The Monday ‘Joe: Digital or Physical Purchases

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

A recent report by the the NPD states that over half of game sales is through digital, “non-traditional” mediums, from cell phone markets to Steam. The digital market is growing, and even though we’re professionals, we’re still consumers.

This week’s question (brought to you by Christopher Bowen):

About how much of your games purchasing is done digitally instead of at retail?

Crystal Steltenpohl: Nowadays, I’d say most of my purchases are digital, easily 75% or more. It’s just easier and usually cheaper for me to get my PC games on Steam, so most of my PC games are from Steam sales or Humble Indie Bundles. The 3DS now offers some digital downloads and I’ve nabbed a few of the free ones, but I still prefer having the actual cartridge for handhelds for whatever reason. Also, I think around 25% or a little less of the games I’ve gotten for my 360 so far have been through their service. Since I have more PC games than anything else at this point, I’d say that it’s not too far of a stretch to say that more than 75% of the collection I’ve acquired has been digitally downloaded. It wouldn’t be fair to include my collection from before then, but if we did, it’d probably drop to quite a bit below 50%.

Mel Ngai: For me personally, very few of the games I’ve purchased have been done through digital means. I tend to buy physical products on the few occasions I actually buy a game since I don’t game too heavily on my PC. It’s not that I have any particularly strong qualms with acquiring a game via online downloads; rather, I just haven’t seen anything I wanted to download in a while. I still prefer playing some games on a console or a handheld, but I’ll likely download a PC game if the digital copy is cheaper.

Brandon Mietzner: I personally have no choice but to buy my games online, be it through Amazon or through Steam. I do prefer purchasing my games through Steam if I have a choice, however; their service is damn close to perfect when it comes to download speeds and availability of new titles, and I’m also not being charged for tax or shipping. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around why the games cost exactly the same when there’s no printed media or any of that other crap to drive up the cost of publishing, though. I know that there’s a cost for these online services, but I can’t see why digital games must have the same price as a physical copy. The same principle goes for consoles when it comes to this. However, if I have to worry about download limits, I might consider buying as many physical copies as I can so I don’t get stung by the coverage on my cap. This is the primary reason why I think digital distribution hasn’t become standard and why the next console cycle will still include physical media. There are also too many network infrastructure problems on top of the others that consumers face, and these factors hold back online sales in becoming the predominant form of distribution method either currently or in the near future. The next big worry I have is that ISPs are now going to be copyright cops and monitoring traffic (e.g. Verizon), and this could lead to abuse with ISPs throttling game downloads. I know it may seem a little far-fetched, but a Canadian ISP did it with World of Warcraft because it used PtP protocols to distribute their updates. Who’s to say this mentality won’t be adopted by other ISPs with this new initiative starting in July? The ISPs are already putting PtP protocols under their radar with this initiative. I’m sorry to say I’m with Verizon, so it scares the hell out of me that it might happen.

Aileen Coe: I still prefer physical releases when possible, partly due to memory stick/hard drive space, partly due to how some games have limited editions in the form of physical copies. That being said, I’d say about half my games have been obtained digitally. Steam’s daily deals and massive sales, like the one they had this past winter, have made it easier to snag games I’ve wanted while not being too hard on my wallet. Humble Bundles have also been a boon to my PC game collection. I’ve also picked up PSN-only releases, and getting Borderlands and all the DLC content for $15 via a PS Plus sale is still one of the best deals I’ve gotten (yes, there’s probably been a deal on Steam just as good if not better, but I didn’t have a computer that could handle games at the time). Digital releases come with the advantages of never becoming rare or out of stock and subject to price gouging in the second-hand market. However, I still wouldn’t want it to be the only way to buy games.

Nathan Wood: For this week’s question, I find myself in the growing minority. Honestly, I have yet to even purchase a full retail or indie title digitally; almost 100% of my purchases come from retail. Now there are exceptions, as I’m a sucker for certain franchises and the DLC that comes afterwards, but very little of my game library has been purchased digitally outside of that.

