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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Game Sales:Online Distribution or Packaged Discs?

In the age where speed is the key factor to almost everything and anything, online distribution of games has been growing, and we are not just talking about small games, but heavy titles like the recently-released Half-Life 2: Episode One. The mentioned game is not the only one jumping onto the online distribution bandwagon. Valve’s Steam also distributed SiN Episode: Emergence, the first of the planned series of 9 episodes of the first-person action shooter, online. As time progresses, we may get to see more games that are distributed online.

Game developers do have a reason for distributing games online; there are clear advantages. Firstly, distributing the game online means that the game can be delivered over the Internet conveniently without the intervention of a game publisher. With users having increasingly faster Internet speeds, it is also no wonder that online distribution of games has just became more popular. Without the time and energy that would otherwise be needed for packaged discs, the cost required to produce a game would be significantly lower. Game developers are able to use the time and money saved to improve upon their game. These savings, in turn, would get passed down to the consumers and they would be able to purchase the games at a lower cost. Smaller developers would get opportunities to get their games across to the players without incurring huge costs. This helps make the game industry better as well, by the fact that there are more variety of games, and more people would be attracted into developing games than previously imagined. All the various factors have given rise to online distribution of games.

On the other hand, the other method that a game can be distributed is through the conventional way – packaged discs, with all the fancy box arts with enticing colors and screenshots at the back. Packaged discs trump over online distribution in some ways, though. Surely, grabbing a game off the shelves and immediately installing the game once you arrive home is faster than downloading the purchased game, but what if? What if you do not have a game store in your vicinity? Then, there is no denying the fact that downloading a game beats getting down to that store. Packaged games also trump over games that are online distributed in another way – by including a manual that you can refer to as and when you like – even when you are in a midst of a battle. They same cannot be said about games that are online distributed game, unless, of course, you find one yourself and print it out. Fortunately, the manual is just a minor component of the entire game package.

As far as the growth of online distribution is concerned, (unfortunately) it does not seem to be taking off in the area of console gaming. You seldom see big hits like Halo 2 being distributed online, if any. But in the area of the PC, online distribution is doing well. So well that there are solid examples to demonstrate the success of online distribution. FilePlanet and Direct2Drive are just two of the examples. FilePlanet deals with the downloading of game demos, game patches and some miscellaneous files. Direct2Drive allows gamers to download full games hot from the Internet, including some of the most recent ones. The method of payment is usually by credit cards. For both applications, membership is needed to a certain extent; it is needed for downloading of most files. All in all, both are reasonably convenient ways to get your gaming fixes.

As you can see so far, online distribution of games is indeed a success. But for the packaged disc business that is valued at US$30 billion, it would definitely take quite a while before the distribution method is entirely phased out. That being said, which would you choose? Would you download your favorite games online, or would you make a trip down to the store and try to squeeze out some bargains from the store owner? Your choice, you decide. But for now, getting the packaged disc is still the more preferred choice among gamers.


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