I questioned in the first part of this piece what the real meaning of “$60,” or “retail games,” is. Pricing has become so competitive amongst different marketplaces or retailers in the games industry, and because of Steam, the PSN, and Xbox Live Marketplace, we see prices for those already more affordable downloadable games, jumping around all over the place. But that in itself is the beauty of the downloadable game: the price, the experience, and the freedom for the developer behind it.
The Mystery of Downloadables
There really isn’t much of a mystery: it just works. The mystery is how to recreate it. It just works for everyone involved: the developer has less cost to worry about, anyone can be a developer, it’s cheaper for the consumer. In the end, everyone wins. Why can’t retail games be as diverse and successful? Where is the solution that has these great downloadable developers getting the same attention that retail games get, because honestly, there is no quality difference anymore.
The beauty of the downloadable game front is not only the retail experiences you can get from some of the games out there, whether it be quality-wise, like Bastian, or graphics wise like Malicious, but the deals, the sales, and the prices.
I am sure it goes without saying, but the Steam Store is the king of sales. From holiday to summer sale, you name the game, it’ll probably be 50% off on Steam at some point. Even the weekly sales on the Xbox Live Marketplace have become quite noticeable. They tell you what games were, and what they are now, and even if you have your qualms with how the Xbox dashboard is set up, and how impossible everything is to find, the deals page they do set up is concise and easy to understand.
PSN even has some great deals, but less often, of course. Their best of 2012 special was particularly fantastic, and now they’re handing out $10 in PSN bucks to members who spend over $50 on the PlayStation Store.
Nintendo has some work to do, as far as letting the consumer know what is on sale, and when they go on/off sale, but they’re at least making progress. That’s a lot better than where they were a couple of years ago.
No one can deny that a digital-only future is going to happen eventually. That, or a future which is almost completely dominated by digital sales, with retail being an option, albeit much less used. Sales are also the way of the future, which is one of the big reasons I questioned why retail games really need to be so expensive if they’re just going to go on sale almost immediately after launch. Steam has made the model, really, with being able to buy games pre-release at a slightly discounted price. Even that 15% off is a big deal for consumers.
Downloading just needs to be better in two ways: it needs to be faster/easier, and those download-only games need to be easier to find on all accounts. Steam doesn’t have much trouble with that, but PSN and XBLA need to make that front page equally as download friendly as it is retail, or Games on Demand friendly.