Friday, June 29, 2007

Is digital distribution really the future?

The current gaming generation has barely just begun, and already people are speculating about what the next wave of consoles will be like. In almost all of these speculations, digital distribution is touted as "the future" of video game sales. But is it really? Here's my take on the whole thing.

For those not in the know, digital distribution involves paying for a product (Game, software, etc.) online and then downloading it directly to a computer/game console. Direct2Drive, the Wii Shop Channel and XBox Live Marketplace are all good examples of digital distribution. Many think that, some time in the not-so-distant future, all games will be distributed via the internet, and physical stores will become obsolete. I won't argue whether or not this will happen (I'm no psychic), but I will say why I believe going to a store and actually buying a disc is superior to digital distribution.

As of today, the size of games has grown astronomically. Games are now on discs with storage capabilities upwards of 6 gigabytes, a far cry from the minuscule storage space on the earliest game cartridges. The sheer size of current-day games may very well be the biggest problem digital distribution faces. Downloading Super Mario 64 on the Virtual Console can take upwards of 5 minutes, and that's for a mere compressed 64 MB game! Imagine trying to download a game the size of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion! Sure, this can all be overcome with super-fast internet connections, but isn't that asking a little much of the consumer?

Another problem with digital distribution is how incredibly easy it would be to copy and distribute games. One person could download a game, copy it 5 times, and give it to 5 friends! Games on DVDs have anti-copying software built in so this can't happen, but any PC can simply copy the contents of a folder and paste it elsewhere!

Even worse, a pirate could pose as an official digital distributor, sell the games, and keep all the money for themselves! Not only would the game companies be losing sales, but innocent shoppers could be giving their credit information to a crook!

Also, a huge driving force of game sales is word of mouth. If we become restricted to only downloading titles, there'll be no way for us to share our games with our friends! Say you're going to a pal's house, and you want to show him your new game. Too bad! Unless you plan on lugging your entire game console over there with you, you're outta luck! However, with games on discs, you merely pop the DVD into a case, and go on your way, no problem.

So then, if digital distribution isn't the future, then what is? In my opinion, the future is already here. We'll still be using discs as our primary form of media for quite some time to come. Sure, they may cost a few more bucks than a digital download, but they're much more secure and resistant to pirating.

And besides, if you're too lazy to hop on a bus and go to your nearest game retailer, there's always GameFly!

The Duck Has Spoken.

1 comment:

Kenneth Coble said...

You are sadly mistaken if you actually believe that the piracy content protection built into dvd's and cd's or ANY digital medium actually prevents copyright infringement or copying of said material. Why don't you do a google search for "torrent games" sometime. Secondly what self respecting consumer would want the kind of impedence in their software in the first place? I for one do not wan't to be forced to circumvent protection schemes in my paid for game or software. As far as digital distribution goes, it's a bit more complex than how you seem to think it is. You see there are many different types of content delivery services in the works that will take a standar 4Mb DSL line and allow you to grab a game weighing in at gigabytes in under an hour. To say that this would eliminate the boxed game would be absurd though, and you would have to be a child to even think that. One word... Revenue. The duck has spoken, too soon.