Gamers have come to love the entire package of what consists of a video game. The shiny new case, the instruction manual, and the physical game themselves hold a special place in every gamer’s heart. If this wasn’t true then games today would not be released with outlandish special editions including everything from, tin cases, “making of” disks, physical world maps, and even real life replicas of in-game RC cars. Gamers and geeks absolutely love their “stuff,” but with the forecast for gaming retail going the way of the Virtual Boy in the loom of digital distribution, will gamers be able to make the transition to receiving their games via download or will the game industry have to find another way to save money in the current high development cost environment.
The game industry is crushing itself under the ever increasing weight of the cost of game development. With AAA titles reaching over the $100 million dollar mark in expenses, game publishers are not making enough profit to sustain the traditional retail business model as well as they did in the past. So, something is going to have to change. Gamers are always looking for bigger and better games that drive innovation and provide new experiences. That aspect will never change — so developers and publishers will still have to reach that high bar of quality. Where publishers can cut development costs is at retail.
Currently, retailers like Gamestop, Walmart, and Best Buy are where the majority of gamers buy their games. Each of these retailers involve their own costs for their service like shelving fees and sales loss from resale and trade-ins which add up on top of the publisher’s cost of manufacturing, packaging, and shipping. If publishers were to use digital distribution to sell their games, some of the pressure from the cost of game development would be alleviated. A huge cost would be completely gone allowing more money to go to development time, marketing campaigns, and keeping developers afloat.
Not only is digital distribution good for the gaming industry but it is also beneficial to gamers. I bought StarCraft 2 digitally, and it was one of the easiest game purchases I have ever had. I just went on the Blizzard site before the game was released, paid online, and loaded the game to my computer. All I had to do was wait for the official release date unlock and the game was ready to boot right at 12am on launch day. No getting in the car, waiting in lines listening to snot nosed brats, and saying “No,” to the cashier wanting to fill their pre-order quota. Games will be available to gamers with less hassle, and maybe, if the next generation moves to cloud service, games will be available instantly.
While digital distribution would be a godsend to the gaming industry, it would be detrimental to retailers like Gamestop. Unlike Walmart and Best Buy, Gamestop exclusively sells games. If every gamer is getting his/ her games from a digital source, there goes Gamestop’s business. I am not even sure what Gamestop will do when the inevitable digital distribution policies come into play. Maybe they can sell used controllers or something.
Personally, I can’t wait until the gaming industry goes completely digital. As long as developers keep the same policies for releasing full games at fairly reasonable prices and not nickle and dime gamers with bite-sized morsels, they will have my support (and most of my money). It is hard to see the next generation of consoles not using digital distribution as its main selling method, but if there is one way to get me to buy more games and put me in the poorhouse, then it’s make it easier for me to get them. Sorry Gamestop.