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Sony Computer Entertainment big boss Kaz Hirai said this week that he believes that a PlayStation console supporting 100% digital distribution is over ten years away. As expected, this opened the floodgates of discussion, with topics ranging from the desire for more downloadable games to net neutrality and the worldwide internet infrastructure. Obviously, this is a multifaceted issue.
But I’m interested in a hypothetical situation here. Assuming that the infrastructure were in place today, and we could quickly, painlessly, and easily download all of our games, would we? When will we, the consumers, be ready to switch to 100% digital distribution?
Call me non-committal, but I honestly can’t commit to an answer. Am I ready now? Am I ever going to be ready?
Here’s one thought I have: I, like so many others who have driven the point into the ground, enjoy possessing a physical product. I’m proud of the collection I see resting on my entertainment cabinet. The joy of unwrapping a game, thumbing through the manual, and popping in the disc for the first time simply can’t be replicated by queuing up a download and watching the progress bar inch along before the download completes.
I also look at some of the fantastic packages offered for Atlus-published games, and I don’t want to see those go away. My Raiho plush from the fantastic Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2 package is displayed proudly in my residence despite the fact that I barely played the game.
At the same time, as I think about my downloadable collection, I wonder if I really want a physical product to accompany any of those. Do I want my habitations filled up with boxes for Limbo and Snoopy Flying Ace? Is my enjoyment of those games lessened by the fact that I can’t hold them in my hands? I have to answer no, despite what that may mean for the future of physical media.
The only conclusion that I can come to here is that I’m happy with the way things are now, or how they may be in a couple of years or so. Having the option to download many games digitally while still having the choice to head to a store or have a game shipped to me from Amazon seems like a golden era of choice for the gamer – one that likely won’t last.
It’s all about choice, really. As soon as one of our options for obtaining a game is taken away, we as consumers have less of a voice and game publishers have more power over us. We lose the ability to choose to take advantage of a certain retailer’s holiday sale to pick up a game we’ve been waiting for. We’re no longer able to rely upon rentals and trade to decide which games we really want to own, and which are not worth our time. We’re forced to do things their way.
Before it starts to sound like I’m paranoid of “Big Brother” here, it should be said that I don’t think publishers are evil, and I don’t imagine that digital distribution is this big scheme dreamed up to screw us over. The reality, though, is that it might. We might find ourselves in a situation that we never expected with the selling of games being handled entirely by one entity for each platform.
Here’s what I really want. I want digital distribution to be available for every game alongside a physical product, a release on a cloud computing service such as OnLive, and whatever other distribution model the future might hold for us. More choice for the players can only be a good thing.
So, if it takes ten years to see a PlayStation without a disc drive, then I’m going to revel in those ten years, because I’m sure they’ll prove to be the years that gamers enjoyed the greatest amount of choice.