In the past decade of gaming, the introduction of digital distribution has changed plenty of what we expected from the industry and has come with both the good and the bad. This new-fangled form of distribution has become very popular among PC gamers with services like Steam and GOG making it cheap and easy to buy and play. Easy to the point where physical sale of PC games are minuscule compared to digital purchases. Heck, even console manufacturers have embraced it with online stores selling full-on games and DLC. Companies like Ubisoft and EA have brought their own unique place in the market with services such as Uplay and Origin mirroring the likes of Steam. Even the likes of Sony have embraced this with PSN, offering a wide variety of games each month for a fairly priced subscription.
The good in this, is that on most online stores, games are cheaper because they haven’t gone through the painstaking craft of putting the game onto a disc, into a case, into a box, shipping that box to a retailer and so on. Instead, the game is put onto an online storefront saving companies thousands of dollars in terms of distribution. With this also comes the sales. Oh, the sales!
On digital services, sales on games, both old and new, are far more likely to take place. In the case of Steam there are weekend deals, weekday deals, midweek deals, daily deals, specials…not to mention the seasonal sales that famously take hundreds of indie and triple A games and cut the price by 50%, 75%, even 90% in rare cases and generally leaves your wallet looking like a shoe without a foot.
The most recent example of this being the Humble Bundle Encore Sale, which after many days of daily sales ended with a weekend of all-out deals on Rockstar, Telltale, Bethesda, 2K Games and even more, ranging from high-end studios, to one man indie games.
It seems like a lot but these are almost regular occurrences for the PC market whereas seeing sales on physical games is far less likely to occur and not to the extremes and volume that online sites give you. Not to mention the non existence of a used game market with digital distributors, every game you buy is new, and the likelihood of it not working, for whatever reason, is minimal.
Then, there’s the bad. The best example I can give is the recent removal of P.T. from storefronts. Not only has this saddened fans of the game, but it has also caused an issue with archiving the game as no physical game meant there was no way for the game to be played again unless it had already been installed on a console. Interestingly, this led to rare PS4s with P.T. installed to become very valuable and were auctioned on sites such as ebay for up to $1800.
DLC was incredible when it was introduced, adding content to the game you’ve bought, played and completed. It meant you could keep coming back for more and more and gave developers a wider range of options to work with when producing content for their game. However, the promise of DLC quickly became disappointing and tedious when the announcement of a new title was followed quickly by weapons and costumes and such that felt stripped away from the game and forced players to pay piece by piece for the complete experience.
Some favourite examples of DLC done wrong in my opinion are the locked on-disc content for Street Fighter X Tekken, making players pay after release for content that was already on the disc instead of content that had to be downloaded, hence the D in downloadable content. One of the better known instances of this was the locked Prothean character that was available to players on day 1 of the launch of Mass Effect 3. Players could understand locking weapons and such behind paywalls even if they didn’t particularly enjoy it. But the outrage to locking such crucial story and gameplay content behind a paywall on day 1 suggested EA had instructed developers to remove the content to sell off and make a greater profit.
While the digital distribution ice-cream has certainly come with its own unique flavour, it doesn’t mean to say there won’t be any sour sprinkles that just have to come with it. Like it or not, most of the time you have to swallow the bad and savour the good. It seems to me that by far PC gamers get the most benefit from digital distribution by a landslide and that is mostly down to distributors like Humble Bundle, Good Old Games, Valve and CD Projekt that understand consumers want everything now, not in 2-3 days standard shipping. And while that convenience comes to console gamers all the same, the lacking variety of titles and sheer unwillingness for on-store items to drop in price at all means that the PlayStation Store and Xbox Live unfortunately just don’t get the same recognition that PC services have.