Experienced Points: The Future is Still Retail

By Shamus Posted Friday Dec 3, 2010

Filed under: Column 147 comments

I had some extra hubris this week, so I thought I’d write an article about how a genius rocket scientist and the sixth richest man in the world are both wrong, and I’m right.

To top this, tomorrow I’ll have a critique of quantum mechanical theory, which I think needs some work.

Honestly. Do I have to do everything around here?


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147 thoughts on “Experienced Points: The Future is Still Retail

  1. Irridium says:

    As I mentioned in the comments, I’m curious to see how many people are willing to sit and wait for 10+ gigabytes of data to download. As just driving to the store would be much quicker.

    1. Matthew says:

      Unless it’s in the middle of the night and no stores are open. Then you could start the download and go to bed to be done when you wake up in the morning!*

      * = Assuming your connection doesn’t suck.

      1. Blake says:

        I live in Australia, downloading 10Gigs is a tenth of what I’m allowed in a month and would probably take a day or two to download.

    2. Primogenitor says:

      Quicker, probably. But then that’s time driving to the store and not doing something else.

      1. Irridium says:

        Like what? For me it would be watching the download download. Since if I tried to do anything it would be dreadfully slow and grind the download to a near halt, making everything take longer.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Sleep,perhaps?Do something other than sitting at your computer perhaps?You do know that it can download something while you are not actively using it.

          1. Irridium says:

            Yes, I actually did that with Mass Effect. But that took two damn months of downloading. If I tried to do it on my current connection, which is twice as fast, I’d assume it would take about one month.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Just goes to show how different areas have different advantages and disadvantages.

    3. TehShrike says:

      I’d rather wait for 10GiB to download than go to the store. Downloading starts as soon as my whim to purchase kicks in, and would take less than 4 hours on my home internet connection.

      Do you know how often I feel like going to a brick and mortar store? About once every never.

      By the time I cared enough about the software to stop whatever else I was doing and drive to the store and back, it would have been at least 4 hours (and more likely several days).

      1. Irridium says:

        Where the hell do you live if it takes you 4 hours(or several days) to go to and from a store? And if your area’s so remote, how’s your connection so great?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          I live in the suburbs of my city,and all the malls are located at the completely opposite side of the town.Sure,I have much closer stores,but those sell groceries,hardware,and such,not one sells games.The nearest place for games and movies to me is half an hour of driving away,and thats a rental shop.Yet I have 4mb connection,and that is the slowest connection my provider offers.There are people living near me that have their own private companies,and are paying for the fastest connections all the time,which their children can then leach whenever they want.

          My point is that its much easier for an internet provider to cover a place then it is for a store chain to open a new store.

        2. TehShrike says:

          It would take me about 15 minutes to get to a store that sells games. The problem is, I hate going out to stores, and generally put it off for as long as possible.

    4. Mewse says:

      Remember that we’re talking about “someday”, though. Transferring ten gigabytes, I imagine, isn’t going to be a very big deal twenty years from now, the same way that transferring ten megabytes isn’t a big deal now (but would have taken you all day, twenty years ago).

      1. Klay F. says:

        Thats assuming all games 10 years from now will remain 10 gigabytes. System Shock 2 was 250 MBs while 4 years later KOTOR was 4 GBs. That is a roughly 1600% increase. From 1990 to 2010 the increase in hard disk space required by games is close to logarithmic in scale. What if it continues more or less linearly? What if by 2015 a game requiring 100 GBs is the norm?

        1. decius says:

          The size of games will scale along with the ability to transfer them.

          1. FatPope says:

            I entirely disagree. They’re both increasing, but connection speeds are increasing far faster than game sizes are. Remember Baldur’s Gate, Wing Commander, etc all came on multiple cds. Compare how easy it would have been to download games then to how easy it is to download modern games now. It was next to impossible before, it’s relatively easy now, and it will only get easier

            1. Klay F. says:

              This is assuming it will keep its pace of doubling every couple of years. Remember when people thought we’d be having 20Ghz CPUs by now? There IS a limit to how good things can get before you have to switch to some completely new method (read: expensive) to keep up with the pace of improvement. Remember when holographic data storage was the future? No? Well you can be forgiven.

              1. FatPope says:

                I don’t think it’s fair to equate processing power to CPU speed. The GPU does the vast majority of the work on modern games and they can be ridiculously powerful if programmed right. While we might reach a limit on bandwidth using conventional technologies (though there doesn’t appear to be any limit in sight – at least not in the short to medium term) when a limit arrives there will inevitably be a new system developed which circumvents that limit, or renders the entire issue moot. This system doesn not necessary have to be expensive as you state. Generally early adopters have a more expensive time of it but once a tech goes mainstream it can often be much cheaper than that it replaces.

                Anyway, this is all very theoretical and does not really concern the present or near future. As it stands now I see no reason why download speeds won’t continue to increase at the same rate. Games however, mostly only increase in size due to larger, more detailed art assets. Increasing the size and number of these greatly increases the amount of work necessary to make the game; as it is artwork that is the limiting factor in game creation, not to mention the diminishing returns of high detail graphics.

                Unless there is a fundamental change in how games are made or an entirely new type of data needs to be added (encoding emotion or something far fetched like that) I can’t see a reason why games won’t become very easy to download in the future.

                1. (LK) says:

                  The reason is pretty simple, really. The bandwidth explosion we’ve seen to date was just because we figured out how to use existing infrastructure (phone lines, cable TV lines) to their full potential.

                  Now, they’ve reached that potential, and telecoms are unwilling to invest in upgrading their infrastructure to offer more. Finding new uses for their existing lines was a cheap way to expand profits. Laying new lines is an actually significant cost, and nobody wants to be the first company to lay out that kind of cash and take a risk.

                  Instead, they turn to the FCC and congress, arguing against net neutrality, so they can use rent-seeking practices to discourage bandwidth use and stretch their aged infrastructure even further.

                  Every indicator from their behavior is that they will resist building infrastructure capable of raising bandwidth availability wherever they can, and instead simply seek to conceive of ways to force people to use less of it and pay them more money to do so.

                  Yes fiber-optic is going out there, slowly, but they’re so conservative in the laying of lines for it that unless you’re in an optimal region you do not and will not have the option of purchasing it unless you want to personally finance the entire cost of the line between your residence and the nearest hub.

    5. Heron says:

      Some games do staged downloads. Lord of the Rings Online, for example, is a pretty huge download if you do it all at once, but you can have it download just a small piece at first and then download the rest in the background while you start playing. It’s pretty nifty.

    6. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I dont know,I can download 10gb in about two days.For me to go to a mall it would take about an hour,plus at least a week to prepare,because I wont go all the way to the other side of the town just to buy a video game.Or,I could drive half an hour to a much closer rental store and rent a game.Or I could drive for 45 minutes to a store that might sell the game I want,and may not so Ill go home empty handed.

      Its just much less hassle for me to just que the digital copy to download,then go to sleep,and install it when I wake up.

    7. Moridin says:

      Lets’ see… My connection is 10Mb/s. In practice that means that my download speed will cap at 1MB/s. So downloading 10GiB would take about 3 hours minimum. If I take a walk to the mall(don’t have car and don’t like waiting for bus. It’s not like it’s that much faster, anyway) it takes about one hour. That’s one hour wasted versus three hours doing anything that doesn’t require heavy downloading. If it’s nice weather and I haven’t been out during the day yet or if I’m going out anyway, I’ll probably pick going to the mall.

      Of course, in practice the download will very likely cost less(since I live in Finland) if the game is even available, which isn’t certain unless we’re talking about A titles. So download it is.

    8. Mephane says:

      I am already doing stuff like that. It’s not that I usually *have* to play a game *now*. While the download is going (which might take a full day at 10 GB), I have enough stuff I could do in the meantime. ;)

      That said, sometimes I still enjoy having a physical copy in my hands.

    9. Valaqil says:

      I think the primary factors are (1) connection speed, & (2) immediacy / level of interest. I think I could break the second one into two parts, but there’s some overlap.

      The first is obvious, I hope. If my connection can’t DL 10 GiB, I won’t bother. Store it is.

      In the second place, it depends on how interested I am in the game. If I’m not that interested, I can wait on a download. If I’m _really_ interested, I’d rather have it _now_, and go to the store. But! Sometimes interest matters less than how soon I could play it if I had it. Maybe I have things to do. Between job and sleep alone, I have at least 14 hours per day when I’m not using my connection. No matter how interested I am, that’s free time to download, not wasted going on an extra trip to the store. Additionally, if I have another game, or a book, that I want to play/read, then why waste time going to the store? I can enjoy something else and let it download. It’s efficient.

