which would ease the burden of downloads a little. so instead of trying to fully download a dump blu-ray game which could be 50+gig, they could reduce that significally through compression. However, this raises the issues that console could effectively become static PC’s that aren’t upgradable. Therefore the simplicity that many gamers have enjoyed with consoles could well and truly be gone.

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  5. It’s interesting to read responses to people who live in other places besides USA.

    The truth is out there.. lol X-Files. I love X-Files!! ^_^

    Movie coming out in July!

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  6. I love the effort Publishers are going to these days to ensure sale. By using Collectors and Limited Editions with substantial gear included for not more than an added $10 . . . Collectors – of which I am one, do like to have something solid to hold on to. See, view and discuss with friends, rather than a pic on a screen.

    They are creating a “desire to own” by doing so, and also upping the desire to retain the item, as you’ll see very few Collectors or real Limited Edition games back in the secondhand shelves a week later or even a month later. Given the high volume of sales of these, which Publishers have cottoned on to btw, we will not see the demise of Solid Disc Sales for some time, if at all.

    That said, Digital DIstribution (DD) is or will be the way of the future, but there needs to be a marrying of the two, as literally millions of jobs lay in the balance, huge economies are held in the balance and there are a significant number of global users (gamers) that do not have the access required for digital distribution to the level games would require.

    We only have to look at the so-called ground breaking paper shredding e-Books. They were going to revolutionize book sale, Newspapers were going to go online and be the ‘ants=pants’ in news delivery. Neither has succeeded to the level either thought they would.

    Simply for the fact that 80% of the end users can not or do not have the access, the time, or the availability to download eBook, or read full news via the net. News paper soon dropped back to partial online distribution, gave reporters access to blogging software, and made the advertizers that support the papers happy by going back to full-fledged news print.

    As in all honesty, WHO clicks on the ads in Newpaper online articles, about 2% if that. Whereas in a physical form, it is in their immediate view at all times, which then prompts them to perhaps act on their thoughts. Once a web page is closed, do you give the ad you saw moments ago a second thought ?

    No, didn’t think so. The BIGGEST stumbling block will be getting revenue, sufficient, to cover the sale and production of games. Until that time, DD ass a sole means of delivering games is a long way off, but a joint possibility does exist.

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  7. Awesome article. As a resident of a different continent, I especially enjoyed reading about the specifics of your neck of the woods.

    I have received correspondence from people who do not have internet connections and their frustrations with not being able to utilize that aspect of their service so that part especially made sense to me. I agree digital distribution is the way of the future, I just don’t think the process is fine tuned enough yet.

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  8. I used to like to have a physical box in my hand having bought a game, I used to enjoy reading through a huge manual as I rode home on the bus, I used to like displaying my games collection on shelves – but these days I just want to play the game on release day without fear of missing out and without added clutter into my home.

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