A few weeks back, Codemasters co-founder and mobile gaming company Kwalee CEO, David Darling, posted a radical blog entry on the firm’s website, directly stating ”if they [Sony and Microsoft] want to break free from the current over-priced model, their next consoles, PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 need to be digital only, or they will fail." But are the current generation of gamers really ready to abandon physical media? Better yet - are we even able to?
One of Darling's main points of contention was Apple's App Store - that it's accessibility and pricing system should be mimicked by Sony and Microsoft if they want to compete with the mobile giant. However, such claims are unreasonable as Apple and Microsoft/Sony represent two different sides of the gaming spectrum. Apple have sold over 200 million iPhones, iPads and iPods in the last five years, all devices which can be used on the go, by an extremely diverse market. Mobile games can be given a low (or free) price point due to their ease of access and massive user base - this completely contrasts the console gaming market.
To start, Xbox 360 and PS3 games, in size, are incomparable to a mobile game. Angry Birds, the most popular mobile title ever (downloaded over one-freaking-billion times since its release in late 2009) consists of a quick and painless 12.6 megabyte download for users, at the cost of 99 cents. Let's compare this to Batman: Arkham City on the Xbox 360, where a 7.65 gigabyte download awaits you, at the cost of $49.95.
This is the most crucial reason why the next generation of consoles cannot be digital-only. Whilst I'm sure many are able to accommodate such a download, it's safe to assume that an even greater number do not possess the internet quota to be able to purchase games at will (digitally). Even then, the 3-5 hour download (if not longer, depending on your speeds) on top of a $49.95 purchase is about as appealing as a night with Bert Newton - especially when considering the fact that the same game is available to instantly pick-up in-store from the likes of JB Hi-Fi for $10 cheaper. I thought I'd try out DC Universe Online on the PS3 a few days ago, only to be hit with a monstrous 16GB patch at the title screen.
The 3-5 hour download on top of a $49.95 purchase is about as appealing as a night with Bert Newton - especially when the same game is available to instantly pick-up in-store"
Now, I don't know whether it's my five-year-old PS3 or whether it's Sony's servers, but a 16GB download that, on my laptop, would have taken no more than 6-8 hours to download took around 23 hours to complete on the PS3. Whether it was my console or not, it was a huge annoyance (my PS3 is located in my room and sounds like a small jet plane..sleeping was not a pleasant experience) and yet another reminder of how much I prefer physical media for my consoles.
The digital distribution war ultimately lies in the hands of ISPs (Internet Service Providers). When lightning-fast speeds are made readily accessible and quotas increased to an almost unlimited degree, is when we'll see the revolution gain momentum. There has to be a clear advantage over hard copies for gamers to make the switch - Steam is a shining example of this. Just look at Steam's Summer sales (that sadly just ended) - Splinter Cell: Conviction was available for $4.99, BioShock 1 & 2 were available as a bundle for $9.99, not to mention the 2K Games bundle that included six full games such as Spec Ops: The Line, Borderlands and The Darkness II for $68.
Console gamers, unlike those on PC, simply have no real incentive to download their games, as prices on the Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Network are often outrageous, to say the least. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is still $69.95 on the XBLM and it's been nearly three years since it's release - surely I don't need to say any more.
It'll be years, if not decades, before we see digital distribution take over the console market completely. The world is simply not prepared for the next generation of games to only be available in digital form - the majority do not possess fast enough internet nor enough download quota to warrant the change. Not to mention Microsoft and Sony's pricing scheme - Sony are on the right track with their PlayStation Plus service offering free full games such as inFAMOUS 2 and LittleBigPlanet 2, yet Microsoft's marketplace system needs a dramatic overhaul if such a revolution were even a chance of happening.
By Jake Galouzis - Bio