There is nothing wrong with having an opinion on the next-gen, we as gamers are a very vocal bunch, and it's always fun to discuss these sorts of things. I'm not really focusing on any rumor or speculation in this particular situation, seeing as we've already discussed the Orbis rumors and its potential to hinder Gamestop's thriving business model.
I'd rather focus on the evolution of the medium: going completely digital. Of course, this is all based on the information available to us at the moment because everything right now is really just speculation. However, the one constant that keeps coming up is the idea of next-gen consoles abandoning physical media. We all saw this coming, and whether we want to admit it or not, this was inevitable.
Over the last 2-3 years we've seen more and more downloadable titles show up on both PSN and XBL. Granted, these are usually older games (Crysis, Farcry 2, Batman Arkham Asylum, and Halo Reach to name a few), but we've seen the shift to digital right before our eyes. Prior to that point, most downloadable titles were reserved for digestible experiences such as Braid or Outland (incredible game). Now that high-speed Internet is more widely available in homes across the world, the shift to digital makes total sense.
|Braid represents a bulk of downloadable titles currently available on PSN and XBLA. Small, digestable experiences|
This has some people up in arms because this will have an obvious effect on the very profitable used games market. Some of us do buy a good amount of our games used, which is fine, but publishers aren't fond of having their profits messed with. In order to combat this, publishers have found creative, albeit shifty ways of protecting their profits. EA is masterful at this, and when it was announced that going forward they would be charging players $10 to access any online component to their titles if they purchased a used copy, the community was less than thrilled.
Let's face it, games are incredibly expensive. The idea of not being able buy used copies of games is a scary thing. Why? Now publishers would have total control over their content, which from a consumer stand point is a frightening thing. I can see the pros and cons of going completely digital, and I'm willing to embrace a fully digital experience if that is in fact how things end up in the next generation. But having a blind rage or contentment for publishers for wanting to go this direction with no knowledge of how it would work, is pretty ridiculous.
Digital distribution is nothing new to Steam (meanwhile EA tries to emulate the service with EA Origin), whose service has been applauded for years by the masses. Unfortunately, I don't really do the PC gaming thing (nothing against it, just seems like too much work), but I can definitely see the appeal in the service. Especially when games are priced significantly less than console titles. That's a very clear benefit to going fully digital in the console market: Price.
Dennis Dyack of Silicon Knights made some great points when talking to Games Industry about "the state of the industry". Dyack has always been outspoken about various things within the industry, and this is no exception.
|Steam has set the standard for digital distribution|
"I would argue, and I've said this before, that used games are cannibalizing the industry. If developers and publishers don't see revenue from that, it's not a matter of hey 'we're trying to increase the price of games to consumers, and we want more,' we're just trying to survive as an industry. If used games continue the way that they are, it's going to cannibalize, there's not going to be an industry,"Dyack goes on to argue that the next generation is going to cost publishers a fortune to develop games for, which makes me think that the idea of publishers and hardware heading toward a fully digital delivery system is the next logical progression. In a sense, this has the potential to mutually beneficial to both the publishers and players if done properly.
In a utopic world, publishers would deliver titles for $10-$15 less than what we're currently paying. They would have less overhead costs, which means they could afford to cut the costs of new titles. Players would be happy because they would see the value and benefit in going digital: saving money. Publishers can also do fire sales on some games and slash prices, making what they need on mere quantity. This would be the perfect setting, but as always, we should expect some growing pains.
I like to compare this scenario with comics going to digital. Comixology has created an incredible system for content delivery as well as an easy means for reading comics. Publishers have embraced going to digital for delivering their comics and readers have the benefit of saving a lot of money. I buy my comics digitally now, and while this may upset the purist, I'm saving a substantial amount of money. The discounts range anywhere from 40-75% off of retail depending on the sale.
Heather's Two Cents
And did we even consider the other downsides? What about Gamefly, Redbox, Blockbuster - Any of those services? They'd be D-E-A-D. People like us here at GA rely on Gamefly to get you these lovely game reviews that we love to write. So, what we're saying is that if Sony and Microsoft decide to do this, many
Gamestops will shut down, Gamefly will shut down, Blockbuster is already on its way out, and if THAT happens, then keeping you guys in the know with our reviews will be a lot more difficult. We'll have to work more to afford the games you're dying to know about, which means less time for playing and writing... you get the idea. It's a terrible domino effect.
Am I saying that going digital is going to utterly destroy everything as we know it? No, but there are more beneficial compromises that can be made. Once more, everything we know about the next-gen consoles are mere speculation - not concrete. We're assuming the worst so that if and when the news is broken, and our worst fears become reality, we can't say that it wasn't totally unexpected.
|Sony's Playstation Plus premium service now offers subscribers a free PS3 title every month, such as Farcry 2|
Trades are usually $7-$8 off and same day releases are usually half off. To me as a consumer, the decision is clear. What route saves me money? What people don't seem to understand is that publishers are trying to run a business. Yes, it's okay to be mad when it seems like they're shafting you on certain things (the first day DLC argument could be used here, and I would agree with you entirely on that subject. It's a shitty cash grab system sometimes), but for the most part it's because their trying recoup on a potential loss during the development cycle or something else.
This doesn't absolve them of any lousy business practices, but we have a certain responsibility to know why we pay more than we should. Publishers like EA, Activision, Sony, and Microsoft aren't exactly non-profit organizations. If a project goes over budget or if new things need to be added to a title thus delaying it, this all costs the company more money. Who do you think that cost is offset to? Us, that's who. The publishers have shareholders they have to appease, and if they aren't turning a profit, then what's the point?
I know it's ugly, but unfortunately that's the very basis of capitalism and the free market world. I'm not sure that it makes sense to abandon physical media right off the bat. I think that a gradual "zoning out" process will begin within the next-gen life cycle. I could see publishers churning out "digital exclusives", then they can reserve popular titles to have both digital and physical versions. It should be interesting to see how all of this pans out, but one thing is for sure, going completely digital is a really a matter of when, not if. The sooner we accept it, the better off we'll be.