Digital Distribution is the Future — and Soon it Will Have the Past too

This evening I felt the need to sift through my old book of CDs — mostly PS1 and 2 games, but a smattering of PC.  First I noticed one game I had a digital copy of, then another, then another… and, well, things went on like this for a while.  By the end of it I had a small pile of games I had bought twice — voluntarily, of course, to support distributors bringing such old games back.  And surprisingly, I play them, too — I had not actually beaten Baldur’s Gate II until a few months ago, when I purchased it from Good Old Games.  The set (which is incomplete, since it doesn’t include Kohan 1, Seven Kingdoms, or any Blizzard games) is below.

Much of my childhood (and high school... and college)

If I had to pick favorites in here, it’d be Master of Magic, Arcanum, and MOO2 — but honestly, all of these games are pretty good.  I can say that even having not played two of them (Planescape: Torment and The Longest Journey [okay, so maybe 20 minutes]). It’s really impressive the selection available on places like GOG and Steam; Blizzard even lets you input a CD key and download games digitally. One of these games, surprisingly, is available as a one-off digital distribution: TimeGate Studios is pretty much alone in starting its own digital distribution of the Kohan series (which I eagerly snatched up; Immortal Sovereigns’ campaign is great, but Ahriman’s Gift was too much for me).

The last time I picked up a physical version of a PC game was Starcraft 2, but before that it would have been Fallout 3 a few years ago.  Physical distribution for PC games is gradually dying; I think that’s a good thing so long as there remains a good way of seeing one’s library (like Steam, or GOG’s “shelf view”).  As one’s physical library shrinks, organization of one’s digital library becomes difficult.

As digital distribution spreads out, it will get more and more confusing.  Spore, for example, I downloaded from EA some years back.  Now that EA’s system is Origin, I have no clue what will happen to it.  I’m not sure I can get it back (although in Spore’s case, not sure I want to).  Some time back, Amazon started hosting its own distribution service, and I picked up the curious game Pathologic through that system.  Although I hardly played Pathologic (one of the few games that has legitimately kept me up at night due to its atmosphere), I am appreciative that there is a way to get my figurative hands on such a niche game.  But wait, there’s more — I’ve even ordered a couple of other obscure Russian (well, original language anyway) games (Xenus II and The Precursors) from GamersGate, another up-and-comer — and that doesn’t even encompass Impulse, which GameStop purchased recently…

In the end, I may simply stop buying games that don’t come from a few key sources; GOG and Steam are easy enough to keep straight, and I’ll just have to keep backups of the one-offs in case their respective DD services go belly-up.

I am concerned there will still be several “orphan” games; ones that are too obscure or which have too murky an IP situation to be hostable on any direct downloading service.  The System Shock games are a perfect example.  Other direct download services, like Virtual Console, have the same issue — several perfectly playable games cannot be hosted simply because nobody knows where the rights are.  It’s a sad situation, but such is the price we pay for living in the future.

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12 years ago

I can think of at least two games which I’ve re-bought digitally, so don’t feel bad about that. In fact, there is at least one solid reason to do so, in that most digital copies these days are compatible with modern operating systems.

To me, the switch away from discs has felt completely natural on the PC, because PC software in general has been moving away from CDs. As storage and bandwidth got cheaper, it became more sensible to download any installer or files you needed, even for something as large as a PC game.

On top of that, and Steam solved the major issues gamers had about digital distribution. They let you use your games as you please, without fear of losing access to them.

I don’t feel the same way about consoles. I buy downloadable console games, but I can’t see, say, a disc-less Playstation. Console manufacturers are still incredibly stingy with harddrive space, and they aren’t quite as keen on giving users freedom with their digital wares. I feel the same way with the iPod – considering how much you can do with an iPod touch, I think it’s absurd that the starting model is a measly 8gb. My cell phone has more storage, and I don’t use a fraction of it.

12 years ago

Well, my 8 gig iPod was free, so I can’t complain on that front.