Digital Distribution: A Future that Forgets the Past
Digital distribution – it’s coming, and coming fast. Many have adopted the concept already and are reaping the benefits from being able to preorder a game, have it loaded onto their machine before launch day and can dive into it from midnight, the moment the game unlocks. The wonderful concept of digital distribution has helped us to launch into a game from minute one as I just discussed as well as by minimising the number of hard copies of games, films or TV series we have stashed around our houses. There is however, one major negative that has this week reared its head once again, has done so before and will do so again in the future.
This past week my partner and I were discussing the Scott Pilgrim franchise. She was leading the charge, discussing how she loved the film and was keen to immerse herself further in the franchise – I proceeded to make mention of the fact that there was a Scott Pilgrim game that released on the last generation, and she was immediately interested. We’d come to the conclusion that on the weekend, one of us would jump onto the Playstation Network, track down the acclaimed game and download it so that she could play it. Those plans however, crashed in an almighty heap when I learned that the game was no longer available on PSN – only those who had already bought it before the game was removed could download or re-download it to play the game… hearts were broken in this moment.
Being Australia, most publishers have recognised that not all of our fair land has a rock-solid broadband connection and as such, physical copies of a large number of “hit” digital games have been released. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game, and consequently her dream of playing the game was crushed. I’m not writing this to tell you a sad story of a game that eluded our grasp though, what this story is, is one example of an unfortunate trend that has already begun in gaming as is progresses towards a digital-only future, one that has already claimed victims and will inevitably do so again in the future.
The story of the elusive Scott Pilgrim game our little sob story and we’re not looking for anyone’s sympathy, but there are others who’ve been burnt by other high-profile disappearances. It was only earlier this year that Dragon’s Crown disappeared from the European Playstation Network; why? Because the publisher’s licence had expired. Now, in this case, it was promptly rectified with Atlus assuming control across all regions, and we all once again can enjoy this excellent game. P.T. was an exceptional demo that was released as a conceptual demo for what a proposed “Silent Hills”, but with the unfortunate (and still largely unclear) circumstances that revolved around the ugly departure of Hideo Kojima from Konami, they proceeded to tear the game off the network permanently – and so another game was lost to the world.
While in the physical distribution space games go out of print, it was always possible to wander into a store and stumble upon that elusive title in a bargain bin or login to Ebay and buy it used, but in the digital marketplace, once it has been taken out of circulation that’s it. Players who buy a game digitally don’t have the ability to trade it in, or sell it on to someone else – unlike in the days of physical only releases – and that is going to cause problems. Of course, you could play it fast and loose with the law and illegally obtain the game, we know there are many who do this anyway, but that’s another topic that should be discussed in the future… don’t do it!
The industry as a whole has become more conscious in recent years of preserving the history of video games and giving as many people as possible the ability to access games of yesteryear but without the ability to exchange and share games via digital distribution this desire to preserve hits a bit of a snag.
Resolving the problem is also a tricky issue. Digital games cannot lose value as we know physical items can. The death of a game via wear and tear or even damaging to the packing all impacted on the future value of the game – but this is of course not a factor when the game you’re playing isn’t in a physical form. At present the major concern going forward centers around the need for Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and Steam to work with game publishers to ensure that the consumer’s ability to onsell games is permitted on their respective platforms. This is the first step in conserving the history of our games.
We know that licences expire and that businesses unfortunately, close their doors at times, but if the heavy lifting is done early, perhaps we can minimise the numbers of games that are suddenly disappearing from our digital marketplaces, and therefore allow the maximum number of people to explore our incredible mediums vast libraries. More needs to be done as we head towards this digital only future to preserve our wonderful history allowing for us, our children, grandchildren and future generations to look back and reflect upon some of the greats that informed all that is still to come in our future. Hopefully, there are fewer and fewer games that vanish along the way.