With the availability of high-speed internet access comes a new era of media distribution.
What once took minutes of driving and picking out a video game at the local store can now be purchased within seconds through online services, such as Xbox Live Marketplace, Playstation Store, Nintendo eShop, and Steam. Mind you, however, it may take hours to actually download depending on internet speed and media size.
The discussion of physical vs. digital media preference has been floating around the video game world in recent years.
This debate has been argued since the mid-2000s with the release of the Microsoft Xbox 360 in 2005 and both the Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3 a year later — although this practice has been used since the Atari 2600’s Gameline service and the 1994 Sega Channel.
With the introduction of their Xbox 360, Microsoft integrated downloadable content more fully into their console, devoting an entire section of the console’s user interface to the Xbox Live Marketplace.
Downloadable content — or DLC — allowed gamers to buy add-ons to offer extended and sometimes unique ways to play games. Upgrades, extra missions and levels, and costumes are just a few examples of what may be included in DLC.
Now companies are not just offering add-ons via download, they’re allowing consumers to download full-fledged games. Some may find this convenient, especially if they’re not located near a retail store, don’t have enough physical storage space or simply don’t have the patience.
Others are concerned about the actuality of “owning” a digital game. The price to digitally own and download the game is typically the same price as owning it physically but gamers often question the future of their ownership.
For example, a game is released on a company’s online store and is downloaded by a user. However, years later, either the game or the online service is discontinued. Then the user’s aging console malfunctions and there is no way for them to transfer the game to another system.
It’s gone forever.
Out of curiosity I created a poll on GameFAQS, a highly popular video game website, asking the community which distribution method they prefer. I specifically posted it on the Nintendo Switch message board on the website as its become a very popular system that holds hundreds of downloadable games on its eShop store.
Within 24 hours, 159 said they prefer physical media, 38 prefer digital distribution and 16 didn’t care either way.
One user, under the account name Nertak, stated: “I like actually owning my games. You can’t lend a digital game to your friend, you can’t sell it, and in 10 years when they shut down the servers you won’t be able to replace it if your system breaks or if you deleted it to make room for other things.”
In the minority, GameFAQS user metroidman18 preferred digital distribution: “I pay for convenience, no game box clutter, and midnight downloads,” the user stated. “I don’t sell/lend my games, or care if I’ll truly ‘own’ Mario Kart 8 when I’m 70 years old. I do proper research to see if I’ll really like a game. I’m doing well enough to not care if ill save $5-$10 buy finding a physical deal online.”
Another user added to this, stating that technology is “moving too fast” and that he couldn’t care about playing this generation of games in 15 years.
Then there’s the in-between, a Frankenstein-mix of buying a physical game but having to download parts of it. This specific practice has mainly been seen on the Nintendo Switch as opposed to the Xbox One, Playstation 4 and computers due to its use of cartridges instead of discs.
This works by having the user insert the game and either having the system automatically download a portion of the game or actually going onto the system’s online service and putting in a code that’s provided inside the game’s case.
Japan-based company Capcom is notorious for this practice as of late, releasing Resident Evil Revelations 1 & 2, Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 & 2 and Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 & 2 each in two parts. The first game of each collection is contained within the cartridge while the second requires downloading. Gamers have questioned how games like the Mega Man series, which were primarily created using just kilobytes and megabits, couldn’t fit onto one cartridge. It has been confirmed via the system’s storage space the Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 is just 345 megabytes while Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 is 3.2 gigabytes, which could easily have fit onto one 4 gigabyte standard cartridge.
A reasoning has yet to be given by Capcom themselves.
The future of physical media is still up in the air with the popularity of Netflix and Amazon Prime for movies, e-readers for books, and iTunes. Physical media has fallen by the wayside and there’s no way of knowing whether the next generation of gaming will strictly follow a digital-only basis.
A 2016 study by market research company The NPD Group found that digital downloads accounted for 74 percent of video game sales while the waning 26 percent were from complete physical purchases.
Sony announced in May that the Playstation 4’s life cycle is slowly coming to a close and rumors of a Playstation 5 have been filling the internet, although these rumors have not been confirmed by Sony themselves.
Some analysts believe that the next generation of gaming would be a streaming service, like previously-mentioned Netflix. Playstation Network has been doing something similar to this with their Playstation Now service and Nintendo is looking to include their classic games in similar fashion come fall.
Whichever side of the fence you’re on, there’s no way of clearly peaking over for a definite answer.
POWER ON is a video game column by Democrat reporter Cutter Hicks that covers retro to modern gaming topics.