212: The Downside of Direct Downloads

Michael Comeau

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The Downside of Direct Downloads

Digital distribution may offer a lot of convenience to gamers who want to expand their collections without leaving the house. But if you care about getting as much value as possible from your games, you may want to proceed with caution. Michael Comeau explains why direct downloads aren't all they're cracked up to be.

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Denmarkian

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You're missing one of the key points of having direct downloads: they're cheaper.

If software distribution goes completely digital, there's absolutely no reason for the retail price of a new game to remain at ~$60 because the costs of designing the box art, disc art, manufacturing the disc, packaging the software, warehousing the merchandise, and transporting the merchandise to the retailer are gone.

None of those costs matter anymore, unless you're a complete idiot who wants to appease the physical-copy-fetishists and give them a box for a digital download game like Patapon 2.

I'll have to do some digging through Steam to get some better comparative pricing lists, but I'm fairly certain that brand-new titles released on Steam are not priced at the exact same amount as a new-in-box copy of the game at Best Buy.

--EDIT--

Okay, so there are several games that are the exact same price on Bestbuy.com and Steam:
Guild Wars Trilogy - $49.99
Fuel - $39.99
Spore: Galactic Adventures - $29.99
Prototype - $49.99

What the hell?!?

That completely shits over my entire argument. Fuck.

Well, I hope that in the advent of digital-only distribution we can see some more reasonable pricing models. I think that these pricing examples are there because the costs I mentioned at the beginning of my post were already factored in and need to be recouped before publishers can discount the price.

I absolutely love Steam for being a platform that grants me access to a lot of my games that were published before Windows Vista came out, and even where I can find anthologies of old games I had only one or two of. I mean, they've got a Space Quest collection for $15, I only ever had a copy of Space Quest IV and I don't remember how I got it. If I ever want to get it, I'm sure I'll always have that option, and it will never be out of stock because it only takes up server space for one copy instead of a warehouse full of unsellable boxes.
 

scnj

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I have to say that if/when the day finally does come when digital downloads completely take over, it will be a sad one for me. To me, gaming is more than just getting a game and playing it. I mean, what of the social side of buying a game in the first place?

One of my fondest memories of 2007 was getting up at 7am on August 24th, picking two of my friends up at 7:30 and heading to the local Asda store ready for the 8:00 opening. Stood out there in the cold, we waited for those doors to open so we could finally pick up BioShock, a game we'd waited months for. And while finally being able to play the game was certainly amazing, the best part was the fact that the three of us went together to buy it. That social experience is something that sitting in front of a computer watching a download percentage could never hope to replicate.

Then of course there's the game box itself. Firstly there's the artwork. Truly great artwork on a game box can catch my eye in a shop and cause me to stop what I'm doing and at least check out the back of the case. And of course there are the debates among my friends and I. Which artwork is better, Dead Space or Valkyria Chronicles? Should the default Commander Shepard be on the cover of Mass Effect considering my in game character looks completely different?

Secondly, there's the excitement. It's hard to deny the excitement I felt when, after queueing half an hour for my copy of Grand Theft Auto IV, I took it home and slowly unwrapped the cellophane, savouring that new game smell, looking at the map of the new Liberty City and reading the manual.

As I said already, gaming is more than simply acquiring and playing a game. Get rid of physical games, and you're getting rid of half the experience.
 

manaman

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For totally biased reasons all my own I feel that direct downloads herald the future when applied to the PC. Try doing that on a console and your just going to get me angry. Does that make me a hypocrite? Seems to, but I like to think it doesn't.

Consoles are casual, the hardware changes every 5 or so years, the games get better. But it has always been a case of pop the game in play a bit, pop in a new one play some more. PC gaming on the other hand has traditionally been a race to keep the hardware up to date, and hours spent clearing space on the drive for the latest game, then spending time installing, and after that downloading updates. Something I never want to see happening on a console.

Is it to much to ask to keep consoles simple? I like plug and play sometimes.
 

SilentHunter7

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I loathe digital downloads. In an industry that uses copyright laws to make it seem more and more that you don't actually own the games you buy, removing the physical media just seems like the ultimate smack in the face.
 

Pandalisk

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I like direct downloads, its just so much more easier for me, and it cuts out the costs of delivery to stores, though if this were to happen worldwide there would be alot of jobs lost in retailers, hmmm, though im not sure if its true, but Disks seem to work better than Direct downloads for me, in terms of speed and quality.
 

amendele

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To celebrate my Xbox 360 coming back from Microsoft for repairs, I decided to pick up UFC Undisputed 2009. Being a bit strapped for cash, I gathered up a few games that were collecting dust and toted them over to my local GameStop. I ended up paying about 74 cents for UFC after my trade-ins. And on the other side, some lucky fellow is playing my old copy of Frontlines: Fuel of War, which cost him about $10. For consumers, it's a win-win situation.

