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Our Relationship With Physical Media Is About to Change

But that doesn't mean it's becoming less important. If anything, the opposite might be true.

When I buy a video game in a box these days, it's because of one reason: this game means enough to me that I want it taking up precious space in my apartment. I want it to exist outside of a hard drive. That feels real.

The death of physical media is coming, and not limited to games. It will impact every medium, and nothing can stop it. But death is such a hyperbolic term. It makes a good headline, it might underscore the broader trend, but it's also untrue. It's simply changing.

There might be a day when physical media ceases to exist, but I doubt it. What's released, however, might become more selective, targeting collectors and the nostalgic. Physical will become a premium that specific consumers pay for, and the rest move on. How do you explain the rising sales of vinyl music?

In the coming years, most of us will redefine our relationship with physical media. It's going to become more important. What we physically own will come to represent us in a brand-new way. It's no longer about access. The same way posters, action figures, and other accents are strategically placed in our apartments to materially represent our interests and values, physical media is joining that club.

The launch of EA Access, a new subscription service from the company that loves angering people with new subscription services, might be the company's most interesting offer yet. It doesn't offer anything I'd be willing to pay for, but as a thought experiment, it's fascinating. For a monthly ($4.99) or annual ($29.99) fee, subscribers gain access to The Vault, a selection of EA games currently limited to Battlefield 4, Peggle 2, FIFA 14, and Madden NFL 25. It's slim pickings at the moment, given EA's immense back catalog, but the The Vault's currently limited to what EA's published on Xbox One. That means no Dungeon Keeper or Wing Commander.

While I'd love a Netflix for games, we're years away from that, and individual publishers are probably not our best route there. Who wants to subscribe to a Universal Pictures subscription service? It's more likely EA Access provides a template for broader services, ones Sony is currently experimenting with through PlayStation Now. Only a few publishers could get away with charging individual subscriptions. The only one might be Nintendo. It's easier to imagine paying for a subscription with a rotating lineup (i.e. Netflix/PlayStation Now), and spending more to play what you want, when you want (i.e. PlayStation Network/iTunes).

I don't own many video games anymore, but that depends on our definition of ownership. Even though I've purchased numerous games on Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN, I don't own them. I've purchased a license to play them, a license that won't necessarily last forever, and nothing guarantees my previous purchases will work when the next wave of hardware arrives. That's been more and more true as hardware's grown more complex.

With the exception of media no longer working on new hardware, a situation more frequent for games, this paragraph could be rephrased to reflect the vast majority of my purchases today.

  • I don't own many movies anymore because I'm streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.
  • I don't own many books anymore because I'm buying digitally from Amazon and iTunes.
  • I don't own many albums anymore because I'm streaming on Spotify and Pandora.

Each of these services are riddled with DRM, but it doesn't bother me. I get what I want at really great prices.

Here's a look at the shelf above my TV.

There's one other shelf in my home that has a stack of boxes. It's mostly horror and TV.

Both of those shelves are really important to me. It represents so much about me and my wife. There's limited space, which means what's there has importance. It's not the newest purchase, it's not a random selection, they're my favorites. If you look through that shelf, you can glean an idea of my tastes and values, and get a small understanding of who I am. Over time, that's where physical media is going: representing personality.

Puppet Master, Upright Citizens Brigade, Friday the 13th, X-Files, Futurama. That's me.

Catherine, BioShock, Prince of Persia (2008!!), Klonoa, Mirror's Edge, Dark Souls. That's me.

It's not a perfect system, of course. There are scads of digital games, books, and movies that I "own" not represented. Sometimes, I mull printing out box art, so games like Super Meat Boy or Journey can join them.

When I originally moved to San Francisco, most of my games were removed from cases, shoved into a binder, and thrown under a couch. Know how many times I opened up that binder? Probably twice. This wasn't a back catalog, it was diary of abandoned purchases, one I trimmed every time my wife and I moved. As we'd pack boxes, I'd look through our shelves, comb through the binder, and toss what I hadn't seen, played, or listened to. If I really wanted to play that copy of Viva Pinata that I'd been telling myself I'd eventually play, I'll buy it again.

This isn't everyone, of course. I'm painting with a broad brush. Lots of people like having collections. That's not me. That's OK! And there are reasons, even for me, to have small collections. I'm tired of purchasing Super Mario Bros. for every new platform Nintendo puts out, for example, so I'm happy to have a CRT with a bunch of old consoles hooked up to it. Sony and Microsoft are only going to port a handful of games from PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 onto the new platforms, so I'll need to keep them around, in case I want to play You Don't Know Jack.

