Is Digital Gaming the Way Forward?

With the news that Game has officially gone into administration, the traditional high street store seems to be more under threat than ever. Now that Game, and its sister chain of stores, Gamestation, have suspended trading, what will rise to take its place? In terms of the high street, the competition is overwhelming, but flawed. Other big chains, such as HMV, are in just as shaky a position, and supermarkets may be cheaper (reports suggest that supermarkets sell the biggest titles at a loss), but the selection found in the games aisle is limited at best, with most offering only a handful of the biggest sellers. For second-hand buyers, though, there’s not much good news. Game and Gamestation offered a huge range of pre-owned games, and without them there’s simply not the same level of choice available on the high street, with the exception of CEX. Even worse, news of the next Playstation 4, due for commercial release in winter 2013, comes with no backwards compatibility and an anti-used game system that requires you to ‘lock’ a purchased game to your account. Any pre-owned games will be limited to trial versions, and to unlock the full version you’ll need to pay a fee. Rumours of the next-gen Xbox coming with a similar feature are also rife. With that in mind, pre-owned games may soon be on their way out.

The obvious answer, of course, is to turn from the high street to online stores. With a wider range of games and often much cheaper prices, it seems like the obvious answer, although online prices are set to go up with the banning of the avoidance of charging tax by basing companies on the Channel Islands. However, sales figures for Mass Effect 3 showed that it did not perform as well as expected as a result of not appearing on shelves (Game famously failed to secure a contract to sell this and other big titles). If such a large title suffers a setback from a lack of a high street appearance, what would happen to smaller titles? There is still a large percentage of consumers that enjoy the experience of buying from a bricks-and-mortar store: from the amateur gamer or present buyer looking for some advice, to the avid gamer looking to hang out and browse. Plus, online stores come with a period of delay from purchase to play, meaning that the thrill of playing comes several days after you actually hand over the cash.

Maybe the answer is to turn to a digital medium. Both consoles and PCs have embraced the digital age, offering the chance to purchase and play a game without having to leave the house. Sales figures suggest that consumers are also starting to warm to the idea, with Germany’s digital and physical sales virtually equal, and US digital sales expected to rise to 58% by 2013. Whilst demos have always been available, there’s a certain efficiency in being able to properly test a game by downloading a demo, playing it, and then purchasing the full version straight away if you like it, without even getting up off the sofa. More and more games are being added to the catalogues available through consoles and PC-based services such as Steam, and the Xbox even has an arcade section dedicated to celebrating the best in independent creativity and design, far away from the big studio titles. With the meteoric rise in downloading apps and games on smartphones and tablet PCs, there seems to be a push towards immediate and easy access to games through the device you use for gaming; it remains to be seen whether this will catch on for full sized gaming experiences.