Debate of the Day: Do You Want Media to Go Full Digital?

Every so often when I write an article, I’ll make a comment like “and as media moves to all-digital distribution…” referring to the demise of Blockbuster or eventually Gamestop, and someone will stop me.

“There will always be people who want their media in hard copy format.”

You know, I just don’t see why. And that’s why I’m writing this to hear the other side of the story. I get that that it was fun to build up a DVD or game collection and line-up all the boxes in a row. But outside of people with a collection fetish, I just don’t get why you would actually want a hard copy of something. Digital distribution means cutting out the middleman. It saves not only money that would go to the retail outlet, but the costs of manufacturing and shipping as well. I’m not so naive to think that the costs would be directly passed on to the consumer, but hopefully it would allow movie or game studios to make future projects bigger and better with more revenue streams.

Digital distribution will make the costs of some games lower however, as more will be able to be developed game companies who might have the ability to make a game, but not manufacture and ship a million game discs. These are usually indie developers who distribute their games online, and many titles in that realm go for about 25% of the cost of big AAA games, usually at around $10 or $15. This just wouldn’t be possible without digital distribution, and you look at a client like Steam, and they have incredibly low prices for a whole range of titles, far lower than you’d find in any store.

I don’t know, maybe there’s a contingent that likes driving to Best Buy or Gamestop and sifting through the bargain bin and Blockbuster, but that just isn’t me, and the sooner I’m able to download absolutely everything, the better. What are your thoughts about digital distribution?

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  1. If everything goes to download only, how will you be able to resell something you don’t want anymore or if you need the extra cash? Also, what if you’re someone who buys a movie or two a week (I used to be that guy)? You’re gonna need a lot of hard drive space. What happens if that hard drive crashes or fucks up and deletes everything? Are you able to re-download everything or are you out hundreds of dollars?

    I’m not a collector or anything, but I’ve always loved the physical format of media. I like being able to look at my DVD rack, easily picking out a movie and popping it in. It makes it yours, and short of someone stealing it, it won’t just disappear or be deleted. I’m also a fan of box art and the instruction manuals in older video games that gave you back story and what-not. Box art looks crappy nowadays and the instruction booklet is dead, so that’s not a good sign.

    I am a supporter of using less materials to manufacture something, as that helps out the environment. So I’m kind of torn. Still more on the side of a physical format.

    One more thing, I wish Xbox Live would let you sell back or trade in games that you don’t want/play any more for points/other games (depending on the price). I have about 5 games I don’t play anymore and would like to get rid of them to buy something else for cheap or free. They’ll still be making money off of that, because they’ll have your money twice, for the most part

  2. Everything Mikey said and more.

    “More” here specifically refers to the act of lending, which just isn’t really possible with digital-only media. Cutting out the middleman also cuts out the rest of the community, whether that be at the video store, at a friend’s house when you bring one of your movies, or when you lend someone a book that they wind up absolutely loving.

    I lend movies and books several times a month, and I don’t want to lose the ability to do that.

    Also, riffing off the idea of ownership Mikey presented, there’s something to be said for being able to sort and manage your stuff in the way you want to. There’s no software on earth that would let me organize my movies the way I have them set up now.

    Digital media may “cut out the middleman,” but it also makes it so that everybody has to buy their own everything. With digital media, there’s no record store, no ebay, no Best Buy buyback, no lending, and no swapping. So, I suppose there’s no middleman, but that also means the production company or whoever is gunning straight for you.

  3. There’s also a third option: all customers (players, viewers, listeners) will own will be access to a streaming server, so there will be no question of actually ‘owning’ a game, hard copy or otherwise.
    Granted, that requires insane bandwidth and network infrastructure and as of now is in the realm of science fiction when it comes to games, but I think we’re getting there.

  4. ^this. I wholeheartedly agree. I would never get a Kindle or one those e-book readers. It may be more convenient but I like physically holding a book, turning it’s pages.