I know this isn't the main point of the article, but assuming that UFC cost the full $59.99 to purchase at GameStop, how many games did you trade in? The few times I've tried trading in old stuff, I'm lucky if I can get more than $15 for 5 games. If Frontlines only cost $10 to buy at the shop, it seems to me that they'd only give you about $2.50 for it.
 

zoharknight

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I don't really like the idea of direct downloads only. I screwed up and got a 20 gig 360 and have been payin for it ever since with space issues. Moneys tight nowadays, and even though i want to upgrade i can't. I'm not gonna waste money on big games that i probaly wont have space for on my harddrive, or get riped off again like i did with the direct download of PSOs expansion. I dled it cause i liked the single player in the first one but after i did found out its online only on the dl version and i dont even have a account on PSO. Lost and the Damned and Tomb Raider Legends are great downloads but both are space hogs , i dont regret dlin them but my harddrives near full. I perfere disks and boxs, i love gettin extras like the Raiho Demon Plushie i got with Devil Summoner 2 , or all the cool stuff i got with my copy of GTA 4. I still wish i had gottin the Legendary bundle on Halo 3 ><. Though i got the next one down and i like it.
 

Michael Comeau

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Denmarkian said:
You're missing one of the key points of having direct downloads: they're cheaper.

If software distribution goes completely digital, there's absolutely no reason for the retail price of a new game to remain at ~$60 because the costs of designing the box art, disc art, manufacturing the disc, packaging the software, warehousing the merchandise, and transporting the merchandise to the retailer are gone.

None of those costs matter anymore, unless you're a complete idiot who wants to appease the physical-copy-fetishists and give them a box for a digital download game like Patapon 2.

I'll have to do some digging through Steam to get some better comparative pricing lists, but I'm fairly certain that brand-new titles released on Steam are not priced at the exact same amount as a new-in-box copy of the game at Best Buy.

--EDIT--

Okay, so there are several games that are the exact same price on Bestbuy.com and Steam:
Guild Wars Trilogy - $49.99
Fuel - $39.99
Spore: Galactic Adventures - $29.99
Prototype - $49.99

What the hell?!?

That completely shits over my entire argument. Fuck.

Well, I hope that in the advent of digital-only distribution we can see some more reasonable pricing models. I think that these pricing examples are there because the costs I mentioned at the beginning of my post were already factored in and need to be recouped before publishers can discount the price.

I absolutely love Steam for being a platform that grants me access to a lot of my games that were published before Windows Vista came out, and even where I can find anthologies of old games I had only one or two of. I mean, they've got a Space Quest collection for $15, I only ever had a copy of Space Quest IV and I don't remember how I got it. If I ever want to get it, I'm sure I'll always have that option, and it will never be out of stock because it only takes up server space for one copy instead of a warehouse full of unsellable boxes.
You don't get it. They will make more money, because it will still be $60, but it will ALL go to them, and not only some of it.
 

squeakthedragon

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From the beginning of the current console generation, consumers paid the "next-gen tax" of a $10 price hike on most HD games because the industry could use the excuse of increased development costs. Not shipping. Not printing. Not warehouses. Development costs.

With the industry spiraling out of control into ever increasing budgets and development costs, you would be a fool to imagine that digital distribution will be used to give consumers a "break" by the Big Publishers.

Digital distribution is the future in terms of technology and ease of access but in a rapaciously and ruthlessly corporatist society, it's also a powerful tool for corporations to reduce customers even further to anthropomorphic wallets that suck at the corporation's teet while dolling out money. Don't be fooled - if corporations can swing it, they'll make it so that nobody anywhere (aside from them) truly owns anything that can possibly be worth a dollar. If they could rent your clothing to you, they would.
 

ratix2

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does this article come across as more of a stab at capatilism than anything else?

as for the article, pretty much everything is wrong on so many levels. first off, while one each specific console there is not competition, they ARE competiting with each other. if ms should charge publsihers more money than sony does then those publsihers would be more hesitant to go with ms and go with sony instead, meaning ms would lose money.

and thats my point in a nutshell, is that this whole article acts as if sony, nintendo or microsoft dont have to worry about money and will be able to do as they please. they are in it to make money as well, and they know that if they do certain things that they will make much less and their competitors will make much more. its what balances everything out.

finally, its gonna be a long time before consoles are digital distribution only, physical media will still be around, but they will coexist with each other as they do on the pc.
 

claybob

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PC game and hardware space is near NIL in retail space in my area and has been that way for at least 5 years. Yet, direct and non-retail sellers still chalk up profits from those same supposedly dead sales categories. The console games are faring a bit better, but the vast majority of the shelf space is old games at just released prices. All of this services the sellers and not the consumer. That must be why the middle-men are FUDing so hard against the direct market.
 

domicius

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Denmarkian said:
You're missing one of the key points of having direct downloads: they're cheaper.(snip)
Okay, so there are several games that are the exact same price on Bestbuy.com and Steam:
What the hell?!?

That completely shits over my entire argument. Fuck.
No, your argument stand, but there are some things to think about:
- Publishers might force virtual distributors to match prices with "physical copy" distributors because otherwise they'd lose the latter channel

- Online distributors will charge cheaper only in situations where they are competing with other "distributors". And even then, the incentive is reduced. In the physical world, distributors discount in order to clear stock. In the virtual world, there is no "stock" to clear, so old games can remain at a higher price for longer. Good for publishers... not so good for consumers?