This is the case for a number of reasons. First, I don’t find the prices to be very different for the most part between digital and retail, especially as I really go looking around for the best prices and take great pride in finding a good price in retail. I would expect this to not be the case moving forward, however, as digital distribution should really become cheaper, and Steam’s sales have served as an indication of the future. Second, I simply enjoy having a physical copy of a game because game manuals, to me, were one of the biggest draws for my having a physical copy of a game. Sadly, that’s become an afterthought or is completely absent in today’s titles. This is something my childhood self would’ve hated to see as I used to greatly enjoy analyzing everything within the manual during the car ride home; it was even a ritual of mine within a few years. Lastly, the place where I would want to adopt digitally purchasing my games—that being on PC—is simply closed off to me for now as I don’t have a PC capable of keeping up with modern titles. In fact, I own a Mac laptop, which isn’t exactly known for its gaming library.

However, I’m intrigued by the future of digital distribution. The number of retail stores I prefer to go to for my games continues to grow smaller and smaller, and the list of benefits of digital distribution keeps rising steadily. It’s only a matter of time until I’m sucked into digitally purchasing all my games, and that inevitable event is something I certainly don’t dread. Really, I’ll welcome it with open arms.

Christopher Bowen: Just less than a week ago, I hit a milestone: I bought a brand new console game, on day of release, digitally. In the past couple of years, these types of purchases have been for the smaller Xbox Live or PlayStation Network titles, games like Braid or Carcassone or that new version of Pac-Man—i.e. games that were good, but theyweren’t AA or AAA releases. However, on Tuesday, I bought Warriors Orochi 3 on the PlayStation Network for $50. This was the first time I’ve ever bought a AA or AAA title that wasn’t years old, let alone on day of release; it’s not something I do even do for PC games unless they’re smaller (the last ones I did that for were Fortune Summoners and Ys: The Oath in Felghana). But here I am, playing Warriors Orochi 3 and enjoying it.

A couple of notes about this. For one, the download was an absolute nightmare but nothing I’m not used to. Sony’s infrastructure has to improve so that, if my system gets shut off, I don’t lose 4GB of my 11GB download in outer space. Being on a 250GB cap makes downloads like this risky, but I’m used to this because of the PC, so it’s not too bad. Furthermore, I might be getting a business line and writing it off as an expense anyway. The second part of this is that I haven’t been a day-of-release guy for a long time now, and for that, we’ve had GameStop to thank. I don’t like preordering games simply as a matter of principle: I don’t like the hard sell, I don’t like supporting a system where you have to do it to be competitive (for example, the NHL games gave stat-boosting power ups for preorders), and I just don’t like dropping money on something I’m not sure I’m going to buy. That only has something to do with how, if I decide against it, I’ll get the hard sell from someone to put it towards another game knowing that, if I decline, whoever sold the preorder loses that preorder, which is grounds for dismissal with cause. I hate the system for those reasons. Additionally, I hate that, if I don’t order a game, I likely can’t pick it up on the day it’s released.

There’s no such limitation online. There’s no shelf space and no one to tell me that they only bought fifty-eight copies for fifty-seven preorders and one gutted display copy. Sure, there’s no returning or trading the game if it sucks, but I only buy games I really want that early anyway. I wasn’t a fan of Journey being sold a week early for PS Plus subscribers despite being one, so I didn’t buy it during that week; but no matter how many people buy it, it’s there. I don’t have to burn gas and deal with the Token Chick at GameStop, the one who’s a five but is treated like an eight because of her clientèle, who asks me what system the Sony-published game is for.

With my now buying PS3 games online, I find I’m making a lot more of my purchases digitally. I already buy liberally on Steam (Deus Ex: GOTY edition for $2.49). I already buy a lot on the PSN, and I already emulate older systems. I still make it a habit to go into stores like RGP to see if there’s anything to buy, but that’s 98% for older systems, PS2 and back. Digital distribution, warts and all, has gradually taken over my gaming.

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About M. Ngai