It’s funny how all of a sudden digital downloads are posing a very real threat to Sony and Nintendo. It’s not like it’s a new concept: mobile phones have been living off a download only system since mobile gaming began (with the exception of the original N-Gage pastie, but the less said about that the better).
Of course the mobile system of download delivery is, in many people’s eyes, tragically flawed, especially where carriers and their habit of fencing in mobile games publishers are concerned. But with the arrival of the App Store, Apple has already began to do for handheld gaming what iTunes did for music.
So the question is: should other handheld console manufacturers adopt the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude? Or would throwing in the physical retail towel diminish the spectrum of titles that currently exists from hardcore to casual, across all platforms?
First in with an answer was Fizzer600:
“I own a PSP and one of the main reasons I am considering an iPod touch for gaming is the ready availability of hundreds (thousands?) of games and apps ranging from free demos to $10 US, with most seeming to be around $5-$6.
"At that price, and the ability to purchase instantly from home, I am much more likely to try something. At under $10, who cares about resale? You lose more than $10 between retail and resale anyway. I have downloaded several games from the Playstation Store, and it is my preferred method of purchase.
"I now find myself wishing LocoRoco 2 would come out as a download. Memory is cheap enough to put a lot of games on one stick without having to mess with carrying a bunch of UMDs.
"If the PS Store would get a clue from iTunes and open up to independent developers (a distinctly un-Sony like move), they could have a real revolution on their hands. It might actually save the dying PSP.“
Must you be so succinct Fizzer600, you’ve near enough covered every angle with that post and we've just started.
It’s all true, the second-hand market for games used to be fecund with bargain opportunities, whereas now the prices for second-hand games seem ever higher and the exchange value of relatively new titles ever lower.
Downloads might have a fixed price with no room for bargain hunting, but without a middle man looking for his cut, those prices are bargains in themselves.
Not everyone sees it that way, of course. Take mrplum:
"No! absolutely not download only!!! I buy all my games from shops! stupid idea!"
Well, though it’s clear that there are exclamation marks to spare wherever you come from, bandwidth is still a precious resource.
We will happily eulogise about our experiences of buying games from stores throughout the years along with the next doe-eyed geek, but there has to be room for progress in this area, surely? A more measured response came from halljames:
"I think there's a place for both. The feel of buying a new game from a shop is much better than simply downloading from an online store, but, with the PSP loading games much quicker from memory stick, downloadable content has its advantages."
Is there not one demanding child of the generation of ‘I want it now’ in our midst? Surely the benefit of a downloadable game is that you get it as soon as you want it, not after a journey to your local retailer. But even in the face of such convenience, danskmacabre has some very worthwhile concerns to air:
“I dunno about download only, but seeing as the DSi has a download shop possibility already, I think it's have a download facility or die. What with the iPhone App Store being the success it is, they (being Sony and Nintendo) have no choice really.
"There will probably be an option for buying carts for a while yet though, as a lot of people still like having something physical for their purchase. Not only that, having a purchase that can't be backed up is a majorly negative thing - you can be sure no-one will let you back up your games should you need to reset everything. Although there might be a way of re-downloading a game should you need to (such as getting a replacement for your gaming rig).
"If a game on the DS that would usually sell for £20, sells for £10 though I'd be interested (as long as I could retrieve it somehow should I lose it for some reason). But whatever the case, the days of carts being sold in places like game and so on are numbered.”
Being able to retrieve purchases that are not held permanently on one device is a legitimate worry. But surely a system that keeps track of everything you’ve purchased (like the App Store and the PSP Store) would solve that in a jiffy?
To close, GideonB dug deep, retrieved two cents and went for it:
"Well I can't really say much, being only one side of this but, YES! Handheld gaming goes download only, then all we need is a huge memory stick which costs about £50 and games that cost £5 which pretty much means you have a gaming experience on your handheld for a smaller price than getting a UMD/DS Cart."
Where do we sign? Though the worry we still have is, would opting for download only games restrict file sizes of games to the point that they suffered a permanent quality lapse as a result?
Though games like The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass, God of War: Chains of Olympus and Resistance Retribution are not nearly as broadly popular as something like Tower Bloxx or Rolando, they do offer a console quality gaming experience and clearly benefit from big budgets, lengthy development cycles and large capacity physical media.
If download only titles signal the continued marginalisation of hardcore, boundary pushing titles on handhelds, then there may be more than a few gamers out there with something to say about it. We’ll see.
In the meantime, we have next week’s topic to worry about:What will the handheld gaming market look like in 2012?