Digital Versus Physical: Thoughts On Next Gen Distribution

By on March 9, 2013

On episode 370, we had a fan question in regards to buying a digital copy of a game or a physical disc copy. There are, of course, pros and cons to both sides of the argument. At the moment, we’re seeing more games offering the route of digital copies for download.

On one side, I love this idea. Of course, I enjoy it more on my PC than consoles right now. To make it easy I have a 1.5 terabyte hard drive with which to store many games. Maybe because of the issues revolving around the Xbox 360 when it first launched (the red ring of death), I’m a little more wary about downloading full $60 retail games onto my consoles. I do it (on occasion), but I’m much more comfortable with the services offered on PC—Steam & Origin—than on the consoles.

In general, I’m more comfortable as a consumer by having a physical disc for a game. Call me old fashioned, but I am the same way with books. While I definitely enjoy Kindle/Google Books apps and the e-reader function on my tablet, I also own about 2 bookcases worth of books with the goal to one day have my own personal library. So letting go of having a physical disc library will be a bit hard.

Now more gamers are embracing the digital method. Especially when we see the reduced cost of games on PC when developers don’t have to be concerned with the cost of manufacturing and distribution to retail outlets.

That’s one of two issues for consoles to fully embrace digital distribution. They’re still a bit too attached to their box art and partnerships with brick and mortar retailers like GameStop & Best Buy. Added to that, console manufacturers would have to invest in a greater memory option (screw the cloud) on their devices because some of those games are freaking huge files. I had to upgrade my Xbox 360 hard drive the first time I received a digital download code to review a game (Crackdown 2).

I’m with Pete and Paustinj that the consoles aren’t quite ready for that yet. It’ll probably be another generation before we really see full integration with a digital distribution system. Will it be offered? Of course. Several games like Halo 4 and Far Cry 3 are already available as digital copies only months after release (November and December 2012 respectively). But games won’t be available digitally on consoles on a full scale quite yet. Though the best way to entice gamers such as myself who are still attached to our physical copies is to cut out that disc manufacturing and distribution cost from the digital product. That lower pricing will sway more than you think. Again, we’ve seen this for a few games on some services (I think mostly PC so far).

Why do you think the Steam sales do so ridiculously well? Getting games at low prices is always appreciated.  Maybe because of the model (or it may be the publishers/developers) discounts on consoles are fewer and farther between than PC.

The most interesting thing I’m waiting to see this year (at least I hope) is the Steambox. If Valve can copy their PC model over onto a living room console it will be gold, especially if the same options exist for indie developers. Even better if they can cross platform between those playing games through Steam on PC and those on the supposed Steambox.

I’m aware that PSN and XBL offer all kinds of options. XBL most notably for its diverse arcade titles, indie library, and Games on Demand. PSN has not only arcade games, but also the library of classics made up of games from PS1 and PS2. So the digital library of games available on consoles has grown tremendously in this generation.

So my question for you. Do you think consoles are ready for full on digital distribution similar to the PC model?


About ladyluck

Co-host & Editor - Mandy Paez has been cruising the scenes at community and industry events with Gamertag Radio for over 4 years. While young, her cookie eating and argument skills become known quite often on the weekly podcast.
  • Malakiet

    Seeing as everyone seems to not understand this; As of today, world wide we are not even close to the ability to go all digital. Not even close. 8/100 people worldwide have a stable consistent internet connection and only 4/100 have the bandwidth to stream games. For at least the next 10 years we will improve but for now we cant really rely on the internet.

    Not to mention, it is a bad idea right now to support digital downloads as when you purchase a digital copy of a game you don’t actually own the game you own a license to play the game, meaning that if the copy decides they could take away this license. Story recommend you encourage everyone to support physical media.

    • mboojigga

      Not everyone streams movies or even play games. That is the problem trying to use worldwide statistics that will never be achieved.

      There are still only so many that have computers to begin with out of over 2 billion in the world.

      This gen only 200 million bought 360, PS3 and Wii’s so why are you trying to talk about the world when consoles and PCs don’t hit the world population to play games or stream movies for that matter?

      You are too late on the whole support the digital download is the devil right now when you have IPads, consoles, Steam and even DC and Marvel comic books getting collected digitally. This generation has shown that the average consumer that is buying these products fully support digital content and give two shits after purchasing it if they actually own or will play the game even 2 years from now. The only people complaining generally about this are the so called “hardcore gamers” who think they are the world and what leads this industry when it simply comes down t the average consumer that has no clue about the innards of the consoles or the website N4G.

      • David2SLY

        The best comparison would be who owns a PS3/360/Wii, and how many of those people actually have bought things digitally. It is a totally different market. The iPad came around and the only way to consume is digitally, not to mention that most software is under $10. When the average consumer spends $60, I would assume they want something in their hands to fill the empty spot which was previously filled with their money.

    • David2SLY

      Technically that is what companies are saying we do even when we buy a physical disc. We are only buying a license to play the game.

      • Nsq Nesquick

        I dont care about their EULA, i only care about buying the game and having at any time anywhere.

  • Xavier

    Forget digital, i want to feel the game in my hand, not to mentions how the used games are gonna exist ? Be real.

    • David2SLY

      The PC market doesn’t have used games but somehow manages to exist. You price your product at the right amount and no one will care about used games.

  • David2SLY

    You give me fantastic deals on digital media, I will buy. Simple as that. Past couple of weeks Grid was $5 on XBL Guess what happened? That’s right, I bought it not even knowing if I’ll be able to access it on the upcoming 360 replacement.

  • Josh Johnson

    The thing they would have to incorporate in consoles that PC as a platform has freely built in is that those steam games are attached to you account always and no matter what pc you have if it can play it, you can even 20 years from now if steam keeps it on its servers to download. With the consoles today you never know if the games you buy will be playable in the nextgen digital or disc. Perfect example the most popular handheld on the market for year with a large digital download market. The DS. You are attached to that DS id and have to jump through hoops to transfer the content if you upgrade or replace.

  • the astronomer

    what the ms and sony need to realize is that there is a small joy in driving to GameStop, buying that preordered game you’ve been waiting 6 months for, and holding it in your hands.