I'm conveniently looking at the upside, but maybe that's because this transition already happened with books, movies, and music, while games lag behind. Specifically, it's console games. How many Steam users are upset over the death of the box? PC gaming used to be dying, now it's bigger than ever. Do you want a box or hundreds, if not thousands, of games for way cheaper? Give a little, gain a lot. It means the publishers gain more control, but consumers have benefited, too. Steam is DRM, but most are happy. The benefits of Steam have not totally trickled down to consoles, but it's coming. PlayStation Plus was the first sign, and Microsoft soon followed with Games with Gold. There will be much more of that.

Or maybe not. Maybe we'll give up control, games will be ruined, and we're all screwed. I'm an optimist!

The question is whether Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and publishers like EA can provide better reasons to choose digital. It has to be more than convenience. That's not much of a carrot anymore. EA Access provides a hint of where we're going. We'll see how quickly that happens, but we're marching (dragging?) in that direction.

In the meantime, I just looked at my shelf. Who wants a copy of Super Smash Bros. Brawl? I don't need it.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
235 Comments
Posted by radioactivez0r

I'd like to see some actual numbers on things like DVD/BR retail sales vs iTunes/Amazon VOD etc sales. I still buy most of my new media physically (especially music), but I am not above filling in a few holes or replacing a long lost album with a $5 Amazon sale. PC games are basically locked in at this point; most of the ones you buy off a shelf are Steam activated anyway, it seems.

I think I just like the idea that it's mine and nobody can take it away from me. I also don't think it will go away completely, ever, and not just in the sense of old videogames or vinyl. Those mediums were replaced by other, updated mediums. Going analog to digital is a pretty major shift.

Edited by patrickklepek

@shagge said:

Is that the 1999 Nightmare box set I see? Patrick, my man! You know what's up. None of that half-assed Blu-Ray box set.

Yeah, though I think we lost a disc in a move. I wish every major horror series had decent Blu-ray collections, but it's all over the map. So exploitative.

Staff
Posted by Cybexx

Physical game discs / cartridges already have an abstract concept of ownership. From a legal standpoint you own a license to play that game and that license comes with limitations.

Oddly enough I feel more secure with my access to a PC game when it is on my Steam account than owning a disc. I am quite careful with my discs but they can get scratched (mostly when people borrow them), broken or lost. Valve has built enough of a reputation at this point and I've been happy with their service since 2003.

Most people complain about their nightmare experience with Half-Life 2 on launch day and how terrible Steam used to be. All the people I've talked to who had that experience brought the half-hearted Vivendi Universal physical version of Half-Life 2. I pre-ordered Half-Life 2 silver edition, pre-loaded the game and was happily playing the game at 12:05am on launch day.

Valve is the only owner of a digital game service with DRM that has actually talked about what their plans are when their service is shutdown. Combine that with the fact that you can usually emulate your way past differences in Windows operating systems and it feels like I can count on being able to play my Steam games for a very long time after disc drives have gone extinct.

Posted by Brodehouse

I have a question.

If you could pay 60 dollars, and then once every year Giant Bomb mailed you a disc (or bunch of discs) with all of the premium content for that year loaded on there, would you prefer that to your subscription? Right now, you're paying for the content and you don't even own it. My sub ran out (and based on Vinny+Alex and Dan+Jeff videos, I think I'm gonna re-up) and I no longer have access to a number of cherished videos. But if you had the discs, they'd be yours and no one could take them away from you. Also, you'd be able to put it on your shelf, which seems to be important.

Are you for transferring your subscription to a one-time transaction for a physical good that you can use whenever you want?

Edited by Slag

@patrickklepek:

One big component people rarely mention about the death of Physical media is the impact on the environment.

I'm not crazy about a subscription model at all,(and steam and especially GOG should hopefully people that you don't have to lock yourself into an abusive subscription model) but I do recognize the potential to massively reduce landfill waste, habitat destruction, greenhouse gases and fossil fuel usage by going digital on what I can.

I went basically 80% digital last year after being a 100% physical guy. There's some definite societal pluses to going digital and I don't miss filling the old bookcase as much as I would have thought.

Posted by Clubbins

I purchased the physical copy of Battlefield 4 (PC - Physical Copy) for half of what it was being offered on Origin or Amazon Digital Download a few months back. The box showed up, I punched in the product key, and downloaded the thing off Origin - this computer doesn't even have a CD/DVD drive.

Yay physical media now being a vessel for cheap download codes since they're piling up in a ware house!

Posted by SpaceInsomniac

@chumley_marchbanks said:

I don't own many video games anymore, but that depends on our definition of ownership. Even though I've purchased numerous games on Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN, I don't own them. I've purchased a license to play them, a license that won't necessarily last forever, and nothing guarantees my previous purchases will work when the next wave of hardware arrives. That's been more and more true as hardware's grown more complex.