  5. As a comic book reader I HATE this. I like holding a book in my hand, and this will close down many shops. DC is going digital the day books come out and this September and it is going to cause an enormous problem for comic retailers.

  6. @Kronos: Technically, we have the infrastructure already set up for the bandwidth that would be needed to stream games. Miles and miles of fiber optic cables are all over this nation. However, due to internet companies and the government have some sort of hard-on for shorting the consumer. Knowing that Japan has bandwidth speeds that are nearly triple what we have in the US, I wouldn’t doubt that they’re already starting to go this way. But, as far as movies and such, I see everyones’ arguments for not going digital. However, isn’t that the way the majority of consumers get and store their music nowadays? So, wouldn’t it be logical to just see movies go that way too?

  7. The main thing I can think of that would suck, Mikey already touched on. What if the hard drive/server/whatever crashed and you lost all of your movies/games/music? After Hurricane Katrina I lost all of my dvd’s, most of my books (my comics were saved thankfully), my books of cd’s, my Ipod and my computer with all of my music backed up digitally. And believe me when you lose a collection of things, it really, really sucks. If one of my games gets a scratch in it and I can’t play it anymore that blows, but if I lost a hard drive with 30 games on it and no way for me to redownload with out paying for it again, I’m gonna have to kill someone.

    With going the digital route as well you had mentioned cutting out the middleman. Well what about the jobs of the middlemen. When they don’t have a place to work, they don’t have any money. I’m sure that all of sudden having the hundreds of thousands of people working at places like Gamestop, F.Y.E., Barnes & Noble, Comic shops, Best Buy (which is where I work), etc. would not bode well for the economy either. Also, this is something I know well, the people who work at those stores are also some of those stores best customers, especially due to the store discounts given to employees. If they shut down the stores that supply these people with not only their paychecks but also their main lifeline for entertainment at a discounted price. Nobody is gonna be buying anything.

    Now as for you not being one of those people that doesn’t like going out to the store and digging around in bargain bins, that’s really too bad. I remember having to go on scouring raids of used book and music stores trying to find all the stuff I had lost after Katrina and when I would come across some of that stuff I would be so happy, then I would come across something else that I used to have a long time ago and lost or something a friend used to own and I loved and I would more often then not, cry out “YES!” and clutch it to me for fear of it being parted from me once more. I’m not saying that I’m better or anything but to me, that would suck if I didn’t have that anymore.

    Finally, I will admit I do like having digital media as an option. It’s a very viable option for many, but just not for me. I do not want to be reliant upon someone else to control when I can and can’t watch something. Hell, I get pissed off when my Comcast internet goes down and I can’t stream Netflix. Do I really want to see what happens when something as trivial as a minor hiccup in my internet connection prevents me from playing a brand new game I have paid for in full but cannot play because it requires internet? No I don’t. Give me a hard copy and you can have your digital. As long as there is both in the world, why can’t we all be happy?

  8. Absolutely no way. I am not interested in media companies telling me when or how I can listen or watch my content nor palming me off with crap art and substandard quality. Solid copy all the way for me.

    There is also the fact I’m a bit of a collector

  9. I used to think that most of my desire for hard copies was the collection and display of my collected media on a shelf. It would be great to have a large-screen TV hooked up to a hard drive with your digital media, a touch-screen interface to display said media in a variety of ways. But that wouldn’t solve other problems.

    iTunes charges $3 for a 22-minute episode of a typical TV comedy. I can buy the season for $20 at Target or Walmart. Do the math. The “Season Pass” on iTunes isn’t much of a savings either. It’s not like these digital seasons or episodes go down in price after the DVD is released, either. The DVDs are loaded with bonus content and are presented in much higher quality. I can lend these DVDs to my friends as well… and I do!

    Something is very very wrong here. Once someone realizes that an episode of a 1/2-hour comedy show should be downloaded for 99 cents, I will start watching shows that way.

