Over the last years, with the rise of digital downloads and digital commerce, there as been a very intense discussion about whatever the future of videogames is only digital, or still purely retail.
Some say, that retail is dead, and that it is a question of time before, all the games will be sold online via portals like Steam, Xboxlive, Playstation network, or many other portals that have been or will be launched in the near future.
Others (I include myself in this group) thinks that the retail is not dead, and what we are currently looking at is only an adaptation of the market to a new distribution channel, that have its advantages and its flaws just like any other channel.
Why am I including myself in the advocates of the retail? The answer is not very easy to answer, because mainly it is “gut feeling” that I have from my previous experiences, and other because of some of the clews that other products shopping experience are currently displaying in the market ( I am including below a PPT). Part of the answer, relies on the fact that right from the beginning of telecommunications most of the people were saying that some day everything will be downloaded, which seems to be true when we look at how fast the bandwith has been increasing in the last years. But if you look at how fast the storage has algo been developing you can see, that in fact the ration between storage and capacity to download has been increasing. Back in the 360kb floppies, the analog lines and analog modems were doing between 300Bps to 1200bps, and when they increased the speed to 2400bps, storage jumped to 720Kb and to 1.44Mb.
When modems took the internet speed to 14400bps and to 28800bps, CD appeared in the market and took storage up to 640Mb/800Mb. And finally when connections jumped to the digital age with DSL lines 256Kbps and up (50Mbps), DVDs and Bluerays took the storage to 4,5/9/50Gb.
In this comparation, I am not including harddisks which are currently going over the Terabyte.
Associated with this fact, there is another paragdima associated with the developers, and that basically states, that a software developer will always used all the resources made available to him, ( just like the the gases). Which means that if a game developer has a 50GB media, it will fill it up with content.
Digital download is a singular experience, where a man is seating individually in front of console, and browsing through a catalogue of games, as to download one. No human interaction is done. If there is a problem, there is no one to help you out, unless a Customer Representative Agent is called (which in most of the cases will be an intelligent answering machine). Retail is a social experience, where you go with your friends/family and where you see other people, what they are buying, what they are thinking about a game. If you have a problem you can go to the shop personel and ask questions about the product, and you will be amably taken care. With digital products, you don´t have the feeling of owning anything because you don´t see around you, what you have bought. It is like digital pictures, where you have now over 5000 pictures, but you never watch any, because they are all stored in a hard disk, while previously you only had a couple of tenths of pictures everywhere through your house.
With bookd and DVD you can see them on your library and it will remind you to read an old book or to watch an old movie. With digital information, you eventually forgot that you have it.
Those are my reasons. There could be more like limited editions of boxes, or exclusive gifts (t shirts, dolls, accessories, etc), but I think that those are already very clear to anyone. I am attaching a very good slide presentation found on linkedin, where retail and digital are merged as to create a better shopping experience. Could this be the future, most probably, as most of the game portals are starting to have physical download vouchers instores to be bought be people while going at their local gaming store.
More at www.game-developers.org