To Digital or not to Digital?

I remember the day, back in the wild times of the mid ’90s, when we were still amazed by Mario Kart 64’s whole eight character roster (Wario, playable?  Wow!).  Back then I’d rush home from the store as fast as the city bus would get me there (not very) – and pop my brand new shiny cartridge into the ’64.  Boom!  New game, product complete, fired up in all its early 64bit 3D glory.  Two years later, that game would be just as was then – awesome.  No patches required.

Things are a little different now.  To start with, games typically cost about a third more.  I get it – these are Hollywood style productions now that require voice actors, massive art budgets, and sophisticated programming.  Sure.  Gone are the days where a few guys will get together and make Goldeneye’s hit multiplayer over a weekend – unless we’re talking about the odd breakthrough hit on steam amongst its myriad offerings.

When was the last time you bought a brand new shiny game, plugged it right into the console, and it was good to go on day one?

The modern digital era has created a video game industry in which products come out the door, often broken.  Sim City, Assassins Creed, Battlefield.. all these franchises have suffered from critical failings on launch.  We purchase games, but then have to often wait  for weeks until that game is even playable.  Broken servers and game breaking bugs have made that $70 investment turn into a $70 paper weight.

And that’s if you even bought the physical copy.  There’s a trend now, pioneered by Steam (although they were not the first to do digital distribution, just the most successful), to digitally distribute games.  That is all fine and dandy, but, why should I pay full price for a digital copy of a console game vice a ‘real’ one?  Not only will it take my steam-engine powered internet days to download, but I can pay the exact same price and physically own the game.

Steam’s business model works well because you have the opportunity to browse massive catalogues, and deals are regularly given.  Consoles are different – I’m already paying fees to be online in the first place, if the publishers want to cut distributers, retail stores, and shipping companies out of the loop, I expect to see net savings in my wallet.  Otherwise, I’ll buy my games the next time I am at Wal-Mart to buy my groceries (remember when they didn’t do that?), and then sit for two weeks waiting for them to fix the product that I paid for.  At least I can gaze in wonder of what could at the screenshot on the back of the case.

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