Wednesday, January 27, 2010

EXP Podcast #62: Distributing the Future

We routinely talk about the impressive content within games, but, in today's market, the way in which we procure that content is equally striking. Digital distribution is changing long-standing traditions regarding how games are sold and played: an increasing number of both games and players are leaving discs and cartridges behind in favor of ones and zeroes. Inspired by Evan Stubbs' article on the future of digital distribution, we discuss some the potential benefits and drawbacks of what seems to be the inevitable move towards completely digital gaming. Whether you feel that this change will usher in a new era of economical convenience or a technological apocalyspe, feel free sound off in the comments.

Some discussion starters:

- What are your habits regarding digitally distributed games? Is there a certain reason you do or do not download games you could get on discs?

- How do you feel about pricing structures based on "segments" rather than as a function of time? What kinds of privacy issues arise?

- How soon, if ever, do you think games will go 100% digital?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking the title. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
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Show notes:

- Run time: 26 min 49 sec
- "The Future of Digital Distribution," by Evan Stubbs, via RedKingsDream
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. Well, I *detest* being tethered to the internet for permission to play a game I've purchased, so Steam bugs me... but I just barely purchased Psychonauts for $2, probably a sale I'd not have ever seen with physical media.

    Thankfully, there *is* an offline mode for Steam, but it dies every few days as the Steam client demands an update. Six of one, half dozen of another...

    If Steam could just let me play my games without updating the client, and have a perpetual offline mode, it would be pretty much a perfect system for me. At least, until their servers go down and they decide they really don't want me playing my games after all.

  2. Hi Tesh,

    Its problems like the ones you bring up that convince me that there will always be a place for a service like Good Old Games. They might not dominate the market, but they will fill a niche that the big players either cannot, or refuse to, fill.

    I wonder if Steam has ever considered implementing some kind of variable price structure for people who want to play games offline? The user would pay more for the freedom from the Internet tether, but maybe it's worth it for some gamers and some of the companies who put their games on Steam?

  3. I love Good Old Games. I really wish they could get their hands on some of the LucasArts and Sierra games. If the same game is on GOG and Steam, I'll get the GOG version, even if it's a bit pricier. It's worth it to me.

  4. Chiming in late here, but you had me sitting bolt upright as I just listened to your discussion. "Digital Dist' only " causes every suspicious hackle on my neck to rise. Not only because it feels like another capitalistic control attempt, but also because the tactile ownership of discs feel so solid and dependable in my hand. And heck, yeah, maybe I'm a stick in the swampy quagmire of trad' gaming. Only one time DLC ending that you can't replay?! (head explodes) Our internet at home is Horrible despite many attempts by our provider to improve it, that's another story, so that would be huge for us. I stand beside Jorge and many of his points. Also, what is so bad about the resale of discs? There is a market to resell anything, why should games get this exclusivity and I am amazed they do not see a cent of it. Maybe it's time they do get a cut? If a game is on a disc, I buy it, and will never download it, to support the very industry that develops it. I buy new games on discs as they come out, or special editions and only older ones second hand if I hear about how fab they are. I may be wrong but isn't the new PSPGo download only, and limping along? Well, that, and the price. Also, how will I fit all these downloaded games on my PS3/XBox? Did a funny thing the other day. Went out and bought a sexy little PS2 and slowly buying games I need to catch up on, because of a feeling that things are starting to feel different in gaming. How could I miss out on Ico and Baldurs Gate? LOL. Anyhow, great PodCast. Thanks for thought provoking topics, as always.

  5. Thanks for the very thought provoking podcast. I would really be concerned about the digital distribution of games because we could eventually get charged either for each chapter of a game or eventually it could be that we only rent the game by the hour. Also if we suddenly found ourselves with a government that wants to censor games as happens in Australia, we could find content being removed from games. If you lived in Australia today and games were digitally distributed, you would not be able to purchase a banned or non censored game on a DVD abroad to play at home.

  6. Hi Merry,

    Thanks for stopping by. It's both scary and exciting to see the changes happening. I think individual gamers' accounts will become increasingly more important as we go forward.

    For example, I don't think we'll ever see a "one time only" ending, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to have a "one account only ending." By tying pieces of a game to a specific account, a publisher could effectively cripple resale value.

    Your PS2 comment makes me kind of melancholy; It's weird to think that my kids will have far fewer "unwrapping the box" moments. Somehow, putting a download code under the Christmas tree just doesn't feel the same as physical object.

    Hi Vaughan,

    And thank you for listening! I certainly share your concerns regarding the price structure affecting the game structure.

    However, I do think digital distribution can be a good thing in terms of bringing us games we would have never seen on a disk (like Braid or World of Goo).

    I also think your point about censorship is a great one: without a physical disk to import, you are at the mercy of any and all region-based digital restrictions. I can only hope that people more savy than I would come up with workarounds.

    That or a company like Good Old Games could make a killing by copying uncensored games onto physical media for shipment to countries with restrictions.

  7. Tesh, I don't know if you've been back recently, but GoG announced this month that they signed a deal with Activision, and so Sierra games are beginning to show up on now. So far there is Gabriel Knight, Phantasmagoria, and Space Quest 4-6. More to come.

    I also frequent GoG and Steam. I just can't turn down the deals that Steam offers, and I actually like the client and the automatic updates, so even though it is DRM, it doesn't bother me and I would use it even if it wasn't DRM (though an indefinite offline mode would be nice at times).

    I also will pay a little more for DRM-free games, so if it's on GoG and Steam, odds are I will get it through GoG.

    Personally, I'm in love with digital distribution. It's given me easy access to games from the past and present, and given me numerous great bargains. Between GoG, Steam, D2D, and Impulse; I've seen the amount of games I buy and play skyrocket. I feel like a more well rounded and knowledgeable gamer because of these services than I would be otherwise.