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Digital gaming is the future. I am a big fan of digital. I love it. On the PC its not a future as much as the current reality. Steam, GoG, Origin and more sites and services offer PC gamers tons of games for varying prices. All of them available digitally. Buy the game you want and download it. That’s it. No driving to the store or waiting for the UPS guy to arrive. Just click, buy, download and play. Its amazing.
Console games are finally starting to catch up to PCs when it comes to digital gaming. Especially the newer consoles. The Xbox One and PS4 offer nearly every game digitally. Sony even allows PlayStation users to preload there games a few days in advance.
But recently I was reminded of one of the reasons why the digital future is not something everyone wants. Why some are even afraid of or upset by gaming moving towards a non-physical market.
The Playstation Network, Xbox Live, BattleNet, League of Legends and more were attacked by a group of hackers. Some of these games and services were unavailable or unstable for most of Aug 24th.
And as this was happening, I found myself facing a situation that made me feel uncomfortable. I tried to play some of my PS4 digital games. Some worked, others didn’t. Because I couldn’t connect to PSN some of my games wouldn’t launch. I tried my Xbox 360 and found myself unable to log in. Some of my digital games didn’t work on my Xbox either.
Suddenly I was hit with a feeling. A large amount of the money I had put into these two machines was, for all intensive purposes, gone. That long list of games was nothing more than a bunch of icons that I could flick through.
I haven’t changed my mind about the digital future. I love the ease of use and low prices that digital gaming offers. Not to mention the cool, smaller and bizarre games that digital allows to exist. Games like Papers, Please or BroForce.
But there is a problem here. Not being able to play the games you bought is a huge issue and might scare people off of buying digital in the future.
Companies like Valve want us to spend money buying games digitally. They want us to buy many games, as often as we can. But if they want us to buy these games they need to do more to make sure we, the customers, can actually play these games. They need to do more to protect their servers, to protect our personal information and to make sure they always have a back up plan. Someway that I can access and play the games I paid for.
Its not just angry hackers that companies like Sony and EA need to worry about. They also have to make sure their own servers, hardware and services are ready for launch.
When MLB The Show 14 launched earlier this year it angered many PS4 owners who had preordered the game digitally. For “unforeseen technical reasons” the game was delayed on PS4. Only the digital version though. It would take 14 hours before PS4 users could download the game they preordered weeks or days before. Sony was happy to take their money, but failed to provide a reliable digital release.
This event might have pushed people away from digital gaming even. Some on Twitter complained, stating they would never use digital gaming again. Some even explained how frustrating it was that their friends already had the game. Those friends who went to the store and bought it, had the game.
I witnessed this frustration first hand as my brother was visiting at the time and was furious. He told me he was done buying games digitally. Done giving them money and not getting what he wanted in return.
And I couldn’t blame him. If the digital future is to continue and find success companies need to earn people’s trust. Companies need to make sure their servers and networks are safe and ready to handle the massive strain of launch day. Remember the GTA Online fiasco? The SimCity meltdown? Or when Valve offered Left 4 Dead 2 for free. For one day. Steam collapsed and some couldn’t log in for some time that day. None of this is acceptable. Things need to change. I hope they do.
I’ve seen some change. Some companies have realized that the ability to play should trump any neat feature you have. EA has made it possible to play SimCity offline and Ubisoft has been cutting back on always on DRM recently for PC releases. This is a good thing, and I would like more game developers and publishers to focus on making their game playable whenever and always. That is what I want. I want to be able to play the game, even if I can’t share coal with a nearby city, I still want to play the game I bought.I think most people feel that way too.
As I was waiting for the PSN to come back on, I grabbed a disc based game. Diablo 3 on Xbox 360. I put into my console and was able to play. No internet or Xbox Live needed. (The irony that Diablo 3 was my offline game that day is pretty great too.) This is the big issue for digital gaming. It doesn’t have to be better than disc based gaming. BUT it does have to be as reliable as disc based gaming. Otherwise for many they will simply wonder: What’s the point?
For digital gaming to succeed it needs to be, no matter what, always on. Always online. Always accessible. Always dependable. And hopefully we can get there in the future.