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The Digital Download Future
by Tadhg Kelly on 09/18/10 04:26:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


As with all my other media, my game collection has been increasingly going digital for some time. My Steam library is now around 40 games in size, I also have the digital edition of Starcraft 2, a variety of iPhone games, Xbox Live Arcade game, some Xbox originals too. It seems natural to me now that buying a game via digital is the default option.

It's attractive for several reasons. It reduces clutter massively. Digital content is usually pretty cheap too. And connected functionality of games is starting to show some welcome updates such as remote storage of save games. 

These days a crucial aspect of any game system that I buy into is whether it is digitally connected or not. The idea of having to go back to cartridges and disks seems like an inconvenience, and I would feel as though I was paying over the odds for games just to get my hands on a shiny disc in a plastic box and pay the wages of retailers and distributors in the process.

The problem is that it's not quite there yet. I'm waiting for the day when launch titles are as easily downloadable on major consoles as back catalogue. As an example, look at Halo Reach. Every time I turn on my Xbox recently, the first thing I see is an ad for Halo Reach, downloadable content for Halo Reach and so on.

The one thing I don't see is a purchase link. I have to either go online and order it from Amazon, or get out of the house and go to my local store to physically buy it. Neither is going to get me the game quicker than a download would (I have a fast broadband connection) and neither is going to satisfy my curiosity at 11pm at night to try this game that Microsoft is telling me about.

No, I have to wait. I have to let that desire ebb away and wait. That's just not right, not in this day and age when I can buy a favoured novel on my Kindle and be reading it in a minute, or an album from an artist that I just heard on the radio and be listening instantly. Excepting games that need special peripherals to play, most games are just data - and the idea that we still have to buy silver discs full of this data (and pay a packaging premium for it) is just wrong. The idea that I can't just buy my gaming bits (or rent them for a 24 hour period for less) is both inconvenient and quaint.

That's why I'm looking forward to the next Xbox or Playstation. The one that will be connected to the cloud all the time, the one which will have launch content available on day one. The one that will have an "app store" approach to its software market (meaning masses of releases and a more Darwinian environment) than a "publisher" model (meaning stage managed content). 

When I never have to leave the house for any reason, the future will have arrived.


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Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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There's only a few exceptions when I buy DVD over digital. That's if the package comes with the digital dl. Also World of WarCraft, I made the mistake of not buying the DVD last time. A reformat now costs hours of dl. However, they patch that game like crazy, so, it's gonna happen regardless.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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I think it will be possible to buy games in shops for the forseeable future. As long as you can buy books, music, dvds etc. physically you will probably be able to buy games physically. There is no sense in stopping physical retail if it makes money.

People *need* to go shopping. While they're out shopping they will buy things that they didn't strictly need to leave home to buy.

Having said that, I think that all games will have digital download as an option, just like music, and ideally that should link up to physical purchases. So if you buy a game physically but register it and then lose the disc, you can download it again for free or for a nominal charge.

My main issue with physical discs is not the space that they take up but the hassle of changing discs. I *hate* having to do that and it often I am put off playing a game if the disc is not already in the console. The process of switching optical discs is slow and cumbersome because of loading mechanisms and the fact that they are so fragile you need to careful and put them in cases etc. Having stuff on a hard drive lets you change games faster. Still not as quickly as cartridges but it's a step in the right direction.

Not being able to lend games to friends is a serious problem, though, and something that needs to be addressed. Perhaps if you buy a game you get to offer 3 friends a trial period where they can play the full game. It would allow personal recommendations.

Jakub Janovsky
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I expect publishers to kill retail sales when digital distribution of their games reach 70+%, because they get much more money from copy sold for 50€ via Steam than what they get from same copy sold (at 50€) in Walmart.

At that point retail will either become more expensive (because publishers and developers will want same money from them as what they get from service like Steam) compared to digital distribution and they will likely only sell things like collectors editions or retail will just die.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Again, there are many things that you can buy and download from home yet they are still available to buy in shops. The reason for this is that ultimately they make some profit. It is best to approach the issue from the point of view of a normal person rather than a Gamasutra commenter. We are not normal gamers.

Don't forget that gaming requires hardware which requires retail. To reverse Tadhg's Halo example: Suppose you go into a shop and buy your Xbox 360, but they won't sell you Halo: Reach? That would be absurd. Selling of games in physical retail will be necessary for a long time, even if it just amounts to buying a code that lets you download the game.

Tadhg Kelly
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It's highly unlikely, looking at other media, that the same price point as retail will hold.

Alistair Doulin
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I couldn't agree more Tadgh. Halo reach is a perfect example. Microsoft owns both the platform and has a strong hand in the development. It's the perfect product for them to push online. The biggest reason I can see against this is the HDD size restrictions. This crazy attitude of making large profits on hdd peripherals would easily be offset by the money they can make moving to digital distribution.

