Some thoughts about digital distribution.

One thing I didn’t expect to get out of starting this blog, a little over 11 years ago, was the ability to look back and see how my attitudes had changed over time.

One of the big things I’ve done a 180 on has been the virtues of physical media over download services.  I used to be incredibly averse to owning digital copies of things; it felt so ephemeral compared to having something physically in my hand and I loved the look of a crowded shelf of (books/movies/games).

Also, I felt that the phrase “digital distribution” was, in itself, absolutely the dumbest phrase ever.  I actually still believe this.  It’s right up there with using “DRM” to mean only SOME copy protection schemes.

But, times change and the joy of having shelves full of Things has faded.  I’m also a lot more confident that digital services will probably be around for the long haul – I’ve lost one or two things to rights issues over the years, but the only major service I’ve ever used that is now completely inaccessible is Desura.  And, I mean, Desura.

The last physical disc game I’m planning to buy is the Dark Souls Remastered edition, which will be arriving this week, and I’m only buying THAT in physical form because, well, in this case I DO want it on a shelf.

I am still, however, buying Switch games as physical copies.  This is mostly because I don’t trust Nintendo with anything online.

Anyway.  This is all a lead-in to talk about a page that I stumbled across on Microsoft’s site.  It isn’t, in itself, anything all that interesting – it just shows your Xbox 360 purchases in purchase order – but I found looking at the last page to be a fascinating look back at the bygone days of roughly a decade ago.

One thing I did NOT notice at first is that there is at least one thing missing, which does lend some credence to my worries about the Great Digital Holocaust.  Specifically, I’m missing “Boogie Bunnies”, which was a really cute puzzle game that came out in the early days of the 360.  It’s still on the Microsoft store, however, and I have the option to buy it for $4.99… so I think that I may have bought it when signed into the wrong profile, or something.  A little weird, but let’s move on to talk about some of these.

Space Giraffe was actually the reason I caved on the whole buying digital games thing.  It’s a shooter by Jeff Minter, and that’s all you need to know if you’re my sort of people.  It was 400 Microsoft points, however, and you couldn’t buy point cards for less than 800 points, so I bought Geometry Wars Evolved to use up the rest of the card.

Triggerheart Exelica and Omega Five and Rez… well, all of these are Japanese shooters of various sorts, and all of them excellent.  I actually owned the Dreamcast release of Triggerheart Exelica, so this may mark my first instance of buying a game a second time so I could have it on a new platform.

Undertow and Carcassonne were free games from Microsoft, for some reason.  I think Xbox live went down for a couple of days and they gave everyone some free games to apologize.  I’ve played like 10 minutes of Undertow.

Aegis Wing was another free game.  I think it was the winning game from some internal garage games competition or something.  It was OK, and free.

Oh, I just noticed one other thing missing from this list.  There’s no Yaris.  Man, that was a stinker, even for an advergame.

After that, we have Braid.  I didn’t pay for this one either, I actually won it from a Mountain Dew promotion.  Yeah.  Braid is about as far as you can get from the Dewritos stereotype, so I don’t get that either.  I didn’t particularly like Braid, but I’m told I have poor taste.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was a very fortunate purchase that came out of “I have a friend over, so let’s see if we can find a couch co-op game to play”.  We blew through the entire thing in one sitting.  There may actually have been some Mountain Dew involved, come to think of it.  I still have never gone back to play the single player mode.

Perfect Dark was the only game I even came close to finishing on the Nintendo 64, and I’d always regretted getting stymied by the final boss, so I bought the remake.  Eventually, I even played it.

And, finally, El Shaddai, which seems to have been the first full retail Xbox 360 game I bought in a digital version.  It was crazy cheap, if I recall correctly – I think it was 3 bucks or something, which was enough to induce an impulse buy.  It’s one of a few games that I’ve tried out, hated, forgotten about for a few years, then come back to and loved, and it really deserves to make its way to the Xbox One backwards compatibility program.

So.  I bought Space Giraffe in August of 2007.   El Shaddai was February of 2013.  This one little page of results shows five and a half years of digital purchase history, and a third of the things on it were freebies.

Five years on from El Shaddai, I want nothing more than to have a library that I can sit down to without ever needing to find a disc.  If you told me that ten years ago…

Well, anyway.  So that page exists and it’s an interesting look back.  I’d be interested in hearing what other people see when they look at the same thing, or if anyone else has had the same change of mind, or if you’re still in the take-my-discs-from-my-dead-hands mindset.

I should do the same thing with Steam sometime.  Hmm.

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2 Responses to Some thoughts about digital distribution.

  1. Pete Davison says:

    I’m the exact opposite. I used to love the convenience of digital distribution, and particularly the treasure troves that are Steam sales and Humble bundles… but now, I don’t buy digital at all unless it is the only way to get something, and even then I make an effort to keep the game stored somewhere safe and as permanently as possible. In the case of PC games, I’ve burned my own discs and made my own inlay art for a number of visual novels, and plan to do stuff for other PC titles I want to make sure I keep around for the long haul, such as the Ys and Trails in the Sky series. It saddens me that physical releases for PC are pretty much dead, but I understand why — with the size of today’s games, Blu-Ray is the only real practical physical distribution method, but unlike the Xbone and PS4, you can’t rely on every PC owner having a Blu-Ray drive. Or even an optical drive at all!

    Digital distribution has opened up the possibility for a lot more developers and publishers to get their stuff out there… and in some ways that’s a good thing, but in others it’s an absolute disaster. On the one hand, it’s amazing to see how much niche interest titles like JRPGs and visual novels have grown over the last decade or so, especially the market for titles aimed at adults… but on the other, Steam is flooded with crap on a daily basis, and it’s starting to happen a bit on console storefronts, too. And I’ve long since given up on mobile gaming for all but things that appear to become something of a social phenomenon, such as the Girls’ Frontline game I wrote about recently.

    One thing I’ve found interesting is that with how readily the “mainstream” have taken to digital copies of things — I’m talking about the people who treat the yearly versions of CoD, FIFA et al as disposable, temporary entertainment — the physical sector has kind of gone back the other way, with many physical editions now being specifically targeted at those with and interest in low print run, niche interest titles. If you’d told me five years ago that games like Raiden V, Rabi-Ribi and Shantae would get non-limited physical releases I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Now, though, it’s a surprise when something with a laser-sharp focus on its target audience *doesn’t* get a physical copy… on console anyway.


    • baudattitude says:

      As much as I’m trying to avoid having shelves full of things, there’s something really appealing about making custom cases for visual novels. I have a couple of physical JAST releases from back before they did digital releases, and it’s always funny to watch someone look through the games shelf and then hit them.

      I was a BAD hoarder, though. Before I finally said ENOUGH and decided that my collection was better suited to living on the shelves of many other people, I had everything from a Magnavox Odyssey, several hundred Atari 2600 cartridges, racks and racks of STUFF all the way up through the present day. I still have a Star Raiders cartridge somewhere, though, couldn’t let that go. 🙂

      Come to think of it, a lot of the games I want in physical form are like that Star Raiders cartridge; they’re games that are significant enough to me that they need to be more than a license on a server somewhere.

      Oddly enough, though I used to be a massive Steam advocate, I’ve been really questioning how much I really want to get any more sucked into their ecosystem over the last few years. I’ve gone from “I don’t want anything if it’s not on Steam” to “I’ll buy it on Steam if it’s not available anywhere else.” They just don’t seem to have any… accountability, for lack of a better word, particularly compared to sites like GoG that actually seem to care whether the games they sell will work once you’ve downloaded them.

      Liked by 1 person

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