    I’m a big believer in Steam’s model. Cheap games that get cheaper as they age. User accounts that keep track of purchased content so you can redownload them as many times as necessary in the event of a server crash or even just buying a new, better computer.

    In short: Steam has my support, but digital distribution in other media has to play catch-up before I give up my bookcase full of DVDs.

  10. definitely not.

    i consider myself a collector (i have over 900 DVDs) and i really like the look of a wall of DVDs vs a lone hard drive.

    As people said above, what happens if your hard drive crashes? you lose everything.

    or if you’re relying on streaming media, what happens if your internet goes down.

    I will definitely be buying DVDs/Blu Rays as long as they are making them. No digital for me.

  11. I agree with everything said above. And I think the one thing that sticks in my mind is the PSN hack. I mean imagine if everything was held on a central server with all your stuff tied to your account, then some hacker busts in and changes everyone’s name to John Doe. There goes the neighborhood. Now I am not going to say that all forms of digital media are a bad thing. Music is great in that format, but I also no how much it sucks when your hard drive dies and you lose it all. That’s why even though I have all my music on my computer, I have it all backed up on DVDs so if that happens again I can get it back. And when it comes to books I own a Kindle and I really do love it. But at the same time if anything ever happens to my account or their server I’ll turn to my bookshelf of several hundred books and be glad I have them. Digital media is a great way to get bits and pieces of things to try them out or to catch up on a missed episode on TV. But if I there’s a show I like I’ll buy the season on Blu-Ray because it’s just so much better to have something in hand. I love standing in front of my wall of DVDs knowing I want to watch something but having the damnedest time diciding. And I think the biggest thing is the first time I watched a movie on NetFlix on my friend’s XBox and half-way through it stopped and had to buffer than came back with half the image quality it was. I was so annoyed I told him to stop it and let’s just play Halo. There’s a place for digital media and I think some of the things it lets us do are great. But I never ever want to get to a point where I have to stream everything.

  12. Digital for the win, Provided you use the right services. Though, there appears to be a portion of people that seem to be obsessed with actually holding the physical media, as if your licence has everything to do with that disk.
    While I still use it occasionally, I’d have to say its been at least 4 years since I’ve not just proceeded digitally, when available.
    Reselling can bite my ass. If it’s not worth buying, I don’t buy it and I will rent it if I can. It’s that simple. In addition, most reselling goes on to profit places like gamestop, and nobody actually involved with the game, which I also have very little interest in doing. If they weren’t so worried about making sure people get suckered into this buy/resell scheme than MP passes and the like wouldn’t exist.
    I don’t know why people are so eager to waste money on a game they have no intention of keeping it when there are services built around this very concept, and could be done at a fraction of the cost. ‘A fool and his money’, I guess.
    People also seem to not understand what a liscence is,
    People are so worried because what will happen to their media if their HDD crashes? well, they’ll just download it again, because that’s what owning a liscence for a product allows. finally physical media always gets dated, and then you end up with 3 huge boxes of VHS’s in your attic, and repurchasing the same stuff on DVD, for example 😉 so the physical media, I would argue, offers little to no advantage.

    Fortunately for physical media companies a lot of large ISPs have no interest in allowing something like this to take off (Comcast is involved in TV and on demand programming, with things like Digital downloads and streaming entering the fray, that’s Direct competition, and they want to squash it, so they toss in some bandwidth caps for X, Y or Z BS reason and they buy themselves a little bit of time while the inevitable approaches.

  13. The problem with digital media is that it essentially ruins the concept of a free-market economy. X company owns distribution rights for Y game, and X download service is the only place you can get it. Ergo, if you want it, you have to pay what X wants for it, and you can’t get it anywhere else.

    That removes all concepts of competition…you either buy it, don’t buy it, or pirate it (and risk getting caught). You won’t see an option of getting a specific game elsewhere on a sale. I can easily see the larger companies doing this. Blizzard is notorious for never ever putting their games on sale (ex: I saw copies of Diablo II still going for $40 even 10 years after it came out).

