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Games Entertainment

How Much Longer Will Physical Game Distribution Survive? 478

GamesIndustry is running an interview with Theodore Bergquist, CEO of GamersGate, in which he forecasts the death of physical game distribution in favor of digital methods, perhaps in only a few years. He says, "Look at the music industry, look at 2006 when iTunes went from not being in the top six of sellers — in the same year in December it was top three, and the following year number one. I think digital distribution is absolutely the biggest threat [traditional retailers] can ever have." Rock, Paper, Shotgun spoke with Capcom's Christian Svensson, who insists that developing digital distribution is one of their top priorities, saying Capcom will already "probably do as much digital selling as retail in the current climate." How many of the games you acquire come on physical media these days? At what point will the ease of immediate downloads outweigh a manual and a box to stick on your shelf (if it doesn't already)?
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How Much Longer Will Physical Game Distribution Survive?

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  • Eve onlin (Score:5, Informative)

    by trip11 ( 160832 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:24AM (#27075329) Homepage
    Check out the sales of Eve online on march 10th. They are putting it out in a box set for the first time (well practically the first time). Before now it's been download only. If the number of people playing shoot up, that's a good indicator. Likewise if the box set falls flat.
    • Check out the sales of Eve online on march 10th. They are putting it out in a box set for the first time (well practically the first time). Before now it's been download only. If the number of people playing shoot up, that's a good indicator. Likewise if the box set falls flat.

      Whether or not online sales are good or not depends on the sales system adopted by the vendor. Personally I am very much in favour of credit card enabled instant gratification when it comes to Music/Movies/Software purchases but some online sellers can be pretty idiotic about selling their products. The model adopted by Apple with iTunes for example is pretty nice, unless you live in a country that doesn't have a national iTunes division. Where I live (a small European country) Apple happily sells iPod touc

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Because in europe/uk you guys have vat and all kinds of bullshit taxes that get added on. And that my friend jacks the price up ridiculously.
      • Re:Online sales (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Quothz ( 683368 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @08:43AM (#27076025) Journal

        Does it cost 20%-30% more when a EU resident downloads an Adobe product form their store than if a US resident does the same? I don't think so.

        I don't think so either: Photoshop CS4 costs $699.00 in the US for direct download from Adobe, or EUR 887.12, the equivalent of $1115.00. That's considerably more than 30%. The VAT accounts for about EUR 110 of the difference, tho'.

        ZDNet (God, I hate referring to ZDNet) did an article [] on the pricing imbalance last year. A 50% premium for products in Europe seems t'be standard for them.

        Most other companies charge more for downloadable software in Europe than in the US, although the VAT generally accounts for most of the difference.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Builder ( 103701 )

      It's not a good indicator at all really. I would expect Eve sales to be largely saturated already, and growth across any medium to be low. Slow box sales on this do not really indicate anything particular about success of distribution channels this late in a game's life.

    • I'd buy it as it's a solid backup of all of the content up until this point. My system gets hosed, no problem; I'll pop this disk in and update a couple of patches instead of a whole new game client.

      Plus, I have a CD with the original EVE client from 2004 on my shelf at home. They did ship a paid for client, with the equivalent cost and of a time card, including the time. It saved me downloading 700Mb on my then blindingly fast 512k (50kb/s top) line from BlueYonder. At the time, that was 4 hours, if the c
      • This, to me, reveals the beauty of Steam. Whenever I nuke my system from an image, I don't even worry about backing up my games, I just redownload them. Steam lets me reinstall games an infinite amount of times and for my most played games, Steam provides a backup utility to save them off to my server.

  • I'm so annoyed right now I only have the manuals and disks from my original King's Quest I and Space Quest I. It would be awesome to have the whole box intact.

    Then again, I was in primary school at the time... Stupid kids. ;)

  • by lordandmaker ( 960504 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:28AM (#27075343) Homepage

    In general, if I've paid for something, I want a tangible object.

    I've this constant concern that *something* will go wrong in the digital process. I know it probably wont, and generally hasn't, but I'd still much rather be able to say "look - I _do_ own this, I've got the box and everything". That said, I don't have any paper records for, say, my banking. Priorities and all that.

    • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:41AM (#27075395)

      I also like physical objects, generally for music. Whilst I have downloaded a couple of games on Xbox and PS3 and I don't have the same fear of something going wrong, there is a huge downside.

      I can't lend it to a friend.
      I can't sell it on or even give it away when I'm done with it.

      This sucks.
      I don't mind the suckage on low-value items like Flower or Noby Noby Boy, or Xbox Live Arcade bits and pieces, but on full games?

