In the last twenty years, something extraordinary has happened in gaming. We have reached an age where it is possible to download games quickly and have immediate access to hundreds of them on systems’ internal storage. Downloads have allowed us the opportunity to have everything in front of us at all times, without having to worry about physical media. It is a great option, but is there a downside to it maybe being the only possible option?
In a GamesIndustry.biz interview, Karl Slatoff, the President of Take-Two Interactive, said, “I think over the long-term, it will be 100% [digital]. I just can't predict whether that's five years, 10 years, or 20 years. It's probably less than 20 and maybe more than five, but I think it ultimately gets there.” In his mind, eventually physical media will be gone. Slatoff also stresses the importance of physical copies of games and notes that Take-Two will offer tangible copies of games, but he is suggesting that things could go all digital eventually. Which would be the worst possible idea.
The ephemeral nature of digital downloads is a big problem. Especially in the case of licensing issues. If games are based on a certain property or contain certain music, what happens when companies lose the rights to the content? Deadpool is a fantastic example. Twice now, Activision has pulled it from digital distributors due to licensing issues. Twice. There are physical copies for consoles, which means it is not gone for good, but still. Imagine how many games from the current and previous eras could be removed from our history over similar issues if we were in a 100% digital world.
This conversation is also coming at a time when the internet providers are on the verge of having untold power over our connections. Already, we have companies like Comcast putting data caps on our home internet usage, charging us if we go over the 1TB limit. Which is absolutely possible, if you are live streaming games, downloading 100GB games with 10GB patches, and playing online in addition to your normal internet activities. If net neutrality is also removed, that could mean internet fast and slow lanes, for people who are or aren’t willing to pay extra fees, which could make digital copies less appealing.
This is not to say all digital is all bad. I mean, there are plenty of reasons I’m a fan. As a Nintendo Switch owner, I actually prefer digital more often than not, because it is easier to travel with just the system than the system and a couple of containers of extraordinarily small cartridges. With my PlayStation 4, it is a lot easier to download my game collection to an external hard drive, grab that when I am about to go over to a friend’s house, and then connect that to their system and log in to access all of my games. There are times when it could be great.
It is just a situation where moderation is key. There are so many unknowns ahead of us. We see problems where games are delisted or completely disappear, like with Deadpool. There are no trade-in opportunities. Net neutrality issues and data caps could make downloading 50-100GB games unpleasant or near-impossible feats. We should always have an option as to whether or not we want to go digital on AAA games.