Plug & Play: Is the era of gaming discs and cartridges nearing extinction?

With recent technology rendering practices of old mute, it wasn’t going to take long until the Internet would deliver the kiss of death to physical games and their collectors.
by Yehia El Amine English YehiaAmine

10 May 2018 | 18:49

Source: by Annahar

This photo shows a gamer playing the Gear of War on Xbox One. (AFP Photo)

BEIRUT: 90s kids gaming culture is commonly known by blowing out the gathering dust off of SEGA cartridges; inserting a PlayStation 2 CD into the console, leaving players mere seconds to hold their breath, letting out short prayers for the notorious PS2 logo to suddenly appear.

A memory gleefully celebrated by all those who experienced such remedial conundrums; and one that has disappeared with the advancement of the gaming industry.

With recent technology rendering practices of old mute, it wasn’t going to take long until the Internet would deliver the kiss of death to physical games and their collectors.

“In the foreseeable future, console gaming is going to become either download only or download first,” Najib Moustapha, a 31-year-old video game shop owner, told Annahar.

Moustapha, whose store sells or rents out almost every gaming console ever made from disk to cartridge-based, considers that this might bother some console gamers and collectors far and wide, “but I’m excited to see where this will lead to.”

During his childhood, Moustapha had owned one of the largest personal collections of console games. After graduating from university and leading on to his first job, he had filled almost two separate rooms with obscure consoles, cartridges, and mall arcade games.

“My house looked a little like a gamer’s nerdvana, with forgotten electronics spread across floors and shelves. Once I realized that I’ll never play most of these items again, and I wasn’t happy with my current job as an IT expert, I decided to open my own store to share these experiences with everyone,” he said.

That, however, didn’t stop him from embracing the digital side of media and entertainment.

“When iPods became capable of storing hundred-CD collections in pockets rather than on shelves, I jumped right in. Later, an iPad reduced many of books, videos, and games into the footprint of a single magazine,” Moustapha told Annahar.

Though he will always have an everlasting bond and fondness of physical games, books, and music collections; “regardless, I’m ready to embrace everything-digital to its full potential.”

According to a recent report by Newzoo, a global market intelligence firm specialized in the gaming industry, console makers have taken tentative steps in this direction, and they’ve been unable to ditch physical media.

“Understanding why requires a games industry master’s degree, including an appreciation for the traditions of retail distribution to international broadband differences and concepts, such as inertia and cooperative marketing,” Hisham Allawi, CEO of UAE-based game development studio GameDust, told Annahar.

A thought echoed by Moustapha, who considers game companies don’t participate in the resale market, thus general collectability isn’t a major factor.

Apple didn’t flinch when ditching physical distribution dogma for its iTunes and App Stores, but Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony aren’t brave enough to declare themselves digital only and stop issuing games on discs and cartridges, the Newzoo report highlighted.

“Competitions to have the largest monthly physical game sales totals guarantee that no vendor will unilaterally disarm by cutting off retailers,” the report added.

Thus, Mustapha sees game development companies will probably wait until brick-and-mortar game retailing is on the edge of collapse — RIP, Toys ‘R’ Us — before making machines without optical drives or cartridge slots.

That said, each console maker has spent years preparing for a digital-first era, though Nintendo seemingly had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming and still lags its rivals.

Today, the PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch platforms all have storage space for digital games, online stores that permit infinite software re-downloads, and enough publishers familiar with digital marketing to make a transition away from physical retailing.

“The introduction of Playstation’s PS Now is a major role model for a console attempting to have digital stocks for their published games,” Allawi told Annahar.

PS Now is Sony’s subscription-based streaming service, which allows gamers to play PS3 or older games on their PS4 via a cloud-based service. It functions similarly as Netflix but for games rather than movies and TV series.

However, according to Roger Hakim, COO of an early stage Lebanese-based gaming studio ShootFirst, a few key factors still need to be addressed before consoles shift into the digital realm:

INTERNET BANDWIDTH

Many gamers abroad avoid the tortures of buffering media content, thus countries such as Lebanon are plagued with capped Internet speed and unfriendly cost overages. “As console games routinely require five or more gigabytes, one game download can kill a customer’s monthly bandwidth allotment, making digital downloads challenging in some countries,” Hakim told Annahar.

He even highlighted that unnecessary large patches of disc-based games are already creating problems for data-limited users.

STORAGE SPACE

Currently, consoles such as the Nintendo Switch enjoy 32GB of storage, while both the PlayStation 4 comes only in 1TB capacities, and Xbox One ranges from 500GB to 1TB.

“If you really think about it, only a 2TB or larger hard drive will be sufficient to hold the average gamer’s lifetime purchases for a given console,” Hakim said.

He further explained that since most gamers buy the lowest-priced, lowest-capacity versions of consoles, going digital-only generally means supplying a customized additional storage solution later.

“Though this is easier on each platform than it was in the past, it’s still not ideally implemented by any console maker,” he added.

PRICING STRUCTURE

According to Hakim, console makers tend to hold digital game prices hostage to physical game prices. “That doesn’t make sense, digital games has no manufacturing costs and don’t include box art, boxes, or manuals,” he expressed.

A sentiment also echoed by Moustapha, noting that in comparison with a physical disc or cartridge, charging $60 for a digital game that the customer will pay to download and store, then can’t resell, “is just stupid.”

“This insanity has to end: Digital games need to be around 25 percent cheaper than physical versions or have resale rights,” he added.

Hakim finds that console makers should learn from what Apple has done over the last decade because it has solved virtually all of these problems. “It pushes developers to keep file sizes small, encourages partial rather than full-sized patches, and offers multiple storage capacities for each of its devices,” he told Annahar.

This encourages lower, mass-market software prices to begin with, Apple also lets developers change their game prices at will, offering brief discounts at launch or even increasing prices after adding new content, according to Hakim.

“Though there have certainly been growing pains and negatives impacting the size and quality of iOS titles, the benefits of Apple’s strategy have been numerous and gigantic,” he added.

For users, the single biggest hurdle becomes figuring out what initial price is worth paying for a game that can never be resold.

“All it takes is a couple of disappointed kids with a $60 game to realize that a company’s digital pricing formula really needs to change. On the PlayStation and Xbox, however, routine weekly online game sales make it easy to quickly download great games at reasonable prices,” Hakim told Annahar.

Old-school collectors might miss accumulating boxes, manuals, and figurine collectibles, particularly if they hope to cash out someday. But anyone who actually enjoys playing games will quickly realize that the convenience of access to an all-digital collection is comparatively priceless.

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