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Digital Downloads – Why I Still Hate Them

We’re not guaranteed access to the products we purchase.

I’ve said it before, in fact, my first post in the hallowed pages of this very website talked about the subject in a different manner. However, it’s been almost a year, so I’m going to say it again. Hell, I’ll keep saying it until someone listens – digital downloads are ultimately bad for gamers.

Sure, having the ability to get our games without leaving the house, or waiting on a delivery may seem like one huge benefit of modern consoles and distribution systems. It is without a doubt incredibly convenient. With pre-loading, you can play your newly purchased piece of gaming heaven the instant the release button is flicked by the distributor.

But I remain a staunch advocate of good old-fashioned hard copies – and a teeny bit of a hypocrite, more on that later. Before I say anything else, have a read of this quote from the Nintendo website;

”Users were able to add Wii Points until March 26, 2018, and they will continue to be able to purchase content on the Wii Shop Channel until January 30, 2019. In the future, we will be closing all services related to the Wii Shop Channel, including the ability to redownload WiiWare and Virtual Console games, as well as the Wii System Transfer Tool, which transfers data from Wii to the Wii U system. We will announce specific details as that time approaches.”

Yup, at some point – and probably not too far off knowing Nintendo, we will be unable to download our Wii purchases. Sure, in the meantime, you can re-download them. Or get them transferred. But then what? What happens 10, 20 or 30 years from now?

I’ll tell you what, you won’t (legally) have many, most or all of the games you are purchasing now. Today (well yesterday as it happens) I can pop my copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 into my N.E.S and happily play it as much as I want. Because I still have the cartridge. No-one can stop my using it. Yet I have a nasty feeling that in 30 years time, the only way we’ll be playing a lot of older games is thanks to the pirates – not something I’d normally say I’m in favour of.

The ownership difference.

There’s a big difference in the licensing terms for physical and digital games. Without getting too bogged down in the mire of terms & conditions – it’s basically this; When you purchase a physical copy of a game, you are purchasing the right to own that copy and use, sell, auction or otherwise do whatever the heck you want with it – illegal copying aside.

For digital downloads, however, there’s a huge shift in the licensing of that product. Instead of purchasing the right to own a copy of the game. You are purchasing a lease to use the software for so long as it’s publisher and distributor see fit to make it available. If one or both of those parties decide they no longer want it on sale, you’re stuffed like mum’s Christmas turkey.

Generally speaking, you are fine for so long as you have a download on your system. But what if your system dies, you get drive corruption, someone steals your beloved console, your bratty little brother pours dads coffee in it to see what happens, or any number of other reasons that could prevent you accessing your game? Well then, kiss it goodbye.

There are the other obvious downsides to digital distribution. We’ve all heard of or experienced the disappointment of getting a shiny new console for Christmas. But wait, no games? WTAF? Just gift cards for you to top-up your credit and download something. That’s not so bad I suppose – until some cockwomble hackery type with nothing better to do decides to do a DDOS attack on the company servers. You’re downloading nothing for now.

For some people, there’s the other aspect of digital downloads. You pay (over the odds if you ask me, considering the lack of manufacturing costs) for your game, you play it to death and then you never want to see it again. So you pop to your local store to trade it i….. Oh, no wait, you can’t, because you neither own a physical product, the right to make one, the right to re-sell or any other fairly standard consumer rights we have come to expect.

Does the youth of today not care anymore?

I could go on for hours about this. Maybe I’m just getting old and out of touch, after all, I’ve been gaming since the 70’s. But then, it’s that experience that helps me to see these downsides, god knows I’m not alone. Let’s put it this way, here’s a photo of some of my console collection. Most of which I’ve owned since release and many of which are older than my wife – there’s a sobering thought. (excuse the mess, I’m rejigging the office. And yes, that huge expanse of grey is a big old CRT in the bottom right corner, it’s the best way to play old systems as far as I’m concerned.)

Consoles

Every single one of those systems can still play every game I still own for it, or that I will own in the future. Yeah, there’s another benefit of physical products. Anytime in the future, I want to buy a new (old) game which was released physically for these consoles and computers – I can. Imagine that, buying something which existed almost 40 years ago.

I just think we’re giving away far too much these days, with not owning the actual products we pay for – and it’s just going to get worse. So long as we, the consumer, vote with our wallets and prove to these companies that digital distribution is the way forward. That’s just what will happen. Eventually, we won’t actually own a single game and one day, when they switch the servers for a system off – the games will disappear forever.

So maybe you don’t care about playing old games on old systems that hardly anyone remembers anymore. Well, lots of us do care and we don’t want gaming’s future flushed down the pan for the sake of convenience. Thankfully it’s not going to happen too soon, but I have a horrible, horrible feeling it’ll happen at some point during my gaming life.

 

Wrapping up!

Oh. I did mention earlier that I am a bit of a hypocrite. Well, I suppose I am. There are a small handful of games, mainly Indie releases that I do occasionally buy digitally. That, however, is because I have no damn choice. They don’t get physical releases anymore. But I don’t make a habit of it and if a game is also available on physical medium – that’s the one I buy. Whether it’s cheaper, or more expensive. Because in 30 years time, I might just want to play it again.

So, maybe think twice about what you’re doing with your money. Do you want to own a product, or essentially borrow it for a while? Maybe now and again just buy the really good games physically, who knows, the future of gaming history might depend on it.

What do you think?

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Written by Stuart McLean

Self confessed technology addict. iOS software developer, avid gamer and living embodiment of too much to do, not enough time. Insert something nice about spending time with wife and family in the "real world" blah, blah, blah.

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