Glenn Sturgeon
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Give me a disc or give me ...a dirt cheap price!!

I prefer to get my games on disc but if they are cheap (not free torrent) i can handle DD.

I just got Cannon Fodder & Perimeter on today for $8.

I like supporting them since you get games that are DMR free & you can burn them to a disc.

They only have two price levels which is $9.99(cheap) and $5.99(cheaper)

I'd never pay $50 or 60 for a digital download...Never!!

So if developers go in that direction they best give the customer a good deal or i'll just play older titles.

Getting a new game is cool but "theres far too many titles that already exsist for me to pay $50 for a DD title".

I'm saying an old game is a new game too, if youv'e never played it before.)

New games on disc will be around for a long time, i'd bet at least a decade.

Jakub Janovsky
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Here is their announcment:

Dear GOG users,

We have recently had to give serious thought to whether we could really keep the way it is. We have debated on it for quite some time and, unforunately, we have decided that simply cannot remain in its current form.

We are very grateful for all support we have recieved from all of you in past 2 years. Working on was great adventure for all of us and an unforgettable journey to the past, through the long and wonderfull history of PC gaming.

This doesnt mean the idea behind is gone forever.We are closing down the service and putting this era behind us as new challages await.

On a technical note, this week we will put in place a solution to allow everyone to redownload their games. Stay tuned to this page and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

All the best, Team

Glenn Sturgeon
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I just saw that 8(

I didn't lose anything as like i said you could burn the games to a disc.

But i am greatfully sorry they are gone as they have given me sight of or revised my perspective of some realy great older pc titles.

I will truely miss the site.

At least i can say i supported thier method & ideal till the end.

Low cost, good games, presetup dosbox (for dos titles) & no DMR to junk your system up, its sad that combo of ideas didn't bring success. :(

Thanks for the heads up.

Glenn Sturgeon
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First of all, we apologize everyone for the whole situation and closing We do understand the timing for taking down the site caused confusion and many users didn't manage to download all their games. Unfortunately we had to close the service due to business and technical reasons.

At the same time we guarantee that every user who bought any game on will be able to download all their games with bonus materials, DRM-free and as many times as they need starting this Thursday.

The official statement from's management concerning the ongoing events is planned on Wednesday. If you want to receive further information about, please send an email to if you're a media representative or to if you're a user without a GOG account.

This is the newest update on if anyones intrested.

I know its not exactly on topic but it does have to do with DD.) (just of older PC titles)

PCgamer is doing an interview with gog on thursday.

From reading the update, i'm expecting a relaunch of the site.

Is this small web site(GOG) & its unique ideas worth gamasutra coverage?

Matt Johnston
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While I'd say that Blizzard has recently caught up with Steam in terms of ease of use if not widespread availability of games, the leader out of nowhere has to be the AppStores of iP* and Android. I've not quite enjoyed using WiiWare as much and the PSN is equally painful. The issue then becomes one of DRM and the inability to resell games.

Recent legislation may mean that selling second hand physical games becomes a grey market activity so that may be moot.

Renting games, on the other hand, makes a lot more sense.

Jacob Pederson
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I have nearly 80 games on steam currently . . . but despite how much I'm in love with the service, I fully expect them to someday go out of business, lose compatibility on the back catalog due to windows upgrades, get bought out by evil conglomerate x, turn into evil conglomerate y, hold games hostage to subscription fees, etc. It's inevitable. In the meantime I'll continue being a loyal, happy customer because it's just so good now that it's worth the stab in the back 5 years down the line.

Ron Alpert
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DD is a fascinating prospect and I certainly look forward to when it becomes "normal," but I'll agree with those who suppose it's a long way out until it becomes standard (although, perhaps not as far out as you might think). It's a good point when someone says "I'll never may $50 or $60 for a DD, never!" and I think that will be one of the bigger issues. As it is many people gripe (a LOT) about paying near or over $10 for anything digital, regardless of the content.

Another big issue to consider is the impact this will all have on the whole system that's been built up over decades with B&M sales of media (games, books, movie DVDs, etc). As that goes away, it affects a lot of infrastructure profoundly (there's industries that deal with designing, printing, physically packaging, shipping/transportation, etc) and if that all grinds to a halt it can get quite messy.

As for the role of publishers in all of this, they will still be extremely necessary as they control a large part of the marketing/social channels through which everything is distributed (and of course funding the development of everything). Just because there's a DD future doesn't mean the playing field will leveled at all, even though many of the distribution routes will be shared.

There's a lot of people with their eyes on how this will all play out, and so many of them are trying to get a foothold in now for when it becomes "the next big wave" and the money shows up. Lastly, don't expect mega-retailers like Walmart to go peacefully and quietly into the sunset.. In the meantime, all eyes are on steam/iTunes/XBL etc to see how this stuff gradually unfolds.