The Digital Future? I Think Not!

Time and again, I hear the argument that one day, games etc. will stop being distributed on physical media, and all will be digital downloads. I’ve even heard a rumor (though don’t quote me on this–I think it’s B.S.) that the Playstation 4 isn’t gonna have a disk drive. If that turns out to be true, the PS4 isn’t gonna have much of a future.

Physical media has a future, or if it doesn’t it should. Here is why:

1) It exists. The advantage of Physical Media is that once its there, it can’t be gone, but something that only exists as code is far more fragile. Take cell phone games: once the phones they run on become obsolete, the games themselves will simply be gone, unless said games get ported (and most of them don’t). I feel sorry for Mega Man collectors who will want Mega Mans 9 and 10 in twenty years, and the only way to get them will be to actually buy old consoles that have the games on them, then hope said console still even work and their hard drives haven’t gone bad. I’ve seen games totally disappear this way.

Which brings me to:

2) Physical has less limitations. I can let a friend borrow Mega Man 6. I can’t let him borrow Mega Man 9 unless I give him the entire console. And to look at that from the other angle: if my NES breaks, I can just get another NES and play the Mega Man 6 cartridge I already have. If my Wii breaks, then I have to re-buy the console as well as Mega Man 9 (I know there’s supposed to be some sort of download recovery stuff, but I doubt it works).

3) Physical has presence. And I’m sure anybody who has ever been to a ROM site can see I’m right here: what has more impact for you, seeing a list of titles with a small graphic next to them, or seeing the actual media (possibly with packaging) on a shelf? It’s like, if I’m seeing a list of Sega Genesis games and I see one called “Mystic Defender,” I’m all like “Mystic Defender? What the hell is that?” but if I see it on a shelf, I’ll look at the cool box art and read the back, and if the store is nice enough and has it I might thumb thru the manual. I mean yeah, you could say that looking up a Wiki entry or a review is the modern equivalent, but Wikis are rather dry and make everything sound boring, and reviews can either tell you too much or nothing at all, and might even misrepresent the product in either case.

And you might be noticing something here:

4) Physical media is not dependent on the internet. And this is a HUGE issue that everyone just overlooks, because apparently the entire internet is stuffed full of rich upper-class nerds who are able to afford every console ever made and a zoo to house them all. This causes them to develop a big case of tunnel vision where they think that because they have something, everyone else does too.

I have a dark, terrible secret: I use dial-up. It’s not by choice–I live in the country and its either Hughesnet’s overpriced, under-performing satellite service or a dial-up connection that is cheap but functional. And I see every day that most of the internet is designed with the assumption that you have high-speed. It’s irritating.

But getting back to the point: there are a lot of people like me, and not everyone can afford the kinds of connections that are necessitated by the concept of games big enough to fit on Blu-Ray going all-digital. If King of Fighters 16 or whatever is only available on X-Box Live Arcade, then that means I simply can’t play it, no matter how much I want to. This is the same reason I never played Half-Life 2, even though again I really wanted to. Gamers and game companies think its perfectly realistic to expect me to buy a new house just to play a game, and the fact is it isn’t.

And I repeat: I doubt I’m the only person like this. There are billions of gamers–not all of them can be rich nerds. Physical media is not just a convenience but a necessity if the industry doesn’t want to become a niche catering specifically to an elite crowd.

That is why a switch to all-digital would spell the end of gaming.

Excuse how rushed this entry comes off as. My phone line is out so I’m forced to make this entry from a friend’s computer.


5 thoughts on “The Digital Future? I Think Not!

  1. The “digital distribution is the future” concept is really just the latest in a long, long, LONG line of tech nerd pipe dreams propped up by hack creatives and media cartels; it will fail, and we’ll eventually look back on it in much the same way people currently look back on LittleBigPlanet.

  2. Hi, I read your post and have a few thoughts –

    “Physical media,” as it’s called, is a bit of a misnomer. All data on a computer is physical. This may sound like arguing over “semantics,” but it’s just as tiresome as hearing the other industry term “digital downloads” (what download isn’t? Even if you are using phone lines, the information is still “digital,” so it’s a redundant phrase).

    Now, with that out of the way, I would like to suggest that “cloud storage,” or online storage, has plenty of benefits over “physical” (tangible, disk/cartridge) media, namely that it doesn’t take up as much space and you can access your data from any location as long as you have the proper device (computer/console/phone) to do so and you are still signed up with a service.

    For instance, WalMart has a new service with their Vudu program where you can get rid of your disk library at home by taking your DVDs to a store and then accessing them through their servers for download at any time. This has benefits, for instance, if you are on a trip, or want to share your account with others but not lug DVDs around, etc.

    If you have a lot of DVDs, games, and other media, you know how frustrating it is (and downright disgusting, really) to see so much stuff lining the walls or in boxes stored away in closets. It can even become difficult to find things.

    These versions will also most likely work everytime, whereas “physical media” is prone to getting dirty or scratched.

    In my experience, you can re-download something you have deleted locally from PSN. I am not sure how other services work. But if you lose a PS3, or its breaks down, as long as you still have access to your account (it hasn’t been hacked or you haven’t forgotten the password or abused their terms of service) then you can re-download whatever you have bought previously *with the exception of movies*. Maybe they’ll add that functionality with movies in the future.

    Right now I would say the services are obviously in their infancy and will improve. I think the future is simply offering multiple options, not either/or. For instance, like recent titles on Xbox and PS3, the new Mario game on 3DS is going to shop up on the eShop day one but include cartridge version as well. Theoretically speaking the downloadable versions ought to be cheaper, as many titles on Steam are.

    Other things you said:

    “Physical has less limitations… I can let a friend borrow Mega Man 6. I can’t let him borrow Mega Man 9 unless I give him the entire console.”

    That is true now, but there is no reason why a service could not offer the feature of simulating this same situation by deactivating your access to the game and activating it on a select friend’s account ( at your discretion) for a limited time (say 48 hours, a week, whatever). And then it automatically re-activates on your system after that time.

    It’s a feature proposal that perhaps ought to be suggested to people who work at PSN, Nintendo, Valve, etc.

    “I feel sorry for Mega Man collectors who will want Mega Mans 9 and 10 in twenty years, and the only way to get them will be to actually buy old consoles that have the games on them, then hope said console still even work and their hard drives haven’t gone bad. I’ve seen games totally disappear this way.”

    It’s doubtful that popular titles will completely disappear this way, but I myself have been surprised at how few of the old games are available to buy today through these services. There are many legal issues at hand many times, but other times there’s no excuse for why this or that game isn’t available to buy in a cheap form, like these Sega classics off Amazon:

  3. If I can do a second post, if you don’t mind:

    A major drawback that’s obvious about Cloud services is that if a company goes defunct there is no guarantee you will be able to access the media you have bought from them ever again. They may be bought up from another company, or the company itself may decide to delist that item. There are some games on the Virtual Console for instance which have been disappearing. They don’t disappear from your Wii’s hard drive but you can’t get them back if something happens to your machine.

    So you are right — as thousands of others are — to voice concerns about this sort of thing. We are beginning to kind of put all our eggs in one basket. For instance, with Google’s new cloud storage program (Drive) and Chrome OS, when you click “save as” it won’t save a file locally but into your cloud drive with Google. What happens if Google is hacked? The same thing as if your own computer is hacked, but given that there’s only so many companies the potential for more devastating losses over many, many customers seems far greater.

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