@patrickklepek I'd like to point out that by buying a physical copy of a game you are still only licensing the software, as stated by Sony's software license agreement for example. Although it doesn't affect what you said, I think in these circumstances it's important to recognise the fact.

Excellent point!

Can I sell it? Then I own it.

Unless I physically sign an agreement that is clearly labeled as a lease, I will never accept being told that I don't own physical property that resides in my home.

Fuck Sony's software license agreement.

Edited by ShaggE

@shagge said:

Is that the 1999 Nightmare box set I see? Patrick, my man! You know what's up. None of that half-assed Blu-Ray box set.

Yeah, though I think we lost a disc in a move. I wish every major horror series had decent Blu-ray collections, but it's all over the map. So exploitative.

As long as it wasn't the Encyclopedia disc, haha.

And yeah, I agree. The Friday the 13th BR set is absolutely incredible by comparison, and is on my must-have list. The Nightmare one is only interesting for having two (poorly transferred) episodes of Freddy's Nightmares. I'd never have even given it a second look if I weren't planning a full-blown collection of all things Nightmare.

Posted by chortleofearl

great article patrick!

vinyl thing is easily explained with rising population of hipsters.

also evilbong? WTF

Posted by synthesis_landale

@brodehouse: Prefer that? No, because I wouldn't get it as it came out... BUT, if that were an option (Like, get streaming plus a disc at the end of the year for X more dollars) I would definitely purchase a disc subscription that let me get each year of GB streams on Bluray.

Posted by onarum

I for one won't mind at all when physical copies of games go away for good, not. one. bit. just worthless heaps of plastic and cardboard taking away space and gathering dust.

And for people that don't like the whole steam deal of not actually owning the game there's things like GOG and the humble store, I mean it doesn't get much better than GOG, you buy it once and can download how many times as you want, you can install in how many PCs you like, burn the installers to a disk, put them on online storage, or put them on a nice HDD, which with proper care will last more than any cd/dvd/bluray i'd wager

But then I was never one to collect things, I don't get attached to physical possessions, maybe that's why I was so quick to adopt an all digital thing.

I don't like the subscription idea though, I like the buy it once and play as much as you like approach better.

Posted by synthesis_landale

@patrickklepek said:

@chumley_marchbanks said:

I don't own many video games anymore, but that depends on our definition of ownership. Even though I've purchased numerous games on Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN, I don't own them. I've purchased a license to play them, a license that won't necessarily last forever, and nothing guarantees my previous purchases will work when the next wave of hardware arrives. That's been more and more true as hardware's grown more complex.

@patrickklepek I'd like to point out that by buying a physical copy of a game you are still only licensing the software, as stated by Sony's software license agreement for example. Although it doesn't affect what you said, I think in these circumstances it's important to recognise the fact.

Excellent point!

Can I sell it? Then I own it.

Unless I physically sign an agreement that is clearly labeled as a lease, I will never accept being told that I don't own physical property that resides in my home.

Fuck Sony's software license agreement.

This, so much this. I love when people trot out this excuse like Sony/MS/Nintendo/SNK/Atari/NEC/Whomever are going to send you a letter one day telling you your license is up and to return the following list of physical games that you once purchased. If those licenses actually mattered we never would have been introduced to Windjammers.

Posted by Video_Game_King

I mean... you could make a Genesis cart as a shell for a USB, and then have the game run off that.

After that post, I seriously thought about trying to reverse engineer USB so that it's functionally the same, but looks and feels like a cartridge, inside and out. So essentially, a huge-ass USB with the storage space of a regular USB.

Posted by ObiKwiet

@hailinel said:

People that argue for it never seem to acknowledge the many downsides and seem flabbergasted when they run into the limitations inherent to digital media.

What downsides and limitations are you talking about? Just curious.

Posted by Lurkero

After the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation I had a large collection of games - 90% of which I would never touch again.

That's when I became a lot more conservative about which games I would buy and which I would keep. I don't have a shelf of games, but I do have a large container full of games and movies that I liked so much that I wanted to physically be able to touch and/or play again.

Posted by I_Stay_Puft

Wait so you're telling me renting games is a thing again? Kinda weird how everything has come full circle but the only difference is the switch up from physical to digital. At the end of the day we're not really paying the subscription to own the games just to rent them for a certain length of time.

Posted by Slag

@patrickklepek said:

@chumley_marchbanks said:

I don't own many video games anymore, but that depends on our definition of ownership. Even though I've purchased numerous games on Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN, I don't own them. I've purchased a license to play them, a license that won't necessarily last forever, and nothing guarantees my previous purchases will work when the next wave of hardware arrives. That's been more and more true as hardware's grown more complex.