    10. Kdansky says:

      As people grow up, they realize that games are not important enough to need them RIGHT NOW, and they start to plan ahead. I’d rather spend two minutes on Steam and then do something else for four hours than spend one hour of my precious time going to a store and buying it. Does it matter that I cannot play it RIGHT NOW? No, because I am patient enough.

      Rationally speaking, there isn’t much reason to go to a store. But non-rational purchases will never go away, and some publishers make most of their money that way to begin with.

      1. Irridium says:

        That is true. However your patient enough and don’t care so much you could also just put off buying it until the next time you go out to the store to buy groceries, and just pick up the game then. This of course depends whether or not the game is sold either in the same store or general area.

      2. Blackbird71 says:

        Except that as people grow up, and realize that “games are not important enough to need them RIGHT NOW,” they also realize games are not important enough to make a special trip to the store just to get one game. As they will have to go to a store at some point for some sort of physical goods (you can’t download everything), the patience that comes with age means that you can plan accordingly and pick up everything in one go. This usually means that adding a game to the shopping list adds a detour of no more than a few minutes.

        So, the solution to avoiding long shopping trips for a single game, or even longer downloads, is to learn a little self control and don’t be an impulse buyer! You don’t need everything, and you certainly don’t need it right now.

        Edit: In the time it took me to type this, Irridium posted just about the same thing, what are the odds?

        1. Irridium says:

          Well you said it better then I did, so its cool.

        2. Tomas says:

          “Edit: In the time it took me to type this, Irridium posted just about the same thing, what are the odds?”

          Great minds think alike? :)

  2. Mazinja says:

    Quite the interesting read. Of course, the kerhuge data packets would be a problem, since not everybody has AAA DSL+ internet (as much as they wish they would). Hell, I like Steam, but I have to plan overnight if I wanna download and install something I bought (since clearly not everything will fit in the computer).

    I do have to give online distribution something… if you have the means to pay, it can be incredibly convenient. I live in Colombia, have thankfully access to dollars, and take the opportunity of promotions to buy games that are either:
    a) Unavailable
    b) Available and horribly expensive (200% markup in some cases)

    It’s either that, or buy pirated games.

    … just don’t get me started on Region Lock BS >:(

    1. Veloxyll says:


      double bonus points for Impulse sending me e-mails saying “HEY, BUY THIS GAME CHEAP” then I go to Impulse and it sez “NOT AVAILABLE IN YOUR AREA”
      Usually it’s from EA too. Whenever I see it I go “SERIOUSLY guys? I want to give you my money but you’re saying no because I’m FOREIGN? Need I remind you that I am the one who has to pay the currency fees, not you, you still get the same $US as if you’d sold it to an amerikan.

      1. Sumanai - a grouchy ball of bile and cynicism says:

        Blame the game publisher. Impulse doesn’t allow region specific pricing so some companies, like EA, don’t allow it to sell the games outside US/Canada. In fact, before Impulse allowed region locking some companies, like EA, didn’t offer any of their games there. Additional sales be damned, they want their regional price hikes.

        Although it is annoying how Impulse tempts and then pulls away. I don’t think there’s an option to check that would force it to first check your location and then only announce the promotion only if it applies there. But it would be really nice.

  3. TehShrike says:

    An excellent post. Interestingly enough, I’ve been having similar discussion with friends about the future of digital books vs. physical.

    I think many of the arguments are the same – if anything, collecting books on your shelf is an even bigger deal to a bibliophile than to a hardcore gamer – but the ability to fit a hundred reference books onto a single device is a powerful draw.

    I found a good post on the subject recently, I’ll try to pull it up again.

    Edit: ah yes, here we go – a good post from a practical person who reads a lot: http://datacharmer.blogspot.com/2010/11/world-of-ebooks.html

    And a counterpoint from a “collector”: http://www.booksurvival.com/2010/10/anecdote-about-book.html

    1. Mari says:

      I’m working on making the switch right now from “collector” to “someone who reads a lot.” Mainly because I realized a while back that the Library of Congress has virtually unlimited funding for floor/shelf space while I do not. At this moment in time I have 14 6′ bookshelves packed with books plus cabinets that have been commandeered and the rest lie in stacks.

      I started with culling cheap paperback bestsellers that I bought as single-read novels. I’m especially bad about the trashy thrillers. With no access to a decent library and being charged to use inter-library loan programs, I decided it was about the same cost and more expedient to just buy the stupid things. But I know from the start that I’ll only ever read them once. I would turn around and sell them to a used paperback store if one of those was convenient but I’m not storing up 3-6 months worth of books to take when I do my out-of-town shopping since I average 3 books a week. And my local library doesn’t accept donated books. So the things just stack up and stack up on my shelves. This is going to sound terrible, but now I offer them to friends and family and if they’re still around 2 months later, I throw away books. You have no idea the guilt associated with that.

      I would so much rather just buy these kinds of books electronically and delete them when I’m done. I’ve “hinted” (by directly stating) to my husband that I would mightily appreciate a Nook for Christmas so I can do just that. It’ll never replace some of my antique books (like my 1923 Bullfinch’s Mythology) or my hardback classics but it could take a lot of strain off my floor joists anyway.

      1. Amstrad says:

        Have you considered using a service like http://www.paperbackswap.com? Essentially you make a list of books you have available that you’re willing to swap and people can request you send them out to them. You then get a credit on your account that allows you to request a book from those that others have listed. It’s not great for getting brand new just released books, but for someone who goes through a lot of cheap books quickly it’s awesome.

    2. David F says:

      I think the solution that I’d personally like best is a book like the things that Wolfram & Hart have in their prophecy division, on Angel. Basically, it looks and feels exactly like a book, but it’s linked to a central database. You tell the book what you want to read, and the text appears on the pages as if by magic (because it is magic). Unfortunately, I can’t think of a practical way to do it using current technology. The technology in a single page would be on the expensive side, and to do it properly you’d need probably around 1000 pages to be able to fit longer books. Getting the pages to be as thin and flexible as paper would be pretty difficult, and the spine would probably have to be fairly thick to fit most of the electronics.

      1. Coffee says:

        I’d accept a Kindle/Nook/Etc with two screens, with a nice book-like exterior, that I could open like a book, read the two screens/pages, and then advance them.

        Of course, after the Kindle/1984 debacle last year, I’d be loathe to trust any e-book reader as yet.

      2. Veloxyll says:

        Then cheat. Have semi-transparent paper and project the words through the pages from the covers of the book. Index each page so the book knows when you’ve turned a page and can go to the next page of the book.
        Or possibly some sort of polarisation hyjinks. Remembering of course that what you project is in fact the white bits, not the black bits.

        I was going to suggest some sort of projection system for top down projection then I realised it wouldn’t work.

        It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be close.

        (if you ever do go commercial with it, a single production model of the thing is all I’d need)

      3. Josh R says:

        This would be the only way I’d move to ebooks.
        though I only really buy second hand books anyway

    3. Abnaxis says:

      I hate e-books with unbridled passion.

      I hate reading text from a screen at night (when I usually read) after staring at a screen all day (where I usually work). I hate not being able to share my book. I hate all of the DRM nonsense, even outside the fact that it won’t let me share books. I will pirate books and print them myself on principle before I get pigeonholed into buying an electronic delivery system.

      1. TehShrike says:

        As far as the screens go, I’ve heard great things about the Kindle. People say it’s like reading text on an actual page.

        As far as the DRM/sharing issue goes, I’m with you. Personally, I swap digital copies with friends, rather than mess with any of the DRM versions.

        Hopefully the digital book DRM situation will change in the future.

  4. Adam Bloom says:

    I could post this on the escapist forums, but… I would prefer to get intelligent responses.

    1. The Collectors. This is true: disc versions will probably exist for quite a while. However, so do records; that doesn’t make them relevant.

    2. The Visitors. Consoles are light. Televisions are light. Hell, even computers are light, and that’s all ignoring the potential rise of tablets, paper-thin screens, and all that stuff. I would argue that the idea of bringing a disc to a friend’s house so that you can wait for a half-hour long install process is a much more obnoxious barrier.

    3. The Gift-Givers. Sorry, Shamus: you’re old. Kids like cool things, it’s true, and toys, legos, and other physical objects will be around for a while, but kids are already getting iTunes gift cards, and the idea of digital ownership and possessions is only going to get stronger in the iPhone-dominated world.

    4. The Impulse Buyers. Seriously? What’s more impulse than turning on your computer and having Steam pop up with a “50% off all THQ games” sale?

    5. The Unconnected. Yes, it’s a switch that will occur over time. I would not say it’s moving at all slowly, as 10 years ago approximately 0% of console owners were connected to the Internet.

    1. TehShrike says:

      1. Record sales are a small market, but they are still “relevant” in that people still use them. :-)

      4. Steam is the king of getting me to buy things on a whim – but I think the point Shamus was making is that the retail stores are also full of impulse buyers, and stores will always want to put games in front of them.

