Up For Debate - Were We Wrong to Embrace Digital PC Games so Quickly?

Written by Jon Sutton on Sun, Apr 2, 2017 4:00 PM
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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!

Were we wrong to embrace digital games so quickly?

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09:58 Apr-11-2017

People repeatedly ask how sites like G2A can make a profit, or even survive. My response is to simply point out the price differences between Steam "sales" and the average price of the same game on G2A. Usually Steam doesn't even match the G2A price, G2A being still cheaper than the Steam sale price.

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03:38 Apr-04-2017

Now tell me, how people like me. People who only have around 500 Kbps download speed, able to "embrace" this? Even with a DVD, day one patch for AAA games still big as F'. Feel my pain guys, feel it. My house can't get the fiber optics network coverage T_T

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15:09 Apr-03-2017

wow, what a timely article actually. Just half an hour ago I promised to myself that I will never buy a game from Steam again if its available on GOG. The control these DRM's have over our games is getting kind of riciulous. I have to get into a bunch of inconveniences just to play Dying Light on LAN with my brother with 1 copy of the game... Something that would be a given, a nobrainer, a few years ago.


And yes all the points that the article states seem fair to me. The game prices are increasing continuously (while offering less content in many cases, check the BF1 season pass) and the sales are far smaller than 3 years ago. Yet Steam is selling more than ever. Which confuses me quite a bit because with these kind of prices I am buying 1/5th of the amount of games I used to on Steam these days.


Digital sure has its merits, I love the "type your paypal in and you got the game" type of buisiness, but I have come to think that the drawbacks are starting to outweigh the advantages of it...

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09:55 Apr-11-2017

Not only is the DRM on Steam an issue, but GOG makes sure that the games run on 'Modern' systems. You want to play Tie Fighter, and you've got a Windows 10 machine with a Skylake processor? Better get it from GOG, 'cuz the Steam version won't play on your rig.

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14:24 Apr-03-2017

The biggest downside of physical copies is the read speed of the CD and the very plausible possibility to scratch the damn thing..

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16:29 Apr-03-2017

but at least you can back it up :/

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16:51 Apr-03-2017

From my experience Blu Rays are basically unscratchable. I haven't had a single Blu Ray become unreadable for me yet, but I had tons of screwy PS1 games.

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20:43 Apr-03-2017

that is cool

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21:05 Apr-03-2017

not a problem to make a backup copy as disk image file :P

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10:00 Apr-11-2017

These days, even a game that comes on disc fully installs and plays off of your hard drive. The disc is just used for DRM sometimes. Read speed matters only in the install time, and for many people around the world that's often the same or less time than downloading and installing the game.

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12:12 Apr-11-2017

wrong, these days, even a game that comes on disc downloads additional 10's of GBs patches because fck customers :P

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12:22 Apr-03-2017

what I don't understand is why in the world is it that when the disk price of a game drops as it gets old, the digital copy's price remains the same.
eg: battlefield 4 disk 10$ but digital 20$
why???

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15:15 Apr-03-2017

Most likely something to do with emptying stores and warehouses of old content, so they can focus on new ones. Cd keys don't take up any space.

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15:24 Apr-03-2017

at this point battlefield 4 is pretty old. It has been on sale digitally for 5-7 euros several times now and all its DLC given away for free on Origin.

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11:31 Apr-03-2017

There's an element naivete in the supposition that these things wouldn't have happened if the digital medium wasn't as prevalent as it is. Inflation would still occur with physical medium releases, as would better developed physical DRM. Seems like this debate is a bit silly.

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11:53 Apr-03-2017

Digitally sold games never need to be discounted. An actual store has to, because they have a finite amount of space that needs to be cleared for new titles.

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12:28 Apr-03-2017

But that assumes a world without online physical distribution. Even with digital medium gone, the internet would facilitate the ability for niche outlets to stock games of lower demand. To not have that assumes a world without the internet, and there would be much bigger changes than just game distribution medium.

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12:32 Apr-03-2017

Assuming a world without internet is a total straw man argument. It's not one or the other. Online distributors have finite space just like any other store. In the case of Amazon, they may have a lot, but that's because they're selling a massive amount of different products. They still don't want 4000 copies of a game sitting around that's not selling, when it could be replaced by something that is.

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17:09 Apr-03-2017

Nonsense. Physical copies are even now warehoused and distributed on demand to customers online. That's the advantage of online distribution - wholesalers can warehouse large quantities of unwanted stock and then resellers contact them upon making a sale. Look at smaller online stores, like fishpond.

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17:23 Apr-03-2017

Yes, everything can be on a larger scale when distributing online, but at the end of the day they don't want to warehouse large quantities of unwanted stock. That's just a waste of time and money. Even with Amazon's seemingly infinite resources they don't have everything. They are managing their stock carefully. They won't be ordering in 50,000 new copies of Assassin's Creed 2.


Not sure what you mean by fishpond.

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11:02 Apr-03-2017

embraced? I haven't even adopted digital games yet :P

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11:13 Apr-03-2017

You're always the exception to the rule, aren't you? :p

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11:50 Apr-03-2017

rules are made to be broken :))

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09:56 Apr-03-2017

We are not too early, but the prices are really out of sync with other stuff we buy today, games are becoming more expensive than they SHOULD be. Just wait till Nubisoft starts with 100$ regular and 150 gold editions(1 t shirt and car paint included hahahaha) but remember people, Gawd bless Lrod Gaben!! :D

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09:38 Apr-03-2017

I think it's just companies trying to push boundaries of what is acceptable when it comes to pricing. I'm not comfortable paying more than 400 nok or about 46 usd for a game.

