Closing out 2012, I figured it would be worth it to have a think about the year. Not really self reflection, I do enough of that, and it's pretty dull for anyone who isn't me. I think I'll just go over the one thing that struck me about games and the state of the game industry this year. I'll state it by way of prediction.
It's downloads only from here on out. And that is sort of a big deal.
This was the year that download games surpassed the entertainment value of the standard issue, go to a store and buy a game on a disc, game. Now it's pretty easy argument to say, of course I'm wrong, the most money making games of all time came out this year, and they came out of on a disc. But actual entertainment value? The money and time put in versus entertainment received? For all but the most entrenched of call of duty fans, this year went to the downloadable game. That goes triple if you played anything on a PC.
There is the old contention that not enough Internet speed and bandwidth is available to make a download only business viable. That may have been true at the start of this console generation, 7 years ago, but that's not the case anymore.
There are still a few minor benefits to buying a game deployed on some physical object, but there are ways to have both a brick and mortar store presence and be an all download games market on the same platform. I've stated before, if the physical media solution on Microsoft's next console isn't a usb port they have done something terribly wrong.
For anybody who’s been using the internet a while, you might be saying “that’s completely obvious” or “that happened a long time ago”. Well yes, and no. Sure, we downloaded and played the add on for Wing Commander Prophecy in 1998, but we are really odd exceptions. Most of the world didn’t even get close to that level of internet usage until sometime after facebook launched. A big chunk of the game industries target audience wasn’t even born in 1998. Internet is as ubiquitous as telephone service now, for a lot of people it is telephone service, but that only started about 5 years ago.
This year was the tipping point. 5 years from now, games on physical media will be as common as 8 track tapes.
Why is this important at all?
Time was, you could sell your game on a disk (floppy disk) in a ziplock bag, with hand written labels, and make a few bucks. The audience for your game depended on how far you could travel and how well you could pitch your game.
The packaging and distribution of digital entertainment products advanced quite a lot from that point. It also cost a lot more money to package, distribute, and pitch those products. That money came from publishers, some went to stores, most went back to publishers, and a small trickle returned to developers.
The new stores will be the boxes hooked up to the TV and the developers will be able to sell almost directly with or without a publishers help. That doesn’t mean that all of a sudden developers will be rolling in filthy lucre. There are a lot of different roadblocks that come with digital distribution and the digital stores that facilitate it. But still, the variety of outlets where a developer can peddle wares is on the rise, and getting a game into one of these stores is fairly frictionless when compared to manufacturing cartridges, or discs, and sending them to be sold. Out of buildings. Personally, I can really only speak for the digital store route, since I’ve never had to put something on a cartridge. By the sound of it, I didn’t miss out on anything.
The audience for your game now depends on how well you can pitch your game. The vehicle for your pitch, packaging, and distribution exists in their home. Maybe even in their hand.