The incoming future of video games will not be streamed, in the cloud, or in social games available on-line for free, and this is a fact that I have tried to explain before. The topic of this post, conversely, is the series of positive novelties that the success of digital delivery as a supplementary tool for releasing games has brought to the industry, the developers and to whom must purchase these games in the end. In that sense, the lack of a physical copy of the gaming software is widely repaid by a greater range of choices for everyone.
There is recurrent thinking going for a while, within the video games world, a thinking that sentences to death the “traditional” way of selling, playing and doing business while serving a completely changed audience. The future of gaming will be streamed, that thinking says, it will be “social”, “free-to-play”, purely and simply in digital delivery. So let’s try confronting what certain interested thinkers describe as clear trends with some factual data of the videogaming business.
From the mist of the video gaming past a genre thought extinct returns, thanks to a title provided with “an oldschool heart but a modern execution“: the genre is the grid-based dungeon crawlers one, the game which brings it to the present is Legend of Grimrock made by Finnish developer Almost Human. LoG has been released starting from April 11 on the software house site, Steam and on GOG.com, and in this last case the release is particularly important because it matches the renewal of the gaming digital delivery “alternative” service for PC.
Even though it has partially overcome its original mission to be the cornerstone of legal retrogaming on PC, GOG.com (formerly Good Old Games) continues to delight old gamers’ taste (and even the new ones tired of the usual FPSes or the dumb casual games for smartphones) by releasing true gems of the past equipped with compatibility fixes for the latest Windows OSes. During the last days the digital store has practically ran wild in that regard delivering the first two chapters of the Thief series and announcing the coming of the historical Full Motion Video horrors made by Trilobyte.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies and their noxious inclination to spoil the day for PC gamers are steadily at the focus of the gaming debate, and almost everyone takes for granted the fact that it’s a contemporary issue not concerning games of the past at all. Nothing more wrong: maybe some years ago (or many years ago) they were more trivially called “copy protection”, but DRM restrictions continue to do harm even among people that engage in the noble art of retrogaming or are interested to digital contents preservation.
The latest weeks have probably been among the most turbulent ones in the brief history of Good Old Games: the retrogaming store has caused controversy, released “new” classic titles of the PC gaming past and has preannounced an important novelty for the product type that will soon be available on its virtual shelves. The digital delivery service created by the Polish publisher CD Projekt is in a sense victim of its own success, and of the ample trust granted by its users as an alternative channel for on-line videogame purchases.
How much are digital downloads worth within the PC video games market? According to a recent report by NPD Group, in 2009 digital delivery of commercial products would have taken 48% of the overall marketplace in North America. NPD says that the 44.8 million games sold the past year would split in 21.3 millions in digital format and 23.5 millions on optical disks. The market research firm depicts a situation where on-line distribution of videogaming products would be on par with traditional retailers, positioning itself as the only business capable of putting back in shape the PC video games market.
The PC video gaming market is dying, states a certain common thought expressed by publishers and embraced by users unaware of the real facts. The numbers are actually talking about a view that is completely opposed to the one about the perpetual falling of personal computer as a gaming platform worth of the name, an always-evolving platform that continues to grow in revenue and represents a non-secondary part of the entertainment market overall value - estimated in 57 billion dollars in 2009 according to research firm DFC Intelligence.
It isn’t exactly the end of the world as we knew it, but the dynamism of adventure games publishers and developers in the summer of 2009 seems to have a weight in the great order of things anyway. The fact is that years after their (alleged) commercial and creative death graphic adventures continue to come out, and in some kind of reboot effort the genre noble fathers try to suggest the way for a possible new renaissance of “point and click” games through the marketplace of digital stores already projected into the future.
Replying to the speculations of analyst Mike Hickey, which forecasted the marketing of a cheaper PlayStation 3 edition without the costly embedded Blu-ray drive, Sony was resolute in specifying that the simple idea would be absurd and would kill “the backbone” of the console because games are built just upon the BD format. “Blu-ray will always be part of PS3“, Sony says, but the market environment and the slow, too much slow growth of high definition disks sales allow to easily predict the fact that within the years to come such model will be only valid for the videogames of the Japanese console and very little more.
While the music industry organizations continue to pretend that the courts decide the path of technology evolution, risking moreover to take unprecedented blows, the recording labels take note of an historic first. Atlantic Records, a label owned by the multinational Warner Music Group, has actually announced that more of the half of music sales in the United States (51%) come from the digital market in its several forms.
The worldwide recession is getting worse, wasting economies and laying off employees that will find themselves with no salary hence without money to spend in home entertainment. In such a scenario what was a balance leaning between hope and pessimism turns in a sword of Damocles dangerously close to deadly hit Sony’s Blu-ray, that maybe will get through this Christmas but could not be able to see the dawn of the next one.
Blu-ray, the optical format for high definition that won the commercial and technology war against Toshiba HD DVD, continues to be the great question mark of the multimedia market. If the inquiries highlight how consumers aren’t presently interested to the new technology, the disk “in blue” brings controversy also and foremost among the giants of consumer electronics, alternatingly foreseeing for Blu-ray the perspective of a bright future or a short run which soon will take it into oblivion, replaced by more advanced contents delivery channels.