- Physical distributors price all items similarly, and online distributors will probably do so too; there's no reason to sell "Halo clone 1" cheaper than "Halo clone 2" because, you know, the profit margin on them both is the same. This is what currently happens on XBLA. All the sh£t is the same price, and the "good stuff" is more expensive.

The main argument against digital distribution is that currently companies like MS and Nintendo exercise a form of "release scheduling" and "author control" that publishers might not like or care to enter into. If the only way to buy is on your Xbox, then MS has far too much control on who sells what, and how it is displayed.

It is likely then that publishers would push for an open system that allowed console users freedom to buy through the browser from online distributors, rather than directly from the console manufacturer's "walled garden" (i.e. on-console exclusive download interface)

Console manufacturers, on the other hand, will probably enforce the "walled garden" approach.

For myself, I have to say that in the even games get more expensive, I'll buy fewer games. Ultimately, if the cost of games goes higher, people will buy fewer game and re-discover the PC. After all, there are several excellent free Flash games out there....
 

Viruzzo

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domicius said:
For myself, I have to say that in the even games get more expensive, I'll buy fewer games.
Me too. Or I will buy only cheap games (that are either "indie" or old).
 

Michael Comeau

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Thanks to everyone for responding to my story, I really appreciate it!

If you could Digg this story, I'd really appreciate it: http://digg.com/d3yrH1
 

Michael Comeau

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amendele said:
To celebrate my Xbox 360 coming back from Microsoft for repairs, I decided to pick up UFC Undisputed 2009. Being a bit strapped for cash, I gathered up a few games that were collecting dust and toted them over to my local GameStop. I ended up paying about 74 cents for UFC after my trade-ins. And on the other side, some lucky fellow is playing my old copy of Frontlines: Fuel of War, which cost him about $10. For consumers, it's a win-win situation.

I know this isn't the main point of the article, but assuming that UFC cost the full $59.99 to purchase at GameStop, how many games did you trade in? The few times I've tried trading in old stuff, I'm lucky if I can get more than $15 for 5 games. If Frontlines only cost $10 to buy at the shop, it seems to me that they'd only give you about $2.50 for it.
I traded in 5 or 6 games - nothing I'm ever going to play again. I could have gotten more on eBay or Craig's List but I was feeling lazy.
 

Michael Comeau

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Pandalisk said:
I like direct downloads, its just so much more easier for me, and it cuts out the costs of delivery to stores, though if this were to happen worldwide there would be alot of jobs lost in retailers, hmmm, though im not sure if its true, but Disks seem to work better than Direct downloads for me, in terms of speed and quality.
Yes, it cuts costs of delivery to stores, but does anyone think that the cost savings will be passed along to consumers? I'm talking about the days when brand new games are available for download from day one. Microsoft charges $150 for a small hard drive - they're not afraid to stiff us!
 

Capo Taco

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I think that the difference between the cost of physical discs and downloads isn't that big for publishers. Games are expensive because of the extensive development costs.

Eventually I'd like to see the future move towards online purchased game being your own property, that you're free to resell, loan or rent to others. That way purchasing a game can be as much an investment as it can be a purchase.

In fact, it wouldn't be so bad if this were tied to being forced to be on-line (oh wow did I really say that, I'm not even a game developer or publisher!). Because if they can have good checks on whether people have actually own a game (through them or by buying it from someone else who got it through them) the entire market would positively reward good game production as well as protect both consumer and developer's rights.
 

Sanaj

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I quite like Digital Distribution and think it's another great addition as another option for game purchases.
I don't want it to replace physical retail copies.

Besides doesn't the success of some "collector's edition" copies for games prove that some people won't ever
be happy with only Direct Downloads?
I don't understand the appeal of "collector's edition" stuff but I do sometimes want a physical copy of a game with
interesting box art and a nice colour manual.

Another reason I don't think Digital Distribution will ever completely replace physical retail is because of the popularity
of the used games market.
People want to have the option to sell their game(s) if they don't even up enjoying it or if they grow tried of playing it.
(Some people are only or mainly looking for single player experiences in games not multi-player ones.)
Gamers want the ability to shop around for better prices and deals.

Steam is a good way of getting games if you can be patient and wait for the weekend sales.
(Also, if you can wait between 6 months -2 years before buying a game,
then you can usually find deals / sales and play more games without emptying your bank account.)

I am not a fan of the point system used for Xbox Live or some of the Games for Windows Live.
If a person is purchasing games or DLC online it should be in dollars USD, CAD, EUR, whatever...
not a system in which you can have left over points that you can't use.
 

ZippyDSMlee

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Digital distro is not cheaper for the consumer and its not better for them either.
Some might get their game a few days early but at what cost the game is under developed and hacked up for DLC(FO3,SW:Unleashed,Bioshock,every other new game made) for what.... a further push to gain more profit that they didnt earn.


They didn't earn it because the original core product is barely worth the asking price much less the extras that may add more content but never really fix the problems with the core product. I am getting to the point fck it I will pay for patches now just "finish" after its launched.... so I can belly up to the troth with the rest of the barn yard animails and get my fill too.....