By Chaser324 157 Comments
With today's news of Microsoft dropping their originally proposed digital purchase policies from the Xbox One, I thought it fitting to sum up my feelings in a blog post on why I think this might not be the best direction for console gaming.
Personally, I stand by my defense of a lot of Microsoft's policies. While it was certainly marred by horrific PR messaging on an unprecedented scale, I think that the all digital future that Microsoft was pushing for the Xbox One had a lot of potential benefits both for users and the industry.
There certainly would've been backlash from some regardless of the way MS delivered the news, but the inconsistent and muddled messaging added a lot of fuel to the fire. Personally, I think if people calmed down and were a bit more rational about things, most of them would see this as just the reality of the modern video game landscape and a necessary step, if maybe a premature one, in the path that games have already been headed down for the past few years. I also think that those policies really would've only negatively impacted a small portion of those that were screaming. However calmer heads and rationale never really had a chance in the face of today's internet hivemind culture and what I personally view as an increasingly overwrought sense of gamer entitlement that is running amok.
I'll admit that I think MS should have provided a bit more flexibility. There are several proposed methods out there that I think could have kept digital purchases secured while making things easier for people with limited or no internet connectivity available. However, this half step that Sony, and now Microsoft as well, are making toward digital doesn't seem like enough to me. Sure, I'll appreciate the convenience of making day one digital purchases when the clock strikes midnight, but the firm foothold that the Xbox One and PS4 will continue to have in the physical media and retail space is going to continue to be an anchor.
There's a reason that guys like David Jaffe, Cliff Bleszinski, and Mikey Neumann were out there supporting these efforts. They've seen the numbers and are highly aware of the harsh realities of modern game development. A lot of publishers and developers are really struggling out there right now. If we want video games to be a healthy industry, something has to be done.
Purely digital storefronts ala Steam, unencumbered by discs, shelf space, and traditional retailer pressure, are able to provide more flexible pricing models and remove sources of potential lost revenue such as used game purchases and rentals. However, by sticking with the status quo, developers and publishers of games on the PS4 and Xbox One are going to have to stick with the same practices that gamers have been complaining about for the past several years. The "keep the disc in the tray" mentality. Things like tacked on multiplayer, microtransactions, preorder bonuses, online passes, and unfriendly DLC practices are all here to stay.
Over the course of this generation, I'm sure that digital purchases will continually gain ground in the marketplace, and at some point probably supplant the vast majority of disc purchases. Whether you like it or not, games are going to continue to become increasingly social, connected, and more representative of services rather than property. At a certain point, a once per day authorization might even seem trivial because more and more games will be relying on persistant worlds and other "cloud" features as core parts of their experience.
My fear is just that in the near term this reliance on the "tried and true" has the potential to be a real burden and could do more harm than good. Winning over the hearts and minds of users and selling hardware preorders might not matter all that much if developers are hamstrung by the same old song and dance they have to do to keep their doors open for business. For the time being though, I'm willing to concede to the popular opinion while hoping that digital distribution gains momentum and can come to prominence in a slightly less forced manner when more people are ready for it.