Over the last month or so I’ve been seeing several different articles and forum posts discussing where the future of the game industry is headed. One topic in particular that I’ve seen popping up quite a bit involves publishers and the direction they’re trying to steer the industry in. If the internet is to be believed, publishers are trying to steer towards a model where games are purchased primarily online. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Valve’s Steam platform has turned into a powerhouse of online game distribution. I would gladly take 100 Steam’s to rival the current model any day, but the publisher’s aren’t leaning towards this model for the customer’s sake. The advantage of an online distribution model is that it could (potentially) mean more money in the hands of publishers. Used game retailers have begun cutting into the publishing industry’s profits, and they don’t like that. With an online distribution model you don’t have to worry about the possibility of someone reselling the game. The other huge advantage to an online distribution platform, like Steam, is that it is an excellent, non-intrusive, easy to manage DRM platform.
The biggest downside that I see to online distribution platforms comes not necessarily from the industry, but from Internet Service Providers. All around the world ISPs have begun instituting data caps. In some countries they’re fairly high, in others they’re incredibly low. In either situation you’d be paying an insane overage cost if you even go over by a couple megs. “But Rob,” you might saying, “that just means that instead of downloading games like a mad fiend you’ll have to exercise some self control and download only a game or two a month.” That’s all well and good, but what happens when you have a service like On-Live. On-Live is a service that is entirely cloud based, so you don’t get the benefit of having the game sit on your machine. If you want to play games you have to access their servers, which hogs bandwidth like no other.
If/when a plan like this comes to fruition it will be very controversial, there is no doubt in that. Personally, I could see this potentially reversing the capped bandwidth plan that slowly becoming more and more popular among ISPs. Gamers are no longer an isolated segment of society, and the video game industry as a whole has the potential to bring forth major change, as the recent Supreme Court decision regarding video game and free speech proved. Only time will tell which way the industry will really sway. Personally, I am a fan of having a physical copy of my game and running it on my machine, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.