The Digital Future

The image you see up there is my game shelf. It’s loaded with titles I haven’t played, titles I’ve played through more than once, titles I think are classics and should be archived, and a years-old desire to put these things on display. It’s a collection in every sense of the word, especially since I stopped reselling my games a couple of years ago.

I’ve done this for a long time. It started with that latching game case that every kid on my block had for NES games, to a shoebox I used for SNES games, to CD racks and bookshelves and now DVD shelves I use to store bits in the form of plastic and aluminum.

Starting the end of this week, we’re headed towards a generational leap that for the first time promises to deliver games equally (or close to it) over the internet as well as from traditional retailers. I plan firmly to embrace it and at this point I’m not sure I’ll ever buy another physical game, Nintendo platforms excluded for the time being.

It’s weird to think that I won’t have a shelf loaded with the spines of titles I’ve purchased for my console, lined up for guests to peruse, but I’m excited by the idea that I’ll be able to access any game I’ve purchased at any time and load it up much faster than I would be able to move the disc from place to place. Reasons I’ve held off from this for some time but now don’t agree with:

  • Physical games are better from an “archival” standpoint and have more guarantee of being around in the future. I know this isn’t true because I have DVDs that haven’t lasted to this day because the materials simply broke down. They can be destroyed in a fire, lost, stolen, or have any one of a number of accidents happen to them.
  • The platform holders could revoke my access to my games at any time. With the increased emphasis on services in the industry forcing the hardware to the internet anyway, who’s to say they couldn’t do this with physical copies and your account as well?
  • I might not be able to download my games forever. This one will be interesting, but in any case I now believe that I’ll be able to download everything probably as long as or longer than my physical copies will survive.

The argument against myself basically came down to, “you trust Steam to be custodian of your games; why not the new consoles,” and I found that I really didn’t have a counter to that.

But here’s why I’m excited about going digital:

  • I have limited space. Shelving isn’t infinite.
  • It liberates me from caring about pre-order bonus bullshit. And I’m happy to see what Microsoft is doing with digital purchases of the “Day One” editions of some launch games, providing them to people who purchase digital within a certain number of days from release.
  • It disarms the power of the review embargo. One of the dumbest things the game industry relies upon is rendered almost completely impotent in an economy where I can trigger the download as soon as I’m done reading the reviews and I don’t have to worry about shipping times or store hours.
  • No more pushy retail clerks. I shouldn’t have to explain this one to you. Did I preorder? Nope. Don’t need to, because there’s no “allotment” I need to worry about.
  • The hope of day-and-date digital with the generational change. Sony appears to be backtracking this a bit, but my understanding is that most if not all major titles will be available digitally the same day as their physical versions. And if not, I’ll be voting with my wallet.

This change is something that’s been a long time coming. I was one of the first people to trust Steam with my game purchases when Half-Life 2 wandered onto the scene; now I plan on being one of the first people to cast off the restrictions of the disc and embrace digital distribution.

I only wish I could trade in my old physical games for the current generation for the same digital versions now. It would make things so much simpler.