Truth ? Australia Can’t Handle the Truth!
Is Digital Distribution Right for Oz ?
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 Epic – Silvercublogger – Mahogany Finish – Video Game Sandwich – thoughts and rants – weblog.probablynot.com – Zath! – Delayed Responsibility – Gamer Unit – Hawty McBloggy