Downloadable Games vs Boxed Copies, and WTF is up with the price of downloads?

Let the record show: I prefer box editions of games over downloads. Why? Well, I like the box art. I like the extras that come with some games. I like something that I can show off on my bookshelves. If it is title near and dear to my heart, or I want something of extra collector’s value, I will get a collector’s edition, eager for the figurines, statues, art books, or other game swag. What I fail to understand is how they can rationalize charging the same price for a digital copy of a game as they do for the disk copy. Logic would dictate that without a physical disk or any packaging the cost of the game would be cheaper. Right?

Most every time I get on one of my consoles I check their online store for new downloads, etc., and I am always taken aback that they would charge the same for the downloadable version of a game has they do for the retail box copy. You’d think without the cost of packaging you would get some kind of price break. Before I go further, I should remind people that it is not the companies behind the consoles that set these prices (although they have some influence), but it is the game publishers themselves. One argument that I heard, and it makes total sense to me, that the reason for the basically equal pricing between digital vs disk copies is so that they don’t hurt the demand for disk copies. I can respect that; I want to see continued production of my disc games in their artful packaging to display on my shelves. But, seriously, if you want me to buy a digital download version, make it worth my while. Include digital copies of the things that the physical copies have: game manuals, box art, etc. Yes, some have online manuals; but, seriously, have you ever tried to reference one while playing the game? Come on, people, put it in a PDF form so we can open it on an eReader or be able to print it. Give us JPEGs or PDFs of the box art. For that matter, if they are going to charge the same price as the box copies, why not include at least the game soundtrack to make purchase of the download more economically worthwhile. That brings up the argument that if they did include these perks, the added downloads would just be taking up space on the console hard drive. That doesn’t have to be. When you make the purchase, they could send you links for the additional content with the purchase confirmation that gets emailed to you so you save it to your PC.

What logically follows with any discussion on a focus on downloadable titles is having the hard drive space to download them to. Both Sony and Microsoft have been pushing gamers to build their digital games library. At least the consoles now have much larger hard drives than they did a few years ago, but the current 320Gb drives that the top end models have right now are barely enough to hold games and DLC for the serious gamer. (Gaming PCs usually come with at least a terabyte of hard drive.) Most triple-A games released today take 10 to 15 Gb of drive space, and that doesn’t include any map packs or expansions. But I digress… back to the subject at hand.

Now let’s talk about the hidden costs of playing online games that affect both box copies and downloads. No, I am not talking about online fees or anything like that. What I am referring to are the costs of map packs and other DLC that you have to purchase to continue playing online. For gamers that want to continue playing the online component of games in the Halo franchise, Call of Duty, Gears of War, etc., just to name a few off the top of my head, you must keep current with the map packs, or else you are faced with either being booted from the game lobby or not being able to enter a game lobby. The costs of these adds up quickly. In many cases the online gamer will end up spending two to three times the purchase price of the base game in map packs alone just to be able to continue playing online. One may counter that you do not have to get the DLC, but if you don’t you will find yourself not being able to get into most game lobbies. I, myself, spent approximately $100 in map packs for Call of Duty Modern Warfare and Halo 3 each. That was just so I could continue playing online. Some publishers have gotten wise to this and have wisely offered a type of subscription for future map packs and DLC, but we are still faced with doubling the cost of our games just to continue playing online, especially for ranked online play.

In this economy it just doesn’t make sense to have to pay these kind of prices for downloads. I understand and support production costs of creating games having been involved with film and television production, and I have no problem paying for the talent and skills that go into creation of this media. When you eliminate the cost of physical packaging and physical distribution, you should pass some savings onto the consumer. That’s only good business.

My First Blog Post (here): Kudos and Thank You, Sony

Now that I have this blog set up, and I am pretty much pleased with it, it is time for my first blog entry…

I should preface this by admitting that yes, I am a huge Sony fanboy. But, that does not mean I have any less love for my other consoles, and I have them all. Each and their respective “only on” titles have given me great satisfaction and many hours of gaming. (I have a future blog planned for why I purchase certain multiplatform games for certain platforms over others.) That being said, time for my praise of Sony.

This last week, coinciding with an impressive showing at E3, Sony rolled out a plethora of AAA titles free to their PlayStation Plus subscribers. Now that I have mentioned PlayStation Plus, let me rant a moment about the PS Plus nay-sayers and haters. How can anybody logically complain about having to pay for this service. Need I remind people that Sony does not charge for playing online like Microsoft does. Sony does not require players to have a “Silver” or “Gold” subscription to take advantage of online multiplayer gaming the way the 360 does. PlayStation Plus is a subscription service whose members benefit by getting discounts on games and downloadable content, exclusive access to other content and features, and early or exclusive access to betas. Xbox Live charges $60 annually for a Gold membership just to play online and take advantage of the online features. Sony does not. But for $50 annually you get 24 times that much in games and savings. Sony reports that in 2011 Plus members received more than $1200 in savings on games and downloads. All that for $50. I rest my case. Nay-sayers and haters, to use the vernacular of leet speak: STFU!

So, as I mentioned above, coinciding with an impressive showing at E3 (and that was a clever public relations strategy), I turned on my PS3 and headed over to the PlayStation Store, something I do every time I power up my black beauty, and what did I discover? At least $240 worth of free AAA titles for Plus members. I was particularly ecstatic because I was literally minutes away from going out and picking up a copy of Warhammer 40,000, which I had been thinking about for a long while and is still selling for $40 to $50 retail. And here it was free! And there were many more titles that I wanted to add to my collection. Now I have most all of them downloaded and installed on my PlayStation 3. In one day, my Plus membership paid for itself 5-fold. Thank you, Sony! Here are the titles that were made free to Plus members this week:

  • Virtua Fighter 5
  • inFAMOUS 2
  • Little Big Planet 2
  • Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
  • Just Cause 2
  • Saints Row 2
  • Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
  • Hard Corp: Uprising
  • Choplifter HD
  • Zombie Apocalypse Never Die Alone
  • Sideway NY

It occurred to me that the PlayStation Plus service has also achieved something else: it has made PlayStation 3 and its games even more accessible to the public. Let’s face it: this is an expensive hobby (and for some – obsession). But now, for the cost of one game, someone who has spent their hard-earned money on this console is treated to a library of games that, as in the case of 2011 Plus games, is worth up to $2000. All for $50. I can’t think of a better investment for any PlayStation gamer.

For more information on this roll-out of games check out the PlayStation.Blog.

See you online!

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