Are We Ready For The "All Digital" Future?

Microsoft has done the unthinkable and reversed their entire always online used game DRM policies that everyone seemed to be in an uproar about. I tend to think this was a smart move but there seems to be a growing movement of people frustrated by the fact that consumers seem intent on keeping the push for physical media alive. So I figured I'd take some time to discuss my thoughts on the inevitability of an all digital world and why we don't seem to be there quite yet.

For starters, regardless who you are in this industry everyone and anyone can agree that at some point in the future all digital will happen. It will simply become far too quick and convenient and the idea of zero cost to make the physical resources is too tempting for companies to not push for. But just because something is inevitable doesn't mean we should rush right into it. There are always sacrifices to be made when you make big drastic changes and the push from consumers to keep used games sales alive to me shows a clear sign that they are not ready to give up what little power we have left in this market space.

Those that may disagree about the lack of true consumer power I ask you to consider a few things. The video game industry walks a fine line between "art" and "business". While it functions in a capitalist system, is it truly competitive? Sure there are competing products, but each game functions on it's own merits. Generally speaking you can only get that unique experience from that specific game. Thus if that game were to suddenly become overpriced, or do something that would upset the consumer what competition do you really have to choose over them to allow the nature of capitalism to actually work? There is nothing. You can only get the Halo experience by playing Halo. You can only get the Call of Duty experience by playing Call of Duty. The list goes on.

Therefore, the only real consumer power the industry has had, is used games. Did you know that the EA sports franchises are one of the most popular games to consistently be traded in year after year? Some might argue, well of course...they release a new game every year. That may be the case but they release a new game every year at full retail price, often times with very minor or limited changes to the previous title. The case of consumers trading in their old copies to reduce the price or cover the price of the new one is an easy consumer reaction to how little control they have. I mean, can you play Madden anywhere else? Nope. EA has ensured that sans for a few sports they own the rights to making games exclusively for the "big leagues" in those areas. Thus the consumer is exercising the only real power they have left. Trading the games in, to take less of a hit on something they can't control.

Ultimately if we rush into an all digital future without acknowledging and making the proper adjustments for consumers we could end up in a very scary world. People talk about how they could make the prices cheaper, and how sales will then go directly to developers. Sure, all that sounds gravy. But the only reason we can think that will happen is based on simple good faith. So your asking me to trust EA, or Microsoft or Sony or Activision once we enter the digital paradise to have the good consumer faith to lower their prices. What is stopping them from raising their prices at that point? Hell, why not $100 games? Again, there is no real competition. You can only get their franchises from them. See Marvel Heroes as an example. They own the Marvel license and are charging stupid amounts for heroes. While a section of the audience refuses to buy and a section vies for changes to be made they still make money back on people who are willing to pay those prices. If the cost of games were to double in a market such as this a company could lose half the amount of consumers and still make the same amount of money. How likely is it that they even lose half?

Thus far Steam is the only example of a all digital platform that works. But it works on very key principles. Steam does not mistreat consumers. Steam gives absolutely crazy sales to it's consumers. Tell how many people games have you bought on Steam for $60 versus reduced pricing? Valve and Steam have build up a relationship with it's user base so they trust them with an all digital platform. Trust. Something that I truly think Microsoft and Sony and the big publishers of the world do not have, and do not care if they have. They care about the bottom line. Money. Until we address these issues I don't see the consumers just walking hand in hand into all digital. Not until we get the type of service and value a platform like Steam gives us.

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