What happened to the digital download video game dream? Sony, Microsoft and even Nintendo managed to sell us games direct through the web last generation, so surely they’re all ready to leap into full virtual sales mode by now?
But no. As well as sticking by the traditional ‘bricks & mortar’ sales channels, Microsoft and Sony seem to be doing their best to ensure that digital game purchasing never becomes the norm, by sticking comically huge asking prices on their new PS4 and Xbox One digital downloads.
How, for example, can it possibly cost £54.99 to buy and download Assassin’s Creed IV for Xbox One direct from Microsoft’s online servers, when you can get it in a real plastic box on Amazon for £40?
That makes no sense to the average buyer. It makes sense on a business level that Microsoft and Sony might want its retail buddies to carry on existing and are therefore happy to keep raking in money from stupidly-priced digital sales, but for most punters? It’s straightforward robbery.
One virtual owner
Over beneath Eurogamer’s explanation of Ubisoft’s prices and the initial disparity between PS4 and Xbox One digital costs, reader OtisBDriftwood boiled down most people’s thoughts with: "Until the days where I can lend or resell my digital game like I can with a disk then I’ll never see the perks of digital over disk. Charging more let alone same value as disk based is just nowhere near enticing."
Paying £54.99 for a game is unlikely to ever be particularly enticing, Otis. That’s a whole week’s food shopping, or two weeks if the man of the house is allowed to go on his own.
Further down, Ubisoft’s line about wanting to "support a healthy retail channel" got on Zukabak’s goat, who ripped into it with: "What an absolute joke of a comment that is. Nobody was asking them to seriously undermine retail, but a bit of sodding parity would be nice. I get that you don’t want to massively undercut the shops at launch, but there’s literally no incentive there to buy a PSN version of the game."
Beneath a Gamespot piece on Sony’s digital download prices (which contains the staggering sentence "Angry Birds Star Wars – £32.99"), readers weren’t exactly unzipping their wallets and trousers in readiness for this exciting digital future, either.
Commenter Gufberg was one of many who latched onto the massive disparity between consoles and PC, where Triple-A titles are available for a pittance. He said: "Steam, Greenmangaming, Gamersgate etc are all digital and they’re cheaper than retail most of the time and the sales (like the Autumn sale right now) are crazy. Digital IS good. Apparently, Microsoft and Sony just can’t handle their monopoly and uses it to extort console gamers."
Reader S4E had something vaguely positive to say in defence, though, warning that it’s wrong to blame Sony and Microsoft for the hikes, saying: "It’s not entirely Sony’s fault mind. They have said the developers can charge pretty much whatever they want, from range of £0.99 to £59.99 or something like that. And, surprisingly enough, most of them charge near on the full amount." So, not for the first time, blame it all on EA.
Over on Videogamer, reader FantasyMeister lamented the death of his own personal fantasy about digital downloads becoming the norm. He said: "…silly digital prices were to be expected because there are gamers out there willing to pay those prices, so I’m only miffed at both camps because they’re not prepared to kick bricks and mortar retails into touch by offering digital games at £30 and promoting the whole digital marketplace properly."
Indeed, one of the more common opinions out there seems to be that if Sony or Microsoft were to bravely declare war on the high street and Amazon by selling digital copies for a lower price than physical discs, it’d be one hell of an incentive to consider buying one of their new machines.
But of course, who’s really prepared to spend £50 or £60 on a game that may take hours and perhaps even the best part of a day to download on a crappy 2Mb broadband connection? Not Videogamer reader Alphafour, who suggests a two-point plan for getting us to embrace digital: "The idea of a digital-only gaming world will make more sense when 1) pricing resembles something more like Steam and 2) our internet connections can deal with 50GB downloads very quickly."
So what we need is more money and faster internet pipes. Then all the moaning would end.
- Inflame is Techradar’s weekly look at the web’s best comments. Turns out there is a lot of them.