You Never Go Full Digital


By Stephen Janes (@stephenkjanes)

It would be a huge mistake if the rumored Playstation 4 (Orbis) and the Xbox 720 (Durango), or any future home console were to distribute all of their content digitally.

Don’t get me wrong; I for one humbly embrace our robot overlords when the time comes. However, the idea of having to purchase everything directly from my game console makes me feel like Luke Skywalker after he realized he kissed his sister.

In case this is the first you are hearing of this idea, the next generation of video game consoles, the Playstation 4 and the Xbox 720, are rumored to have no optical drive built in. Instead, they will require constant Internet connection in order to authorize and purchase content from their respective markets.

Now keep in mind, these are rumors, so take it for what it’s worth. Recently, a leaked document containing the specs of the Xbox 720, or Durango, mentioned that a Blu-Ray drive was built into the console. Again, we are talking about rumors and a document that Microsoft neither confirms nor-denies is real, so don’t blame me.

The same rumors were thrown in Sony’s direction when talks of the Playstation 4, or Orbis, were starting to heat up. There are many indications that suggest the Playstation 4 and the Xbox 720 will have optical drives, but we won’t know for sure until the actual consoles are released.

In theory, having a console where all the content is digital seems like a great idea. For starters, you cut out the middle man (Best Buy, Gamestop, Target, etc.) and are able to make a few extra pennies per game sale. In addition, those without reliable means of transportation are capable of purchasing a game as soon as it’s available, so long as the servers don’t crash and cause widespread pandemonium like Diablo 3. Finally, you save the gamer space by only needing applicable hard drive space as opposed to shelf space for game boxes and disks.

Despite the attractiveness of going all digital, there still are several reasons why it’s not a great idea now, nor will it be for at least a few generations. First off, the idea of going all digital is supposed to drop the price in games, seeing as the developers don’t have to share the income with retail stores and other distributors. I advice anybody to take a look at when Saints Row The Third was released on the Playstation Network and how it was still a sixty-dollar purchase in its digital format, even though the game had been available in disk format for six months.

The digital version of Saints Row The Third was a bit cheaper if you were a Playstation Plus subscriber (up to twenty-percent off), but if you weren’t you were forced to purchase the game for the exact same price as when it launched six months prior. In fact, many retail stores sold the game cheaper if you purchased the hard copy in store. I can’t understand why a game would still be available for full-price when the digital version is supposed to be cutting people out of the mix, therefore resulting in a cheaper product for the consumer. In this case, it didn’t.

Another major issue surrounding the digital conversion involves the wonderful mess that is Digital Rights Management, or DRM. DRM prevents multiple copies of any program or game from being installed onto multiple devices, essentially. It’s there to prevent people from making copies of a game and giving it away for free, or unlawful distribution. In this case, how would you prevent users from unlawfully obtaining a digital copy of a new game and installing it on their new console? How would you tell the difference if they legally purchased that same game and tried to install it on a console in their possession?

The principle behind Digital Rights Management makes sense, but the execution is awful. If my hard drive were to crash, would I be able to re-download all of my games without a problem? Would I still have to verify by being online every single time, even if my Internet didn’t work? More importantly, would my account still sync all of my information over without thinking I’ve been hacked or have a case of identity theft?

The final problem with an all-digital console is one that I have been somewhat hinting at already, and that’s dealing with the Internet. Various studies and surveys show that forty-percent of U.S. households have no broadband or high-speed Internet, and to boot thirty-percent have no Internet access at all. In other words, three out of every ten people who buy these new consoles will be obtaining the world’s most expensive paperweight. With the way current consoles are sold, the Internet only provides a means for updates and purchase of additional content, but you can still purchase and play games as well as watch movies without any connection needed. The Internet-less numbers are far worse for regions not named the United States.

Bottom line, going with an all-digital console will leave many people out in the cold for several reasons, whether they know it or not. Physical media is still very much relevant in today’s society, and that doesn’t plan on changing anytime soon. As of right now, the necessary means to go full digital is not there yet, and I don’t expect it to be until the Playstation 5 or the Xbox 1080. The company I didn’t mention at all in this article is Nintendo, and they seem to be headed in the right direction at the very least. They announced at E3 this past year that their next console, the Wii U, will have digital versions of retail games available on launch day, meaning you can either purchase a game-disk from your favorite store or download the game on the same day. This idea I think is perfect, because you are giving gamers the choice of what they want to do, and helping those who don’t have a choice (like the thirty-percent who don’t have Internet). Choices are good, because they don’t neglect anybody and everybody has a chance at the same entertainment. It doesn’t make sense why a company would consider leaving those thirty-percent out in the cold when you can develop a product that appeals to everybody.


  1. Jeremy LeleaJuly 26th, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Great article, I wouldn’t even waste my time if the “PS4” would take out the blu-ray drive. I thought it was sony’s biggest mistake when they took out the UMD slot in the PSP Go. I had the PSP Go but I put custom firmware on it so I could play to my hearts content any game that I had inside my portable hard drive. When the content is digital how do you share with your friends after you beat the game four times? Or how do you trade in to gamestop and get store credit ( a few measly bucks anyway). Thanks for a great article.

  2. KarissaJuly 26th, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Not only do many people not have Internet, most of those that do have SLOW INTERNET. Takes a small fraction of the time to run to the store across town to get a game than to wait 6 to 8 hours for it to download!

  3. ManavAugust 3rd, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Article is simply great covers all bases. Hope the makers listen to you and resolve the issues involved. Especially pricing and DRM

  4. WintorzAugust 20th, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    I completely agree that an all digital console is a terrible idea. We as an audience are not ready for it but more importantly, as you say, we are not technologically capable of it yet, not as whole. Choice between digital and physical media is definitely still the way to go. Besides, maybe it is sentimental of me, but there is something about having a physical copy of something, something that can be touched, or smelt or that is just present that is special. It feels real, and like you own your own copy, with its on history.

  5. Stephen JanesAugust 21st, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Heck I still miss those old cartridges and popping them into a console.

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