      No thanks.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dintech ( 998802 )

        I can't lend it to a friend.
        I can't sell it on or even give it away when I'm done with it.

        I agree this is crap but it's exactly the direction the publishers want to go in. They still equate this kind of thing with lost sales.

      • by Rurik ( 113882 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @09:48AM (#27076439)

        I buy 100% retail boxed, tangible products. I want to be able to exercise the First-Sale Doctrine to re-sell my games after I complete them so that I can raise more money to buy more games. I also want the market to control the pricing of a product. Historically, after a few weeks on the market, retail-boxed items can be found for half the price of their digital counter-parts. Why? The game sucks. It may be fun at a $30 or $40 price point, but is a regret at a $60 price point. The market realizes this, and boxed games can be found for $40 whereas the digital copies are still at $59.99 (ooh, but free shipping and no tax!)

        Digital copies are just a way to destroy the used-game market, undercut pawn shops (e.g. GameStop), lock out libraries, and permanently tie a person to a product so that they can never get rid of it.

    • by deroby ( 568773 )

      I have it the other way around.

      I've somehow lost (probably during a move) my Half-life (hl, of, bs...) cd's (and hence keys), . Same for my original C&C cd's and probably some other old games I haven't missed yet.

      Luckily the first were registered on Steam so I could still download them onto my new computer. Some of the latter I replaced by buying 'The First Decade' box. Guess which one was least painful money-wise =)

      It might be naive, but I somehow hope that when Steam goes down, they'll release a 'pat

      • by stiggle ( 649614 )

        But who thought the banking system would collapse, or that Atari would be bought by the French, or that Commodore would have gone under after the Amiga. Just because Steam is going OK now doesn't mean they will stick around.

        I like physical media - same as I dislike online activation. If I've bought it I want to play it and not be reliant on an external company to allow me to play something I've paid for.

      • by obarthelemy ( 160321 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @08:19AM (#27075869)

        issues with downloads:

        - when the DRM server goes down, you lose your stuff. The question is not whether it will, but when. We need some king of DRM escrow.

        - because of the drm, we're beholden to not only 1 drm system, but 1 file format, 1 software, and sometimes even 1 hardware vendor, or 1 product line form a specific vendor. We need a DRM standard, shared amongst all vendors.

        - we lose the right to resell or even loan our stuff.

    • I find that carrying all those gold pieces around all the time is a bit of a pain, after a while. And it's hard to find an employer who'll actually pay you with these.

    • by Kamots ( 321174 )


      Except for me it isn't concern of something "going wrong". It's a concern of an unscrupulous distributor disabling older games to push sales of thier newer ones. It's a concern of companies going bankrupt or getting bought out or or or... there's a lot of reasons why the distribution/activation servers can go away.

      With games that I own a physical copy of (and that don't have nasty DRM requiring online activation), well, so-long as I can scroung appropriate hardware and an OS, I can play it. I stil

  • Boxed games aren't as cool as they use to be. I remember my original Sid Meyer's Pirates... There was a huge printed map and you actually needed to use it.

    Manuals were on nice paper, and the disks needed space too. The glamour is gone now... The box is just for getting the game home. Cool materials are too expensive. I sure prefer to be able to download nowadays, but there will always be that special something that only physical media can give.

    • You mean the ability to reinstall without limits or activation bullshit just for single player? They found a "solution" to that "bug";)

  • by appleprophet ( 233330 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:32AM (#27075371) Homepage

    You can see this already with PC gaming. Digital distributors like Steam have pretty much demolished the brick and mortar stores. My local GameStop barely has a PC game section anymore and it's not because the PC market is shrinking. In fact, it's growing.

    Brick and mortar stores are dying and they know it -- for PC games anyway. It's like they are not even trying anymore. I am an independent video game developer, and I tried my best to let GameStop et al sell my company's game, but they do not even return calls. We have not even gotten an email back yet.

    Meanwhile, our upcoming title is going to be sold in virtually every single online store -- some of them responded within a day of being contacted. Here's our list so far [].

    Brick and mortar stores are still clinging on for consoles releases. Retail stores pretty much are the only place to go when you want to buy the latest AAA titles (except Amazon, which is like digital distribution with very high latency).

    • by YuppieScum ( 1096 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:56AM (#27075473) Journal

      "Digital distribution" and "on-line stores" are not synonymous.

      I buy most of my games and movies from on-line stores, but I still get physical media for my cash. This is also true for AAA titles - my copy of MutantExploder7 will land on my doormat on the day of release.

      It is the prevalence of low-overhead (and sales tax avoiding) on-line retailers that has been killing bricks-and-mortar establishments for the last 10 years.

