The Coming of the Digital Age?

Even though we’re still only within the first quarter of 2012, we find ourselves in the twilight of the current generation console’s lifespan, a magical time when rumors about next-gen consoles are leaked, sparking debate and speculation across internet gaming sites and message boards.

While previous releases of consoles have been focused more on gimmicks such as improved power and motion controls, as more and more information appears, this coming generation of consoles is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and controversial in gaming’s history.

Why? Because if the rumors are true, not only will consoles promise us more power and polished aesthetics, they will also aid in pushing us forward to the next big step in gaming: the age of all-digital downloads.

From the rumored lack of a disk drive on the Xbox 720 to the PS4’s blatant lack of backwards compatibility and used game lock, it appears that console makers are making preparations to take out their mortal enemy, the used games industry.

It’s a debate with strong feelings on both sides; frugal gamers turn to used games over the more expensive new copies, keeping money out of the hands of developers while Game Stop laughs its way to the bank.

Of course, this reflects badly on the makers of the games themselves, as used game sales are not taken in account when reviewing the success of games in copies sold, and no money is cut for developers when a used game purchase is made. This threatens to place many games in the precarious situation of heading to the chopping block, leaving many talented men and women waiting in line outside of the unemployment office with the rest of America when they find themselves jobless.

Thus, according to rumors, it appears that next-gen consoles are taking a sledgehammer to the debate and slapping an expiration date on used game sales by moving toward an all-digital industry, where games will be purchased online from marketplaces like the PlayStation Network and XBLA and tethered directly to consoles and user accounts.

Radical as this might sound, this isn’t some new, crazy phenomenon. Digital downloads have proven to be a highly successful, as we see from the likes of Valve Software’s Steam, an all-digital marketplace for PC gaming, and even the App Store on iOS devices. XBLA and PSN have also long been using the all-digital format by selling digital copies of old classics from previous generation consoles and games made by small developers.

But are we headed in this direction too soon? Will lightning strike for Sony and Microsoft like it has for Valve?

All digital makes fantastic business sense for the corporations. Digital copies are cost-effective, since they require no hard-copy production, and profit from games goes directly to the publisher and developing parties. A game’s success can be more accurately tracked through sheer number of downloads, and gamers no longer have to worry about maintaining disk quality or managing space on shelves for game cases. Plus, marketplaces like Steam run sales as high as 70% off for high-profile games, offering more affordable options for game purchases.

There are issues to be considered, however. Despite the large online communities of both the PSN and Xbox Live, a vast number of consoles sold have never even been connected to the internet, much less had an account set up on the online services. And for those living in Nowhere, USA, decent internet above dial-up quality may not even exist yet. Download times for full-length games may take several hours for many, and either a backup service will have to be implemented, or memory space will have to be increased greatly if we are to save games that take up multiple gigabytes, which threatens to drive up the price of consoles.

And of course, after the great PSN hacking debacle of 2011, consumers may still find themselves hesitant to store all of their information online, where credit card numbers and personal info is at risk of falling prey to keyboard-savvy hackers.

Of course, the rumors are just that: rumors. PR people for both companies are still coming out with the vague “We don’t comment on rumors or speculation” lines, so whether there is any truth or not to them remains to be seen. However, as we move forward toward this next generation of consoles, companies are taking more and more steps toward cementing us on this path to a new, all-digital chapter in gaming history.



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