There are all kinds of controversial questions out there regarding the video game industry. Each and every Wednesday we will ask each member to give their opinion on one of them. Every once in a while we will have simpler questions that are more of a “Get to know your editor” type question. This will give you a chance to see that we are not all like minded and have a wide range of opinions. Also: You the readers can submit questions for us to answer here. So feel free to submit them to this story or emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Week 2: Do you think the “digital future” will make games cheaper? What are the other benefits that can come from all digital?
Courtney Osborn, Founder & Editor in Chief:
Eventually, yes. I am in the camp that believes that once Sony and Microsoft (sorry Nintendo) decide to cut out the middleman, GameStop, games will absolutely be cheaper digitally. That being said, this may be several years down the line, when digital sales become the norm rather than retail.
Lou Contaldi, Senior Editor:
Cheaper? This is the cheapest video games have ever been! But will it get cheaper than this?
Probably–cutting the cost of creating, advertising, and stocking the product, producers can manage a larger cut of the cake. As for future benefits, we will see the permanent end of online passes and the death of GameStop! (In case you haven’t picked it up from the podcast yet, I really detest GameStop’s business model).
Chad Waller, Editor:
I think the trickle-down idea that removing delivery costs will make video games cheaper is absurd. Publishers like the money they are making and they want more of that, not less. A full-on digital console will still charge $59.99 for its games, and with the increasing costs to make games and the outrageous sales expectations, I really only see the retail price of video games going up.
Shawn Richards, Editor:
Not really. Sure, the rise of digital video games will make AAA games cheaper without the use of a disc, but companies are most likely going to keep games the same price because they want to make games bigger and better. When Square Enix made games like Final Fantasy XIII, it was on a grand scale, and they are trying to push the envelope when it comes to graphics. Just looking at Steam and digital games that way shows that digital does not nessesarily mean cheaper. However, there are several indies that are getting into the market with low cost games, so that is a plus. But AAA games? Not likely.
Mark Merville, PC Editor:
Absolutely not. Think about the fact that you still pay the same amount for a physical disc as you do for a digital download. PC gaming publishers have been using digital downloads for years, and still charge the same prices as console discs. When have you ever seen a popular industry lower prices for their product? The fact is that video games are a business, and businesses are here to make money.
The other side to this coin is the fact that “all digital content” will cripple the used game industry. I want to be able to pick up a second hand copy of a game for a little bit cheaper, I want to be able to take a copy of a game to a friend’s house and play it, I want a little booklet with controls, features, and some art on it that looks like someone tried to justify the already high price of games in general.
As for the benefits, I suppose convenience is one of them. You’ll no longer have to leave the safety of your house and interact in a social fashion with annoying real people. I mean, who wants to go outside when you can pretty much get everything delivered to your house nowadays anyway.
Brett Medlock, Editor:
I feel like we’re living in the future already! Almost every single game on three major platforms is available as a digital download on day one! I personally am going all digital this gen. I love how simple it is to go from one game to another. (I’m just a fat lazy American). With things like Sony’s PlayStation Plus and Microsoft’s Games with Gold, were already seeing insane deals and a bright future ahead of us with boat loads of free (with subscription) games.
(Nintendo, start a subscription plan that offers deals and free games!)
Jonathan Smith, Editor:
I guess it all depends on when you think this “digital future,” begins; Jonny responds to the imaginary person asking the question. Fact is, on the PC; that “digital future,” has already happened. There are no hard copies of PC games anymore; everything is bought and sold digitally through Steam, Origin, and other services. I mention this only because for most people, Steam sales are the flag that is waved when this question comes up. The thing is, it is not Steam that sets those crazy prices. It has always been (and always will be) the publishers. So, to answer the question properly…
It’s all up to the guys who make publish the games. They like making money, and if they can sell a game for $60 they are going to, regardless of the delivery method. Honestly though, consoles just aren’t there yet because of the continued existence of brick and mortar stores. As long as the majority of games are bought physically; the publishers have to keep those retail giants in mind. This “future” is going to happen; the question is simply of when, and if we are going to reap the benefits before we call this hobby quits.
