Digital download services like GamersGate and Steam are quickly becoming the dominant platform for PC game sales. And with a constant stream of interesting deals and publicity, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for their growth.
I, like many PC gamers, have already mostly foregone physical copies in favor of this new digital means of acquiring games. There’s little added value to a DVD case and printed manual, but there are many advantages to purchasing a digital copy instead.
This was made all the more obvious last month as my pre-ordered copy of Singularity failed to arrive because it was lost in transit. That simply can’t happen when you purchase a digital copy, even if it usually is a bit more expensive.
Had Singularity actually arrived, then it would still have been a few days after launch. That’s not really a problem for a shooter that’s merely interesting for its singleplayer campaign, but had it been a multiplayer-oriented game then I’d have wanted to get my hands on it as soon as possible. The shipping time is always an issue when ordering from a webshop, much like a store actually needs to receive a shipment before they can hand over your game.
That’s not an issue with digital download services, where you’re set to download & play the very moment you’ve paid, or in the case of pre-orders the very minute the game is released. This instant gratification makes for a much more comfortable shopping experience where you know exactly what you’re getting and when, without any uncertainties.
This also extends to the game catalogue, because many of these digital download services feature games that simply cannot be found in regular stores or webshops, most notably Good Old Games which even introduces Windows XP and Vista support to some of these older games.
A digital copy is also much more accessible than a physical game. There is no need to find space for yet another DVD case amidst your collection, which also means it’ll be easier to find the game should you want to play it again the future. And it comes with the added benefit that none of these games require DVDs to run, so there’s no need to scour the web for no-DVD cracks, which is a blessing for anyone who ever goes to any sort of LAN Party.
Most digital download services also offer easy access to the latest patches, either by automatically downloading them (Impulse, Steam), including them in the download (Good Old Games) or offering quick links to these updates (GamersGate). Add in the ability to download your games to any system you own without restrictions and there are some obvious advantages for gamers with multiple systems and those who like to play games in many different locations.
And digital copies are also much safer. DVDs can be damaged and manuals with CD keys printed on the back can be lost, but that’s not true for download information that can be accessed the moment you login to your account. And some services actually let you download the install files themselves, so it’s even possible to back these up on an external disk and take it along with you for easy access at LAN parties, a friend’s place, or wherever without the need of an internet connection.
One last advantage to these digital download services is that they tend to provide far better discounts than regular stores and webshops. Weekly deals can result in savings up to 80% of the regular price on games both new and old, with all the advantages mentioned above. That can make for some very alluring products.
But there are also downsides to the current batch of digital download platforms, such as the inordinately high prices for new and upcoming games, as well as the lacking quality control for older games. Not all is good in the world of digital downloads and so I’ve taken a look at that in a separate article.
Feel free to comment with your opinion on this ‘new’ development in gaming. Have you forsaken physical copies and gone all-in digital? Maybe you don’t trust these download services and would rather actually own your games? Or perhaps you simply like having a physical copy to add to your impressive collection? Whatever your stance is, I’d like to hear it.