The Downside of Digital Distribution

Probably more than half of the games I’ve played in my life were either borrowed or bought used. Now, an increasing number of games I play are digitally downloaded from services such as Steam, Xbox Live, or Playstation Network. This trend towards digital distribution is great in many ways, but it may eliminate the ability for many people to get games.As a student, I don’t have much of a steady income, and as such I don’t buy many full-price games. While I do buy some of the huge releases that I am eagerly anticipating, such as any Uncharted game, I generally borrow a lot of games from friends, or buy them used. Borrowing games just seems natural; how many times have you borrowed a DVD or a CD from a friend?

Say what you will about the morality of the used game market and how it is not fair to publishers; it allows people like me to play more games. For many consumers, the argument for the used game market is similar to that for piracy: without the price reduction (or pirated version), many people would have just skipped the game. While most pirates don’t just “try out” games and then buy the legitimate version, used gamers contribute money to some part of the industry, and if they buy one game in a series used, and then enjoy it, there’s a good chance that they would later buy the sequel new. So while one might argue that it does not make economic sense for developers to condone the used gaming industry and swapping games, these practices spread games to more people than ever before, allowing the industry to become that much more relevant and mainstream.

Digital distribution has its advantages. It is definitely more convenient and puts more money in developers’ pockets. Yet, some of the best parts of gaming culture would be eliminated with the widespread adoption of digital distribution, and many gamers would not be able to play as many games, and contribute to the industry and the culture. The experience of trading games with friends would be gone, and the act of playing a game would become a little less social, an important aspect to preserve in the industry. Not all gamers are antisocial loners who spend all their time alone in their basement. As gaming has become more and more mainstream, we as gamers should be able to outgrow this stereotype, as communal gaming is even more common than before.

Ultimately, while digital distribution is a good thing, I don’t want it to replace traditional retail the used game market completely. If that happened, then an important part of gaming culture, and the accessibility of the industry, would be lost forever.