      1. Adam says:

        1. They’re relevant, yes, but from a niche perspective. Frankly, I would put record collectors on a much higher totem pole than video game collectors, because at least records offer a different experience.

        4. Impulse buys create income when you can already get people in the store, they don’t bring people to the store.

    2. Nick Bell says:

      The Visitor would have been better served as The Sharer. There are plenty of game franchises that I know and love only because someone lent me a copy of the first game. Hell, my purchases of Alan Wake (and the sharing that followed) led to two more sales. And this is for a single-player game with limited replay-ability. Similar thing happened with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Borrowed it, got into the multi-player, bought my own copy.

      You can bring your computer to a friends houses for a visit, but you can’t really borrow him your console if you want to play other games. A physical disk can be shared in a way that digital distributed games are harder to do (though Steam’s offline mode makes it easier).

      1. Adam says:

        This I agree with, but it’s hardly an insurmountable issue. Back in the day we had “demos” which filled much the same role. :P

        1. Coffee says:

          Yes, but alongside the destruction of ownership of the digital media, there was a (perhaps not linked) concurrent dismissal of the Demo model.

          Which is to say, they don’t make Demos now. Especially moving towards a system which removes the physical media aspect, it’s less likely we’ll see a resurgence of Demos.

          1. Irridium says:

            Which sucks, because I’ve decided to buy Mount and Blade Warband because of the demo.

            Its a damn great demo. Play to level 7, and when you finally get there(there’s no time limit, which is awesome) the game pops up a “trial over” message, and lets you either buy the game then and there and keep playing from that point, or if you refuse it goes back to the main menu. You can still make more characters and play to lvl 7.

            But yeah, great demo, and great game.

          2. Adam says:

            I would agree with you, except that XBLA requires every submitted game to have a trial version.

      2. Heron says:

        I have often wished Steam would give you the option to lend a game to a friend.

    3. Josh R says:

      Can’t really account for all the people who walk past stores all the time to get to their work.
      the ones with jobs, who typically spend much more money on new releases, rather then those who just rape the bargain bin.
      Parents will ALWAYS want to give their kids something tangible, Shamus may be old, but so are parents.
      As far as visitors go, I buy games to use on my friends consoles, a game can be shoved in a bag, a console cannot. And as far as progression goes, the PS3 is larger then the PS2…

      I don’t think retail is more viable, I just think it suits another sort of person.

      1. Adam says:

        People may walk by stores, but they’re only going to go in if they haven’t already bought it online. And in 15 years, kids will be parents.

        1. Shamus says:

          You don’t walk by rows and rows of shiny boxes online. You’re suggesting that every single person who ever enters a store will already have bought everything they might impulse buy.

          1. Heron says:

            Since we all know that anecdotes are data, I’ll just mention that I am personally far more likely to impulse buy a game from Steam than from a retail store. Perhaps half my Steam library was impulse buys. I have exactly two actual retail games that were impulse buys.

            On the other hand, on impulse I bought a 10-pack of Defense Grid for $15 on Steam last week and gave out copies to my friends. It was far less satisfying than it would have been to hand them real boxes.

            1. Sumanai - a grouchy ball of bile and cynicism says:

              Have you considered if the reason for your impulse retail/online -ratio could be high retail prices for games?

        2. Veloxyll says:

          And parents will be grandparents, grandparents who like to spoil their (grand)children!

        3. Coffee says:

          And online, if you see a shiny box, in about 5 seconds (or less) you can hear all about how half of the releases didn’t come with a correct 16-point registration number, and the game requires Steam and Games For Windows Live and Battle.net, and the tech specs quoted will only work if you’re running a particular version of Direct X otherwise you need twice the RAM, and it has a major bug where if you walk on the wrong side of a lamppost in the first area of the game, your computer will blue screen…

          But in store, it’s like “Wow, my computer can run that! It sounds exciting! It’s not that expensive, and says 20+ hours of gameplay. And one of the characters is voiced by Faith from Buffy!”

          1. Soylent Dave says:

            Conversely, an online system that works (!) means that you can just click on something and own it a few minutes (seconds?) later – and they can still advertise other ‘stuff you might like’ while it’s downloading.

            I think we need to bear in mind that we’re not talking about digital distribution services as they are now; we’re talking about them when they become successful.

            And part of the process of becoming successful will definitely mean an easy way of knowing the product will work on your PC (there’s a few benchmark methods knocking about already; they don’t work very well – yet)

            Unless they just give up on the PC entirely, of course.

        4. Josh R says:

          Today’s kids will grow up, and feel the same way about tangible goods as nowadays parents do.
          A steam gift doesn’t feel fun to give at all, for the same reason that when you buy someone something off amazon, it may be more convenient to send it to their house, but you don’t, you send it to yours and give it to them.

          people with jobs have to walk past shops every day, and they are the guys with the money to spend on new games. For them it’s less hassle to go to the shop then go online.

          Of course the “recluse gamer” section of the market will never be the same way, but as I said, just something that suits another sort of person.

          1. Veloxyll says:

            Agreed. Plus, personally I’d never ask my mother to go onto steam and get me x game, I’ll give her a list and she can go hunt through the shops. I MAY say she can find something on e-bay, but beyond that.

            Plus it takes a whole night to download a game and I’ll probably have to buy more bandwidth and just eh. I buy a game and open it christmas morning, I can be PLAYING it christmas morning.

            1. Soylent Dave says:

              Isn’t that a generation thing, though? – my kid often asks me & his mum for presents off Steam, or Xbox Live (or he’ll spend his pocket money via my debit card).

              Kids leaving school today don’t remember a world without the internet. That means their parents have probably grown up using computers from a very early age – the idea of buying stuff online is pretty familiar to both generations.

              Whereas my mother certainly wouldn’t have known where to begin if I’d asked her to buy me something from Amazon.

    4. Veloxyll says:

      Just cause kids are getting Itunes gift cards, doesn’t mean they couldn’t have gotten a CD instead. Gift cards are usually chosen because you don’t know what to get someone, rather than because it’s the ideal gift. Plus what happens if I get you a $50 itunes giftcard, then you get me a $50 gift card back? Worst christmas ever!

      Also ick gift cards with a $ value on them. I always remove price tags from gifts because I rather that people don’t think or care about how much I spent on them. Also boxes will always make christmas more fun.

      1. Mari says:

        Actually, you just described Christmas with my family. I get each of my sisters, my brother-in-law, my niece and her husband a gift card. They each buy me one of the same value to a different store. Then we get together and swap them. Oh, and give my mom “real” presents that she doesn’t need. For the last 4 years, every gift I’ve gotten from my family has come in the form of plastic with the B&N logo emblazoned on it. Suits me fine. If it weren’t for gift cards they’d be giving me tacky knick-knacks that I have to pull out when they come to visit.

        And for the record, half the fun is coming up with neat ways to package the cards for me. One year I did felt applique pouches. Another year I wrapped the cards in cling wrap and embedded them in clear glycerin soap. One year I sewed patchwork quilt holders for them. You get the picture.

    5. FatPope says:

      Amen on the escapist comment anyway. Sometimes I go there just to get myself annoyed at 14 year olds having nonsensical arguments.

      Just recently there was something there where people were saying that there is nothing objectively better about the metric system compared to the imperial system. I mean yes, transitioning from one system to another is always going to be a huge effort, you may even say it’s not worth it. To say, however, that the imperial system is equally good when compared to the metric system just shows a complete ignorance of what the metric system is!

      1. Soylent Dave says:

        The single most annoying thing about any online discussion of Imperial measurements is when an American inevitably asks me “Do you use Imperial measurements in England?” (or tries to explain to me how they work, which is even better).

        YES, we use them. The clue is in the ‘Imperial’.

        (“oh, I though they used the metric system in Europe”)

        … sorry, pet peeve.

        And yes, the only good thing about Imperial Measurements is that they’re traditional. Oh, and French people don’t understand them. So two good things. But you really have to use metric for anything sensible (even if it is all French…)

        1. Coffee says:

          Although to be fair, we are officially on Metric now.

          I only go on the Escapist for funny things and to facepalm in the Politics/Religion Forum.

          1. FatPope says:

            Yeah, I don’t know why but I periodically find myself strangely drawn to it, even though I know I’ll just become infuriated at the sheer ‘wrongness’ of some of the comments and leave in a huff after 30 mins.
            It’s almost like some part of me likes getting angry at them or something. Altogether very odd

        2. Imperial is worse for almost everything, but it’s better for baking and cooking. It’s because the scale of Imperial cooking measurements (teaspoons, cups and such) was put together by people who were cooking, so you end up with sane amounts of everything–two cups as opposed to, say, 500 ml.
          I’ve noticed that here in Canada, where we officially switched to metric a long time ago, most people still bake in imperial.

