In the fast-moving and rapidly-growing digital distribution space, Fox and IGN Entertainment division Direct2Drive
-- which counts services like Steam and GamersGate among its direct competitors -- has been focused on expanding its PC and Mac downloadable game offerings.
Earlier this year, it announced "starter packs"
that bundle games and microtransaction items, for example, offering add-on content as part of its strategy to further its presence in the downloadable games space.
Julie Uhrman, vice president of Digital Distribution at IGN Entertainment, says that the digital space can to some extent benefit from the same kind of thinking that physical games are still using.
"One of the more obvious, but impactful additions to the digital market has been the development of exclusive content and DLC," she tells Gamasutra. "These items not only improve the overall game play for users but they can effectively extend the life of the game, thus extending our relationship with each user."
The selling power of those add-ons has buoyed the free-to-play market, too, and that's another space Uhrman says D2D is trying to leverage. The company's launched a channel devoted to online games, where items, virtual currency and other "booster pack" initiatives come bundled with free online games.
Uhrman says these are seeing a strong reception, and given the booster packs' success, D2D will more aggressively approach this space in the months to come.
Among the possible future complications facing companies who sell game downloads online is the rise of cloud-based gaming services like OnLive. Since subscribers use OnLive's service to buy and stream games with a lower hardware limitation and without needing to download, it's possible that the service could be viewed as a competitor to download houses like D2D. But Uhrman says D2D is prepared to work with, not against this kind of trend.
"We've been talking with the major players to determine how their service can make sense within the D2D community," Uhrman says. "If I were allowed to do it, I'd tell you more -- but for now, D2D users should know that we're excited about the potential of cloud gaming and that we're always looking at how we can provide a better, more complete service to our customers, both casual and core... I don't believe their business models and ours are mutually exclusive, necessarily."
As the advent of cloud gaming has become a key topic in the industry, the question, "but will it work well?" has always followed. "I think it's too early to tell right now," opines Uhrman. "As a gamer, I've experienced both and have been impressed given the technical hurdles involved."
"My team and I think there are a number of ways these services can enhance both game discovery and gameplay," she adds, calling the trend "an opportunity to provide user with a new way to discover and play games."
Of course, there will always be gamers who will feel more comfortable with owning individual copies of games, and Uhrman says Direct2Drive says it's a priority to support that gamer as well. The growth of front-line digital retail sales has continued -- according to NPD, 2009 saw a 17 percent growth in both unit and dollar sales year-on-year. Uhrman says Direct2Drive has also seen "significant year-on-year growth" concurrent with that trend.
On the topic of digital sales versus retail, D2D's Uhrman feels sure that it is inevitable that digital sales will eventually overwhelm retail -- maybe sooner than some think. As of 2009, PC full-game digital sales reached 21.3 million, edging in on the 23.5 million sold at retail. "I'm not a betting woman," says Uhrman, "but I have a feeling 2011 will be the year of digital."