Wanting A Box

In a previous article, I spoke about inevitable change. The specific example was that of gaming magazines and the lessening reasons they should carry on existing. It may seem ironic then, that this time around I am looking at an example of fighting change.

As I continuously pointed out; change is inevitable, but that it is not to say that change is of a specific type. Change is variable, change depends on circumstance. In order to survive, gaming magazines are now offering more and more online options. Now take a look at something like the Splinter Cell games and how they have evolved to meet the demands of the gamers of the time. These are two examples of inevitable change, but both are different.

Now, the kind of change I am looking at here I do not believe to be the inevitable sort, the sort that comes naturally with the evolution of something. This is an attempt at forced change. What follows is a look from both sides on the subject of a box.

I want a box. I want a manual (although I won’t actually read it as only girls do that). I want to physically own something which I have purchased with my money. Is that really so bad? There is a uncomfortable change in the game industry and that is it going from retail outlet distribution to direct digital downloads.

To clarify; so far as additional downloadable content goes, I’m not so against that and the same goes for digital-only expansions, as they all attach to something I own in my hands. The thing that concerns me the most is the next generation of gaming.

It feels like DLC and the PSP Go are trial runs for the next generation consoles that will have large hard drives, but nowhere to put a disc (putting to one side for now the fact that one of these examples is a spectacular failure). That is, except Nintendo’s latest cobbled together offering that’ll probably be a Wii+ with a Wii-Thought+ attachment that uses hypnotic suggestion to convince the player they aren’t still playing the same technology for a third time in the row.

Got a Go? No? Didn't think so.

Going back to that change I mentioned; I don’t like the control of the industry going so far into the hands of Sony and Microsoft. The reasons for that are probably self explanatory, but it’s a bit farther reaching than just those two. Take the abomination known more commonly to the world as Steam and how much control it has gained over its insanely large user base. Uneducated (in the sense of shopping around) Steam users will quite happily pay a premium for a digital-only download through that program when in some cases it costs even more than if they got a physical copy from a shop (or shop’s website).

Plenty of places already offer on-demand digital downloads, but if it became mandatory then they would spring up everywhere. The developers would get to decide who gets their game and the distributor would get to play guessing games with their competitors on how much premium to stick on top. The reason Steam gets away with price hiking is the lack of credible competition, so in a way a generation that forced everyone to use this method might be a good thing as they’d be priced out of the market if the rates stayed as greedily high as they are now.

I’m torn on whether a digital-only generation would positively or negatively effect piracy. I suppose it would depend on the format of the download and how easily it could be cracked. If it isn’t suitably protected then it would become easier to do. The pirates would be off happily pirating away while the rest of us would be dealing with the inevitable download-only console generation’s equivalent to DRM.

Do you like Special Editions? Most of the time the added extras those throw in for a ridiculously out of proportionate increase in price aren’t worth the time of day, but very, very occasionally there’s a good one. A good recent example of this would be the Alan Wake Special Edition which was very limited, threw in a ton of extras and yet cost the same as the standard version.

A digital-only service would mean the death of old fashioned Special Editions. It would be the death of steel-book covers, bonus soundtracks (physical copies of them at least), fold out maps and making-of DVDs. You wouldn’t see pretentiously named ultra/mega/super/buy-this-or-you-suck editions on the shelf that include Spartan helmets that you can cruelly stick on your cat or newborn.

In all seriousness, the thing I am most worried about in a digital-only generation is the further culling of the high street. Alright, so most outlets are filled with weird employees (apologies to a friend of mine) that I wished would leave me alone when I browse because chances are I know far more about the thing I’m looking for than they do, but can you imagine just how much of an impact it would have if every game retailer in the world shut down because everything was download-only? As bad for plenty of other reasons as Gamestop in the US is, their stand against the coming digital-only era is respectable (and not least because it started with games that require a Steam account).

The reverse argument here is that the creators of these games want more control I suppose, and to maximise profit. If I had the means, ‘maximise profit’ would be five font sizes bigger, have four asterisks at either end and flash yellow every few seconds. That’s what is at the root of every decision every company makes and don’t ever forget it. There’s no ethics here and if a digital-only era did come about there still wouldn’t be. It’s profit and loss being weighed up against each other so that the profit is the one on top. Way on top. That’s in an ideal world for them of course. Reality seems to be fighting back on that particular front.

Here is an interesting point. There is a natural advantage in no longer needing to produce hundreds of thousands of boxes or manuals and discs. The production costs are zero. Millions are saved. You might also think that if this is the case then that would mean that the customer would see a benefit from this in the form of a price drop. If you were an optimist, I mean.

Let’s go back to that Steam example I gave and the case of paying more for a digital-only download than if you got the same game from a shop or retailer’s website. The cynical side of me jumps immediately to greed and control and other things like that, but I suppose this could also be the added premium for the third party selling the games and they do deserve something for the sale. Yet isn’t that what those high street shops do now? So why don’t the boxed versions (that cost significantly more to produce) cost as much or more when surely those high street retailers make a bit of cash on each sale as well?

I do not believe that a digital-only generation would see a fall in game prices. I think it would be static or go up and for no other reason than because the creators could then charge what they liked even if there was no retailer margin on top. Taking away the costs of making those boxes and manuals I like owning so much won’t ever be reflected back to us as customers. I guarantee that.

The game industry hates second hand gaming. A digital-only era would utterly destroy selling on games you’re done with or didn’t like (assuming Steam clamps down on users selling their accounts on eBay, that is). The retro market would still be there for all previous generations of course, but that could not sustain itself for that long as a viable business option. The companies would win in the end. They have their right to hate second hand gaming, call it illegal in some cases and whatever else, but I like the option of selling on a game I feel completely done with or one that didn’t live up to my expectations. I would agree that it isn’t fair to the developers or publishers or even the retailers I’ve been trying to defend, but business doesn’t have time for fair, it seems.