          But I can’t imagine trying to do science in imperial. That would be insane.

          1. FatPope says:

            I can’t imagine anyone tring to bake in imperial! Granted, if you use normal imperial measurements it’s grand, but once you start to get into “cups” and things like that it all goes haywire. How much is a cup:


            In summary: USE RATIONAL MEASUREMENTS!!!

  5. mneme says:

    It’s certainly true that the rate at which digital distribution is superceding physical distribution is, well, overrated.

    That said, one can’t ignore the economics of these things. As long as there’s sufficient demand for physical distribution of (games, bits, books, whatever), things will be distributed that way. But as electronic distribution (which is, in many cases, faster, cheaper, and more convenient than physical distribution..oh, and scales a hell of a lot better) gets more prevalent, more convenient, and more popular, physical distribution will raise in price.

    Basically, every time we pass an economical watershed, physical info-goods will get more expensive relative to digital ones, both by physical goods getting more expensive (supply vs demand vs economies of scale) as well as electronic ones getting cheaper and better. So a lot of things that are currently distributed physically will end up eventually going electronic-only.

    That said, it’s possible that we’ll never cross the final hurdle where -all- info-goods are distributed electronically–for some of the reasons, as well as others. And one cannot really discount the “truck full of digital media” factor–that at the moment, transporting bits via massive amounts of storage is by far the fastest way to do so–such that unless the network pipes continue to increase in size relative to content (admitedly, there’s signfiicant pressure content to stay within digital delivery limits), there will continue to be things where it’s more convenient to get the disc than the download.

    That said…after my PSP SCIV BD disc broke, I bought the download for double the price. Why? Well, for starters, I got tired of listening to the disc (but then, that’s a PSP issue).

  6. Josh R says:

    I had a conversation, while working at HSBC, with the top industry analyst (for gaming stores) he recomended buying the shares, and when I brought up digital distribution, he said it wasn’t a problem, the people who use digital distribution are mostly people who wouldn’t buy games from the store anyway, and the people that shop in stores are going to stay there. It’s a matter of presentation if nothing else.

  7. Nick Bell says:

    As it always is with these debates, everyone has to pick one side or the other. Of course digital distribution is going to grow in the future, becoming bigger and bigger. But guess what? So are retail sales. The hobby is growing in all sorts of different directions. The ideal situation is a hobby full of options, allowing you to get your content however you like.

    The best example for me is Unreal Tournament 3. You can buy it in the story, on a disk, that is protected by nothing more than a CD-key. You can buy it online, through Steam. You can, as an OPTION, take your store bought key, register it on Steam, and get all the benefits of the digital version as well. This idea of an optional online registration is simply phenomenal, and I wish more people did it.

    1. Klay F. says:

      Oh God yes. I am so sick of this gamer mentality that you can only have one or the other.

    2. Mari says:

      Wait. Are you implying that there are shades of GRAY in the black and white world we all inhabit?? Blasphemy! Stop the violator!

      OK, seriously, you’re exactly right. That was kind of my point above in the books vs. ebooks comment. I buy both retail and digital. There’s not even any particular rhyme or reason to which I buy. If I spot a game I want at the store, I buy it there. When Impulse lures me in with promises of 80% off games I want, I buy them online. When GOG gives me sweet, yummy old-school games that I can’t get to run anymore I buy them there. And sometimes I just need something pointless and mind-numbing so I pop over to PopCap and see if they have a shiny new version of Bejeweled or Peggle for me to download and kill some time while I’m waiting for the hubs to get ready to go “browse” GameStop (“browse” being our word for going with no specific games we intend to buy and coming home with 15 games).

    3. (LK) says:

      The main problem with the people forecasting retail will just die and be replaced by downloads is the same problem with every optimistic prediction of the future.

      People assume that as a new, cooler technology comes around we’ll just break cleanly away from the older method and replace it entirely with the newer one. It’s the same unrealistic nonsense that allows visions of cities in the future where there is nothing visible that even remotely resembles current architecture: without realizing it, they assume that whatever was there previously was hit by a nuclear bomb, filled in, and built over.

      This system assumes that once film is invented, live performance is eradicated… When TV is invented, theaters permanently disappear from society… when internet video is invented everyone on earth throws away their televisions.

      In reality the new method grows popular for whatever its’ nature best serves, and the old method remains popular for whatever its’ niche turns out to be. People who think everyone will just abandon the old way cold turkey and do everything the new way just have a sort of myopia that is inherent to working so closely with new technologies.

      Also some of the people quoted making these predictions are more than a little bit wealthy, so can be forgiven for having very little concept of what reality is to the average consumer.

  8. Aldowyn says:

    The whole “This is mine” thing? I literally said the exact same thing in the comments for the “Toy Story” article in this week’s issue of the Escapist.

    I just like having a physical copy of my games, thank you very much.

  9. Alden says:

    I’m the same way with music. I complained a few weeks ago that music singles seem to be dying out – none of the stores I visit even stock them any more. Someone suggested that I could just buy them off Amazon as digital downloads, to which I had to reply that I’m a bit old fashioned and prefer my music on plastic discs.

  10. Zukhramm says:

    I’m not sure. In some ways, I think no matter how small it becomes, there will always be some retail, as long as people are able to but data on discs, someone will sell those discs.

    However, I think it’s important that Carmack says “in the future”. Not two weeks from now, twenty years or a hundred.

    1. Veloxyll says:

      Is this the same future with flying cars, unlimited energy and a globally unified accounting system? Or is it an actual future?

  11. Meredith says:

    I’m all for digital distribution of games, movies, and music. I can’t wait for the day when movies/tv finally catch up to music and games and I can stop filling my house up with dvds. I don’t care if I never buy another music CD or physical game again. However, I’m one of those book collector people. I can see the appeal of a Kindle/Nook at times, but I just love having a shelf full of actual books. It’s a completely ridiculous distinction, but there it is, so I guess I have to agree with you somewhat.

    1. FatPope says:

      Not at all! I’m entirely pro digital distribution for movies and games yet entirely against it for books. Not that I think that either way is necessarily better or worse, it’s just preference.

      Digital media such as games and movies are originally digital media, the only difference is how you get it to your home (either directly though digital means or by a convoluted transfer to plastic, then back again). The end result when viewing the content doesn’t change.

      On the other hand books are not naturally a digital media, there is a distinct difference in user experience between digital books and physical ones. Personally I just really prefer viewing a real book than one on an electronic device.

      1. El Quia says:

        Yes, I am kinda like that, with the following exception regarding to books: If it is literature, then I want physical books. If it is reference books, learning books or “knowledge” books in general, I prefer digital, not only for the ease to have a ton of info in a very small place (you know how those encyclopedias used to take that much space?) but for the convenience of searching functions and the like. It’s just so much easy to research on digital text than on physical books.

    2. Blackbird71 says:

      If I could buy a book and then with the same purchase, download a digital copy of the same book, then I would consider getting into the whole digital book thing. For travel, the convenience of taking along a small library would be nice, but I’ll always prefer the physical book, and I’m not going to buy the same book twice, so until they find a way to merge the two, I’ll still be reading off of dead trees.

  12. Maldeus says:

    “The important thing that they’re missing is that typical shopping is not remotely a rational activity.”

    The entire field of economics disagrees with you there, and this is a field that can’t agree on anything. One of the most basic principles of economics is that incentives matter, and that the more people you have in a group, the more that group will average out to rational behavior. But there’s no accounting for taste. Some people, while still surprisingly rational, just have strange desires and priorities.

    For example:

    Collectors have a priority for owning the disc itself. This stems from the human desire to hoard valuable things, and because these discs were valuable in our childhood (they were the only way to get the games), we still associate them with that value and derive pleasure just from accumulating them, regardless of our original reasons for doing so. It is therefore rational to buy discs even if it’s more trouble, because owning the disc is half the fun.

    Visitors value the ability to play games with friends, though incidentally any effective account system should allow you to access your games from someone else’s computer (though that may open up security problems).

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’d greatly prefer logging on to my Steam account (well, if I had such a thing) to see that I’ve got all kinds of new gift cards that can be spent on whatever I want, and which can be “opened” in private. By far, I have the most fun when I’m alone and free to get embarrassingly wrapped up in what I’m doing. Regardless, gift-givers again have a perfectly rational reason to go to more effort to get a disc instead of a download. Specifically, they don’t want the game for themselves, they want to see the look on someone else’s face when they receive it.

    Generalized stores like Wal-Mart might still sell physical discs as impulse buys, but if the vast majority of gamers preferentially use downloads to buy games, there won’t be a market to support GameStop anymore. Without that market, the guys producing the physical CDs might not be able to sell enough to make a profit significant enough to justify the size of the operation, and convert their factories into Chinese sweatshops. That’d leave Wal-Mart out in the cold, too.

