Will The Games Industry Be Digital Only Within 20 Years?

Will the games industry be digital only within 20 years, and would that be a good thing?

I was having a hard time deciding on my first article here at GrownGaming. Not because I don’t have much to talk about, quite the opposite, I’m quite an opinionated person. But when I read Karl Slatoff’s comments, I couldn’t help but have two reactions, so I thought I’d share them with you.

Talking to GamesIndustry.biz Karl said “I think over the long-term, it will be 100% [digital],” Expanding on his remark, he commented “I just can’t predict whether that’s five years, 10 years, or 20 years. It’s probably less than 20 and maybe more than five, but I think it ultimately gets there. That’s the zeitgeist. Things are moving in that direction.”

The man’s not wrong.

My first reaction was, shit, he’s probably right. Not 5 years maybe, but less than 20 I can believe.Over the past ten years or so console digital storefronts have become increasingly popular. (I’m focusing on them rather than PC’s for now.) Couple that with progressively faster internet and it creates a situation where digital delivery can be both fast and convenient. Which leads me to my second reaction, I personally have a little bit of a problem with that.

I’m not the biggest fan of digital delivery in its current state. I’ll use it occasionally when, for instance, there’s no physical release for a game. None of us will be strangers to that. Now and again I’ll even pick up the odd game that’s got a too-good-to-miss offer, though that’s not very often.

It’s just not that simple.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting old and I’ve been gaming for a long time. I’m sure a lot of the younger generation don’t have issues with it, or perhaps don’t even consider it much. But I like a product that I can hold in my hands. I don’t think it’s a throwback to a bygone age of gaming. I think it’s far more fundamentally logical. What happens when the digital storefront isn’t around anymore? Or decides to cut out old games because few people are interested in them and they occupy valuable server space?

I’m sorry, I just don’t have enough faith in any company to continue supplying me with digital versions of games ad infinitum. I don’t give a damn what any PR person or company representative will say. They will say anything to get you to buy their product, let’s not forget that. The feckers are not to be trusted, not in any way shape or form.

I like a physical product for the very simple reason that I can use it for as long as it and my system survive. If I want a game of Super Mario Bros. 3 on N.E.S, I pick up my cartridge, slot it into my N.E.S and switch it on. That’s a game that’s about to turn 30.

Digital gone wrong.

Look at it this way, while not the only example or the biggest industry service going, what exactly do you do if you want to download any of your PlayStation Mobile game purchases now?

That’s right, nothing. You’re shit out of luck, it wasn’t making enough money for Sony, so Sony did what Sony does best. They shuttered the service.

Sure they gave you a last chance to download any games you’d bought and it might not have been overflowing with the best games ever, but there were some good ones. Even I bought a few on my Vita (don’t get me started on that shitstorm either.)

But that then assumes two things 1. You never, ever have a problem with your system where you have to wipe or replace your memory card. 2. Similarly, you can never have a problem with your computer, such as a dead hard drive or corruption, or god knows how many things.

Beyond ownership.

Then of course, beyond the actual ownership issues, there’s the competition factor. When games go digital only, expect prices to rise and pretty much stay there for a long time. Already new releases on the digital stores are almost always a lot higher priced than buying a physical copy.

You get sales and bargains on the digital stores just now because they have to, they are still competing with the brick and mortar stores. What happens when there are no brick and mortar stores? Who are they competing with then? I’ll tell you who: no-one.

There’s going to be significantly less reason or incentive for them to drop prices on games because we’ll have nowhere else to go to get them. Unless the amazing websites like CDKeys can continue to exist but they rely on getting their supply from the same places as the shops do. Who’s to say the bean counters won’t cut off that supply to boost their own profits. Why should they supply places like that, if it’s their only competition? There’s a good chance they won’t.

Storm in a teacup?

So, yeah, I have serious issues with digital delivery and I’ll avoid it as much as I can, for as long as I can. Maybe I’m overly cynical, that’s probably fair to say. Maybe it will be all wine and roses and there’s nothing to worry about.

Maybe a lot of people don’t give much of a damn, they’ll play the games they buy while they can, for as long as they can then move on with the next system and the next. I dare say the retro market isn’t as big as current gen gaming.

But I just like to know that what I buy is mine, forever, without worrying about the kindness of platform holders to enable backwards compatibility. Or for them to exist at all in 30 or 40 years time. After all, it’d take a while to tot up all of the companies who’ve fallen by the wayside over the past four decades.

As far as I’m concerned we should support our local games stores.  They might have their own issues, but they’re definitely the lesser of two evils. I’m not saying digital delivery should be shut-down and be done with. But if it is to be the way forward, and like it or not it probably is, I’d kind of like to see consoles come with writable drives so that we can create a back-up of our purchases, or even onto hard drives. Just something to give us the ownership factor of what we are paying for. They have the encryption and security to make such things possible without worrying about piracy any more than they have to.  Time will tell if they care as much about their customers as their wallets.