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01:42 Apr-03-2017

The new fad now is game streaming. I have been doing it with the PS3 on my Smart TV for the last 6 months or so and I think it is great! And I just read the PS4 games are going to be streamed soon as well!

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00:19 Apr-03-2017

The digital rush also hurt us few people who have no access to good internet! I live in a rural area with no high speed, or unlimited internet available, and no Gamestop-esque stores within a 2 hour drive... We got the proverbial shaft!

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06:25 Apr-03-2017

i know how you feel but i just guess people have to give in and go along with the rest of the world :/ like we are gonna pay 1500$ just to get fiber into our house :/ internet is becoming a important part of life and we have to live with that, cause it's not gonna change... ever... :/

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11:14 Apr-03-2017

Exactly, and with crappy internet, and online only becoming the norm as well, it's more frustrating than ever....Can't even play campaign offline is creeping in too:-(

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23:28 Apr-02-2017

Simple, wait for sales; ie ME Androgenous is not worth spittle until it hits the bargain bin. If worthy buy it, if not...wait...or no buy ever.
TADA

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22:52 Apr-02-2017

if you think the game you desire costs more than it's worth then simply dont buy it. i simply put this as a question of "how much do you need it" or "can you live without it?"
cant give an example right now but i know there are many great games out there, cheaper and more captivating than most current AAA games; they're just not having intense trailers or an aggressive marketing campaign.

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10:05 Apr-03-2017

Agreed 100%
Yes I think it sucks so many new games cost as much as they do, and I really want to play them as quickly as possible. But if I can't be bothered to pay top dollar for them, I wait until the price goes down.
GTAV is my prime example. 30 euros is still too much for an almost 4 year old game that's half broken (multiplayer sucks, due to hackers, as far as I've been told) so I wait until the price is at an acceptable level.
Got more than enough games to play in the mean time :)

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22:07 Apr-02-2017

Heck no, I am not getting a laptop with a DVD drive. And using a USB one is a pain. While it's still possible to get some Steam games on disk, they're non-refundable and not resell-able. I just saw a thread on Steam about that the other day. OP got Skyrim SE second hand, and asked why the key didn't work. They got scammed.

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21:58 Apr-02-2017

Haven't used a DVD since digital distribution kicked off and don't miss them at all.


Simply installing on other systems (at other places) and syncing off saves is just great

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20:39 Apr-02-2017

4 things digital downloads need to be consumer friendly.


Backup digital copies for installing onto standard storage medium for assurance
Great internet speeds
Lasting service
Non-DRM code for preservation of medium as an art form

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20:42 Apr-02-2017

What is happening, and what will be standard in the years to come are subscription services for video games that will be as user friendly as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.

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19:55 Apr-02-2017

My speed is 12mbps, GTA V would take probably around 9-10hrs at full speed. Once i get my fiber installed this month that drops to about 45mins at 200mbps. I bought GTA V on release day, on disc for 40€ instead of 60€, took me 45mins to install (as fast as fiber) and i saved 20€ in the process that i can use to buy another game.


You bet your behind we adopted it too quickly, people with high speed internet got greedy.

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01:37 Apr-03-2017

I'm 150mbps unlimited and I just downloaded GTA V actually and it took me 2 hours.

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09:39 Apr-03-2017

Yea my new speed will be about 200mbps minimum, should be around 25MB/s. I was at 100/5 in the US and here once installed should be at 200/100 minimum so should be fun.

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19:34 Apr-02-2017

Well i burn all my own games to bluray disks, i make my own repacks aswell

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01:43 Apr-03-2017

Good idea...

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19:00 Apr-02-2017

Were We Wrong to Embrace Digital PC Games so Quickly? In a word... Nope.
I seem to get downvoted every single time I praise Steam or Valve, but in my honest opinion Steam is easily by far and without a doubt the best thing that's happened in PC gaming in the last 20 years..... only really outshined by the advent of the sound card back in the late 1980s, and 3D accelerator cards in the mid 1990s

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01:38 Apr-03-2017

I agree 100%!

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08:21 Apr-03-2017

the down voting because of an opinion is so annoying, i have been victim to it so many times :/ but i 100% agree with you

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09:12 Apr-03-2017

Try not to care about an opinion being downvoted. The system only exists to portray how many people agree/disagree with it. No more, no less. Just because an opinion gets downvoted doesn't mean it's not allowed to be had.
On the subject of Steam, I think it's a great medium, sure, but it's not without its flaws. I like how it's made getting games easier, and more fun to play them with friends. It took gaming out of the basement dweller stigma and so more socially acceptable. But I also think the consumer has to be weary of the proportions it has grown to. I don't like it when a medium becomes bigger than the thing it's supposed to facilitate. I think in the case of Steam it's starting to have a perverse affect on how games are made, sold and played.
Kind of like how Google is supposed to be a medium to experience the internet with, but has become so big it's starting to dictate how the internet and everything relying on it should work.

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18:57 Apr-02-2017

I prefer digital downloads of PC games. I can download, and play from anywhere without having to bring a physical copy. Not to mention the countless runs to the mall to buy a new PC game. If anything digital copies have been a great advancement for us gamers.

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