    As for the unconnected, the world is moving more towards interconnectivity in absolutely everything, and more and more devices are becoming universal. How many computers aren’t hooked up the ‘net? When your computer is also your television and X-Box, what’re the odds either of those won’t be hooked up either? Will those not hooked up really be numerous enough to justify the existence the industries that create the physical components to video games?

    1. Shamus says:

      Apples and oranges. Shopping is not economics, in the same way that a puddle is not climate. The kind of rationality I’m talking about is the one where people will buy more bags of chips when they’re marked “2 for $6” than when they’re marked “$3 each”. That’s different than large-scale economic modeling. I think we can agree there are a lot of really silly things happening on that level.

      1. Mari says:

        I blame Walgreens for the 2 for $6 vs. $3 thing. I had always mentally turned “2 for $6” into $3 anyway and then I went shopping at Walgreens once. I stuck something in my cart that was marked “2 for $5” and when the clerk scanned it the price flashed as $3.09. I stopped her and said, “Wait, those are marked as $2.50 each.” She looked at it then replied, “No, they’re marked as 2 for $5. You have to buy 2 to get them at that price. This is the price for only buying one.” I was a little bit dumbfounded. To this day, I look for fine print on multi-item pricing now and if I don’t need the number specified, I’m more likely to pass it up entirely.

        1. Tizzy says:

          I don’t know how these kind of things can be legal. There are many countries that have laws against that for retail (of course, bulk purchases are still allowed discounts, but in amounts that do not do private individuals any good).

          1. Vekni says:

            It is legal because it is exactly as advertised-2 for $6, not $3 a piece. There is a great burger place nearby that has a two for one night and I regularly encounter that trouble with company when they don’t understand why it isn’t $3 for A burger-because it is not half price night, it is two for one night. Half price might mean I come in and get A burger and A beer. Requiring me to get two burgers though? I’ll probably have company, so they’ll make A burgers’ money and 2 beers’ money, and since I have company we’ll probably hang out and chitchat for a while with more drinks.

            1. Tizzy says:

              Well, there are places where such offers are not possible. I am not saying it’s deceptive, just that it’s disgraceful.

      2. Maldeus says:

        Economics isn’t all stocks and market trends. Predicting $3 transactions is something economists do all the time. Someone’s written two books (the Freakonomics books) on applying economic theory to situations that have, in some cases, nothing at all to do with money. Economics isn’t the study of money. It’s the study of incentives. Money is just a handy unit for quantification.

        As to why things are marked “2 for $6,” there’s any number of reasons for that. Because they want you to buy two instead of just one, and the cost of one is actually more than $3. Because humans are very bad at processing numbers higher than four. Because having weird prices will require cashiers to open up the cash register, which will then record the transaction, preventing greedy cashiers from pocketing the store’s money. None of those reasons have anything to do with retail v. digital.

        1. Shamus says:

          You’re agreeing with me and claiming you don’t. I didn’t say economics was irrational, I said shopping was. As in: People will buy a product that is not “the best” in terms of price / quantity. Which is the point I was making in the article. DD might be “better”, but it won’t capture the sales of those people who wander through stores, looking for goods to make them happy. There will always be people who will see “2 for $6” and but TWO, even when they didn’t intend to buy ANY. Or because they see tits on the box. Or because a famous actress told them they would like the product.

          Maybe the word “rational” is throwing you off. Surely you agree that people sometimes buy products for silly reasons, yes? There you go. These “silly shoppers” cannot all be captured by digital distribution, because the behavior is different. Therefore abandoning retail would be giving up these sales.

          1. Mewse says:

            Although you have to admit, Shamus, that “wandering through stores, looking for goods to make them happy” is precisely the shopping model that the iPhone App Store is built around.

            The only reason why that doesn’t capture everyone is because right now, not everyone shops online. Once they do (which will happen someday, albeit probably not for another generation or two), then I don’t see why you can’t capture the “casual shopper looking for novelties” precisely the same way online as you do in a retail shop.

            1. Blake says:

              I can totally imagine a bunch of girls wandering around, looking at their phones deciding what clothes to buy.

              I’ve gone to K-Mart looking for sheets to turn into a ghost costume and walked out with games before.
              If those games were only available online there’s no way I would’ve purchased them.

    2. Josh R says:

      The entire field of economics most certainly does agree that man is rational.

      this is due to a concept called Imperfect knowledge. Without perfect knowledge they don’t know how fun the game will be, and therefore cannot quantify in in relation to the price.
      They don’t know how long it is, they don’t know if it’ll be funny, they don’t know if the multiplayer will be good, or whether it’ll be a single player endeavour.

      All of these problems can be researched online, but at the end of the day, I’ve had hundreds of hours of fun playing games marked at 60, and from the user ratings on metacritic you can find an 8+ score on any game.

      But in a shop, these things cannot be known so easily, making buying the game anything but a rational choice.

    3. The entire field of economics, or most of it, makes a convenient simplifying assumption that disagrees with Shamus.
      There are, however, bits of the field of economics (and of course other, relatively real sciences) who have researched whether the simplifying assumption’s rational maximizing consumer exists in real life, and they have concluded that it does not, that in fact Shamus is right. Which should hardly be a surprise–if the field of economics had it right, the world would be very different. There would be no such thing as advertising, for instance.

  13. Jarenth says:

    Interestingly enough, when you say: “Those numbers will improve, but slowly, and they will never reach 100% as long as there are consoles that can operate independently of the net“, I can’t help but read it as “The only way we can force direct download services down the throats of unwilling users, thereby eliminating all that cd-printing and box-making costs while keeping the prices equal, is by creating consoles that will only function when connected to the internet.

    I mean, you know at least óne corporate executive must’ve had this thought. And while it’s not exactly feasible now (for the reasons you give in your article) doesn't mean it's not what certain people would like the future to go to.

    1. Nick Bell says:

      Is that not what Onlive is? A console that (or a desktop app) that only functions when connected to the internet? We’re not quite the point where we’re technologically able to completely emulate a local experience, but that is probably coming.

    2. Felblood says:

      Games for Windows Live isn’t there yet, and it will probably never get there.

      –but it dares to dream.

    3. Blake says:

      It’s called the PSP-Go.

  14. Hitch says:

    I think a big problem with physically buying games is the move away from complete and finished software packages. How much benefit is there going to a store to buy a DVD with 4GB of game on only to get home, sit through installing that, and then have another 2 to 3GB of patches and downloadable content to download before the game is complete and runs properly? I’d rather just buy the digital download and get it all at once.

    1. Nick Bell says:

      What I hate is digital distributions that do not include patches in the game download. The Xbox 360 is a notable criminal of this, but others have this problem too. Very irritating to basically be downloading useless bits initially, simply because someone was too lazy to update the main download.

    2. Soylent Dave says:

      Isn’t that a problem caused by our greater access to digital distribution, though?

      Before developers could patch things so easily, they had to do things like ‘finish the game’ before they released it. Now they just push half a game out of the door, let us beta test it for them and then ‘patch’ it.

      Provided they sold enough copies, of course.

      1. Hitch says:

        I agree. Publishers release unfinished games because they can be patched and expanded later. One of the reasons they want digital distribution is to make that easier. We’re just far enough down that road to make stuffing the genie back in the bottle problematic.

  15. isamaru says:

    I liked Your arguments and unlike some people in this discussion, I think they all apply. However, that does not strictly oppose the theory that the future belongs to digital distribution.
    In a broader sense, the digital distribution is also patches, downloadable content (such as community maps or mods), maybe even online support, etc. We have come to expect that all those things are available for retail games we purchase. I think that in this sense, the digital distribution has a lot larger impact that you accept in your article.

  16. Samkathran says:

    I agree that retail certainly isn’t going away anytime soon. I think a lot of game players tend to get caught up in the online gamer culture, where digital distribution is the will of Gamer God. If a lot of these people looked outside for just a minute, they’d notice that a majority of people have not jumped on the digital distribution bandwagon yet and may not for quite some time.

    I myself still prefer the physical copy, but I’m slowly being won over by the convenience of downloading my games. That’s just for PC games though, I’m one of those people with an Xbox not connected to the internet. I can’t connect it unless I either punch an ethernet cable through every wall, floor, and living creature in my house, or buy a wireless adapter (for $100? Hell no… and it may not even work!)

    I still wonder how internet speed vs. game speed will play out. A lot of people seem to compare Baldur’s Gate 2 to a 10GB game nowadays, which I think isn’t a fair comparison. BG2 was huge for it’s time, 10GB is pretty average now. A more apt comparison is, funnily enough, BG2 to Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition (and the circle of life is complete!). That shit is huuuuge (almost 24GB) and took forever to download and install, even on a 30 Mbps fiber-optic connection. I think the internet still has some catching up to do.

