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The Digital Download Future

I can't wait for the day when I don't buy console game discs any more.

As with all my other media, my game collection has been increasingly going digital for some time. My Steam library is now around 40 games in size, I also have the digital edition of Starcraft 2, a variety of iPhone games, Xbox Live Arcade game, some Xbox originals too. It seems natural to me now that buying a game via digital is the default option.

It's attractive for several reasons. It reduces clutter massively. Digital content is usually pretty cheap too. And connected functionality of games is starting to show some welcome updates such as remote storage of save games. 

These days a crucial aspect of any game system that I buy into is whether it is digitally connected or not. The idea of having to go back to cartridges and disks seems like an inconvenience, and I would feel as though I was paying over the odds for games just to get my hands on a shiny disc in a plastic box and pay the wages of retailers and distributors in the process.

The problem is that it's not quite there yet. I'm waiting for the day when launch titles are as easily downloadable on major consoles as back catalogue. As an example, look at Halo Reach. Every time I turn on my Xbox recently, the first thing I see is an ad for Halo Reach, downloadable content for Halo Reach and so on.

The one thing I don't see is a purchase link. I have to either go online and order it from Amazon, or get out of the house and go to my local store to physically buy it. Neither is going to get me the game quicker than a download would (I have a fast broadband connection) and neither is going to satisfy my curiosity at 11pm at night to try this game that Microsoft is telling me about.

No, I have to wait. I have to let that desire ebb away and wait. That's just not right, not in this day and age when I can buy a favoured novel on my Kindle and be reading it in a minute, or an album from an artist that I just heard on the radio and be listening instantly. Excepting games that need special peripherals to play, most games are just data - and the idea that we still have to buy silver discs full of this data (and pay a packaging premium for it) is just wrong. The idea that I can't just buy my gaming bits (or rent them for a 24 hour period for less) is both inconvenient and quaint.

That's why I'm looking forward to the next Xbox or Playstation. The one that will be connected to the cloud all the time, the one which will have launch content available on day one. The one that will have an "app store" approach to its software market (meaning masses of releases and a more Darwinian environment) than a "publisher" model (meaning stage managed content). 

When I never have to leave the house for any reason, the future will have arrived.


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