@patrickklepek I'd like to point out that by buying a physical copy of a game you are still only licensing the software, as stated by Sony's software license agreement for example. Although it doesn't affect what you said, I think in these circumstances it's important to recognise the fact.

Excellent point!

Can I sell it? Then I own it.

Unless I physically sign an agreement that is clearly labeled as a lease, I will never accept being told that I don't own physical property that resides in my home.

Fuck Sony's software license agreement.

Agree with SpaceInsomniac. It's not a great point because it is not reflective of the way those products are pitched to consumers and doesn't match the purchase intent of the consumer. Doesn't matter what verbiage is in those EULAs which virtually nobody reads.

That software License agreement is basically unenforceable, and hasn't ever been attempted to be aggressively enforced to my knowledge so it isn't the practical reality of buying physical media in the marketplace. Place like Gamestop would not continue to exist if it was. Let alone later entrants into the USed Game business like Best Buy, Amazon or E-bay.

If you ask the vast majority of consumers whether they own the DVDs, CDs and Games they buy at retail stores I'm sure they all don't realize they supposedly don't "own" it. When you see retailers promote buying Discs, they don't talk about renting them they use verbiage implying ownership e.g. "bring your favorite movies home tonight" etc and often explicitly mention "buying" it which again implies ownership.

The Boots on the Ground reality of the situation is consumers for all intents and purposes do own a copy of their physical media for their indefinite personal use and it's been that way for 30+years.

Posted by Hailinel

@obikwiet: The realities of internet speeds and data caps, the way games can be removed from online marketplaces at the drop of a hat and never be available again, game libraries being tied to accounts and services that won't necessarily last. Some of these same issues are analogous to physical limitations, but some that champion digital as the way of the future behave as if such risks and limitations don't exist.

Posted by SunBroZak

As my internet connection is now, it would take a full day to download anything over 10 gigabytes. With digital games now exceeding 50 gigabytes in size, it would be crazy to start buying all my games digitally. Unfortunately, that's not the only problem. Here in the UK, the prices for your bigger digital games (the "AAAs") is extortionate. The standard, digital PS4 version of Destiny costs £54.99 on the PSN store, equating to over $90. I could get physical edition for over £10 less. So as much as I would like, I can't go fully digital.

Posted by spraynardtatum

As my internet connection is now, it would take a full day to download anything over 10 gigabytes. With digital games now exceeding 50 gigabytes in size, it would be crazy to start buying all my games digitally. Unfortunately, that's not the only problem. Here in the UK, the prices for your bigger digital games (the "AAAs") is extortionate. The standard, digital PS4 version of Destiny costs £54.99 on the PSN store, equating to over $90. I could get physical edition for over £10 less. So as much as I would like, I can't go fully digital.

As a US citizen I find it ludicrous that you have to pay those kinds of prices in the UK. What a scam.

Posted by MonkeyKing1969

"Our Relationship With Physical Media Is About to Change..."

The hole is getting bigger!! Awesome! I've been waiting for that to happen, and like 'about time, am I right? Wait [looks at story]...awhh, shucks, foiled again.

Edited by Marokai

I don't own many movies anymore because I'm streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.

I don't own many books anymore because I'm buying digitally from Amazon and iTunes.

I don't own many albums anymore because I'm streaming on Spotify and Pandora.

I often take advantages of these services like everyone else, but I've always had an issue with the comparison between these things, and video games. Movies are short, usually sub-two-hour experiences, the size of which isn't ever-increasing with time. At least, on the consumer end. Kindle books are kilobytes of data, and music is similarly a short, small, disposable experience. These markets also do a much better job at supporting their history than video games do. Streaming services have loads of old TV shows and movies by the truckload, and music services wouldn't be as big as we know them today without a back-catalogue filled with decades and decades of music.

Games sort of suck at doing most of the key things that you need to have a similarly convenient and preservable service: Licensing is a nightmare, games are lost to time and even with places like GOG, we're ages away from being able to browse any old game of yesteryear, and will probably never be there. Compounding that problem is that games are rapidly increasing in size with each generation, and internet infrastructure is in a shameful state for North America. Games are also several orders of magnitude more expensive, and there's not a great deal of trust toward most companies to actually provide their services indefinitely.