    Another issue I have is that people say things will be cheaper if they’re direct download. That’s not necessarily true. When Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 came out, they were $40 in the store. On Steam…$40 (or if there was a difference, it was negligible…i.e. less than a dollar). Why? You would think not having to pay to have the disc copied, packaged, shipped, stocked, etc. would make things cheaper. Or there are thousands of books out there where a used copy is infinitely cheaper than an e-book version. Why?

    The last thing I’ll harp on is the “environmental” aspect. The argument for e-books/digital copies is that we don’t need to cut up trees or make plastic for copies. That’s true…but you still need electricity to run the devices that make them work. How much power do those download servers use? Don’t they have to be up and running to make a purchase/download? Or how about recharging an e-book? That will always need power to run; hard copies of books don’t need anything to work.

    Most e-books are made in China; do you think their construction is environmentally friendly over there? How many game consoles/other electronics work for decades? They’re going to end up in a landfill eventually. And which is worse for the environment…paper that eventually decomposes, or plastics that will sit there for a few thousand years?

    Sure, e-books and the like are cool because their gadgetry is so new, but that’s ultimately all they are…gadgets.

  14. I like driving to Best Buy and shuffle through the bargain bin. I like seeing my collection of movies and games grow up against my wall. Digital download is less personal and less awesome than seeing someones physical collection of media. I hope physical products dont go the way of practical special effects. SOULLESS!

  15. As someone reading from Australia, digital only media would be near impossible for some people here. When you’re living in a brand new housing estate and the best internet connection you can get is wireless ‘broadband’ with a maximum of 10 or so GB per month to download, you won’t be able to watch anything!

    I prefer physical media in any case, yes I like having a collection on shelves to look at, sift through etc. My opinion might change if our internet infrastructure and plans were to become more beneficial.

  16. I like buying CD’s. If there’s a band I really like, and they put out an album, I’ll buy it. It sounds better, clearer, and crisper in my car stereo.

    Plus, I genuinely enjoy supporting bands that I like. For instance, Tool puts out an album every 5 years or so. Does it kill me to spend 15 bucks on that CD? Absolutely not. Besides the amazing music that I purchased, I get a unique case, artwork, etc. Things I couldn’t get from downloading digitally.

    I get it, digital media is convenient, the wave of the future. But fuck, I’m old school. As long as they keep making CD’s, I’ll buy ’em. Somebody needs to carry the torch of my generation. My dad gave me some of his old records that he’s kept over the years. I’m talking Beatles, Zeppelin, Hendrix. Those meant a lot to him. Someday I hope I have someone I can pass down my collection to.

  17. What happens when they start adding DLC to books? “Pay an extra 5 dollars now, and you’ll unlock the chapters which contain Gandalf and Aragorn!”… Inevitable?

    I can’t stand e-readers and will always like books. I like the feel of the paper and cover as I page through them. The thing the digital crowd don’t (can’t?) understand is that reading a book is about more than just the information which comprises a text: reading is a multi-layered experience, not just what you read but where and how you read it. If I’d had an e-reader as a kid, I never would have spent summer evenings at my grandparents’ house lying in bed reading out-of-print books by lamp light, and would have missed out on both the meaningful memories and the stories themselves. Basically, I find digital conversion somehow cheapening.

    The other thing? When you buy a book now, you pay one time and then you’re off the hook. I will not be pulled into paying per page or every time I want to re-read something. Who here doesn’t see that coming down the line? Once I buy something, it is mine, and not merely a “per user licensing agreement.”

    I also like being able to take books anywhere with me without power cables or battery packs, and without worrying about being unable to read anything or damaging to my library if I accidentally lose or damage my reading device.

  18. The main reason? You think waiting in line sucks? How about not being able to download or play the game for the first few days due to the servers being overloaded and crashing.

