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The Push Towards Digital Distribution…

We're midway through 2013 and one topic that hasn't received a lot of media attention like it has the past couple of years is digital distribution. Certainly last year but even the year before it seemed like every time I turned around I was bumping into the statistics claiming digital distribution sales were essentially equal to physical sales from traditional brick and mortar businesses like GameStop, Best Buy or wherever you happen to purchase your games from.

As I sit around flipping through the "On Demand" cable channels on my TV, I'm still considering the post-E3 fallout and divisiveness caused by the Sony and Microsoft next generation console presentations. I'm even reflecting on a discussion (or should I say comment) about the Xbox One's persistent connection requirement I had with fellow Game Informer member, quasiconundrum...where he mentioned the digital distribution element.

So, once again (I've blogged about digital distribution a few times before) I found myself thinking about digital distribution and how both consoles...certainly the Xbox One but perhaps the Playstation 4...are pushing for digital distribution. Obliviously they are taking polar opposite approaches - Microsoft, the brute force...hammer the square peg into the round hole regardless of whether it fits or not approach; Sony, the subtle...I'm your friend I would never lie or trick you or stab you in the back approach.

First of all, I think it's fairly obvious, but just in case it's not, why Sony and Microsoft (and the publishers of course) like and prefer digital distribution. For one, it solves the whole "used game" controversy. If you don't have a physical copy of the game in your possession, then you can't sell it or take it to a store to trade it in so somebody else can buy it at a cheaper price and prevent a "new game" sale, which is how the publishers make their money. The other thing it offers Sony and Microsoft - games they publish...well if they no longer have to manufacture physical copies of those games, it saves them money because they don't need the facilities and/or employees. Distributing digital files is so much easier than developing and selling physical copies.

So, there you have the potential motive why Sony and Microsoft would want digital distribution.

And how exactly are they both pushing towards digital distribution?

When it comes to Microsoft and the Xbox One, it's fairly obvious. By requiring a persistent connection and a system that will download files in the background while you're sleeping or playing or doing whatever, and by adding all this content online (including some major changes to Xbox Live), downloading the latest and greatest video game will become extremely easy (or easier - it's already fairly easy).

Sony is a bit more discreet. Sure, they don't have any connection requirements or restrictions against used games...and yes, they're making improvements to the Playstation Network and Playstation Plus...including giving away some really cool games to subscribers. YES...giving away. Like, for free. Good games too. We're talking games like Uncharted 3, XCOM, LBP Karting and Deus Ex. Now, I don't have Plus membership, so I had to research this - but apparently free means you can download them for free. You don't even have to go to the store (or I doubt they'd be free then) to get them, you just have to download them. I'm guessing if you want to download them, you're probably going to want to have a broadband connection. You don't have to have one...no wait, yes you do. But don't get me wrong, it sounds like an amazing deal and people I know who are on it seem to be pleased with it.

It kind of reminds me of a documentary I watched on drug addiction on HBO. They asked this pretty young kid how he got hooked on crack...how he could afford it and what not. Well, he admitted the first few times the dealer he got it from gave it to him. Hah, of course he did, or else he might not have tried it. By giving him a few free hits and getting him hooked, the kid kept coming back for more and more and more. You get the point.

So, Sony...the publisher for the gamer by the gamer...offers some free games to those who have Plus (and a broadband connection) to download...FREE. Gamers get so used to getting games this way, why not just click a few buttons, pay for a brand new game, and download it from the comfort of your couch, recliner, roller chair, stool...or whatever else you happen to be sitting on when you play your Playstation. It's a brilliant tactic - gamers get something out of the deal while Sony is slowly transitioning them towards a digital distribution mindset.

Is there anything else Sony and/or Microsoft can do to push the transition along.

Why yes...yes there is. It's the cable TV - On Demand feature.

I used to be a DISH Network customer until very recently and now I'm a COMCAST cable TV (and Internet) customer. Comcast has this On Demand feature with all sorts of movies. New movies, old movies, and movies in between. The way they market some of them is genius.

Rent this movie now - while it's still in theaters.

Rent this movie now - before it is available on Netflix.

Rent this movie now - before it is available in the Redbox.

Hmm. So let me get this straight. I can rent this movie...right here, right now...without going to pick it up at the Redbox located at the local Wal Mart or 7-11...without waiting for it to come in the mail...without braving the crowds and going to the theater where I will pay 3 or 4 times more for the ticket (not counting the overpriced popcorn, drink and candy). That kind of right here, right now?

Yup.

Hmm...so Xbox One with its persistent online connection and Playstation 4 with its free game giveaway adopt this same practice, and we very well might see...

Pre-order the game, download it ahead of time and be the first to play it.

Buy it now, download it and play before it's released in stores.

Download the game and get it for $10 bucks off (or how much ever).

Ask yourself this...

How much cheaper could a digital version of a game be to make you consider downloading it instead?

How much earlier access would you need to make you consider downloading it instead?

This isn't only possible, it happens now. I don't know if the consoles have done this yet (I don't download too many games on my console...YET) but I know it happens on PC. You can buy and pre-load games on Steam and once they are released the game is unlocked. This prevents download delays due to server congestion once the game is officially released.

You can literally play a game a second after it is released and unlocked.

Could this be the future of our next generation console gaming and the push towards digital distribution?

I can't say for sure - I'm just a gamer like you...but it seems to make sense to me...and very likely. Whether that's good or bad, well...I'll leave that up to you to decide

 

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