There are benefits and drawbacks; for every game you can access anytime, there is a danger of what happens when the servers shut down. For every game you buy, there is a question of hard drive space. Once again, as we move toward this future, these types of issues will be resolved. Until then…well…we deal with it…
Brendan Jester, Editor:
Honestly, I have no idea! Digital copies of games right now are much cheaper than the hard copies you can buy at your local distributor, but who knows how the price will change when most games are all-digital. I think the prices might slowly increase on digital copies when stores like Gamestop go out of business just because companies know they can do that when there is less competition. Fiscal benefits to the publishers honestly are more appealing than altruistic ease of access to the customer.
Chad Patrick, Editor:
One of the best things that happened to PC gaming was Steam. Well, at least after Steam became the Steam we know today. The store thrives through numerous titles and seemingly endless discounts all from a digital library. I don’t think the transition to digital games will ever be 100%, nor do I think it will make gaming cheaper. For indie games — maybe, but not for AAA titles.
I can’t think of many benefits of an all-digital library for consoles. My hard drive wouldn’t like me too much, I’m sure. Perhaps a benefit is the convenience of having all of your titles available to play without getting off of your seat to switch the disc… it’s tough for me to figure it out.
Steven Shearer, Editor:
Yes, we can already see that with PC Gaming. Ever since PC became digital, prices have decreased. It’s only a matter of time before that arrives to the next-gen consoles. However, I do find it appalling that to buy a game digitally I have to pay £50-55 on the Xbox One market place where I can get a physical disc of most games for £40 or sometimes less! I really hope that Microsoft and Sony start reducing their digital prices. There’s no reason not too! Both of these consoles were designed for the digital future, so why are we not seeing a push for digital prices to decrease? Yes, retailers won’t be too happy but they have to get use to it.
To answer the second question, no, I do not see any other benefit to digital games other than price. The only other thing that comes to mind is the Xbox One voice ability. Although that, to me anyway, is a nice little added bonus.
Ryan Latuso, Editor:
It certainly can but only time will tell if it does. I believe the only thing that will really bring prices down is competition. Right now you are seeing Sony put on sales frequently on PSN and you can credit Valve for pushing the market with Steam. Now you hear that Microsoft is trying to get together a response to everything Sony is doing with their sales.
I am 100% digital on PC. On console, I have both. If I am being charged $60 for a new game either way then I am going to get the physical copy so I can sell it back if I don’t like it. However, if they are going to give me a discount on a digital copy, then I will take that. As much as I like digital copies, there is still a good feeling that comes from opening up a new game case.
Dustin LaRoe, Editor:
I think the digital future will make games more profitable for publishers. Taking out the physical packaging and physical media storage will allow a slightly larger profit margin for the publishers. Nintendo’s eShop already offers cheaper digital downloads for some of its titles. I’m don’t know if other larger publishers are inclined to sharing their savings with gamers.
There is hope that the Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network Store might follow the practices of the Steam Store. If they could see the potential profits a large scale sale brings, then they might follow suit. This would mean gamers would have access to cheaper games.
There are real costs to going only digital. There is a frightening lack of security on some of these online marketplaces. The PSN was down got what felt like forever when it was attacked by hackers. That cost people real money. Another cost is the potential to lose everything in your library when the store’s servers turn off for good in a couple of decades. What financial reason does a service like Steam, XBL, or PSN have to keep the power on in the year 2040? If these companies go under, or the industry collapses, the digital library you have stored on the cloud might go away, and there’d be little that we can do about it at that point. I’m not personally terrified of this possibility, but I recognize that it is a potential drawback to collectors.
The bottom line for me is that we are already enjoying many benefits of the digital future. a good example is Games with Gold and the PlayStation Plus free games. While these games aren’t technically free, you get them for much less than you would if you bought them at a retail store. These are compelling reasons to look forward to a digital future.
Benjamin Luthi, Editor:
It’s certainly possible. Platforms like Steam have proven that an all-digital model can be effective and inexpensive. Publishers can still charge a higher price at launch, and taper it down as sales decrease. There is also great promise in the free-to-play model. Don’t want the whole game? Just buy the parts you want. Want the whole thing? Get it at a discount.
We’ve also seen that phones and tablets have a market for low-priced games. Granted, 99% of those are pure crap, but there are a number of games that have found enormous success at $1.
That being said, I’m concerned about some facets of the all-digital future. What happens ten or twenty years from now when Microsoft says certain games will no longer be available for download? Will I still be able to download Four Swords Adventures on my 5DS? Or Jak & Daxter on my PS8? We will find out soon enough.
