[Editorial]: Video Games Remain Behind Curve in Digital

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Amazon is issuing digital copies of books inside physical copies as of September via Kindle MatchBook. Amazon did the same with music purchases, calling it AutoRip. Movie studios are high on digital, releasing digital copies early and including Ultraviolet with DVD/Blu-ray releases.

Video games? They have a wall separating digital and physical.

That’s not to say movie studios are in the right. Their digital value proposition is a disaster; why purchase a $15 digital copy two or three weeks early when the Blu-ray edition, with digital, DVD, & Blu-ray will only run $5 more? Digital isn’t worth the cost. Some execs even wish to “train” consumers, a disingenuous, authoritarian approach.

And still, they rise above video games.

Many will cite Microsoft’s atrocious original Xbox One policies as a sign of how “close” video games were coming to this digital download future, but that was not a solution, rather a lock down method. While other media packages digital and physical together, games keep the combination separated. Microsoft’s idea was to weirdly fuse the two into one.

There is, of course, a reason. Video game value is derived direct from their initial, abnormally high market price. Bundles would mean direct sales casualties, with consumers effectively reselling/trading the unwanted version to mitigate cost. Each dual copy sold becomes one to the publisher, and with a war erupting over used titles, cutting further into those margins would be dire.

Sony has tinkered with these ideas, calling it Cross Buy between PlayStation 3 and Vita, yet this remains restricted to dual hardware owners. It is imperfect at best. Steam, for its grandiose sales, is ultimately one sided and restrictive whether Gaben worshippers wish to admit so or not.

What is interesting about dueling medium methodologies is movie studios, book publishers, and music producers are becoming about value add; pay what you always have and get more. Video games continue to dwindle their end user financial draw, broadening DLC methods, introducing free-to-play ideals in full price software, and devising new ways to further cheapen purchases.

That has become the digital wall. Download buys of traditional video games are overly expensive and seek solutions to their business failures in the wrong direction. It is an industry desperate to push users into a publisher-friendly ecosystem, yet continually spikes consumers with shocking virtual sticker prices.

Video games have their fan base, a legion of loyalists who will do anything to access content they wish to own. Those numbers, in comparison to what video games need to sell in order to become profitable in this modern era, is miniscule. Marketing has lured mainstream users who sunk money into Nintendo’s Wii, and instead of those people venturing further, they plunged their faces into mobile gaming. “Free” is impenetrable to failure. Now, the market which once sparked hoped of wide console adoption has subsided into a different subset, and they’re being “trained” to pay for nothing digital (90% of iOS downloads are free), and expect everything. If it exists on the internet, it must be free. See: AdBlock.

Therein lies the paradox, with publishers pulling their consumer base in two directions, in one hand selling digital toppings after expected $60 purchases, and in another, setting a trend where everything accessed over the internet is free. Metaphorically and cliched, the left hand in this industry doesn’t have a clue what the right hand is doing.

Sony and Microsoft will push heavily for day one digital on their respective hardware. Nintendo has done the same since Wii U’s tepid launch, and 3DS continues to spotlight videos which tout digital benefits. Numbers may show growth in this sector – you can find any number of studies showing such – but evidence regarding consumer perceptions is lax.

In a world of AAA gaming and free mobile, the two seem like impossible cousins who will never co-exist. Digital is about loss of consumer control in an exchange for value, or in the best cases, freely accessible physical media where appropriate. But, don’t tell that to video game manufacturers; it will only confuse them further.