Since the launch of PSN and XBLA console gaming has had a love / hate relationship with the concept of Digital Ownership. PC gaming is an entirely different kettle of fish. Although it’s possible to attribute a lot of the gaming communities’ change in perception towards digital purchases to Steam I believe it’s actually easier to blame or praise, depending on your outlook, piracy.
For a long time the shelves in the PC section video game stores was decreasing, some attributed this to the platform not getting the triple A titles and other’s blamed the price. For many though it was because there was a golden age before DRM where pirating a copy of a game was as simple as loading up your PC and copying the game to a blank disc and making sure to make a note of the serial number. This isn’t a problem that just affected PC’s but it’s one that the console market was able to stifle somewhat with this current generation.
With a large number of PC gamers simply loading up Kazaa/Limewire or eventually Torrent sites is became hard for a physical PC market to survive. Steam and other providers turned it around somewhat and the studios managed to both save and destroy their own products by doing things like ‘Always on DRM’; this was Ubisofts main attack, the would restrict the game to only being available when people had internet connections. I live in the relatively rural country side in the UK and my internet is wonky at the best of times. Force me to be online all the time to play a game and I may be lucky enough to get a couple of solid hours a day. Now that is worst case scenario, however what happens if the servers aren’t working, which is the plight that affected Assassin’s Creed with its Always On DRM. Famously the servers were down for Diablo III over launch with caused chaos, users who were stoked enough for the game, who pre-ordered or bought it day one were forced to just sit and stare at the error message that was bounced to them every time they connected.
The servers being down isn’t my main problem with the gaming world leaning towards digital only games, it’s the historical factor. I wrote a piece a while ago justifying the use of emulation for older games, for some, not necessarily me, there is a distinct difference between piracy and emulation, if something is out of print there is something to be said for the idea of keeping a record of its existence. Recently all Marvel games that were made by Activision were taken down from all digital distribution, many are speculating that this is because certain licenses ran out post Disney buy out of Marvel. Unfortunately the knock on effect for this is that certain games, and aspects of games and now lost in the ether. I own a copy of Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3, however, if I wanted to play as say Jill Valentine or Shuma-Gorath I can no longer do so because I didn’t purchase the DLC in time, likewise all of the awesome costumes like Captain America’s WW2 costume or World War Hulk are now unobtainable.
The problem goes deeper though, there is now no way to access HD version of Marvel Vs Capcom 1 or 2, you will simply have to purchase a hard copy, which was rare to begin with so the price will sky-rocket further. Deadpool, the average scored game from the middle of last year has seen it’s price nearly double on eBay and Amazon since it’s release, this is partially due to a low print run of the game but also in the past fortnight people who had thought about trying out the game are now desperately trying to pick up copies before it becomes a collector’s item.
Thankfully both Sony and Microsoft thought twice about introducing silly DRM rule-sets to this generation of consoles. They managed to stave off the thought of lost money through second hand sales and instead think about the gaming world at large. I’m a collector, it’s a horrible and expensive habit that causes me to buy games I know are crap from charity shops just because when I’m older I may want to try out Battle Construction Vehicles. I like the history of games, the box art, the idea of owning something knowing I can come back to it any day I want.
I know there are positives to a digital future, less clutter, ease of access, the ability to play the game instantly and not wait for delivery. But then if you can’t access the game what’s the point. There is no justification in price however; you would think that buying a digital copy of a game would reduce its cost, being as there is no plastic or printing requirements, but one quick glance at PSN or XBLA will show you that digital games often cost more than their physical counter part. There has been little to no response from the big companies as to why they think charging £62.99 is ok for a game that is £30 in the shops.
I know I am the minority here, digital downloads for games has caused the boom for the indie scene and with it we have a new generation of bedroom designers who realistically wouldn’t get their game released in a physical world. I’m not looking for physical only, but I fear we’re going to be hitting a digital only community in the next decade. If anything DRM and the kerfuffle with Skullgirls and all the Marvel games should show us that as a community it’s our duty to save physical games for future generations, I mean for all we know Steam could screw up bad and die tomorrow, and then we’d be sunk.