Digital vs Physical

Written by Queen Mai (Mai Tachibana)
PSN ID: Nakatsu_Hime
The age of digital media distribution is in full-swing, and this includes our games. A whole Blu-Ray’s worth of data can now be squirted to our consoles for hassle-free play. We will no longer have to leave our sofas again!

Both XBL and PSN have online stores where one can easily purchase full games, even AAA releases, along with a huge range of smaller games – those lovely indies! Even Nintendo pretends to have a similar service, but that seems to be mere myth.

Surely, it is a wonderful new age of gaming pleasure – or is it? 

I can see the attraction of purchasing a game in digital format. You need not concern yourself with where to store the box and other packaging as there isn’t any. You do not need to fight through crowds to your favourite games retailer, only to discover they are out of stock. It’s on your HDD ready to play – all the time!

It all seems wonderful. Let’s check it out...

Ease of purchase:

Usually a one-click affair (aren’t all affairs like that?) or as near as. You choose what you want, pay, and away you go. All good, but wait, what’s this? A download of 20Gb-plus? Ahh, that’s OK, my console says it will be done in… 8 hours??! Opps, no. There’s an update file as well. That’ll be loads of hours all-in. God-dammit. I’m off to bed!

So yes. The actual purchasing part IS easy, but from that point on you are completely dependent on the download completing before you are able to enjoy. Those of us with less than Singapore-quality internet will nod sagely as they visualize the time required for a download of the size needed for games nowadays.

I can easily go to any number of shopping centres and actually bring home the game in less time that it would take to download that game’s opening animation. Yes, I still need the patch, but I can still play any offline content whilst the patch is busy downloading.

So unless you are an agoraphobic, a sloth, or miles from anywhere useful, digital purchasing is a waiting-game best avoided.

“But, the gamer will benefit from…”:

OK. Let us all think back to when this digital distribution malarkey started to take off. The cost savings would be substantial - they told us. They’d be no need to pay for shipping, no need for added costs due to retail rental or staff wages, no costs for packaging or manuals, and negligible overheads for duplication of media and content - they told us. All these savings could then be passed onto the consumer. It would be gaming Nirvana - they told us.

So, what actually happened?

Well, all of the above happened as predicted, and the savings happened as expected, but where did those savings go? Not to benefit the end-user, that’s for sure. In fact, many digital offerings are initially priced ABOVE what you can purchase them for on the high-street. So this is how it works. We are asked to pay MORE for a product format that costs LESS. Yep, that makes sense.

It’s even more galling when you consider the following small but significant difference…

So, can I resell this digital stuff then?

Well, that’s a yes… and a no.

I am a UK resident, and under EU regulations I am well within my rights to be able to resell any digital content as I would be able to resell a physical copy. However, this is where the dream stops because – as we all know – digital distributors make damn sure you cannot resell any of your digital content. Even worse, they go so far as to tell you it’s not actually yours anyway, but you have just bought the rights to use the content – nothing more.
I’m sure that I could force the issue through the courts, but really, who is going to follow that path to resell their copy of Tomb Raider? And that’s exactly what distributors know is not going to happen en-masse.

So as it stands, the real-world answer to the above question is no, you cannot resell any digital content, because it’s probably not really yours to sell on anyway. Have a nice day!

But, it’s mine forever:

It’s on your HDD so yes, and in 10 years time you can bring your console out of the cupboard and have a retro-games day. All’s well and good until you find the console isn’t as healthy as it was, so you end up formatting the HDD or something. No matter, let’s just download this really cool game again.

You may be fine, or maybe – at some stage – the file was pulled, or the network was scrapped. So no dice. There’s no way you can download that game again.
"If only I’d bought that game on disk". Yes – if only.
So there you go. A new age is upon us where we need not physically own media ever again. It’s all on that wonderful cloud-thingy, all on a network or server somewhere, and all out of our reach and control.

The situations above may never worry some gamers. They will always be looking to the next big thing – never back. They may have hyper-speed internet. They may have no wish to resell anything. The difference of a few Pounds / Dollars / Yen may mean nothing to them. All this may be true for some, but for those of us that do think that digital should be inherently cheaper, that we should be able to own and therefore resell our purchases, that we should not have to wait eons for files to download, and that we may want to hold onto something and say ‘This is mine, forever’ – digital is definitely not the way forward. Not the future. Not as it stands. Not yet.