Digital Games: Five Reasons The Transition Will Be Bumpy

Senior Contributor
06.27.13 25 Comments


As we all know, the Xbox One recently pulled a massive reversal on its vision of the future. Some consumers are upset about that, and many argue that it’s just delaying the inevitable. And they’re right: Games will eventually go all-digital. But unlike the music industry fighting tooth and nail to stop it or the film industry’s slightly more elegant acceptance of Amazon Instant Video and Netflix, the transition of games to a primarily digital model is going to be a bumpier ride. Here’s why.

There Needs To Be More Ways To Consume Games

One of the big problems with the Xbox One was that loaning your friend a game, or renting a game, was off the table until Microsoft deigned to offer you a solution, and who knows when that would be.

Realistically, there needs to be more payment models for games. Look at movies: You can see it in the theater; wait a few months and rent it; wait a few more months and see it on Netflix; or wait a few more months and see it on broadcast television. The key point is that the owner of the movie gets a cut, but the trade-off is that you can opt to own or not-own, and that the longer you wait the cheaper it gets.

If Microsoft had said you could opt-in for the Xbox One’s features, it never would have had the PR disaster that it did. Of course, it still would have been met with suspicion, and for good reason.

Gamers Don’t Trust Publishers And Developers Not To Screw Them

It’s pretty simple. As we’ve noted before, $60 is a lot of money for many gamers, and developers have insisted it’s too low or too high, for various reasons, for years. Developers in particular, who have the most to lose, have banged this drum pretty hard.

It doesn’t really take a consumer rights ninja to realize companies like more money as compared to less money, and honestly, leaks about the Xbox One indicate that gamers were going to get screwed. Proponents point to Steam, but that conveniently forgets that Steam started with the advantage of being run by Valve, one of the most beloved and trusted developers on the planet; expanded into what it was only slowly; had to fight for years to get gamers to trust it; and had to fight their fellow developers hard to ensure prices were at a level the community deemed fair. Microsoft made one thing clear during their presentations: It was not planning on doing that.

Publishers Don’t Realize Digital Games Will Solve None Of Their Problems

As we’ve noted repeatedly, there is something broken in the games industry. A game with anything resembling an advertising budget now apparently has to sell record-breaking numbers of copies to break even. Teams finish games and are laid off before the game ships as a preliminary cost-cutting measure. It’s pretty clear that costs are spiralling out of control, and publicly, at least, the first impulse many seem to have is to blame gamers. “You’re the ones that want the fancy graphics and the big elaborate marketing campaigns and stuff! And you don’t even have the decency to buy the game new!”

Would taking away the physical manufacturing process save publishers money? Absolutely. But it’s unlikely to change the fundamental problems affecting the industry.

There’s No Leadership Consumers And Publishers Will Listen To

It’s fairly clear Sony has no interest in changing how games are distributed, GameStop absolutely does not, and Nintendo… you could be forgiven for believing Nintendo actually hates the Internet. None of these entities will agree with each other, on anything, and like it or not, there needs to be a standard.

Independent Development Is The X Factor

Quick, name the game behind this statement: [X] made its key creative developer $101 million last year. Call of Duty? Assassin’s Creed?

Try Minecraft. And that’s just Notch’s share of the pie. Minecraft is one of the single most popular games on Xbox Live, and rivals Call of Duty in online play time.

And that’s the thing. One trend that’s fairly key is that indie games are becoming more and more popular with console manufacturers. Lost amid the PS4 hype was the fact that indie games can just self-publish to the PS4. No publisher, no contract, no kowtowing to Sony; just develop it and put it out.

That’s important because essentially, that makes the indies the people who decide what a digital-only console game should be. And it’s unlikely the big publishers are going to like where that goes.

We need a new model for games, that much is clear. What isn’t clear, and is both scary and exciting, is who will provide it.

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