The digital distribution of video games and other media is picking up momentum in the was we access out entertainment of choice.
PC’s have of course enjoyed digital distribution of games via the likes of Steam, Origin, UPlay, GoG, Amazon, Direct2Drive etc for years. PC are the poster child of how it can be done but even so, there is room for improvement. This generation of consoles has also brought digital distribution of games distribution as an option to console owners and now even match day and date releases of the disc version that hits the shops.
Retailers obviously don’t want you to switch to digital because the more you buy digital, the fewer sales they get.
Before we start, lets put behind us the fact broadband speeds need improvement (which pre-loading can help with) and download caps (which most ISP’s offer a level of service without those caps if you pay for higher speeds), ISP’s are a whole other board game especially in the US where a few companies have monopoly of the service across most of the country which in turn leads to complacency and lack of desire to improve their services and compete on pricing. So how can Publishers, platform holders and retailers work together to improve the way we get digital content?
Improved Storage options
Microsoft and Sony handle this differently, Sony allows you to change the internal HDD and Microsoft allows you to add external storage. Both methods have pros and cons, both require buying additional hardware. If the media is to be believed, we will likely see another generation of consoles after the current generation and when that happens, adding storage needs to be a default option out of the box.
PC has this down already but Microsoft and Sony currently follow a release schedule which sees games released through their systems in the working hours of release day. That is no good if you want to be one of the first to play or meet up with friends online who got their copy from GAME or GameStop.
This one is really down to Microsoft to play catch up now as Sony recently implemented this on PlayStation 4 and PC has had the option for years.
Again, Microsoft is playing catch up on Xbox One by not offering pre-loading. If you aren’t aware, pre-loading is where you download 99% of the game ahead of launch day and then come release day the game unlocks by contacting the platform servers to verify ownership and away you go. No clogged servers as everyone rushes to download the game at the same time, no waiting for GB’s of data to download. Just jump in and play.
Digital Pre-order incentives
Retailers love pre-order incentives and rightly so as it drives people to them to buy the games with best content for pre-ordering. Origin offers Digital Deluxe Editions which include items you can only get from buying through Origin itself. These offers aren’t going to disappear so why not make the most of it and give digital exclusives across all platforms.
One of the sticking points with digital is that once you buy it, that is it, it belongs to you. Some gamers like to trade in their games, combine that with the decisions from the EU that say digital games must be able to be re-sold we have a scenario that requires Publishers and platform holders to work together on a solution. HOW it the question, well it could be something like this:
Say you buy a digital copy of a game on the platform of your choice (Steam, Xbox Marketplace, PSN Store, Origin etc), you play it and decide you want to trade it in against another game. You should be able to select your game from your collection, select a TRADE IN option and your license to the game is “sold” to the platform holder who knows how much you paid originally, how old the game is and can credit your account accordingly. You then use that credit towards your next games purchase, to keep the physical retailers in the loop they could offer the credit in the form of a code for your retailer of choice like Amazon, GameStop, GAME etc where you could go and buy a physical item instead.
Like the Netflix of the video game world, a rental system is well within reach of all the digital platform holders. Simply charge a monthly fee to access the entire catalogue over the month, once the month expires you renew your subscription and you keep playing or you don’t renew and you no longer have access to the games you rented. All your save games are in the cloud or local to your machine so if you decide to buy the game or start rentals again you can continue where you left off. This system would not only be a great feature for gamers but developers and publishers wouldn’t need to spend time making demos of games which can and has previously distracted from the main game development. Simply rent out the games and gamers will buy what they like and not what they don’t like, or they will keep renting and playing. Either way the rental fee puts some money in the pockets of the publishers, something a demo doesn’t do.
Retailer Code Distribution
Most, if not all serious retailers have the ability to email codes to a customer, whether that is a pre-order code that gives you access to additional retailer exclusive content or codes for Xbox Live/PlayStation Plus subscriptions. So why not let retailers do the same thing for digital game codes. If I bought a digital version of a game at Amazon, why shouldn’t I get the code there and then? Why should I have to wait 2-7 days for it to come through the post just to put the code into my console of choice? Amazon offer this service for PC, so Sony and Microsoft need to step up and let retailers do it with their games too.
Limited Editions and Collectors Editions
This is where digital versions really REALLY fall short and this is where traditional retailers, publishers and platform holders can all succeed.
Currently there are a number of ways traditional retailers sell games.
- Standard Edition (disc in box)
- Code in a Box (a download code in a DVD case or on a scratch-able card, this is especially used in countries where credit card fraud is rife and/or where the demographic of gamer tends not to have access to credit and debit cards to make online purchases)
- Limited Edition (disc in box + some extra in game content)
- Collectors Editions (disc in box + extra in game content + physical swag)
So, the key here is the Collectors Editions, these include physical additions that obviously can’t be delivered digitally.
So why not sell a Digital Collectors Edition. This would be the exact same as the Collectors version we know now but instead of a disc, you get a download code. That code could be emailed if bought online or provided at point of purchase and the physical items would be shipped or provided as usual.
Microsoft, Sony or Publishers themselves could go a step further by shipping the Collectors swag to those who select to buy that version via their console or PC. So as an example, if you bought the Collectors Edition of Destiny, Activision would ship you the physical items while you play your game at the time you bought it.
How would you improve digital distribution? Do you plan on sticking with disc versions of your games? Let us know in the comments below.