People Like to Own Things

 By Shamus Feb 10, 2006 5 comments

From Gamespot comes this article, where Peter Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, says the following:


“Let’s be fair. Whether it’s five, 10, 15, 20 years from now, the concept of driving to the store to buy a plastic disc with data on it and driving back and popping it in the drive will be ridiculous. We’ll tell our grandchildren that and they’ll laugh at us.”

Larry Ellison of Oracle fame, made the same argument about ten years ago.


“I hate the PC with a passion. Me going down to the store and buying Windows 95, I’ve got to get into my car drive down to a store buy a cardboard box full of bits you know encoded on a piece of plastic CDROM and you bring it home and read a manual install this thing – you must be kidding you know, put the stuff on the net – it’s bits, don’t put bits in cardboard, cardboard in trucks, trucks to stores, me go to the store, you know, pick the stuff out, it’s insane. OK I love the Internet – I want information you know it flows across the wire.”

I predict that in ten years people will still be predicting this box-free future, and it won’t be any closer. Universal digital delivery – which is what you need if you want to get rid of the boxes in stores – won’t happen until some new uber-DRM scheme comes along to thwart piracy, which doesn’t seem likely. (Note: When I say you need DRM, I mean publishers will insist on strong DRM. Obviously consumers would rather do without it.) But if it did, you’d still need a way to get content to laptops and other machines without universal high-speed access. But even when these issues are overcome, the process of buying some sort of physical media is NEVER going to go away.

When people pay money for something, they like to be able to hold the thing and say “I own this”. The same is true of music. People want the jewel case with the nice artwork and a shiney disc. How often have you been in the store and seen people just browsing the shelf, reading the boxes and looking for something new? There is something going on here that is more than just buying data. Something that won’t happen if you don’t have boxes in stores. Even if discs went away, and all content came over the net, you STILL wouldn’t be rid of boxes in stores, because those boxes turn into impulse purchases. People would still be able to impulse-buy at the store and take the box home, where they would then download their new thing.

Moore may be right about one thing, though. Our grandkids may well laugh at us. They will see predictions like the one in his article and laugh in the same way we laugh at the jetpacks-and-flying-cars future of the past.

5Five easy comments.


  1. Morrinn says:

    Well, Back in ’95 people didnt have the means of transporting the same sized files as were being used for video games online fast enough.
    Now with highspeed broadband and nice little Torrent websites its easy and quick.

    STEAM also is a good example of digital property sales. I admit, it was a tough sell at first to convince me not to have my property here in meatspace, tangible where I could touch the actual material I bought (and rubbing it all over), But once I gave it a try i found myself using STEAm more and more.
    As long as I have my password and login, I still own the right to download, install and play the game, and since I buy it for USD’s, I save some cash by not having to pay the riddiculus import taxes and retail price.

    So I guess my point is that the means of buying games through the Digital world is allready upon us, allthough still not used as much as the conventional and convinient retails… Yet ;).

    Here’s looking at you 2016.

  2. Simon_Jester says:

    But people don’t always like Steam. For example, Mr. Young despises it with a fiery passion which he has eloquently expressed elsewhere on this site.

    The kind of super-powerful DRM that makes universal digital sales of games possible is never going to be popular with everyone.

  3. Fuloydo says:

    Count me among the folks who want a physical ‘Thing’ to hold in my hands after I spend my money. I’ve still got the original 3.5″ floppies my copy of Wing Commander around here somewhere, though I doubt they are still readable. Even if I still had a 3.5″ drive to read them. (I installed WC on a Pentium class machine once, just to see if it would run. Hilarious…..die within a fraction of a second of the start of a dog fight. I understand they fixed that clockspeed bug with a patch or something later.)

    I made this rant on the subject of digital music some time ago and it applies every bit as much, if not more, to software.

    I want my shiny disc. Period.

    My mp3 collection is something in the neighborhood of 8GB. Not large, by some folks standards, but plenty.

    Of all those songs I have downloaded exactly one of them. Bought “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” from amazon when they started their music store just to see if I could. All the rest I ripped off of CD’s. If my drive crashes and my backups get nuked I still have my shiny discs. It would be a pain to rip them all again, but I could do it.

    I paid for a pro license for quicktime once. Used it for a year or more. Then my system died. When I rebuilt….I had no idea what my license code was and had no way to recover it. Yeah, my fault. Should have written it down on real paper instead of saving it to my failed hard drive. Sucks to be me.

    Personally I consider the CD and DVD to be the best data storage innovation since the hard drive replaced tape. Especially for distribution. It’s cheap, the data is secure (assuming a read-only disc such as comes when you buy software), and it’s immune to random magnetic fields. Properly cared for it will last forever. (Close enough. It’ll last longer than the hardware intended to run it.)

    Don’t get me started on DVD movie cases that literally force you to bend the disc to remove it from it’s holder. It’s like the studios want you to cause delaminate the disc so you’ll have to buy a new one.

  4. NakedKana says:

    I agree that boxes and disks aren’t ever going to go away an there’s a very simple reason: I like to share my goodies. You can’t loan a friend digital content. You can’t go halfsies with your brother on a downloaded video game and trade it off every week. And you don’t have to worry asabout running out of space on a hard drive if all your doing is saving progress as opposed to keeping the entire games contents stored.

    Digital media has a hell of a lot of draw backs and, personally, I’m not opposed to going out to the store and buying a hard copy to aviod them. After all, that’s about all the sun exposure and exersize some people get. Don’t discourage it.

  5. DaveMc says:

    Greetings from the future! Here in 2012, boxes and disks are alive and well, but Steam also bestrides the PC world like a colossus, and people are definitely moving in the direction of being OK with the somewhat unsatisfactory but in some ways pretty convenient state of “owning” only the rights to play certain games. As your future self will go on to write, the big thing Steam does right is trading that lack of absolute ownership off against significant conveniences, like the ability to download your stuff anywhere you’re able to log in. (And regular, absurdly cheap sales.)

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