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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Digital Future in Gaming

Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) left a hole in video gaming following its demise. With an ever changing world, the way we consume gaming news and updates needed to change too. The Summer Games Fest is part of the digital future we have heard so much about. Developers and publishers share their work through the event, without incurring the costs or logstical challenges that the physical events would bring.

The trade show still lives on with UK Games Expo, Gamescom and PAX to name a few examples. While they may not be as prolific as E3, they continue to enjoy hundreds of thousands of fans every year. However, thanks to the internet, the way we experience and play video games has evolved greatly. But is the potential “digital future” a good thing? Is physical media as we know it doomed?

Originally, E3 was one of the prominent ways for game developers to have gamers play their demos. The official Playstation magazine had demo discs, providing a way to try a new game before making a purchase.

With modern internet speeds, most demos for games are available within a matter of minutes. Whilst a demo will begin from the start of the game, many will allow you to carry over your progress, should the player choose to purchase the full release. This avoids replaying the opening section and throws them straight back into the action. Steam offer a full refund if people play for less than two hours. This is a great incentive for titles that don’t have a playable demo.

Up until the early 2000s, video games were primarilyreleased on physical disc and cartridge. Online sales were present but had challenges such as slow download speeds and unreliable connections. The broadband age resulted a wider investment in digital media. Instant access to a game from the comfort of your own home was a big step for PC gaming. Over time, console games have seen their sales equally split between physical and digital media. On the PC side, very few titles now get a physical release. A digital future was seen in PC before it became the talking point it is today.

Digital releases of video games provides many benefits to gaming companies. A digital title lower scosts for distribution. Many indie titles will also use early access to build interest within gaming communities. Recent titles Hades and Carrion both received high review scores, with Hades in particular winning multiple Game Of The Year awards.

While indie developers rely on digital to get their games out, AAA companies are now breaking away from physical releases. Sony and Microsoft have both released variations of their current consoles that have no disc drive. The XBOX Series S saw praise for bringing next-gen gaming at a discount price. Many outlets sold the console as a package with Game Pass, giving it almost as many sales as the Play Station X. Microsoft have chosen to not develop physical discs for recent games such as Hi-Fi Rush and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

In 2024, GAME announced it was to end trade-ins, which had previously allowed gamers to keep costs down with their purchases. Game also confirmed they were ending their Elite Membership which allowed subscribers to get up to 10% back in vouchers on purchases. Game has decreased its high street presence in recent years, with many of their shops relegated to the back of Sports Direct stores. With fewer places to obtain physical games, online shops and digital store fronts are now more important than ever.

The previously mentioned Game Pass offers a Netflix-style subscription service for gamers. For a monthly fee, subscribers can download and play over hundreds of titles. This offers fantastic value for your money. The similar PS Plus also follows the same service, presenting many first party and third party titles in its service. Game Pass brings all its first party games to the service on the day of their release, whereas PS Plus is usually adding a title 12 months later. There are also streaming games, where no download required. A robust internet connection today opens gaming like never before.

Netflix users can see titles disappear at any time, which is also true for the video game subscriptions. Xbox Game Pass has maintained the majority of its first party releases on the platform, but regular rotations see other titles drop. Playstation also has the same issue. A game removed from the service means there is no guarantee you will ever play it again. In comparison, the Nintendo Switch Online service has so far seen its library continue to increase.

The biggest issue when it comes to the digital age is video game preservation. Away from subscription services, many video games are available to purchase on their own. However, factors such as licencing and developers shutting down can see games disappear from the online storefronts. Recently, live service games such as Babylon’s Fall, have seen their servers close less than a year after its release. Delisted titles, such as Marvel’s Avengers, means they are no longer available to purchase it digitally.

In recent times, more games have received HD remasters or full remakes in an attempt to bring them to a new generation. In 2021, Rockstar Games brought back Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas with reworked graphics and updates. The release of these titles saw their counterparts delisted, which upset many fans. Recent remakes such as Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space expanded from their original titles and created experiences that were both new and familiar.

There are many titles that cannot be played on current generation consoles or PCs. Microsoft has been praised for the backwards compatibility offered by the Xbox Series X, as the console can play discs from all four generations of Xbox. To experience older titles, an older console or computer is needed, which can incur a greater cost. Owning a current PC may be unable to play physical PC games, due to lack of disc drive and changes to system requirements.

Video gaming has recently seen issues with preservation of newer titles. Microsoft have made numerous titles digital-only. If the games were to ever be delisted, they may be lost forever. Physical release can be kept forever, but there is no guarantee of their playability if the title requires online servers. Older systems no longer in production will eventually break down and become harder to find.

No matter how far digital goes, many will still prefer physical media. Remedy recently changed their mind and announced a disc release for Alan Wake II. Companies such as Limited Run Games offer physical editions to games that would normally be relegated to digital download. These often come with a hefty price increase for the physical edition over the easily obtained digital.

While preservation may be an issue with many companies, gog.com specialise in providing access to many older titles. The site offers an opportunity to rediscover classics games at a reasonable price. At the time of writing, Thief: Deadly Shadows and Tomb Raider: Legend were both £1.09. GOG have made a commitment to keep games that can no longer be found elsewhere playable.

Video gaming is a passion for many of us. Some are happy to play games through their phone, some may like to blow the dust out of a cartridge. The world is never going back to gaming as it used to be. The various internet platforms that enable us to discover new games and purchase them will always be here. However, physical media endures, but times change. If companies can agree to take steps to ensure older titles are available through different channels, then our preservation worries will be unfounded.

The digital future is here, but are we ready for it?

Jonjo Cosgrove
Jonjo Cosgrove
A huge fan of Marvel and DC, a lifelong enjoyer of The Walking Dead and have played more video games than I could possibly ever count. A night out to the cinema or a trip to a concert is where I am in my element.

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