Plug in…Because Digital Is Here (and You Don’t Really Have a Choice).
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Does new packaging mean the same product?

I know we have a long way to go before we’ll hit the kind of kick-ass Star Trek tech that we love so much (I’m looking at you Next Generation; Shatner era…not so much). Hell, the clock is ticking to where we have less than two years to develop self-lacing shoes and hoverboards. Regardless, it’s definitely a good time to be into gaming in 2013. At no other time in our history have we had so much rich, innovative tech at our fingertips…and for purposes of entertainment, no less! If you could travel back to the 70s and show people like Noel Bushnell at Atari a World’s Fair-type image of what the gaming future would look like, he’d probably think you’d just handed him some bad reefer (he’d smoke it anyway, of course…but still).

As much as the gaming landscape has changed from the golden age till now, how much can we expect it to change 30 years into the future?

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Fergal Gara, managing director at Sony UK, recently spoke with the Official PlayStation Magazine about how he sees the future of Sony as a gaming company. “The top end experience for the foreseeable future is undoubtedly the PlayStation 4. Whether you take PlayStation Vita TV, or the Gaikai cloud gaming technology, there clearly is a strategy here to bring more PlayStation experiences here to more people in the ways they want it. We’re more about a brand and an ecosystem than we are about a box. We see PlayStation as a brand, not just as a box. Going out to 2013 and probably more appropriately 2014, 15, 16, 17 you’ll see start to see PlayStation 4 as a brand and a service, as a set of services, a set of experiences.”

Gara touches on a trend that we find more and more prevalent in gaming these days. Digital distribution is no doubt a driving force behind the future of how we'll receive our content. This shift toward digital has already overtaken other industries, music being the most notable example. Just as CDs killed the cassette player, the advent of digital warehousing all your favorite songs and artists onto one device (some no bigger than a quarter in some instances) threatens to consume the market. Movies are in the same boat, as many releases now come with a digital copy included with the price of the DVD or Blu-ray. Not to mention, the shift to digital has eliminated the need to even walk into a store and buy them anymore. Sites like iTunes, Amazon, and GameFly deliver just about anything you want, right to your living room.

I think it’s safe to say this trend will overtake gaming, just as it’s done in every other industry. You already see a huge influx of games as of late being offered as digital downloads via Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. Even browsing the PC-games section at Walmart, you find have the selection half missing, with just a small rack of cards available for purchase that allow you to go home and download the tittle instead of having the physical disc.

So, let’s jump ahead to the inevitable future. You can quote me on this; we will eventually move away from physical media of any kind and adopt a complete digital system. I welcome such a day. Coming from experience, spending hundreds of dollars and endless hours putting things together in a collection (movies on DVD for example) just to have it become obsolete in a few years because the technology has abandoned the media it’s on is a real pain the ass. Digitally curating your collection helps alleviate some of this issue. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who feels this way, and even though we still have disc-based console systems about to be unleashed in the next-gen, don’t be surprised if this is the last generation that sees it.

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Also, we must consider what this means for brick and mortar locations such as GameStop or your local used game store. A place like Best Buy or Walmart wouldn’t be as adversely affected by a complete shift to digital, as they usually only deal in NEW retail. If you don’t already know, Gamestop’s bread and butter is pushing their used stock on customers, as intercepting those profits form the original developers is what keeps the chain going. Problem is…no disc, no trade-in. Don’t forget about the mom and pop style game stores that traffic in the “slightly loved” copies of games for systems such as the Xbox 360 and PS3. Can they afford to take such a huge hit if future next-gen titles aren’t available on disc to be traded-in anymore? This would leave them to survive on just the sales of their classic titles.

When any massive technology shift occurs, even if it’s the next logical step, there are always going to be unfortunate casualties. However, even though your AC/DC cassette tapes or NES cartridges probably didn’t survive over the years (discarded in some yard sale, no doubt), this content will still live on in the realm of digital.

Then again, this could be exactly how Skynet starts.

Jason Messer
Jason Messer
@J8sonMesser

Contributing Writer
Date: 10/15/2013

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