Reading the blog posts on the soapbox, I discovered an interesting article by EarthThatWas. The article talks about the new wave of digital distribution and DLC that was brought about by the new generation of consoles. The article is very good, but what really peaked my interest was a comment by user KevinH1986.
Kevin's comment related to the fact that physical media formats will never die because simply too many people like him have relatively poor broadband connections and thus downloading games takes way too long when compared to simply going to the store and picking up a boxed retail copy. While I agree with this in theory, there is one company paving the way for this to be slightly less of a problem: Microsoft.
Microsoft have come up with a truely ingenious thing in xbox.com, the online portal that allows you to check your gamer score, send messages and do all of the things you can do through your xbox. This includes browsing the xbox live market place/arcade, and its in this regard that they are paving the way for a digital distribution future.
By allowing users to browse the marketplace and then purchase/select items such as games, movies, themes and add-ons they want to download and then linking this to that users xbox so that when the machine is turned on the downloads automatically start, the house that bill built has taken the first true steps towards a digitally distributed future.
However, in order for this utopian future to happen, Microsoft have to take a leaf out of a rivals book, and that rival is non other than Nintendo. The japanese giant success in the online space is a debate lauded on by far too many and will go on until they get it right, but there is one feature of the Wii that is truely ingenius: Wiiconnect24.
With the Wii constantly connected to the net even in standby mode Nintendo is able to let customers know when a big game is out on the VC or Wiiware, or send messages that an update is available or they are organising an online tournament, without the machine having to be on. If Microsoft were to take this constantly connected concept and add in the xbox.com portal, then rejoice my friends, for the future is now.
This functionality will allow us to browse xbox.com's marketplace early in the morning while at work, then purchase and add to the queue the items we want to download. This then filters down to our xbox's, which despite being in standby mode starts the download. Even with a relatively bad connection speed the game etc should be down by the time we get home and is ready to play. This should, in theory, resolve the problem that Kevin would have with his slow speed.
Now obviously, this will probably never happen, the simple fact of the matter is retail is too big and powerful for the console manufactuers to ignore and therefore a digital distribution only model ultimately fails at the design stage. You never know however, and if someone had the nuts to attempt it, we could well see a revolution in how we buy, get and play our games.
*Edit* Having thought about it, retailers could still make money from this by changing to sell only hardware and peripherals, though this would greatly reduce thier profits. I guess time will tell.