Over the years, the PC has become the breeding ground for innovation. There’s no gaming platform in the world that is more versatile, more open, and more experimental. Just about anything and everything is possible on PC. Name any gaming trend and it probably originated on PC. PC gamers are quick to adopt and try out new things. It can be wild, it can be dangerous, but that’s all part and parcel of PC gaming. However, few things were as swift as the adoption of digital game downloads.
In the 12 years or so since Half-Life 2, the first true driver of digital downloads, physical PC games have become practically non-existent. Just look at the recent sales data for Mass Effect Andromeda - 4% of its physical game sales were on PC. Anyone and everyone is downloading their games for the ultimate in convenience. A couple of clicks, an hour or so wait and bingo, it’s ready to play. It’s great. Some would even say it’s never been better. But in this instance, were we right to embrace digital PC games so quickly?
I wouldn’t be so sure. Take Valve, for example. Over the years we’ve been softened by insane deals and ridiculous pricing. Every Christmas and summer we’d have the Steam Sale to end all Steam sales. It just kept getting better and better. I was buying games barely a year old for £3. We couldn’t throw money at Valve quick enough.
And then everything just sort of… changed. Discounts aren’t as steep - those 75-90% price drops are mostly a thing of the past. The price of new games has skyrocketed - PC games used to cost $39.99, then $49.99, and now they’re often $59.99, on top of season passes, pre-order bonus and in-game microtransactions. Every game is DRM-ed up to the eyeballs - see the egregious use of Denuvo by AAA publishers in recent months.
And what can we now do about it all? Nothing. We are now at the absolute whims of publishers and digital storefronts. The only power we have now is to stop buying the games altogether; to vote with our wallets.
But there’s a common refrain I hear when talking about the digital future - that games will be cheaper when it’s all digital. Publishers won’t have to pay for manufacturing costs, or shipping, or the store’s cut. The reality is, manufacturing costs pennies, shipping is interchangeable with server costs (and is ultimately offloaded to you and your connection), and Valve, Origin, GMG etc all take their own cuts anyway. That’s not to forget that if publishers can cut costs by going all digital, you can bet your bottom dollar those savings won’t be passed on to you. A publisher doesn’t do the numbers, work out they can make $10 extra by selling a game digitally and just lop it off the asking price out of the goodness at the heart. Businesses are cold, hard, bastards whose only real aim is to separate you from your money. Just look at the escalating price of PC games. It used to be cheaper to go digital on PC. Now it costs me £50 to buy Mass Effect Andromeda on PC when I can get a PS4 disc copy (which I can resell) for £38.
My point being that we’ve rushed down the route of an all digital future screaming ‘convenience’, ‘price’, and ‘low barrier to entryyyyyyyyyyyyyyy’, not once questioning why publishers have been so keen to push us down this slippery slope in the first place. The end goal is assuredly to lock down all game sales as digital purchases, and before long you can expect to see the big publishers to come down hard on key resellers. Before you know it the only place you can buy Assassin’s Creed Empire is from the Uplay Store for $79.99.
So what do you think, were we wrong to embrace digital games so quickly? Let us know below!