Myles Farrington, Editor:
I hope so. I know that games are cheaper than they ever have been right, if you take how much they cost to make and how much they cost it’s a rather vast cost difference. However, with things like Steam, Humble Bundle, and Good Old Games rising in popularity it’s clear that they can be cheaper still. I’m not complaining though I wouldn’t mind games being cheaper. I’m sure shaving off the costs of printing discs and making boxes would help that process along. All that said I don’t think anyone should go full digital. It really cuts out the profits that they could make from the people who might not have access to the internet. In due time I think prices will come down, though as long as they don’t rise I’ll be happy.
Colin Conroy, Editor:
I think that the price-reducing effects of the digital revolution can already be seen in the PC gaming market. With the rise of Steam and other digital distribution services, PC games are already cheaper than they have ever been. Although most AAA games still release around the $60 price point, it is not uncommon to find new games selling for much less. Even Dark Souls II is currently selling for $50 on Steam, and indie games typically go for much less. These lower prices don’t even take into account the numerous sales that these distribution services provide. Hopefully these trends will continue as the major consoles move toward an all-digital future, but we can’t forget that with production costs increasing, developers and publishers do have to make money somewhere.
Aaron Dobbe, Editor:
I don’t think that the digital future will really have any affect on the price of brand-new games. If publishers can get away with charging $60 for a new game, they will. (For what it’s worth, $60 is a perfectly reasonable price point for a quality game in my opinion.) What I expect will happen is that price reductions on somewhat older games will occur sooner and more frequently. We can see this at play in the PC market; right now on Steam you can get Assassin’s Creed IV for $40 while Assassin’s Creed III is only $20.
That said, there is another benefit that appeals to me more than the promise of reduced prices. Taking out the cost of physical production lowers the financial barrier to developing and/or marketing new titles. This means that publishers such as Atlus and XSEED, who specialize in bringing niche Japanese titles to the West, will have more incentive to take bigger risks and localize more interesting titles that may have limited appeal. Recently, the 3DS saw Western digital-only releases of two such titles, Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies and Senran Kagura Burst, at a reduced price point. Both games did quite well in the eShop, and I personally enjoyed both quite a bit. Hopefully this becomes a trend; if the digital future means more localized “widget series”, then I’m all in.
Mike Morrissette, Editor:
Frankly, no, games will never become cheaper simply because they’re not on a disc any longer. Development costs are so staggeringly expensive, and they only continue to grow for AAA titles. The increase in hardware capabilities means developers are expected to really flesh out their games even more. Which takes time, and time requires money. Before, you could justify only putting so much in a game due the disc space, but that world no longer exists. Games continue to grow, even after their release dates via DLC. If you think about it, for a complete game including all the DLC and what not it’s already “more expensive” than our normal 60 dollar disc-in-a-box. What I do think that we’ll begin to see however are more Steam-like sales, which Sony has began to already do.
What might be nice however, and what might possibly completely prove my own point wrong is what effect all-digital will have on Gamestop. If Gamestop’s used-game business fades out, and the only way to buy games would be digitally via the PSN, Xbox Live Marketplace, or the Nintendo Eshop, that ultimately means that more money will be given to the developers. Another point is that deleting discs, deletes the middle man, which again ultimately leads to more money to the developers. So maybe there might be a decrease is the normal price point sometime in the future, but we have a long way to go before then.
I don’t know. Do I want games to be cheaper? Hell yes. Will I mind if they never go down in price? Probably not.
Jess Guilbeaux, Editor:
Unfortunately for my wallet, I don’t think games will get cheaper in the future at all. Did music get cheaper with the switch to iTunes and Google Play? Not really. You play $1.29 per song and still pay $13-15 for a new album. With developers pushing the boundaries these days, the gaming industry really doesn’t have that much of a reason to because the quality of the game hasn’t changed. It’s just the medium that’s changing.
There are really only two positive outcomes for games going digital:
1) Convenience. This is the most obvious benefit. No more scratchy CD’s, no more lost games, and no more driving all the way to GameStop at midnight.
2) Old games in CD form will go on sale! This gets me really excited. Companies like GameStop will be starving for cash and put physical copies of games at a super low price! I am a big fan of clearing my backlog of games, so I’m all for this when it happens.
All in all, I’m excited for the digital push that’s happening in gaming right now. It means cheaper physical games and less money spent on gas going to stores to buy games. However, I don’t think this digital push means a drop in prices for games overall. They’ll either stay the same or increase.