What Would it Take For You to Buy Full Console Games Digitally?

Amidst the current Steam sale I started looking forward and imagining if next gen consoles could ever possess a digital environment like this. I wonder how Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo will each handle the task of selling essentially every piece of console software digitally.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that virtually every full console game next gen will come out digitally and at retail on the same day. Nintnedo’s already announced their intention to get there, and Sony is already there with their handhelds. I know most people reading this are probably afraid they’ll all just rip you off but I still like to be hopeful.

Of course the biggest piece of discussion when digital vs retail for full games comes up is price, and how it sucks that digital PSP games are the same price as retail versions despite differences in packaging, extras, shipping costs, etc. Things might be looking good on that end at least from Sony though. Digital PSP games were always cheaper than retail in Japan, and the same is true for many Vita games in North America. We just gotta hope that Sony does the same thing for PS4 games and that it sets a standard for the other platforms to follow. What I think could really get people one way or the other is the service side of buying and selling the games.

Not to sound like a total Steam loyalist here, but the console manufacturers ripping off Steam would go a long way towards getting me to buy full console games digitally. It is no exaggeration to say that Steam has been the main reason the PC has been my main platform this generation. Sure sales played a big part in that, but the overall service did too.

Xbox Live is probably the main reason so many people pick Xbox over PlayStation, and to me Steam is kinda the same but one step higher. One way this is true is in how it uses the nature of DD to enhance the community experience. If a friend is playing Left 4 Dead 2 I can jump right into their game with two clicks. Sure you can kinda do the same on Xbox but if you didn’t buy the game on Games on Demand you gotta put the disc in. The extent to which Steam tracks every game I own is also pretty amazing. If I’m curious about a certain game I can check who on my friends list owns it and how many hours each person has logged on that game so I know how to ask. These are the kind of advantages I hope full DD brings to consoles next gen.

I don’t think sales of full games are gonna happen on consoles the way they do on Steam, at least not as often, simply because Steam has to deal with other digital PC game distributors and the console manufacturers don’t. Then again, other factors do exist.

For starters, the primary reason not to buy Xbox games on Games on Demand is that they’re probably cheaper at places like GameStop. If Microsoft and Sony were smart they’d treat that as competition, but I guess their worried about pissing off GameStop by undercutting their prices as the platform holder. Nintendo thinks letting retailers sell digital keys with their own control over prices is a solution to this problem and I’d like to hope Amazon takes advantage of this in their sales.

The second reason Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo might do well to hold sales for their digital games is because it’s apparently a good way to get money out of the older ones – the games that have reached a point where they’re mostly being sold at retail used. It’s theoretically a great way for the platform holder and publisher to get more money out of older titles. I just don’t see them doing anything as frequent as weekend deals or massive holiday sales.

One thing I would hope and expect the consoles to borrow from the PC though in the future would be digital pre-order deals. For starters most Steam pre-orders get you 10% off the full price of the game. The second thing I like is how Steam often packages a free copy of an older game with pre-orders of an upcoming one. Imagine if pre-ordering the digital version of Pikmin 3 got you a free Virtual Console copy of the first Pikmin (we already know Gamecube games will probably come to VC). Lastly what I think needs to happen is pre-loading. If you could download almost all the data for Halo 5 or the next Super Smash Bros. onto your console weeks before the release date, then boot the game up immediately upon that date, wouldn’t that be a strong incentive for pre-purchasing the digital version?

I personally think Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are each visibly getting ready to tackle a future like this. Every piece of Xbox 360 software has a page on Live devoted to it whether it’s buyable there or not, suggesting the potential for full digital distribution. Nintendo is actually moving in the same direction with the 3DS. It shows they’re getting prepared. I just hope they realize that asking consumers to switch to digital will take some convincing in the form of perceived advantages.

BULLETS:

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One thought on “What Would it Take For You to Buy Full Console Games Digitally?

  1. I’m not sure when it got to this point for me, but I now loath owning physical copies of games. All it would take for me to buy games digitally next generation is a price equal to retail and the same day and date distribution as retail. Providing they are linked with an online account, and not the hardware itself (the way the 3DS is currently).

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