Even though companies can tell me I'm buying a "license" to use their product any which way I attain it, there's not really any damn thing they can do once the product is physically in my hands. Those products can be safely stored, not lost to services going offline or patches rendering them void. Games from the PS2 day can be emulated and shown in a never-been-better state as time marches on, far superior to anything the current digital services are offering for old games, particularly on consoles. I'm not inherently averse to the idea of a future where digital platforms is where games mostly stay; I just have no reason to believe most companies have the muscle necessary to create and preserve those things for all of my life, at a cost equal to, or consistently cheaper than, physical media. Anything less is inferior from the outset.

Posted by BigBoss1911

I get real physical with my media.

Posted by Maitimo

People are quick to forget that the infrastructure to go fully digital simply doesn't exist in many places. That there are serious conversations about physical media going away just shows how ethnocentric a lot of outlets are.

Edited by LarryDavis

As a constant purchaser of Criterion Collection movies, I know there are enough of us out there that physical releases will never stop. Also, this is me, unironically:

Posted by spraynardtatum

Digital could be great...if companies would refrain from trying to keep their hands in our pockets after we've already paid them for their dumb thing.

Posted by ShotgunLincoln

There's something about physical goods that I enjoy. I like having them. It'd be easier to download an playstation emulator instead of buying the copies of games and the system but I think there's something lost in that trade-off. I can't explain what it is but it definitely doesn't feel the same.

Posted by ptys

Come on Scoops you could have at least left the house to get you're reference images, lol.

Posted by CornBREDX

I have over 1000 DVDs (physically). I love movies, and I won't explain why I have so many here, but these days I only buy movies I really want to see (which has thankfully become less).

I have almost a thousand video games. Only 300 or something is actually physical. Most of them are digital. With steam and GOG, at some point, it just became easier to buy most games digital. I'm not super pumped about most games these days anyway. If I am super excited about a game, or it's a kickstarter project I'm really into, I'll get physical copies. There isn't many games coming out that I feel I have to own because what's the point of taking up that physical space?

Even as a collector just having the games themselves doesn't mean anything.

It's funny, though, I have always been leery about using digital. I actually look at digital as a good way to preserve data (because ultimately it is less fragile than discs), but at the same time I know I would never be able to preserve that data if these services ever went under. So, that's why I buy physical copies of games that I really want- which is few and far between anymore.

With movies, I still can't really imagine buying them digital. I feel less ownership and part of the love of collecting movies is their original art an d stuff. You could argue the same for games as well. Cover art seems like a lost art form sometimes in all media.

I don't know, maybe there's no digital service I trust with films, but I have my own in house digital service for streaming movies. I don't consider netflix a good movie streaming platform because a majority of what's good on Netflix is TV shows. That has merit too, which is why I still pay for it, but the best place for movies is still my shelf.

I buy music these days from Amazon because it's basically DRM free (in that I can put it on my computer and/or burn it to disc- there's no real loss of my options). Since there is so few music I like anymore, it doesn't really matter to me where I get it as long as when I buy it it's not restricted to some service only. My Dad, though, still had thousands of CDs from way back- even stuff he had when I was a kid. He collected records (vinyl), but he didn't really take care of himself at some point and long story short he lost all his records. Now that he's passed on I'm stuck with all his CDs and we're still not sure what to do with them. On one hand I don't want to get rid of them because of special meaning, but I also don't want them because I really don't want them taking up space. It's an annoying dilemma.

So, ya. I honestly don't see an all digital future so much. I think the way things are now will refine more, more games will become digital only (because it's cheaper) but there will still be premium (physical) options for everything. I don't see that going away for a long time- no matter how much the gaming press wants to keep saying it will. I just don't see it completely going away.

Posted by ArcadiaExeter

as a video game lover i like that games are becoming easier to get and cheaper. as a collector i HATE IT! when AC: Freedom Cry came out i was like "oh man i'd like that for my collection" but i don't think they will ever come out with a physical version.

Posted by synthesis_landale

@arcadiaexeter: I'm betting it will, part of some Black Flag GOTY edition with the DLC included.

Edited by Echo0

I've started to do the the same thing. I love my collections but at the same time it's not feasible financially or space wise. I think if a developer wanted to leave their options open while not stringing out their budget they could offer the digital copy and do a batch/ made-to-order type physical copy.

Edited by iBushido

@patrickklepek I'd take Brawl just so I can hack it and play Project M, which is way better. =P

I totally agree with all of this though. Right next to my desk, just a couple of feet away from me, I have a tower with 4 shelves on it that are about 2ft wide. From top to bottom it's PS2, 360, PS3, and Gamecube (the Wii is hooked up to another tv as I only use it to play GC games anyway). Each shelf has the console, controllers, peripherals, etc. On my right, are two thin towers filled with games ranging from PS1 games to PS3 and 360 games. There are also some DVD's and Blurays on that shelf as well. This is basically it. This is my "stuff." I don't collect anything else. I don't put stuff all over our home. It's just this one spot, and this is the stuff I care about preserving and displaying the most.