    In the end, I like Nick Bell’s point the most. These two methods can co-exist just fine. They’ve been able to get along fine this long, and together they will continue to fulfill everybody’s needs more than either one could do alone.

  17. Soylent Dave says:

    While I’d love to agree with you Shamus (because I like owning stuff and putting it on shelves, and playing it years after the company has gone bankrupt and so on and so on) – I think that you may be writing from a position of wishful thinking more than anything else.

    I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight, and there’s going to be a pretty bloody huge transitional period – but I think that we will inevitably move to more and more digital distribution. Partly because it’s convenient for customers (in some ways), but definitely because it’s brilliant for developers (provided they’re in control of it).

    We only have to look at what’s happened to music sales to see how things are going – people (particularly from the generation after mine; i.e. people under 16) aren’t just happy buying all their music from iTunes; they don’t even consider buying it as a CD.

    Obviously we’re still in a transitional period for music – and we probably will be for quite some time (because people my age and older like owning things) – but we’re going to get old and die, and – more importantly – stop buying music. And, while there will certainly be a niche market for this kind of thing (much like there is for vinyl), I can’t see it ending up as a significant – or even really measurable – part of the market share.

    It’s also worth noting that there are more parts of the world inaccessible to traditional methods of distribution than there are inaccessible to digital distribution – even more so if we say ‘potentially’ (i.e. it’s easier to set up internet access halfway up a mountain than build a shop, and transport network to support it); there are more people cut off from retail than they are from the internet (at least in terms of buying luxury items).

    It’s still a fairly long time coming, though (iTunes launched in 2003 and became the biggest music seller in the US in 2008; there’s still a fair way to go before it (and its ilk) are pretty much the only music sellers. And video game distribution is of course lagging behind that by a good few years…))

    1. Mari says:

      Music is really the music industry’s fault. I know for a fact that I’m not the only consumer that got annoyed at paying $15-20 for the two songs on an album that I was interested in listening to again. Inevitably the songs I liked were not the ones released as singles. So there was a huge wave of consumers like me who were clamoring for digital distribution because we hated the way music was currently being delivered. Digital distribution was secondary to that. I would have just as happily taken to physical media if that was how I could have gotten what I wanted from the musical cartels.

      I don’t really hear a ton of consumers complaining about aspects of the game publishing industry that could be fixed by changing distribution models. The complaints are about things like DRM and convoluted registration processes and unfinished products being released. So I don’t think consumers will be driving the change as hard as they did with music. I don’t think most consumers are all that RESISTANT to a change in distribution models, just that they won’t be forcing it.

    2. Nick Bell says:

      “. . . because people my age and older like owning things . . .”

      The best thing about digital music is that we have reached the point of owning things. The major music stores like iTunes and Amazon sell completely DRM-free music. You OWN that music. It is yours, now and forever, to put on any device you want. It is even free to lend to a friend if you want to.

      Video games have a long ways to go for that. Few digital stores truly let you own things. But there are some; buy something from GoG, and it is yours. No need to ever connect that game to the internet again.

    3. Blake says:

      The difference is people have already been exposed to the music and know exactly what they’re paying for. Most people buy games without knowing if they’re really going to enjoy it so it needs as much marketing as possible to convince people to buy it.

  18. SpammyV says:

    I’m an old fogey. I like having cases, discs, manuals, feelies… the works. I’m also a packrat who never sells games. Part of the reason I love GoG is they give you the manual and wallpapers and things like that. A well made manual is always fun to read. I’ll buy some things as digital copies, mostly CDs that aren’t in the nearby stores and older/indie games. But major purchases? I always want a hard copy. I’m also paranoid because of how many times I’ve had to take this computer into the shop and get it cleaned/wiped. I frankly don’t trust the iStore as much as I used to now that I know how fast I can use up my five downloads- Downloading the same computer as before!

  19. Eathanu says:

    I live in Ontario. We basically have two Internet services: Bell and Rogers. There’s others, and they are, in fact, better than both of the main choices, but Bell and Rogers are the only ones with money, and the only ones you have a prayer of seeing at least consistent service from.

    Neither one offers unlimited monthly bandwidth, at least not at the time we got our contract. If publishers went solely to digital distribution, they’d also pretty much alienate at least one entire country, and I’m pretty sure Canada is far from the only place you find this sort of thing.

    1. Klay F. says:

      This brings another thing to mind. In the U.S., Net Neutrality come under attack every couple of years. So far, we have been lucky enough to avoid any legislation regarding it, but I feel its days are numbered because too many people don’t know what it is and politicians are taking advantage of that.

      If Net Neutrality does get repealed one of these days, you can say goodbye to digital distribution (unless of course you are rich).

  20. Nidokoenig says:

    Comparing unwrapping presents to checking your Steam inbox gave me an idea: What if you could attach a puzzle lock to a gifted game? It could just be simply tearing at paper to reveal the box art, a hacking minigame, or even something random like Pipedream, just something to create a little delay and add some thought to getting the gift. Only downside I would see is getting a gift from a 4chan thread would entail clearing a screen from IWTBTG.

    As for digital downloads, I’m one of the hoarder/collector people with a distrust for online systems. I’ll happily buy an online game for less than £10, it’s probably a popcorn game I’ll play for a week or two. If the delivery channel implodes a year from now and I can’t play the official version any more, I’ll pirate it. I’ve got a license to play it, right?
    But if it’s a big game that I expect to play without any hassle for a couple of years and am paying £25 or more for, I want a real thing I can depend on. Everyone has a price limit where they’ll demand a thing they can hold in their hand and control utterly. The only thing that will, perhaps, change this for me is if DRM-free gaming goes mainstream. Then if there’s a problem with my account or the client or whatever, who cares, I can run the program directly.

    The other problem with digital distribution is that there aren’t as many distributors or as many outlets for each distributor. If Steam has a sale, it’s everywhere, that’s good, if it doesn’t, nowhere does, and that’s less good. I can get to half a dozen Game and Gamestation shops near me, plus dozens of other places where I can get games, and I can’t say whether a deal I see in one shop will be in any other shop, even within the same chain.
    This is part of the impulse buy thing, there’s a definite scarcity and window of opportunity there in the ten minutes I might be in a shop I might not even visit ever again that makes me jump a lot easier than if I have a whole day to play demos, look up reviews, consider my options and look up other offers.
    The evil idea this suggests is offering specific customers discounts on strict time limits. Like, when you load up Steam or Impulse a game on your wishlist or in your recommendations will have a 30% or so discount if you buy it within the next couple of hours. I know that’d get quite a bit of cash off of me.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Why are there 2 number 3s on the list?

  22. Scholar4582 says:

    Excellent article.

  23. rofltehcat says:

    Hm… when have I last bought a game in a retail shop? I can’t remember.
    I prefer digital sales but I agree with you on the gift part. Although to be honest I always prefered getting money or gift coupons (but I also like useful gifts, I could use some new warm wool socks right now).
    Why? Because parents and grand parents are pretty bad at buying the correct thing. Buying the original and not the sequel can happen for example.
    However, I don’t like Steam gifting either. Imo it is a bad concept but I used it to buy copies of Battlefield 2 for my brother and my cousin for example so we could play it at a LAN party. They didn’t have paypal and credit cards are barely used in Germany (even then they’d probably still be too young to have one). Or I bought Men of War for 3€ for 1 or 2 friends because they didn’t have payment options available either.
    But that was never real gifting, as the cost was repaid most of the time in chips or cocktails (overall I probably even saved some money :P ).

    1. Blake says:

      Last game I bought in a retail shop was Starcraft 2. I was going to get it online, then decided this would be much less hassle to get onto both my work and home computer.
      Plus I intend to replace my home computer in the near future (it’s nearly half a decade old now) so having the disc saves on more time downloading/copying etc.
      As well as future-proofing me as I can always crack the cd later if ActiBlizz ever decide they’re only supporting Starcraft 3 now.

      1. pkt-zer0 says:

        “As well as future-proofing me as I can always crack the cd later if ActiBlizz ever decide they're only supporting Starcraft 3 now.”

        You can just backup the download and crack that, makes little difference. Plus, they’re still supporting the decade-old Starcraft 1, and if Starcraft 2’s development time is anything to go by, the SC3 is at least twelve years away. If they make another RTS before then, make that roughly twenty years.

  24. Cybron says:

    I think this is the first article of yours in a long time that I’ve disagreed with, Shamus. Not because I don’t want it to be true (I’m one of those who prefers being able to hang on to hard copies) but because a lot of it doesn’t seem too well though out.

    I’d say most of the market aspects you named (except for the parents buying for their kids) are shrinking. Impulse buying isn’t shrinking, but in my personal experience (as well as the experience of others in these comments) impulse buying happens online as well. “Visitors” are, to my dismay, slowly being phased out in favor of Halo/CoD-esque online play (except for Nintendo – always count on Nintendo to break from the crowd, thankfully).

