If there’s one thing the gaming industry can lay incredibly proud claims to, it’s the huge advances in technology it has made in its short lifespan. Really, we’ve gone from games looking like this:
to looking like this:
That is absolutely incredible, and is something every member of the gaming community should be proud of. The advancements for gaming mediums don’t stop there, however. These days we can actually play with other people when they’re not even next to us via the internet, we can watch shows and movies in beautiful HD, and we can even use actual motion capture to incorporate our very selves into the games we play. All without mom yelling at us because she needs to use the phone. Reflecting on it all is actually pretty humbling.
Unfortunately, these advancements come at a cost. Many of them actual financial costs, others not. For me, one of the things I take most pride in is having a collection of games. I love collecting all sorts of things, but games are the princesses in my castle. Opening a drawer (or two) with nothing but game cases lined up is such a cool feeling for me. I haven’t traveled all that much in my life, but when I open up that drawer filled with games, I remember all the worlds I’ve been to and all the people I met. In each of those cases is a piece of me, a piece that I have willingly chosen to leave with the worlds and characters who have made an impact on my life.
For better or for worse (however you like to see it), one of the things that seems to be slowly making its exit as technology advances are boxes and cases. Nowadays it’s practically commonplace for a game to be sold in both digital and hard copy form, whereas just a few years back, having a digital copy (Steam aside) was a rarity. Today, very few games come with manuals, and the ones that do include them have very scant little booklets that do little more than open up to reveal some general health and safety warnings. I’ve even noticed the materials of boxes becoming thinner and lighter. And it all makes sense. We are moving into a more and more digital age where everything is accessible via the internet and stored via a cloud. Who wants to be bothered to go down the street to Gamestop when you can have a game after a ten minute download while never having to put on pants? Let the record show that I’m all for never having to put pants on. But anywho, it’s probably cheaper, too–less materials, right?
This may also suggest that, in cutting out the retailers in the middle and not having to pay for packaging, games may become cheaper if they become exclusively digital. Though in my pessimism, I doubt this will be happening any time soon. Even if getting games out there is becoming cheaper, I suspect that producing games is becoming more expensive, what with technology becoming more advanced and designers needing to be more skilled, the reduction in costs of getting games out there may be offset by increasing production values.
For collectors like me, this all suggests that my collection will eventually dissipate into digital folders rather than drawers. And as much as I love my drawers, it’s a sacrifice I’m more than willing to make if it means seeing the industry I love grow and advance. But what other latent effects may this have on the industry itself?
Will publishers eventually phase out physical copies of games in lieu of digital ones? That’s a tough question to consider. The common sense answer might sound like it would be yes considering that digital copies cut out the middle man and brick-and-mortar retailers such as GameStop or Wal-Mart. But I like to think that retailers serve a purpose. After all, part of marketing is appealing to customers, and most customers look with their eyes before they read up on things. I’d be lying if I said I never randomly passed a game on a shelf that grabbed my attention, launching my interests (Paper Mario, where you at?). Such a visual stimulus is important, as it’s probably the first contact someone ever has with a game. Granted, posting videos and covers on digital catalogs may also get the trick done, but I rarely browse the PSN, Xbox Live Marketplace, or Steam catalogs unless I’m actively looking for something. So if you’re anything like me, having physical copies to look at while you’re doing your groceries may just be a more powerful influence for buying games than online catalogs.
Let’s also consider that unless practices and procedures are tailored for such a phenomenon, lending games to friends may become a thing of the past. Though it’s entirely possible that given the digital nature of games, people may be okay with this fact. I for one am generally understanding of the idea that you can’t lend digital copies of games, it just makes sense. But who knows if the advent of a digital age will bring forth newly-developed ways of sharing with your friends.
Piggybacking off the notion of not being able to share games any more, the question of what happens to the used game industry is raised. On one hand, the developers we love so much will see more money, since people will be forced to buy copies of the games straight from publishers and distributors. But I feel as though something like this could backfire. On the other hand, I, like many other gamers, rely on the used market to be able to experience some games at all. It was because of this, about two years back, that I got into the Tales series.
The first two games I played in the series were Tales of Vesperia and Tales of the Abyss, both of which were used copies that I imagine Namco-Bandai saw little, if any, profits from. Because I had these cost-facilitated entries into the series, I was convinced that I wanted to get future titles at launch. With Tales of Graces f and Tales of Xillia, that’s exactly what I did. Who knows if I would have ever gotten those two games, or even gotten into the series, had I never played Vesperia or Abyss. Certainly I would have been much less risky in spending $60 on games I wasn’t sure I’d like. This, I feel, is a gamble publishers and developers ought to consider taking. Given all that, if games were only accessible to me by paying full-price, the amount of games I would be able to play per year would definitely be a lot smaller than it is now. I’m not sure what sorts of confounding effects these two perspectives on the used game market have on gross profits, but they’re definitely ideas to keep in mind as we transition into a new age.
There are so many different things to consider when imagining the pros and cons of a gaming world that capitalizes on advancements in technology. We are practically guaranteed to see so many brand new, amazing things and features. Unfortunately, this means other things will have to be left behind. Out with the old, in with the new, right? But that’s totally up to debate and personal biases. I’d love to hear what you all think, so let us know how you feel in the comments below!