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The disc-free revolution is coming, like it or not


Kam

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Matthew has a new article on COW looking at the future of video games...

 

See kids, there was a time, way back before you were born when we used to buy our music on cassette tapes. Heck, some of us bought vinyl records, not because it was hipster but because that was literally the only means available to play the music. We’d buy these hubcap-sized discs that played 15 minutes of music before you had to flip it over to play another 15 minutes. Later on we evolved to the CD and we would store them in portable cases as thick as a Tolstoy novel, flipping through the pages in order to find that one disc that we’d put in our car so we could play TLC’s Waterfalls. Just Waterfalls. Then we’d eject the disc and go hunting for another one.

 

Like savages.

 

> The disc-free revolution is coming, like it or not

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That's a very good read, but there is no way (at least for this or the next generation of consoles) that physical discs will be phased out completely.

 

The online market doesn't have as large a user-base as the physical one (a lot of that is down to younger gamers not having online accounts or the means to purchase games themselves) and there's also the matter of storage.

 

If discs are taken away completely, you either needs games stored on a cloud server or you will need to either continually purchase more / larger hard-drives or delete games to make space for new ones.

 

The last point, which you touched upon, is the second-hand market. While publishers / developers would likely be happy to see this crumble, the second-hand market is HUGE and makes the game shops a good chunk of their revenue. At the moment, videogame developers / publishers still rely on actual stores (be it a shop like GAME or an online retailer like Amazon) to sell their products.

 

A final issue that would need to be addressed is that of refunds. If you purchase a game online as a digital download and it's essentially broken (Assassin's Creed V, we're looking in your direction), getting a refund for your broken game would be extremely difficult, whereas taking it back to the store is a relatively simple operation.

 

Vinyl is making a comeback and being sold in stores again, DVDs and Blu-Rays still outstrip digital movie downloads (for ownership) and videogames will remain disc-based until the digital download solution is on the same level of user-service.

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Well the refund issue is a simple one - it clearly states if you buy a game or expansion or any content online via X-Box live then you are entitled to no refund. NONE and due to circumstances beyond our control as consumers it will remain that way.

 

As for storage, their solution is to delete a game when you are done playing with it. On the X-Box any game you have previously purchased digitally, when deleted, is stored on your account data so that if you want to play it again you can download it again. Not perfect given the size of games and their updates (60gb for Halo Master Chief Collection for example), but that is their suggestion and again due to circumstances beyond our control it will remain that way.

 

But your right in that this is the developers and console makers trying to put the final nail in the retail and rental coffin. Just annoys me that it costs more to buy a game online then in a shop despite the actual physical copy requiring the disc, manufacturing, packaging and then the over heads of the store selling me the item which a digital copy requires none of so surely that saving should be passed on to us, the consumer?

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With the PS4, you can download deleted games again too, but that's a pain in the hole to have to do constantly. Plus it'll be all to easy to forget you actually have the game.

 

Another big issue you pointed out is the price comparison of retail games. On PSN right now, Batman: Arkham Knight is £54.99 for the standard version (£86.99 for the premium bundle), while at GAME you can get it brand new for £44.99 or pre-owned for £34.99.

 

Not only is that cheaper, you can then take the physical game back to the store and part-exchange it against something else, meaning it's £10.00 less to buy and depending on how long you leave it before trading it it, you get another £10-15 minimum back again.

 

Until download versions are on par with the PC pricing structure of download versions, discs are here to stay.

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The biggest gaming sector has already moved heavily in the direction of diskless, that being the PC, via Steam, Origin, GOG-Galaxy etc.

 

Ironically, the disc free revolution in viewing video content is likely going to end up the immediate barrier to moving all game delivery to digital download (aside from customer pushback, of course). It doesn't seem like it, because the telcos are actually pretty shit hot at traffic management, but the infrastructure is creaking under the weight of Netflix, Hulu, Prime etc. And not just the hardware, the TCP/IP protocol itself is a poor match for streaming video, especially over 4G. Once that's resolved, I think the ultimate goal isn't downloadable games you buy and download, it's a monthly subscription streaming service, exactly like Netflix but with games, to a provider (Sony/MS/Nintendo). In fact, Sony has already taken steps towards that goal with Playstation Now.

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Look at the price of games on those platforms though.

 

Oh, I agree, the prices on console downloads are just ludicrous (and if we're talking Sony, not just the games but the movies too), but then they are significantly newer than Steam.

 

I don't think optical disks will last more than 10 years, at most. We may see a shift to high speed USB key distribution with online activation, maybe, but I think physical distribution of software is already an anachronism and it won't last much longer (my last 2 jobs have both been for software companies, and neither of them, nor their competition, uses physical distribution any more).

 

Optical drives are already more or less obsolete in PC's. There will almost certainly be an intermediate step where DigDist games come down in price, but ultimately, I think we'll see Playstation and XBox morph into streaming games content providers. It has too many advantages for them to ignore. Consistent cash flow, reduced cap-ex hardware costs, greater platform portability.

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