Are Downloadable Games the Future of Gaming?

In: Articles by Leah "WhiteGodiva" Haydu

31 Mar 2011

I didn’t see Gears of War 3 at PAX.

Nor did I see LA Noire, Mortal Kombat, or Portal 2. I stood in line for half an hour to see The Old Republic, but ultimately I abandoned ship on that one, so I didn’t see it, either.

Could I have seen these games? Sure. They were there with grand, flashy presences, and if I’d been willing to wait for them, I’m certain I would have been just as wowed as everyone else. This was my first PAX experience, though, and I came with a bit of a different battle plan in mind. I wanted to see things that were a little bit different. I wanted to split my time across as many things as I possibly could. The way I ended up doing that — as is no doubt evident by the articles I posted during the show itself — was by seeing a lot of downloadable titles.

I didn’t really start out with the particular objective of looking at downloadable games. Rather, my itinerary was determined by two main factors: One, did it catch my eye somehow: and two, can I get close enough to actually see what’s going on? If the answer to both of those was yes, then I made an effort to get a good look at the game in question, and quite frequently, that led me to a downloadable title.

A common complaint regarding smaller indie titles is that it’s hard to tell what’s going to be good and what’s simply going to be a waste of money. While this can certainly be a problem, who’s to say that larger titles don’t fall prey to the same issue? In fact, I’d argue that it’s even more of a problem for relatively new or unknown retail releases due to their usually higher price points. If you buy a disc you end up hating, it’s up to $60 down the drain, whereas a downloadable game that isn’t for you will usually set you back more like $10 or $15.

And when you do find the good ones, the same price points apply — consider that for the price of Red Dead Redemption at launch, you could have purchased Limbo, Braid, Shadow Complex, and Castle Crashers. That’s not to say that either is objectively a better choice, but there’s definitely a disparity of sorts there.

Something we discussed on the PAX East wrap-up episode of the podcast was that sometimes game companies just don’t seem to “get it” when it comes to shows like PAX. Long demos and longer lines can frequently discourage people like me from bothering to see the game, whereas smaller developers have more of an incentive to get their product into as many hands as possible — and usually do a better job at it than many of the big guys.  This actually sums up quite well the difference between promotions by larger retail companies and smaller developers. While companies like Microsoft and Bungie can rely more heavily on their names and reputations (and rightly so, in most cases), lesser-known teams such as Housemarque and Supergiant Games are more likely to place the importance on the quality of the game itself.

It would be silly to think that smaller downloadable titles are somehow going to rise up and steal the industry away from the titans. The very fact that the lines for games such as Battlefield 3 were as long as they were attest to that. My objective here isn’t to convince anyone that they should give up on retail releases and support indies to the exclusion of all else.  All I’m saying is that before you run out to blindly snap up Rockstar’s latest, you might want to take some time to check out what’s around on XBox Live and PSN, too.

And yes, I’ll be buying LA Noire.  But I’ll also be buying Bastion.

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2 Responses to Are Downloadable Games the Future of Gaming?

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Commander Tim

March 31st, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Sounds like the mantra I used to shout when I was on this show.

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Holy Goali

March 31st, 2011 at 3:09 pm

For a buck I thought Load was awesome. Wonder if they have any avatar items for that game.

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