It doesn't seem that long ago when I awoke in a rush of pure excitement, hearing the news of Radiohead's brand new groundbreaking album, In Rainbows. To many, this might have meant getting that cool Radiohead t-shirt out of the hamper and driving to the store, maybe mingling with other fans as you flip excitedly through the CD's notes. The rush of taking off from the cashier's counter and running to your car or home, and listening to all those brand new songs you've heard so much about.
However, none of this happened that morning. I didn't need to dig my Radiohead t-shirt from the laundry, nor did I need to grab a coat.
I just walked to my computer.
As a consumer of both the music and gaming industry, the true impact of digital distribution had never hit me before until that very morning. For those of you unaware with the album in question, In Rainbows was, at first, released exclusively over the internet, without a single CD having been printed. Ever since, more and more artists have come onboard to the idea, and a strange thing began to happen. As more and more artists turned to this new means of releasing the music to their fans, people began to view the record industry as something of a holdover. After all, if I can enjoy a new album on the very minute of its release without ever having touched a single CD, what purpose do the publishers and record labels really serve anymore?
Fast forward to not more than an hour ago, as I learned the details of this upcoming OnLive service. Though the media in question is undoubtedly different than simple music files, the same questions deserve to be answered. After all, we as gamers have experienced a host of excellent games over DLC services without ever handling a physical package. Who's to say the same can't be done for the blockbuster games we've stood in line for at Gamestop at the unreasonable midnight hours? Who's to say that the game developers, already up to the ears in the time, effort, and money involved in making our favorite games should need to further concern themselves with a publisher, and the monetary considerations that are involved with the manufacture of disks?
I grew up in the age in which games became an established and recognized entity in the media world, and I have all those memories of standing in line, mingling with fellow fans about the new release as we await our opportunity to purchase and play these wonderful distractions. But having seen the impact digital distribution has had on the music industry and our economy, it is not hard for me to imagine a world without publishers of any kind. But what does that mean for us?
With more money in the hands of the game developers, having been saved the need of a publisher, one could imagine much more efficient production of these games. I've heard stories of developers not having the funds to include simple features such as subtitles, alternate languages, remappable controls, downloadable content, multiplayer, and so much more. So who's to say that such things could be entirely possible in a future without Gamestop?
Even further, without the need of physical disks, is the concept of exclusive titles really relevant anymore? If exclusive titles are the console manufacturer's answer to getting the consumer to buy their box, it seems very likely that digital distribution very well could have the means to make such concepts irrelevant.
With all of this speculation and excitement over the future of the gaming industry, is it really such a price to pay to lose that hard copy of a game that you stood in line for? Some may agree, and some may not. But in the end, we may very well be on the verge of something new entirely. Or maybe just another gimmick. Only time (and latency) will tell.