      • Not to mention that the physical media you get (DVDs, CDROMs, etc) is *still* digital.

        The mass media and jox-sixpack 'consumer' seem to have this confusion that 'digital' means you downloaded it over teh Intrawebs.

        Music and videos have been 'digital' ever since shiny discs replaced mylar magnetic film as the most common media. And I've never heard of a "computer game" being distributed in an analog form.

        Of course there is also this mass delusion that the US Govt is mandating tv broadcasters to switch to HDT

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Well, doh. Anything to be interpreted by a computer must have a digital form, even the cassette tapes for my Commodore 64 were "digital" by that definition. And even the readout from the CD/DVD laser or HDD is really "analog" in nature - no actual computer, media or network works with anything but analog values interpreted as 0s and 1s. But it's quite obvious once you stop being a smartass that digital distribution means we distribute just the 0s and 1s, not the medium as opposed to moving the medium as wel

      • by mrsmiggs ( 1013037 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @09:33AM (#27076311)
        Infact the overheads for these online box shifters are so low that they quite often cheaper than the download options, recently released MMO Football Manager Live is cheaper to renew by buying a 'box' from Amazon [] than it is to renew by subscription. The arguements against downloading games are the same they were with music downloads pre-Amazon and iTunes going non-drm:

        1. It's cheaper to buy the physical item
        2. The DRM encumbered nature of today's video games makes it almost essential to have the physical disk and box, if only for proof that you own the damned thing.
        3. The pirated version of the game can be less hassle than downloading the game.
        4. You have to go to disparate sources to get different types of game downloaded.

        Once these issues have been overcome we will be downloading games, but at the moment it seems a long way off. The publisher's of games seem to control the download distribution of their games much more closely than record companies do and let's not forget the games industry is still growing they have no particular reason to change their business model.

    • we have the technology, but as long as people have money to spend on games that do not require an online connection to be enjoyed, people will still want a physical means of conveyance for said game. I'd also hardly call console releases something to be clung to. carrying a highly profitable product isnt exactly a last-ditch effort, its a reasonable business model.
    • The other thing about PC games is the non-standard large packaging. XBox games all come in DVD sized green cases and PS3 games come in the transparent cases. PC games come in big bloated boxes and in different shapes and sizes. So, they are very hard to collect and display.

      I know a lot of people buy physical games to collect them as well as to play them. I think XBL system will probably replace the game collection shelf but a lot of people I know buy more and more games to have more of the green boxes in

    • Well, as long as what I download is something that I can store, backup, move and install on any of my current or future computers, buying a download of a game is much preferred to buying a cd or dvd with a game.

      Same as with music. If what I buy is a portable music-file that I can store and use on any of my computers or media-players, it is better than a CD.
      Otherwise, not.

  • by DrJokepu ( 918326 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:33AM (#27075375)
    I mean, seriously, who doesn't like those shiny boxes with the manual, maps and stuff like that? And having the original packaging even many years later? We're talking about some serious bragging rights here.
  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:44AM (#27075405) Journal

    At what point will the ease of immediate downloads outweigh a manual and a box to stick on your shelf (if it doesn't already)?

    At the point where I can download a DRM-less installer or ISO and do whatever the hell I want with it.

    Anything short of that, and I'll keep buying physical media.

    • by 404 Clue Not Found ( 763556 ) * on Thursday March 05, 2009 @08:34AM (#27075955)

      For older games, there's Good Old Games []. Cheap titles, no DRM, download again and again...

      Smallish selection so far, but rapidly growing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 )

      How does buying physical media make such products more DRM Free? There is still DRM the CD/DVDs. When you copy the game from CD to your PC in essence the same thing happens. High and Low Bits from one media are communicated to an other. Wither it is Computer to Computer with a TCP/IP Layer or from CD to Computer with a IDE/SCSI or whatever communication protocols that you use.

      Sure there isn't Physical DRM's on Music CD like there is on downloaded Music. That is because the technology at the time didn't hav

  • Never! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YuppieScum ( 1096 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:44AM (#27075409) Journal

    Simply stated, if companies stop selling their games on physical media, then I shall stop buying their games.

    I've been fucked over by DRM-laden downloads on the 360, thanks very much. Every time mine goes back for repair, none of my paid-for-DLC works on the new box I get back, and I have to get into an hour-long argument with tele-bozos to sort it out. I have no interest in extending that process to every game I own.

  • > At what point will the ease of immediate downloads outweigh a manual and a box to stick on your shelf (if it doesn't already)?

    Well, since you ask.