I play mostly PC games now so everything new that I get is digital (mostly through Steam). The last game I bought was Dark Souls II Black Armor Edition for the PS3. Dark Souls might be my favorite game and I wanted to own a real copy of its sequel. I'll still eventually get it on PC with dlc and all that, but having a real copy is really important to me. That was probably my last physical purchase of a game for the PS3 and 360 generation. Not sure if/when I'll get a PS4, so for all I know, that was the last physical game I buy. It's nuts.

I hope whatever direction this all goes in, we are all just free to enjoy the games we own with as little interference as possible.

Posted by Chumley_Marchbanks

@slag @synthesis_landale @spaceinsomniac: I think you're all a little confused. The license doesn't state that the actual physical media is given to you under license (you own the plastic and the paper); it's the software located on the disk that is being licensed to you. Data cannot be treated the same as physical goods because it can be copied and modified without disturbing the original. Therefore, software agreements exist to protect software developers from unscrupulous behaviour that some of their customers might get up to.

Posted by bboymaestro

Prince of Persia (2008 edition)? I guess it looked pretty enough to own physical. I do have the original Sands of Time Trilogy somewhere in storage.

Posted by AwkwardLoser

Selling games I no longer plan to play on EBay and trading in games helps fund this hobby. I rarely pay using money that isn't store credit or in my PayPal account, as a result I'll likely stick with physical media.

Posted by whatisdelicious

I'm imagining @brad reading this article and nodding along until he gets to the part about @patrickklepek dumping Viva Pinata, then he breaks a coffee mug or something.

Edited by AphroThunder

I don't own many movies anymore because I'm streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.

I don't own many books anymore because I'm buying digitally from Amazon and iTunes.

I don't own many albums anymore because I'm streaming on Spotify and Pandora.

The problem being that once data caps become basically a universal norm in the US you will be doing significantly less of these things.

Posted by Tumble_weed

@patrickklepek I see a copy of Space Jam on Blu Ray in that library.

You, sir, know exactly what's worth owning physically. Just you wait for the 20th anniversary set!

Another great article, Scoops.

Posted by Kinggi

Digital will only work on open platforms that promise a future for the content. GOG works because i can copy the content and back it up myself. I technically own the equivalent of what a physical copy gives me. Steam somewhat works because they have become large enough that im confident in the community to crack things appropriately if Valve screws it up.

Sony and Xbox closed platforms are a no-go for me. Have fun when they discontinue those services and you cant get your games from the source. Unless it suddenly became easy to back up and keep that content without online authentication.

Edited by 00

Iʼm torn when it comes to the physical media vs digital distribution debate.

On one hand, I hate the amount of space that physical media takes up, and the environmental impact of it—especially since we now have digital distribution methods that can replace the need for it.

On the other hand, shifting from physical media often means lower quality (see: music streaming/downloads, and video streaming services), tight restrictions on what you can do with it, and access that can be revoked without any warning.

Even though I hate the amount of waste involved in the production and distribution of this unnecessary physical media, I still buy CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays, because they are often cheaper than a download, they are much higher quality, I can loan them out to friends/family, I can resell them if I did not enjoy them, my access to that content canʼt be revoked, I can still play them if my internet goes out etc.

Just look at what has happened to digital purchases on consoles:

  • I bought games on the original Xbox Live Arcade; couldnʼt play them on my 360. Canʼt access them at all any more, even if I bought another original Xbox.
  • Same thing goes for all of my Virtual Console purchases on the Wii, and digital games that I bought for the 3DS, now that I donʼt own either one. While those stores are still active, there is no account system where I can recover those purchases.
  • Now that I no longer own an Xbox 360, I donʼt have access to any of that content either. If I bought an Xbox One, I would not have access to any of that content.
  • Even when I did still own an Xbox 360, there was content which was removed from the store that I was never able to download again, and content which was rendered unusable through system updates.
  • And until they made a change that allowed you to specify which was your primary console, I was locked out of my digital purchases any time my internet connection went down.
  • On the PC, Games for Windows Live was announced to be shutting down (though I think they have now reversed that decision?) which would have rendered a number of games that I had purchased unplayable, including newer titles like Dark Souls.

Even physical media is starting to have these problems though. The previous generation of consoles has been quite unreliable overall, yet this generation we do not have any backwards compatibility because it was deemed to be too expensive. A stack of games is no use if you donʼt have working hardware that can play them.

