I want to share my views on such a service and how I find the current retail market and used game market.
Retail vs. Digital Download
I went and purchased a new game today from Morrisons. A month ago I purchased a game I pre-ordered from Game. Both experiences were similar. Rubbish.
Besides the obviously getting to the shop in business hours I found the end product treated no better then a used game. And yet I was paying full price. The packages was unwrapped, the disk removed from it, there were stickers placed directly on the box. And in the case of EA Active I ordered from Game the box was crumpled and looked used. This was the day of release!
Staff never seem to be very interested in you or your business and it's clear that major chains like HMV and Morrisons that do not deal in second hand games hike the prices of games to full MSRP if not higher. And these prices usually stay that way even six months after a release. Stock is usually limited and again you get your order in a used condition.
If you do purchase from a major game retailer you will find they treat all their games new or used the same.
Additionally you can buy physical copies online but this also got it's problem. For a popular game stock will be limited and depending on where you buy you can end up with shipping charges or even price inflatted.
Shortly after release online retailers like Amazon and Play who offer a marketplace will see a drastic inflation of prices for new products. This is especially bad for "collector editions" where they know months later people will pay for it.
Digital download has it's advantages but several key problems still remain.
Digital media can be a dodgy purchase depending on who is selling it. For consoles there really is no options except on Xbox 360 for a small selection of Xbox Original games. However with the launch of Games on Demand we will see some better selection. Pricing hasn't been announced but we can assume that titles that have been around over a year will be priced at around £19.99.
For PC gamers there is some good and bad options. EA has it's EA store which offers its catalog of games for more then MSRP (i.e. Sims 3 costs £40.00 when in retail it's £30.00). Why do they think people will pay MORE then Game or Amazon is charging for the same thing I don't know. Steam is a fairly good option, and more good deals are coming along offering gamers back catalogs for cheep.
Then there is storage. Right now at max you can have 120GB of storage on an Xbox 360. Oblivion alone will take about 8GB of that. Considering that in reality you will be getting more like 100GB of actual storage, and you have to consider movies you download, avatars, demos, DLC and arcade is all going to sap the space down. I am using a 60GB drive and I am nearly out of space with about 3 games installed to it.
If Microsoft does release a new hard drive they may still charge £100 or more for the drive, which is well above the cost for the drive itself.
The other issues is bandwidth. I believe most gamers will have at least 2Mbs at their disposal which is more then enough to download a game overnight. Obviously this is still awhile to wait considering you may be able to purchase a game and be home playing for the time it takes you to go to the store. But then that can be problematic.
However if pricing is fair and games which are less well know, or always out of stock are always available, this will make it easier to get and potentially boost sales. And more importantly is what I will call the Psychonauts effect.
Sometimes a game is poorly advertised and may not seem that good. But later on after people have played it they realize actually this is an awesome game. By this point retail will have no copies and only used games will be available. That means no profit going to the game developers and publishers. So even though the game took longer to catch hold, due to the limited retail shelving space it dies a slow death and if it has the budget to advertise like Nintendo and Blizzard it could have sold well.
The best thing about Digital is developers and publishers get paid everytime. And that will create a trickle effect where games at launch will have a certain level of sales, but then for those who may not be able to buy right away, or might stumble upon the game down the road will still be paying the developers. Certain titles which might do very well in the used market such as Call of Duty 4 (still very expensive used) can be be selling and paying the developers for years after. And prices can be adjusted so that day of release buyers will pay the most and after the game has been out a couple of months the price slow drops.
Pricing may well be the very thing that keeps gamers away from Digital. It is a much cheeper to sell on a game and use those funds towards other purchases. This is really felt with annual games like PES where the street price drops to a few pounds.
However there are ways to keep people who finish a game and want to move on happy. A subscription model is the best for this type of gamer. Rather then paying for individual games, you pay one price to rent any title, play through it and once your done you can play another. Pricing is something that will have to be worked out. But considering that it works for so many game rental companies like Gamefly, Metaboli I don't see why it couldn't work with digital download.
Or there is the option to rent a one off for a period of time. I don't think piracy would be much more a problem then it is with physical media.
At the end of the day shouldn't game developers get paid for their work? And should consumers be able to get access at a fair price to games and feel good about their purchase?
I know one of the complaints is also going to be people like to see the games on the shelf. I know I am one of those people too. But retail has ruined that for me. Everytime I peel off a sticker from my new game I feel less and less happy about retail. Game trading used to be done between friends, but now is a Million £ Industry which has left the game buyer standing in a long que to buy something which is basically used for new price.
I am for digital distribution, it is the future and I feel game publishers can find new ways and new pricing models to please everyone.