Video Game Digital Distribution: The good, the bad and the…future?

Are consoles ready for a digital future?

With the rumors being whispered around the video game industry of Nintendo filing a patent that may suggest a disc-less console. Specifically one they’ve already announced the Nintendo ‘NX’. I’ve pondered about one thought, one question in my head: are consoles ready for an all-out digital future of video game distribution?

First of all I think it’s important to highlight why I believe digital distribution of video games is the future of the industry. There is a lot evidence suggesting that one day we will head in that direction as most parts of the entertainment industry has proven, at least ones that focus on digital products like television shows and movies being in video format, that whenever the consumers are given the convenience of just being able to stream or download their digital entertainment for a good price, they stick to that service (Just note the success of streaming services like Netflix). As well as the fact that they can obtain their entertainment faster this way compared to going to a store and purchasing a hard copy of a movie or television. I believe that this method of distribution is the future, how do I know this? Steam.

Steam, if you really don’t know, is a digital distribution platform that’s mainly for video games but have also widened its own product portfolio to movies, television shows and even music. Though the latter has been unsuccessful its original purpose has been the polar opposite. Steam is the dominant platform for video game digital distribution in the PC platform with no single competitor to match its total user base. As of February 24 2015 Steam has over 125 million active users with a peak of 8.9 million concurrent peak. Even though there are other video game distribution platforms such as EA’s infamous Origin, a blight in the digital distribution market, no company has matched Valves popularity numbers.

Now why is Steam so popular and has been an effective cash cow for Valve? yet has gained so much trust from its own user base without being too malicious. What separates it from the Origin’s of the world? Its unquestionably brilliant product offers and customer service. Steam’s biggest pull factor, in terms of attracting customers, is its brilliant product pricing and famous summer sales. There are games available for purchase right now under £10 that are of quality and are new, not that digital products not inside hardware can be called used but the point made is it still supports developers financially, there are also the amazing Steam summer sales that make the prices of the game available plummet. Taking off 30, 50 or even 80% of the original price of any game. Valve even lets players, in the week that Steam has a summer sale, vote which one of the available games that Valve put on the spotlight to reduce in price significantly.

As well as having such a great deal on the video games put up in the store Valve has also made Steam a platform that embraces the beauty of playing on a personal computer. They embrace the desires of gamer’s and shape their platform surrounding their interest. Steamwork Shop makes it much easier for players to download modifications to their games, video games that improve with those modifications like: Skyrim, Fallout etc. A feature like this is brilliant as it makes it more convenient to augment the games that players have bought and help them improve it or make more content for those games available on Steamwork Shop to increase their longevity and life span.

Little details that make for a more special whole like: written and numerical user reviews, links to Metacritic and curators to support the customer in making an informed purchasing decision, the presence of group functions and the availability of a forum and even a refund available for two hours after purchase. All of these little details make the user experience more pleasant as it feels like the software surrounds itself to connecting users to other people and helping users make great purchases to increase their satisfaction as customers.

The accessibility of Steam as a digital distribution platform, which is a notable double edge-sword, with a program like Steam Greenlight gives indie developers the spotlight they might need to start up their game. As well as the early access platform which has helped produce gems like: Ark, Dayz. It is a platform that supports both gamer’s and the developers.

I could say more about why Steam is such a successful distribution platform by naming more features but it comes down to one single belief that I have about Valve: They understand and are in touch with gamer’s. As well as their desires. They’ve built Steam so that it is helpful, accessible and personal. As well as just a store that magnetizes gamer’s through daily discounts and good pricing strategies. Steam is adapting itself everyday for the future and is innovative in its business strategies and features.

In comparison both the Playstation Store and the Xbox Live Marketplace are just not in the same level of quality in terms in customer service or even in terms of pricing. Both of these issues are what’s holding back the possibility of a digital future when it comes to the consoles.

The Playstation Store is a service that’s already incomparably low in quality compared to Steam. It’s a service that always seems to have issues whenever I make an attempt to use it. Continuous disconnection, unexpected/frequent maintenance’s and of course Sony’s inability to even keep it secure or continuously online. At it’s current state the Playstation Store wouldn’t be able to keep the attention of its consumers due to the inconvenience in which it produces for the user.

The pricing of available video games on the Playstation Store and the Xbox Live Marketplace are also outstandingly a bad deal. Both in the PS Store and the Marketplace the latest, and last, Metal Gear Solid game: The Phantom Pain. is priced at £59.99…

This is a video game I purchased in Zavvi.com for £37.99. It also came three days early, before release day. This is the issue with both digital stores: there is no financial incentive to get people to purchase games of the store. Sure the access is there, faster as well than delivery, but if I can save more than £20 for a game than to get “instant access” (if the servers are running well download should be quick) that’s what I would do. I’m sure that’s what most people would do. Gaming is an expensive enough hobby with all the gadgetry requisites involved with the added cost of other services such as the internet to enable us online access for our games that I can live with waiting one or two days for this game to come to me than paying £20 more for it.

Even with the incentives of daily sales and the Playstation Plus/Xbox Live Gold member ship deals they still don’t compare to the deals Steam has. They just don’t have enough pull. The digital stores also lack features which make online shopping in Steam helpful and informative. Written reviews from curators or trusted reviewers are not on display in the video game pages. Or any user written review. Even just a simple Metacritic score would help.

The Playstation Store and the Xbox Marketplace are just not sustainable, yet. Pricing strategies need to be further improved if your going to sell video games online without the same novelty as buying a hard copy drop the price a notch. Selling digital content should prove less expensive rather than being more so as the middleman is cut out and licensing being the most expensive part of it all. Distribution and delivery isn’t there anymore, as well as packaging so why do games cost more in your stores than they do in retail? or Steam? for heaven sake. Sony and Microsoft your milking out the goddamn wallets of your consumers already with this online membership paywall. Ransoming gamer’s out of their money to access online content they paid for already!

Your not going to be able to cut Gamestop out any time soon when your digital stores are being hacked by LizardSquad at a regular basis. Just imagine if we had a problem like them in a digital based console…as if I had to explain it.

These consoles are not ready yet. Because the men in suits that seem to run Sony and Microsoft only care for profits rather than quality service and profits at the same time. Though I do see a ray of hope with both stores by at least making Playstation Plus and Xbox Live Gold a bearable deal by giving monthly free games. That at least shows that slowly but surely they understand that they need to make better deals with the goods they distribute.

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  • Dylan Chaundy

    I believe there’s a tax consoles have to pay for selling digital games here in the UK. For some reason PC’s don’t have to worry about this tax thus Steam et al can sell their content even cheaper than consoles digitally. Interesting article!