As much as people would hate to admit it, emulation and hacking/piracy is going to be the only way we will be able to preserve these games in the future—just as that is starting to become the only realistic way to play a lot of older games now, whether that is because the games cost several hundred dollars on the used market, or because the only way to actually play them on a modern display requires something like the Retron 5. (which is just an emulation machine)

While I am perfectly happy with Steam as a platform right now, those games are still all DRM protected, and at some point, who knows if publishers will start revoking licenses for games, or for whatever reason the store is shut down.

This is why I use services like GOG in preference to Steam whenever possible now, as they sell 100% DRM-free content. If the store shuts down, well I still have all my games, and they will all continue working.

The fact that services like this exist, and that you can still run games from 20–30 years ago on a modern system played a big part in why I have shifted away from consoles and towards PC gaming this generation.

If my PC dies, I can buy a new one and all my games will continue to work—I wonʼt be left trying to buy a second-hand system because it has been replaced by the “PC 2” where none of my games or accessories work any more.

Frankly, I think it is disgusting that companies like Sony will charge full price for what is essentially the same thing as me loading up an old PC game and maxing out all the settings, as an alternative to providing proper backwards compatibility.

Just how much would it have been to include proper backwards compatibility in the PlayStation 4? An extra $100? Buy two of these “remasters” and itʼs paid for.

And what does this shift towards digital distribution mean for the used games/collectorʼs market?

As a child, I was given a second-hand SNES right when the PlayStation came out, along with a handful of games, and I would buy used games for it when I could find them.

When I was older, I probably wouldnʼt have played a tenth of the games that I did on the Xbox/PS2/GameCube, if there was not the option to trade in my older games for credit towards new ones. (and I did always buy new when it was a current system)

Give someone a second-hand PS4 when the next system launches and they wonʼt have anything to play on it, if the owner bought everything digitally. Anything you have spent on this digital content is essentially worthless as soon as the new system is out.

I have seen people argue that they will just hold onto their old system and use it when they want to return to them, but I think you are going to run into some storage limitations before the end of this generation, if thats your plant just put the drive into another system and play the content on it. And what if the hard drive with your games on it dies?

Digital content aside, what about physical content that required day-one patches to play?

At least on the PC theyʼre starting to get this right. New releases are still overpriced, but since there are many retailers (even people just selling Steam keys) the prices drop quickly due to competition, and there are always sales. The price you pay for a PC game is a lot more in-line with the rights that you are giving up for the sake of convenience.

We arenʼt there yet with consoles, and may never be. The games ship at parity with the MSRP (not that physical games are sold at MSRP…) and rarely ever drop in price, since there is no reason for them to.

Itʼs all quite concerning. Without physical releases, we may end up with a generation of lost games.

Maybe not this generation, but the next.

I have a question.

If you could pay 60 dollars, and then once every year Giant Bomb mailed you a disc (or bunch of discs) with all of the premium content for that year loaded on there, would you prefer that to your subscription? Right now, you're paying for the content and you don't even own it. My sub ran out (and based on Vinny+Alex and Dan+Jeff videos, I think I'm gonna re-up) and I no longer have access to a number of cherished videos. But if you had the discs, they'd be yours and no one could take them away from you. Also, you'd be able to put it on your shelf, which seems to be important.

Are you for transferring your subscription to a one-time transaction for a physical good that you can use whenever you want?

You can download DRM-free copies of the videos. You own those.

If all you do is stream, then yes, that content may disappear.

We lost a lot of unarchived streams recently when Twitch cleared out their old archives.

I think a lot of them (most? all?) made it onto YouTube if you search for “Giant Bomb Unarchived” but this is exactly the concern I have with the switch from physical media to services that only offer DRM-restricted streaming.

While it turned out to only be an issue with their servers during a move, there was a recent scare that 1up.com had disappeared, without all the old content archived. Now I personally have some of that content archived (all of the “GFW Radio” podcasts and the “Points ##” series of videos) but far from all of it—just like I have an archive of the Persona 4 Endurance run, though I donʼt have all the metadata for it (episode descriptions, for example) if something were to ever happen to this site.

I also didn't--no offense to Ben--read it.

I donʼt want to derail things here, but since you are using a Mac, you should try to use proper dashes.

An em dash is just Opt + Shift + -

At least you arenʼt using dashes with spaces though!

Posted by Skygen

Personally, in my experience talking with friends, and this is also true for myself. Buying physical copies of games is a statement that I will sell this after I've finished it...

I look at an upcoming game... I do a quick evaluation on it: "Will I keep playing this after I finish it?" OR "Will I want to replay this?" .. If it fails that, I buy physical, finish it, then resell it.

If it passes, I buy digital

Until I can sell/trade digital copies I will continue this.

