Tuesday, September 29, 2009

PC Gaming: From Physical to Digital

The last 5+ years or so have been difficult on PC gaming. Console gaming has been around for 30+ years, but it's safe to say that it started to reach it's true pinnacle of popularity with the creation and release of the Xbox 360. Since that point console gaming has become a staple in almost every American household whether you own a 360, Wii or PS3. Console gaming has a level of accessibility that PC gaming has never had. In order to be a console gamer all you need is a TV and that is it, the console does the rest. There's no need to make sure you have the most up to date hardware to run the most current games. There's no frustration involved in building your own rig every 5 years to update your system as technology grows. It's even significantly less expensive. Most high end gaming PCs will run anywhere from $1000 to $3000. Now, I'm of the belief you don't need a $3,000 rig to enjoy games, but that's just me. Regardless, a console will cost you less than $500 while a PC will cost much more. It's just not convenient for most Americans, so they go for the easier and quicker option that is the console.

PC gaming has yet to die during this console uprising, however, and I would say that it's still thriving. Yes, a lot of people have jumped the PC gaming boat for consoles, but PC gamers tend to be true to what they love and what they love is PCs. Not only has PC gaming had increased competition with consoles, but PC game creators have to battle an environment that is much more susceptible to piracy. It's not easy to pirate games for your console, but all anyone needs to pirate games for their PC is an internet connection and a half decent torrent website. This has caused problems for the PC gaming world and has encouraged many PC game manufacturers to abandon their PC past and go strictly console due to the fact that they do not want to lose money. So how exactly to you combat this? What do you do as a company to overcome this adversity? Digital distribution...

Digital distribution has been around since the content delivery program Steam was introduced in late 2003 (digital distribution may have been around prior to that, but that is my first early knowledge of such systems). Steam had the idea of distributing gaming content digitally instead of physically, or distribute digital copies along with standard physical copies in retailers. Now, a lot of content has gone digital over the past 5+ years; music, movies, TV, video games, etc. Personally, I have been against digital distribution this entire time. I like physical copies. I like knowing I can hold the thing I paid $50 for. I like knowing if something happens to my computer, I still have my physical copy to hold onto. I enjoy having and seeing box art and I figure if I'm going to pay $50 for a game I want something physical. In the past month or two, however, companies have been slowly winning me over with digital distribution. There's one factor that is causing my views to change and that is simply cost.

I have a very difficult time justifying spending $50 on a digital copy of a game when I can get the physical copy for the same price. If I'm receiving less in my purchase (meaning no physical version of the game itself, no manufacturing of boxes, DVDs, etc) I would expect the price to be lower. I'm not particular sure what the cost of producing physical aspects to a game release are, however, I would expect the price for a digital copy to be at least $10 cheaper then the physical copy. Is that really so much to ask? If you're going to win me over with digital distribution, lower the price because I feel like I'm getting ripped off to a certain extent. This is one issue that has caused me to hesitate in converting to digital only content. One factor in cost, however, that is winning me over are sales. Steam typically runs sales on their games on a weekly basis. Other digital distributors such as Impulse (Stardock) and Direct 2 Drive have had their marketing departments hard at work lately and have been getting more ads out there to showcase their sales. Most recently, I purchased World of Goo from Impulse for a mere $10, 50% off it's normal price of $20. I've also purchased, in the last couple of weeks, Assassin's Creed and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City from D2D (Direct 2 Drive) for $5 each. Both of those titles are a tid bit old, but honestly, who can pass up the $5 price tag? Even as I type this out I'm contemplating buying another $5 game from D2D, Defense Grid. This is a game that I barely know anything about, but have heard a few PC gaming podcasters talk about from time to time. Once again, $5? Who can't afford that?

I think digital distribution companies have something going here. They have been winning over PC gaming fans for a little while, but I feel like they haven't reached the tipping point yet. By providing content in this manner through various sales it not only wins PC gamers over for digital distribution, it also makes lesser known titles and companies more well known. The chances of me purchasing Assassin's Creed prior to the D2D sale were slim to none, same with Defense Grid. Not only am I buying games on sale, but in doing so I've started to contemplate switching to digital only content for my PC. It's quick, it's easy. It doesn't involve me having to search for a game at a retailer and it also does not force me to figure out what to do with all my empty boxes. These digital distributors as well as PC gaming companies really have something going here and I feel if they keep offering great titles for great prices they will reach their tipping point and we will reach and entirely new era in PC gaming.

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