    1. When they are immediate. Some games are (and NEED to be) very large, this is hardly immidiate. If it's over an hour to wait I could easily go out and purchase the game quicker.

    2. When they are not restrictive. I have very old games that I still lvoe to play. This means I need to be able in install my game on any machine I like when I like. This generally equated to DRM free. And DRM free includea activation of any kind. I want to play it when I want to, I may be without phone/internet etc. I want to install and go. Machines change, but drm may stop me from playing it in a "emulator" (computers may change so much that I need to emulate my old hardware to play the game, however I still want to be able to do it) or on some classic machnie I have cobbled together out of old bits people have given me (which is way better than the machine I played on back in the day as the expensive stuff then is still junk now!)

    These may sound liek a lot of requests but they are not. 1 is outside of the game producers infulence (as it should be) but 2 certainly aint hard to do.

  • Bit of a tangent here, but can anyone else remember getting the Ultima 6 box with printed map/dish cloth of Britannia and AUTHENTIC 'Orb of the moons' meaningless novelty souvenir nestled among the eight 5.25" disks? Amazing stuff. You can't get that over digital distribution.

    On a related subject, will you all please get off my lawn.

    • Oh yeah, certainly. I still have those around! I have the cloth map and pentagram amulet from VIII as well, but unfortunately that game sucked.
  • So then... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nicc777 ( 614519 )

    making copies of games and putting it on torrents should be perfectly legal. Payment on activation anyone?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by raynet ( 51803 )

      Payment on complition of the game would be more fair. You should be able to choose from:

      pay 0USD: the game sucked
      pay 1USD: barely playable
      pay 5USD: ok game but too short
      pay 9USD: very good game
      pay 20USD: the best game ever

      If the game takes weeks to finish, I would allow small payment (once or twice) during the game, as in:

      0USD: not very good
      1USD: ok
      2USD: loving it so far

  • I mean, I already have this game. I finished it. I spent some 70 hours playing it and decided I love it. I just want to pay the developers for their good work. Why should I pay extra to the retailers, packagers and a whole bunch of others I don't care about the least bit?

    I wouldn't even mind if they were just selling the licenses, without any downloads at all.

  • I never had that strangely placed sentimentality for boxes and manuals with games. With complex technical gadgetry sure, or things with beautiful designs, etc. But with games? The manuals are 9/10 times total crap, black and white and minimally useful.

    I am much happier when I can hit pause and pull up a manual, well organized by important topics like controls etc. without having to flip through pages of tiny text. Furthermore, that online manual's pages will never tear :)

    I've been a big fan of digital d

  • How many of the games you acquire come on physical media these days?

    Just about all of them. The only game I've downloaded recently was World of Goo, and that was just the demo and I've not actually got round to installing yet.

    At what point will the ease of immediate downloads outweigh a manual and a box to stick on your shelf (if it doesn't already)?

    At the point at which I can do the same with the digital version as I can with the physical version - i.e. when I won't accidentally lose it when a hard disk di

  • How many of the games you acquire come on physical media these days?

    All of them, except for "Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People" (which is from Telltale Games who always have an offer to get the retail box when it's released just for shipping costs), and "DROD RPG: Tendry's Tale", which doesn't have a physical box just yet (but it's predecessor "DROD: The City Beneath" also had the option to get the regular box when it came out with the price of the download deducted from the price of the box).

  • With a lot of ISP's instating monthly bandwidth caps physical distribution could make a comeback

    • My thoughts exactly. My connection is with Virgin Media who throttle connections to 75% of their bandwidth after only 2.5 GB during off-peak hours. It's just over 1GB during the evening ( on-peak ).

      Digital distribution won't replace physical, it'll probably supplement it as it does now, because caps and throttling will mean it is always faster for me to drive to the next town 10 miles away to pick up a copy of XYZ from Game or whatever, than try to download it at 1MB/s for 20 minutes then get throttled. U
  • For me, it comes down to the pricing.
    I like to be able to pass on the games I've enjoyed playing (but don't like so much I want to keep on my library shelves for later replay) to friends that don't have the disposable cash to keep buying games, but would like to.
    If I shell out £30+ for a game, I like the flexibility to do what the hell I want with it (in the strictures of legality). That includes passing it on, in the same way I do with books (which is how I keep my book shelves under control!).

  • I don't see where I work will rush to digital distribution. That equals piracy, which is what makes the PC much less profitable to develop for.

    At the moment Wii/PS2 are the most profitable platforms to develop for. Development costs are lower, and the markets are very large. With the PS3 and XB360 with internet connections, it's amazing piracy hasn't already turned next gen console development to the same as PC.

