I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the videogames industry is going to be fully digital very soon. Perhaps even by the next generation of consoles. The core console ownership out there feels very uncomfortable about this. And rightly so. It would mean the death of trade-in culture, affecting gamers on a budget. Controversially, it would also mean we never really own our games. We’d be paying for access instead, making ownership a thing of the past. But doesn’t this model work just fine for us when using Netflix or Google Play?
Going Fully Digital Won’t Be To Everyone’s Tastes But Money Talks
Yet, the advantages for developers and publishers and even you as a gamer far outweigh the torrent of complaints likely to erupt from social media and the like. After all, we are one of the most outspoken and rowdy sets of critics around. Just take a look on any YouTube gaming thread and you’ll see, sure enough! This impending deluge of drama bombs erupting online reminds me of something. Here in the UK, Wales was the first to employ the idea of making us pay for our plastic bags when shopping. The idea was to lower the waste coming out of the average home. A poultry 5 pence; nothing to get up in arms about. But, get up in arms many of us certainly did. Especially when the rule transitioned to the rest of the UK. Regardless, the plan worked. Wasted plastic bags were lowered. Litter mountains at scrap sites got smaller, though the human eye could not see it. And the depressing pitter patter of a lost bag floating down the street became a rarer thing.
The point I’m getting at here is the games industry is currently at the “let’s test it out in Wales first” stage. We already have a fully digital platform on PC with likes of Steam or GOG. We gamers are fickle animals, often searching for instant gratification when stepping off the hype train. Of course, instant gratification is what we get when downloading our next adventure out of thin air. That means one thing – money, and lots of it. In steps EA Origins, Ubisoft’s U Play and so on, in an attempt to localise their IPs in a kind of digital monopoly. So there we have it – a new business model that has proven profitable. Then the spark to light the fire that every industry needs – competition. The game is on. Well, it has been on for a long time and the console industry is about to catch up fully. After all, this generation has seen huge explosions of “instant gratification shoppers”… And equally massive reductions in hard copy sales. This scenario became starkly apparent when the likes of beloved franchises like Dishonored and Titanfall suffered lower takes than expected when it was sequel time.
Which leads me to think, many of the complainers have become the very thing they hate without even knowing it. You can safely bet they have digitally purchased a game at least once in this generation. Or perhaps they have inadvertently supported digital marketing further by getting sucked into the irresistible vortex of DLC culture. Those aforementioned advantages for developers and publishers are becoming an increasing reality. Hard copy games, with their DLCs and post release patches sit in the looming shadow of a digital marketplace. They too will get sucked into the vortex soon enough.
Devs and Publishers Are More Than Happy To Move Into Fully Digital
The most obvious advantage for developers and publishers is lowering production costs. These production costs are not something a lot of self published games developers cannot afford. Ergo, they end up digital only. That same ethos of not having to spend a very large sum of money is always something for a publisher to take into consideration. With the rise of Netflix, Spotify, Google Play etc, people are already sitting comfortably in an “access it” mindset instead of an “own it” mindset. Big gaming companies know this, adding yet further to our high probability of a fully digital marketplace.
Perhaps the most telling of this near sighted intuition in big gaming, can be found in Chris Evenden. This fellow is EA’s Vice President of investor relations. He recently spoke at the Deutsche Bank Technology Conference, about how EA have been laying the groundwork for the impending transition to fully digital.
It would be foolish to think EA are the only ones getting suited and booted backstage…
But The Temptation To Quickly Deal With Controversies May Leave A Bitter Taste In Consumers’ Mouths
Perhaps more insidiously, developers would benefit from the whole “you don’t own it” idea. Think for a moment, of all the controversies we get in gaming. Hold the No Man’s Sky example in your mind for a moment. How long will it be until we have games temporarily or permanently taken away from us as the result of a controversy. It is then that the access only model would begin to rear its ugly head.
One major downfall with Netflix is that it removes certain items from its library if they are not performing well enough to save on server storage space. Yet we continue to use it for convenience’s sake. If you think this analogy sounds extreme, travel back in time and speak to a PS2 gamer. Tell them that, in the future developers will only release half a game and charge you all over again to play the other half (yes I’m slating DLC a little bit here). Or tell them some games may be a little broken but publishers think it’s ok because their developers can remotely fix it after release. That gamer would laugh in your face. Yet, here it is. And going fully digital will have comparable downfalls… And we will continue to use it “for convenience’s sake”.
Fully Digital Will Have Its Teething Phase But Come Out Better Off In The Long Run
There are two major benefits for you as a gamer, before you go doom-mongering on Facebook and YouTube threads. Firstly, we’d be looking at a monthly subscription fee. In the case of consoles, we’d probably just see a rise in our PS Plus membership cost and a merging of that with PS Now. And the equivalent for Xbox. In the long term, we could actually end up spending less on our games. The second benefit – and this a big one – is the rise of self published games.
We’ve already seen its beginnings in the success of Hellblade. Hopefully, Echo will be equally successful. Remember what I said about indie developers self publishing and going digital only? Well, by doing that they don’t have publishers breathing down their necks with a deadline or requests for certain themes within the game. They would have total creative freedom and, their own finances permitting, as long as they’d need to realise their vision fully. This is often why indie games are so colourful in every sense of the word as they’ve been able to do this.
Imagine the potential for massive studios to apply the same ethos to their next game. Not only does the title not have to take into account production costs, but it can also take as long as it needs. No more broken games on release. Goodbye proud standing tower of games on the shelf. Hello new renaissance in videogames. But hey, this is all just semi-professional musings from yours truly. Time will tell whether or not we’ll truly be better off. But going fully digital is completely inevitable.