Gaming's All-Digital Future on the Horizon

Be prepared for a new shift in gaming this next generation, regardless of whether you chose an Xbox One or PS4.

Over the course of our history, each trumping iteration of a console comes with more beautiful graphics among other upgraded specifications, enticing features to appeal to new customers and fresh, exciting games to appease the current ones, but this coming generation is a step forward towards something entirely different.

This will be the first generation of console gaming where the purchasing and receiving of a title will be completely online.

Not to say that boxed games are being done away with entirely, that’s just the trajectory they’re following. Consoles will no longer simply be a plug and play toy for our entertainment, its evolved into, quite literally, a system for gaming; to buy, download, play, to sling to and interact with other devices, and keeping all of your data, games included, in one place. A self reliant gaming ecosystem, indeed.

Pictured: Progress
Pictured: (Left) A clustermess and (Right) progress.

When we want a new app for our phones, we download it; when theres a new album we want, off to the iTunes store we go; on our computers, Steam subscriptions are extremely popular; when in the mood for a movie, stream it from Netflix; 90% of Vita users I know (yes, all 5 of them) download all of their purchases; so why don’t we purchase our console content digitally? Not to say that we don’t in the slightest, I certainly do thanks to PlayStation Plus, but consoles are the last colossus standing in terms of relying on physical content.

Personally, I also don’t think the move entirely revolves around cutting out the store, or the gaming industry’s middle man, I believe it to be so much more than that.

The mobile games industry has flourished over the past few years and besides ingenuity, the main component of its success has to be spontaneity. Telling a friend about a fantastic game or of a helpful application is what sustains many industries, but word of mouth is taken to the next level in mobile gaming when a customer can be made right then and there as they download the product to try for themselves.

With tablet, mobile and Vita connection for the PS4, the options of taking this idea can be stretched to envelop the quality that is console gaming. Buy a game while away, have it download by the time you get home, or play it over Gaikai and have your new title streamed to your Vita instantly. What’s important is the idea of always being “plugged in” and having your games at the tips of your fingers, no matter where you are.

Because my social life can't get any worse.
Because frak my social life, that’s why.

When asked what my thoughts on this situation and DRM are, I could only help but to ask in return, “When was the last time you lent your copy of Angry Birds for your iPhone out?” Simply put, we’ve already been doing this for a long time, we don’t think twice about it because the apps, music, most movies, etc., are all in a digital format and that is everyday life, but as gamers we haven’t come to terms with the fact that we are next in line for this conversion, which brings me to one of the center arguments against digital games; the love of a box.

Many gamers often would rather have a favorite game proudly sitting on a shelf than their hard drive and I can’t blame them. The joys of first seeing your new game, studying its cover art, pulling apart the cellophane wrap, taking out the disc and popping it in greatly outweighs the detached experience of pushing a few buttons and playing.

This showcases one of the few modern cases where sentimental value overcomes the microwave mentality that we all seem to operate with.

One side struggles with what is familiar; whats comfortable, loved and almost sacred; and the other wants change so their own agenda may be secured. The animosity stems from this last roadblock to what is already our future.

It's kind of like the Revolutionary War (I'll let you decide who is who in this).
It’s kind of like the Revolutionary War (I’ll let you decide who is who in this).

Whether or not we like the idea, the tide is changing and the time is coming. Already, Sony has stated that while all games will be released digitally day of release not all will be released “retail” or in a box for this next generation. Also, Microsoft’s DRM policy is very similar to that of a Steam subscriptions where purchases are merely licences to the use of a game under the company’s terms.

Edit: Microsoft has seemingly pulled a 180 on it’s announced and unpopular DRM policy. The Xbox One will follow the familiar “do whatever you want with your disc” belief for their first-party titles –3rd party developers and publishers may do as they wish.

While gaming’s change to a digital future may arrive with its share of growing pains, we’re becoming acclimated each day by having already corralled our other beloved mediums in this fashion. To us, the most important industry of the bunch is on the verge of being absorbed and altered forever, but are we willing to accept it?

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