    Music has concerts. Movies have cinema. What do games and TV have?

    Forget fighting piracy
  • by eu_virtual ( 994133 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @07:37AM (#27075651)

    ... I get all of them in physical media. ( for the details)

    OK, I've bought a few from GOG, but they still do it right.

    I think it's freaking ridiculous that I can go to an on-line shop and get a game delivered to my door, for half the price I can get it from Steam.

    Digital media. It's much cheaper, but we get to keep the profits, pass none of the savings to the customer, and you pay more for the "convenience".

  • Analog -> 8-tracks, LP's, cassette tapes, VHS tapes,

    Digital -> CD's, DVD's, floppy discs, CD-ROMs, game 'cartidges' (aka [[E]P]ROMs).

    "Digital" does not describe the distinction between buying music on a physical CD versus (for example), paying to make a copy over a network (for example, the Internet) of that same music via Apple's iTunes. *BOTH* are "DIGITAL".

    One *big* difference is that the digital copy on a CD is in an open, standards compliant DRM-free (except for some Windows users) format, wherea

  • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @07:44AM (#27075685)

    I bought Dawn of War II from the supermarket ; because it was a lot cheaper than getting it on Steam - even if it is natively a Steam game.

    Why, in this day and age, are physical boxed copies retailing for less than the digital variant? In this particular case, there is literally no difference between the end results - both methods have the game, installed in my Steam folder, registered to my Steam account. Neither has any resale value. I even had to wait to download an update.

    I would rather have downloaded it all, it would have used less materials, and perhaps given more money to the developer (in theory). But for less money, I got more value - I got a disk with a "preload" on it. So physical distribution isn't going away until the download costs less than a retail boxed copy, or until they stop offering boxed copies altogether, and the latter is probably the route that they will want to take - no competition, no discounting.

  • Steam has been doing this correctly for years now. Your subscription is well handled, the DRM is very reasonable, and when you log in you get access to any of your purchased games for download or temporary deletion if your disk space is cramped, and you can play your games on another computer by simply logging in. They've been adding classic games like some of the Thief and X-com games, and it all works well, even if they're offline at the moment.

    I'll buy a boxed game when it's on sale or let people buy me

  • Pricing is an issue with Digital Downloads though, the supplier won't be left with an excessive stock of games they have to get rid of for a low price. The benefit of physical media is, for the consumer at least, the price dumping that sometimes happen.
    Another example, especially in these times, are shops that are closing down and selling their stock for really low prices.

    I wanted to buy GTA IV for the PC just a few days ago, and looked at steam, they charged 50 euros for it which is the RRP.
    Shops ar
  • 50% of all the money the industry earns comes in the three months before Christmas. People like to see BOXES under the Christmas tree. Nobody wants to get a little slip of paper with a note reading, "Here is the URL of your Christmas present."

    Many, many games are sold at Wal-Mart. Whiny children who are bored shopping with mom get a new game to keep them quiet. This is a fact.

    The benefits of electronic distribution are unquestionable. But for now, there are other benefits to retail distribution. By controll

  • This makes perfect sense from a business perspective and is therefore somewhat inevitable. I think the biggest challenge yet to be solved is how you can easily give online distribution games as gifts. The winter season is by far the period of greatest sales in the games industry for obvious reasons. However, I think that there is a slight hurdle between what we have now, and something that parents can confidently use to buy games for their kids.
    In the end, everyone just makes more money using digital d
    • This is kind of what I was thinking. I imagine the big talking points of this (from their perspective anyway) will be a reduced price for the game and the fact they "aren't polluting the environment" with plastic CDs and paper packaging. That being said, I doubt they would reduce the cost of the games by much, since well, we're used to paying a certain amount for a game and in short, they could get away with it. Also, with the current state of things, it paints one in a bad light to argue against the "save
  • Plain and simple CD's, DVD's, get scratched, get worn out, get lost, break. Then what do you have? Nothing. Sure you can create an ISO, or make backups, but some people don't know how, or don't bother before its too late. On the flip side of that, digital distribution allows you a flawless copy whenever you want, the only caveat there is that you have to trust that whatever company sold it to you won't go under and take with it any proof of you having bought the game in the even a future download is needed.
  • I've been wondering the same thing about comic-book stores. I know they tend to have customer loyalty and host gaming nights and such to bring people into the store, but with online distribution (or if you're a reader vice collector, can you just read them online?) what then?
  • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @09:51AM (#27076463)

    You cannot give a download as a (Christmas) present.

    The trouble is that the chance of actually finding what you want in a shop is very small. It's all filled up with mainstream crap.

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.