Saturday, 24 November 2018

Why moving to digital only is a Bad Thing: part 1 - Games

I’ve heard rumours on the interweb that Microsoft are thinking of having the next Xbox Random Number return to something that was slammed on the XBone: digital only media. As asserted by LoadingReadyRun’s Checkpoint, which reports such matters with a delightful mixture of competence, fairness, and humour and is well worth checking out, the world has moved on quite a bit. It’s entirely possible this approach will get little censure next time.

Got to say, I’m 100% against a shift to all-digital media. It’s part of changing games from being products to services, and in line with the madness of some who want to abolish physical money and only have it electronically.

Why Abandoning Physical Games is Bad for Gamers

I hang onto my old consoles. Planning on dusting off the PS2 and returning to some old favourites fairly soon, actually. With a physical copy, you can install or remove the increasingly large game download as much as you like, without worrying about it becoming defunct. You can give it to a friend, swap it with someone, or sell it second hand [NB I may be doing this with some books/games in the New Year so keep an eye out]. You cannot do this with a digital only copy.

But maybe that’s a small price to pay for the convenience of digital gaming. Assuming you don’t use your credit card only to have the details stolen, of course. Then it’s a large price to pay.

Browsing the Playstation store (I’ve got a PS4), it’s clear that the price of games there is higher than buying actual physical copies, possibly excepting pre-order periods and the first few weeks of a game’s release. There’s no gradual, natural decline as initial hype fades and shops want to get rid of their stock and reduce prices accordingly. The digital shop has zero physical space requirements and infinite stock. So the price stays high forever. Why would it decline?

And if everything goes digital, that will become industry-wide. Sure, you’ll be able to pirate games, as now, but those of us who don’t want to become criminals will be faced with the prospect of selling our kidneys to fund our increasingly expensive habit or going without Battle Royale: Money Gouger 3.

A related but different note is the move to microtransactions. I thought Fallout 4 was ok. It did make missteps. One of them was making settlement building so frequent. I liked the system itself but I didn’t need dozens of places. I also didn’t need basic items like a weapon rack hidden behind a paywall. If I’ve spent £40 on a videogame I don’t expect something basic like that to be ‘extra’ DLC.

Dead or Alive, the frisky fighting franchise, makes rather a lot from DLC of fruity outfits for characters, perhaps even more than from actual game sales. Similarly, there’s a push for microtransactions with lots of other videogames, whether that’s cosmetic silliness or pay-to-win Satanism. Sometimes this comes from games that seem to have no business having them at all (yes, Shadow of War, I’m looking at you, you greedy little grease princess).

There are great aspects to electronic cash and products. Delivery is faster than waiting for post. You don’t need shelf-space for countless games. But there are major downsides too. The price of games won’t ever fall. Spending physical money and electronic money feels different. It’s easier to get someone to spend numbers on a screen than it is to hand over pound coins (even the dreadful new pound coins that look atrocious). I’m not opposing digital versions of games, but I’m absolutely opposing the wholesale abandonment of physical games. Digital means you get convenience at a cost in money and control. If you’re happy to make that choice, cool. 

But if that’s your only option, it’s not a choice at all, just a mandatory move to line the pockets of companies at the expense of consumers.

In part 2, up in a few days, I’ll take a wider look at money and the desire of some to abolish physical currency in favour of a purely electronic system.



  1. Good article, but here's a pedantic point. CDs and DVDs are digital media as well as physical media, the continuance of which you are defending.

  2. True, but your CD or DVD still works when a server goes down. And their physical presence enables a second hand market, and for first hand copies to decrease in price over time.

    And thanks :)