I probably haven’t been very fair or balanced overall, so I’ll end on a good point about digital-only downloads. A digital download is more like buying a license to use something. Say your console died or you forgot to feed the hamster powering your ageing PC, you wouldn’t lose your digital game collection as you have purchased the right to re-download it for as long as it is available. If your disc you got with your box got scratched beyond repair and you wanted to play that game again down the line, it would mean tracking down another copy of it and spending more money.

In the end, I still want a box. I still like having my collection visible for anyone to see no matter how much space is taken up (wasted). My own desire to own a physical representation of something I have purchased aside, I could never support a digital-only generation for all the reasons I have listed. The biggest and most worrying ones being the shift in control to (who I believe to be) the wrong people and the death of the high street game retailer…weird stalker-like employees and all (again, sorry to a friend of mine).

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.


  1. I fell into nostalgic thoughts after this article. Especially concerning boxes. I love the boxes, even though I do not read the manual as you state 😉 Although you are partially correct in stating it, research shows girls do tend to read the manual first and guys just jump into the game head-on and learn by trying. Guess that’s my guy-side then.
    But that’s what I dislike about Steam; the lack of boxes. I recently bought Final Doom in the original box and later purchased a game through Steam. Guess which one I keep staring at and boasting about. The boxes are part of their charm, it’s what I happily pay (a little) extra for. For the people who don’t give a damn about the boxes, Steam is a good idea, but it makes me a little sad. Its easyness is in no way a substitute for the awesome box.

    So far my rant about..eh..boxes.

  2. ps. Digital games do pose a risk for the gamer. Does anyone ever read EULA’s? You’ll be shocked to find what it says. In short: you don’t own anything, and if they want to take it away they can without you having any rights. Not awesome.

  3. xino /

    Nah I doubt they wouldn’t get rid of boxarts, it’s optional to get a game digitally or boxart. Just like how you get Blu Ray movies.
    Blu Ray movies comes in 3 form, disc, digital and dvd. You can get BluRay movies digital by downloading online or by getting it boxart.

    Many people are still not connected online so publishers cannot alienate them by making purchase for games digital only or they’ll lose on sales.

    As for manual, finally! It’s good that they are getting rid of that trash no one reads. Sure back in the days we always read manual but games nowadays are becoming more and more easy. Because they tell you what you need to know and do in-game and don’t forget other games that offers tutorials.

    Also manual degrades games from having good story. Why do they always put the prologue in the damn manual and during in-game you are sort of confused with the story or back story. Everything should be in-game!
    Publishers should start doing in-game manual like how Ninja Gaiden 2 did!

  4. Krazyface /

    Totally agree with everything you said here. I love my boxes too, and can’t bear the thought of digital download only. Though unlike you I’m a sucker for special editions, all those extra bits of art, the making of DVDs, special shiny boxes, all that stuff! I’d say almost half my gaming (and DVD/Bluray) collection is of this nature.

    Snezanna’s ‘P.S’ point is the thing I’m scared of the most though; the fact that after all the money you spend and all the time you put into a game, it can be taken from you without warning. Also, in the case of PSN I think (think!) that you can only download a ‘paid for’ game five times. After that you have to buy it again, considering that I’ve downloaded most of my PSN games three times now (dead PS3s) that’s a bit worrying.

    • The way in which PSN works is pretty good in my opinion. While there is flaws, it still works well.

      PSN allows you to download the game an unlimited amount of times. The 5 PS3 thing basically allows you to have that game work on 5 activated PS3’s at the same time with only paying for it on 1. As long as you deactivate the PS3’s you can still have all 5 slots available. If in your position you have had dead PS3’s, you can’t physically deactivate them. So they are taking up slots which you can’t get back.

      This it where the flaw is. I know some people have been able to get Sony Customer Service to remove said slot’s but they need alot of talking around and evidence to show you won’t be using the dead PS3’s again.

  5. I pretty much agree with everything in this article.

    While Steam pretty much dominates the digital download game market, i have to give them credit for still doing so well.

    In regards to game manuals, i think scrapping them is a good way to go.I know none of my friends ever really read them either. They’re only good for one thing in my opinion. The fresh smell they give off when you first open up a game which was sealed.
    You may call me wierd but it makes the process of buying a game brand new that ever more amazing.

    When they do scrap the manual though, would it be a good idea for a redesign of the case? Let’s face it, will we really need that left hand side bit when nothing will be there?

    • Krazyface /

      I’m a self-confessed manual sniffer too! I wasn’t aware that’s how the five slot system that Sony have works, so thanks for bringing that to my attention. I’ll give them a call when it comes down to it. I’m sure my bad luck with PS3s are cat-fur related, though my first dead PS3 was due to damp in my last flat. Anyway, I’d be happy if they used the empty manual space for a soundtrack CD or behind the scenes DVD and if that cost manufacturers too much then I’d settle for some snazzy art on the opposite side of the cover. Failing THAT, even some CD holder “nubs” for a couple of extra games to carry round to a mates house would be useful.

  6. Oni-Samurai /

    I like my manuals and boxes too, imagine receiving just a card for xmas containing your download code or whatnot – its not the same as holding it in your hands for the first time after having waited so long for it to be released.
    I actually read something which is known as a book(s!) although most manuals rarely are well written or designed – I read them all regardless & really like the prologues, bios, etc.
    MGS1 had that borrowed idea of “look at the back of the CD case” for the codec, loved it and kinda wish there was more interactivity like that. The box & manual are all part of the experience, for me anyway.

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