    I’ve seen fewer of the new generation exhibit the collection mindset – without an environment conducive to nurturing that thought process (such as one heavy in digital distribution), it may simply be developing less.


    they will never reach 100% as long as there are consoles that can operate independently of the net.

    Don’t give them ideas!

    1. Hitch says:

      Isn’t that what the OnLive Game System is? Actually, I think that even takes it a step further.

  25. Adam P says:

    I do hope that games never go digital. Bandwidth caps from service providers would limit how many games you can download in a given month. I also think bandwidth caps would also make services like Onlive being impractical as you would, again, only be able to play a game for a definite period of time (that is, until you reach the bandwidth cap). I very much don’t like the sound of that at all.

  26. Novotny says:

    Guys, I honestly think the idea of downloading data to actually store it is on the way out. I can see us having data centers, in much the same way we have local electricity sub-stations, in suburbs. Like banks. You keep your data there, and you insure it. Of course, you can always keep stuff on physical storage if you absolutely must, but why would you, beyond personal & private data? You could lose it and then have nowhere to turn to. This business model means a company is liable for it. You have fast connection to it (we’re trialing 1GB/s connections in the UK atm) and can always re-download if required. Plus, the insurance of this data will be pretty big business. The Data banks deal with backing it up, ensuring it’s recoverable. This also means copyright holders can ensure their copyright – the license to software becomes exactly that.

    In case you’re wondering, 1Gb/s is fairly reasonable in terms of current transfer speeds, say in comparison with SSDs.

    This, I think, is where we are going.

    edit:: I don’t think you guys realise how fast the web is getting around the world. South Korea was averaging something like 14mb per household in Jan of this year and increasing on average 29% every quarter. I’ve had a 10mb connection since about 2003, and have access to 100mb atm at home. That’s normal for UK cities. We’re behind most of Europe.

    1. Zukhramm says:

      Why would I trust a company with my data though? Unless hard drvie prices suddenly get ridiculously high. Except for games, nothing I want to store take up so much space that it would be worth it. I’m using a 150 GB hard drive right now, and if not for games, I think it would last me a lifetime.

      And I’d not feel safe anyway. who know what they’re doing with my data? Sure, probably not much, but it’s mine, it should be with me.

      1. Novotny says:

        If we’re streaming from local data centres almost as fast as we are from physical drives, why bother having the physical drives but for that which we want to be private and/or personal? Additionally, you can blame them if they lose anything, which you can’t if you yourself lose it.

        edit:: plus, again – think of this from the point of view of those with copyrights to enforce. I may not personally like it, but I can see how they would.

        1. Novotny says:

          Oh BTW, sorry – longtime lurker, love this site. Hi to you all :)

        2. Nick Pitino says:

          Because hard-drives are cheap and by my secretive and private nature *ALL* my data I consider to be personal and worth keeping hidden.

        3. Nidokoenig says:

          I can go on Amazon and buy a 1.5 terabyte hard drive for about £70, and that price is only going down. This data centre idea is going to be me paying a certain amount each month for storage space and access. A decent hard drive will last at least three years, say, so unless the data centre costs me significantly less than £2 a month, it’s not feasible right now and will only get less so.

          As for support from people with copyrights to enforce, there’s no more certain way to kill the idea. The idea of some suit trawling through my family photos, pirated music and horse porn just on the off chance they can sue me for something is just creepy beyond all reason.

        4. JB says:

          Having it locally means:
          – having control
          – not being dependent on external company
          – not being dependent on internet connection working
          – not having to pay monthly charges
          – quicker access
          – can use my bandwith for other stuff

          The only data I see any reason for storing in the cloud is the few bytes I need access to from everywhere.

          And I don’t have the need to blame anyone for data loss. I need to avoid it. Better having full control at home + back up.

          Why bother [trusting my the data to some one else] but for that which we want [to have access to from random places on the internet]?

          1. Novotny says:

            That sounds like a bloody good argument for Pirate Radio. It was big in the 60s. the 1960s.

            You are assuming, as many do in this thread, that you own the data when you buy a record, or an office application. You do not. And your having it physically is a pain in the ass to copyright holders. They aim to end this (if I am right).

            I must, it seems, reiterate that your data is your own and you will store it locally.

  27. Nick Pitino says:

    For me there are three key factors:

    1) I am one of those hoarder types who LIKES having a physical copy. This even goes as far as buying the special edition copies of games with the art books and making-of DVD’s and all of that. (Aside: I found a boxed copy of “Ultima VIII: Pagan” at the thrift store the other day with the cloth map and everything. SCORE.)

    2) While physical copies are nice, I do appreciate the convenience of downloads as well. However, I am suspicious of them and will always opt for the physical copy if given the choice due to the near omnipresence of DRM with them. GOG is about the only download service I trust implicitly because of the lack of DRM, once I download something from them I can (And do) burn it to a disc and no matter what else might happen I will ALWAYS have that functional, unlocked copy.

    3) Somewhat related to one and two, store impulse buys ARE a pretty big part of my game buying habits. I tend to go grocery shopping at bigger stores like Wal Mart and Fred Myers which have fairly substantial ‘Electronics’ departments, and as I’m going through the store I always have to stop and somewhat ritualistically see what’s to be had on the bargain racks. Intellectually I know that it might be a ‘better’ deal off of Steam or XBLA, but again I like having a hard copy and the download option is 99% of the time going to be saddled with stupid DRM. Maybe the physical copy will also but then at least I *HAVE* a physical copy which is still a step up.

    Ideally what I’d like to see is a hybrid download and ‘print-on-demand’ system. Lets say to ‘buy’ a game costs $20 base as a download with no frills attached. But then, as your going through the checkout process for “Captain Shooties Nazi Killing Explosion Fest” they can have a check box that will say “For an extra $5 we’ll send you a DVD case with a hard-copy disc” and another option saying “For another $25 dollars we’ll send the deluxe Special Edition pack with background story booklet, map, figurines and what-have-you.”

    That way, everyone can get exactly what they want. Don’t give a crap about having a physical copy? Then just buy the bare bones download. Like having something to put on the shelf and having a backup for the data in case the company goes tits-up? Then get the physical copy for a small extra but still be able to enjoy the benifits of a download because that’s what the game is at the base of it all.

    Everybody wins! Everybody happy!

    1. Novotny says:

      That’s close to what I described above, but you still see a future where companies allow the data into your hands. I still think those days are numbered, for the reasons outlined above. You can store your own data, granted. Just not data you buy a license to use. You could consider onlive as a test run perhaps. Just my opinion of course.

      1. Nick Pitino says:

        It all comes down to what consumers will accept.

        Virtually every game I buy is either:

        1) An Xbox 360 game where I stick the disc in and go irrespective of anything else.

        2) DRM free from GOG.

        3) PC games that aren’t hindered with anything deeper than maybe a CD key and are easy to find cracks for if I find that sufficiently annoying.

        The ONLY exceptions to the above I can think of off hand is the Half-Life 2 series that is completely tied to Steam. Frankly if the majority of games being made switch to a licensing scheme where all I am doing is renting the ability to remotely view the game on a server that belongs to someone else, then I will NO LONGER BUY AAA GAMES. I don’t suspect I’ll be alone in this either.

        The magic of The Long Tail will mean I’ll likely still be able to find DRM-free and physical copy games, they’ll just be indie titles. Sure you can argue that most people won’t care and if your (Frankly nightmarish to me) scenario of “You get to rent a little window to our data on our servers!” model ever becomes reality I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if most people go for it jumping in with both feet. Especially considering that many of the ‘current generation’ tend to be narcissistic, short sighted and lazy.

        I can imagine all sorts of colorful ways that will eventually probably come back to bite them in the ass -HARD-. A couple good fiascoes where peoples ‘collections’ that they’ve potentially spent hundreds of dollars on become inaccessible because they didn’t read the EULA close enough might change a few minds.

        And I’ll be there to play my world smallest DRM-free-local-data-storage violin.

        1. Novotny says:

          The Long Tail theory is very interesting and I certainly hadn’t come across it before, thanks for that.

          I’d like to explain that this theory of mine regarding content delivery and its future came out of watching the onlive demo at Columbia over the net with a friend, and then discussing the ramifications as they appeared to us at the time.

          The division of creative from storage companies is very important to this idea. Creatives produce the title, clearly, and then sell it in licensed form to you, much as now. However, crucially, you do not receive the data to hold and your right to access it is not beholden to the creative staying in business; rather, the storage company takes responsibility for ensuring it is always available to you. Akin to banking almost, only this ‘Databank’ can crucially never lend your data out on you and subsequently run out of it. They are liable should you not be able to access whatever it is you have bought the rights to, of course, but it is a low risk business, unlike the creative industry that produces the initial product. These two types of business have very different risk levels and profit margins, but complement each other.