There is the odd occasion when I really enjoy a game I bought physically, which I usually sell the physical copy, and when the time comes to replay it later, I buy the digital version, which at this stage is heavily discounted.

I feel that this is exactly what the companies want, but for me its total convenience. I hate having a physical collection of boxes.

Posted by helloiamgary

long post ahead, not a spoiler, just minimising your scrolling :D

I really enjoy physical media because I like the archival aspect to it, I've a pretty large vinyl, game and movie collection and if my computer or backup media were to die, or my digital provider went offline, I'd still have those items. The problem I have with digital is that as fidelity gets better, unless we find some pied piper type algorithm, the file size is going to go up. I've currently a 10TB server for streaming copies of everything around my house but that's quickly being filled when a copy of a blu-ray is 25~gigs. The latest consoles both have 500GB HDDs, which if I'm installing AAA games is likely to be eaten up in no time at all. And that's the problem with digital, the price of storage is not conducive to having a large media library. Storing items in the cloud definitely is a way around it, but then there's costs to that and most of those processes aren't as instant as me lifting a game from a shelf.

Although it's rare that I sell a physical item, there is a chance that I can actually make money on it where as spending money on digital items has little or no return. I can't sell my PSN games, nor my iTunes library but the Mono Beatles and Hendrix LPs I have and the limited edition or rare games I have have become an investment, something that if I need to recoup money from I'm sure I will be able to.

I have a problem spending £55 on a current gen digital game because I've grown up in a time when physical items have a value that digital didn't. I've always been of the mind set that a dvd is worth more of my money than an iTunes download because, even though the disc, case and cover probably cost the manufacturer about 5p, it's still something I can hold. I may not own the data contained in it but I own that piece of plastic. I also find it hard justifying giving into the ridiculous prices that Sony and Microsoft charge on their console stores when GMG or Steam have sales on the exact same media for a fraction of the cost. Within weeks of launch, the physical cost of a game drops, while the digital cost remains the same, for something I can no ownership or right to once they service provider decides they don't want to stream it to me anymore.

If the digital download cost was tiny, I'd have no issue swapping to an all digital console, in fact I'm in the process of building my first pc and foresee only digital games on it but that's mainly due to the fact that the majority of the games I'll be buying will be as a result of a steam sale, they may be indie games or likely they are pc only games. But as long as the middle men see fit that they can charge the same price for digital and physical media, in most cases the digital overpricing the physical item, I'll be going for physical items any chance I can.

Edited by Pezen

There was a stage show here in Sweden called Light and Fresh in which comedian Henrik Schyffert pondered the fact that we used to measure wealth and success by the amount of stuff we had and how that has changed to how the opposite is true now, we admire people that can hide the clutter and show off a clean clutter free home. We still have all the crap, we just crave solutions to hide it.

As someone using Steam, I'm certainly not opposed to digital distribution. I just don't feel like the landscape of games as they stand today compared to other mediums work as well in those subscription models.

Besides, I love physical media and great digital services hasn't really changed that. Netflix doesn't stop me from having a bunch of Blurays, it just stopped me from buying "I'm bored" bargain bin DVDs and having cable channels. Spotify never had me stop buying CDs, it just replaced piracy as a means to find new music. For me personally, digital has been a great asset, but not a replacement.

But then, I am probably a bit materialistic.

Posted by nmarchan

Am I the only person who remembers GameTap?

Posted by rushdo

This digital culture could come to a screeching halt if the changes to net neutrality come to fruition.

Posted by Welvax

When I buy a video game in a box these days, it's because of one reason: this game means enough to me that I don't want it taking up precious space on my console hard drive.

Posted by PrettyGoodCake

@video_game_king: Because they still make record players?

But no, physical media isn't dying. Will it fall to the wayside? Probably. Die? No. Books aren't dead and they've been threatened for much longer.

Edited by Kordesh

  • I don't own many movies anymore because I'm streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.
  • I don't own many books anymore because I'm buying digitally from Amazon and iTunes.
  • I don't own many albums anymore because I'm streaming on Spotify and Pandora.

Each of these services are riddled with DRM, but it doesn't bother me. I get what I want at really great prices.

And this is where opinions differ,l because this bothers me, a lot. Consumers are giving up a TON of control over the content they spend money on in exchange for not a whole lot.

What if this digital download trend is leading to "software-as-a-service" for everything?

It absolutely is, and it's a really really disturbing thing to watch as the steps there are taken. Microsoft is clearly all on board with it so much so as to make their new Office offerings "Cloud based". Word processing with a subscription. This is the future, and honestly, it's kind of sucky.

Posted by Video_Game_King