    Just look at when the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta came out. Bungie’s servers crashed because of the enormous demand, and that was just for a BETA.

    I rest my case.

  19. Someone may have touched on this already, but I just didn’t read all the other comments.

    One of my biggest problems with an all digital system is the power it gives to the providers. I currently am playing EA sports NHL 09 because I enjoy it and see no reason to get the newest version. Once everything is digital, they’ll find a way to stop that from happening.

    They’ll set it up that you always have to log on to play, and once online they can force new patches on your system, or deny service of out of date software. Imagine having to buy the same game every year (any sports game) because the company doesn’t want you to play the previous years game. If you play online at all, they can force you to use DLC in order to play, which will end up costing you.

    I like to be able to keep myself offline and play, but in a world of all digital media, that will be next to impossible. We’ll end up paying more for it because of all the extras they’ll manage to tack on.

  20. Someone mentioned licenses and claimed they give you the right to bla bla.
    A license with any digital distributor or corporation in general is always (unless prohibited by law) written to be open to change at their discretion. THEIRS, not yours. I paticularly dislike reading terms of service (ToS) agreements and end user license agreements (EULA). Then every time they change it you get to read it again–assuming you want to know how little control you have over the content you thought you purchased.
    I don’t care for a corporation to track everything I purchase and sell that information along with my contact information to more companies to bombard me with spam.
    I don’t like the level of uncertainty. If I buy a physical copy of a DVD I know exactly what my access to its content is and I control how that will change over the years.
    With a digital distributor a court case or license owner could easily tell a distributor they are no longer allowed to show me that content. A change in the EULA or ToS that I disagree with or can’t abide by means forfiting access to downloading that content again.

    In short, I live in America, corporations are not classy. Businesses are generally no longer traditional honorable entities. Nowdays they are generally faceless, heartless money machines. I do not care to give them any power I can hold onto. When I yield, they demand more money.
    Im not even going to mention ISPs and how much they would exploit this. I guarantee you there would be brandwith caps they push hard that are set intentionally low just so they can charge fees for people running over and… Uhg…

  21. I’m not a fan of digital. A few people have already touched up on some ideas, which I definitely agree with. A hard-copy disc is not only aesthetically much more pleasing, but it is also reliable. If we start saving things on hard drives, as the first comment said, whose to say we won’t just lose it all in a crash? I can download songs off itunes from my ipod, but I can’t transfer those songs back to my computer. When my ipod breaks, I’ll have wasted a good 20$. A cd would prevent this from ever happening.
    Also quality is a big issue. Netflix for example is convenient in our day and age, but if you really appreciate movies, you’ll know this is not the way to watch something you love. The quality is poor and the films are often cropped from their original format. If I want to watch something, I’ll go to my video store, pay the same price as you could off a rental on itunes (for example) and enjoy it on any player in my house, not searching for the one that’ll be compatible.
    The same goes for all those books and how people have kindles now. reading something digitally takes away from the experience, some may disagree with that of course. Digital is often not the better option for several more reasons and the list goes on. Maybe for the next few years, people will enjoy the digital format, but it’ll go “out of style”. Vinyl is already making a come back, which is an example enough that it isn’t just people with “collection fetish” (which really isn’t the best way to phrase someone who likes to own dvds) who want the real deal.

  22. Don’t forget that also the feeling of posession has an impact on people, companies also know this so that’s why there’s a legendary pack or bonus item in the purchase of a game. Also isn’t it nice organising your stuff and then find that game you forgot you had, picking that old system and playing it again. That’s something I can’t feel as much with the digital product.

  23. Am I the only one who doesn’t care? I am not a hoarder, and just can’t justify owning a hard copy of a book/movie/album. Maybe it’s because growing up my dad would always tell me how he hated having piles and collections of stuff. “All we do is collect stuff. We buy stuff, collect stuff, and then we die it just goes to the dump. There’s more important things than owning stuff.” I would rather watch streaming videos, or see a movie in theatre than own it.

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