          Now, clearly I haven’t thought this through in great depth, and I can understand our present concerns regarding servers going down etc, but I cannot see the public baulking at not having data stored at home. TV went down rather well, after all, as did theatre before it and especially TV-on-demand, currently. Music was popular prior to the recorded formats (including notation) becoming possible. All that is necessary is ease of access, to my mind. (Again, we’re not talking about private data here.)

          Of course, if it can be streamed, it can easily be copied: but I think we are clearly moving toward interactive entertainment becoming, if it is not already, the dominant form of entertainment. We just went through a weird bit of history were we tended to have things performed to us. In the grand scale of human history, though, I’ll hazard a guess that it’s usually been interactive and is going back that way again. And this combination of streaming/cloud computing I think holds the key to where those big boys that hold copyrights want us to go.

          There are some very big players putting a shedload of investment into onlive. I can’t believe they aren’t thinking this way. Sorry if I’ve got a bit overexcited, but this is something that’s been festering away in my head for a good while now and Shamus’s article brought it whooshing out.

          1. Nick Pitino says:

            I’m not saying your idea isn’t possible or even unlikely to happen and I fully realize I’m probably the minority loony who lives in a shack in the mountains and walks around town with a ‘The End is Nigh!’ sandwich board on me.

            But still, the issue I take with it is that fundamentally I find the idea of being beholden to the whim of another company for a stand-alone title I’ve ostensibly paid for distasteful and something I’d prefer to avoid.

            A single-player game with a start, a middle and an end is a stand-alone product as far as I am concerned and should be treated as such. You pay for it, you get the data in some form and you and the company part ways. I find the drive to treat everything as a service even when it’s completely inappropriate and that comes with all the myriad strings attached to be a highly negative trend in the marketplace.

            Aside: Multiplayer games are a bit of a different bag, because then you ARE paying for an ongoing service and all that entails. Most of my concerns are for single-player titles.

            I find comparing this idea to a bank an odd thing because after all, banks go under, often abuse consumers to the full extent they can get away with, get sold and bought out often with negative consequences for their current customers and take out chunks of the economy quite spectacularly when they do fail. How this is an improvement over me being responsible for my own data I’ve paid for is beyond me.

            The only reason I put money in a bank is so I can write checks, it sure as hell isn’t for the awesome overdraft fees if I miss-budget something or the nearly nonexistent interest rate return I get on my account.

            1. Novotny says:

              Oh I completely agree. My using the word bank here probably doesn’t help. The problem with bankers is that they take a commodity that you deposit and then lend it to someone else – this is how banks go under, when they’ve lent more than they can repay should x number of people wish to withdraw, or, as in the case of the sub-prime market recently, where they lend to people who cannot afford to make the repayments. But that’s quite different to a data storage company maintaining access to a set of data, which is replicated in many differing places (a game, for instance). Clearly there are redundancies built in here for security, though of course no system is infallible. It’s just very low risk. If the creative goes under, the storage company is still running, and it is just one of many, and furthermore, it’s not gambling your data to make profits with.

              This is the issue with software. People think of it in terms of once bought, owned – but the truth is you never own your software; not your single player games, not your OS, not your office software. You only own the license to use it. You never own the data. But by possessing it, you are able to behave as if you own it – you can copy it, dissemble it, change it, stick it out there on torrents; or 30 years ago, you could tape it, allow your friends to record it, and so on and so forth.

              The big boys have been trying to stop this for some time, as we all know very well. I’m suggesting that they have figured out how to do that, and that how we consume entertainment is going to change completely over the next ten years not because it’s how we ideally would like it, but because technology has advanced in such a way that they can now solve this massive headache they’ve had (or regarded themselves to have) with getting people to pay them money.

              1. Nick Pitino says:

                And I won’t buy it then is my point.

                1. Novotny says:

                  Fair play to you sir, I admire your principle. But I think the vast majority will.

                2. Nick Pitino says:

                  (Having to reply to myself because apparently comments won’t nest any further.)

                  You are probably right because as I mentioned most people are short sighted and lazy. All I can do is watch Rome burn and not take part in it myself.

              2. Felblood says:

                That’s not strictly true in the literal, legal or even practical sense.

                We do not own the games we buy in the sense that we don’t have the legal right to make extra copies of them, or redistribute them as our own original works.

                However we do own the physical copy of the game, and (unless the EULA was written by someone in thrall to Satan) the right to actually play the game we paid for.

                Even a direct to drive purchase makes a copy of the data in the end users long term data storage. This is the right and natural process of distributing licensed data.

                If you don’t get to install and play a game when you buy a license to it, then there’s simply no point in buying, and the developers who follow this extreme style of EULA will go the way of the Amway Corporation. (They still exist, under a different name, and are still turning profits in countries where their poisonous reputation hasn’t spread yet.)

                Nick Pitino is right. If somebody isn’t offering you a fair deal, hear him out, and then take your business elsewhere.

                –and you know what?

                He’s going to get his share of innovative gameplay and quality production values. There are more great games on the market today than you could play in your lifetime, and more and better games are getting developed all the time.

                The choosy customer is going to get the choice products in the coming years. I don’t know if hell be getting his games from the Wal-mart clerk or the UPS driver, or his ISP, but he’ll be getting good ones, with minimal hassle and no mumbo-jumbo.

                You don’t have to stand for this crap, when you do business with someone, if you’re not willing to, and going around it is going to get easier in the coming years. Someday, buying games will be even easier than pirating them.

                1. Novotny says:

                  Well, the license gives us the right to install the game and play it, but it does not give us the right of ownership over the content of the game, unless I’m very much mistaken.

                  Benign developers allow modding, but very few allow re-use of in-game resources elsewhere. Equally, I can buy the complete works of Kenny G, but should I then choose to perform them myself to others, having learnt them, I’d (edit: or the venue would) have to pay royalties. I don’t own the music, nor the contents of the software. Just the right to play the purchased recording – and only for myself, at that.

                  I admit I’ve had a bit of a nightmare vision and I’m sorry about that!

    2. Felblood says:

      *Seethes with suddenly remembered rage at the mention of an Ultima cloth map.*

      I think I told that story here before, but it just makes me so mad whenever I think of it. Selling Ultima 7 in a retail store, sans cloth map but with map based DRM included, is an unforgivable act of evil.

      Thus were my twin hatreds for DRM and K-Mart etched in store, for all time. Developers and even (some) publishers have my sympathy in the war on piracy, but when a retail chain starts the QQ, I’ll hoist the jolly roger and run out the cannon, just to try and sink the lubbers, and Davy Jones can take the booty for all I care.

      1. Nick Pitino says:

        Wait, so the game had DRM that required the map but the game was sold without it?

        Wow, that IS evil.

  28. LadyTL says:

    I’m one of the collector/hoarder people and I am never really comfortable with digital content. I’ve actually been moving further and further from PC gaming because of it. The more we buy our games just online and less with a physical copy, the less it seem we actually own the game. To me most online shopping seems too good to be true. I’ve heard too many stories of people not getting what they bought online, games not letting you play them without an internet connection and server snafus. I’d much rather go into a store, wander around for a bit thinking and then buy and own a physical item that cannot be arbitrarily taken from me because the company is having problems.

    1. Novotny says:

      I understand how you feel. But we’re starting to talk about data, as opposed to the physical products that I, for one, grew up amongst. It was never easy to copy a Mustang car, for instance, but you could manufacture a copy – for a price in learning how to, and creating the manufacturing skill to create one. But could you afford to make 10 of them? Copying something that highly skilled labour produced and sold for real money was hard 50 years ago.

      That is not the case now. And besides, it has very little value. Intellectual and marketing rights have /immense/ value nowadays, and this is what the modern market seeks to protect.

      1. Novotny says:

        Damn, I’d really like it if my first foray onto this site wasn’t so – how do you put it; argumentative, for want of a better expression.

        I really do love this place and I also appreciate how you guys are willing to discuss. Perhaps I should shut up and take these thoughts elsewhere.

        But: doesnt anyone see where I’m coming from? I’m trying to look to where we are being taken, not suggest what might be best.

        1. Nick Pitino says:

          I completely understand what you’re saying and even agreed that it’s entirely likely that it will be the big push most major “AAA” companies are going to try to make.

          The friction seems to be that some of us think that’s a big sticky wad of dried horse … fluid … and will have none of it, but you almost seem to be reacting as if we find your entire thesis invalid which some of us don’t.

          It’s just highly undesirable from a consumer standpoint.

  29. Nick says:

    Retail does not mean what you think it means:

    the sale of goods to ultimate consumers, usually in small quantities

    Digital distribution is still retail, just a different method.

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