In my last blog I talked about why I don't collect games or gaming related items because I lacked the room or desire to collect and AliD mentioned that he enjoyed Steam because he was able to collect games without needing the physical space for a collection. This "digital collection" is becoming a reality in today's world. It's not just games, it's also movies and music. The iTunes music store opened in 2003. One of the primary reasons that people are loyal to Apple is because they have to be. Once someone acquires an iPod or iPhone and buys music, movies, apps or games on iTunes, it's simply much easier for them to buy and use other Apple hardware to continue having ease of access to the products they already purchased, because Apple makes sure it's damn convenient to access all your crap from any of their devices, especially with the introduction of iCloud. Apple has made (and will continue to make) a huge amount of money because they have created digitally loyal consumers who will buy new iPads to support past i-purchases on their iPhone.
All the major game console manufacturers quickly jumped into the concept of digital storefronts and since their inception, they've expanded to include not just demos, DLC, add-ons and smaller games, but they also now include full retail games in a digital format as well as movies, music, and apps like Netflix. The creation of these digital storefronts not only ensures a profitable revenue stream (for example, Steam and Apple take approximately a 30% cut of all sales, including DLC and in-game sales), but additionally these digital stores can help tie people to future hardware purchases in ways that disc games never could. Apple seems to have set a bit of a precedent in that the expectation is that digitally purchased items will continue to be available in newer hardware iterations. I can't even image the backlash if the next Xbox or Playstation console tried to incorporate a new store and deny access to previously purchased games, movies, etc. I strongly feel that such a move would invariably result in a console's death. While gamers are used to the fact that previously purchased retail disc games may or may not be backward compatible on new hardware, digital purchases can't be traded in and with Apple's precedent, it would be extremely difficult to rationalize denial of digital purchases. I'm pretty sure that torches and pitchforks would be dragged out in mass console burnings if my 2009 digital copy of Flower
was not available to me on my PS4.
As our individual digital collections grow, so too does our loyalty to the hardware. We may not even fully realize it, but if you have a collection of PSN games and/or movies are you not more likely to purchase a PS4 rather than a next gen Xbox? It's not just the library of purchased games and movies, but also the digital collection of friends. The creation of the "friends" listing on your Xbox or PS3 unit is also something that will likely transfer to any new system. Logging in to new hardware will give you the starting point of access to that same list of digitally collected friends where you have no idea who half of them are and where you secretly wonder if "b1gBoner213" is your second cousin or someone you befriended when you were drunk.
We are gradually moving more and more into this digital world. This digital world now houses many of our collections... our movies, music, writing, games, apps, photos and even our friends. Unfortunately for the consumer, there is little in the way of commonality among these digital collections. We can't log in to one place and have access to our PSN games, our Xbox Zune movies, our iTunes music. Differing software programs and hardware devices are often needed for access. From the hardware manufacturing end, this is a smart move and consumers, and most especially collectors, might do well to start considering where their true loyalties lie. Mass Effect 3
was available as a digital purchase on PSN. While the PS4 may or may not support the current blu-ray disc format, it likely will support the digitally purchased game. If this is a game that you had no intention of ever selling, you might have been better to purchase the digital version rather than the disc version to have future access. Then again, there is also the aspect of who owns the digital game? You may have purchased it, however if you are banned from a service or if the service changes or goes down, you may lose access to the ability to play this game, all your games and you'll may even lose access to playing online with b1gBoner213!. As we edge ever closer to the inevitable announcements of next gen hardware it might be time to look a little closer at your digital loyalty and the pros and cons these digital collections represent. It might even be a good time to see what you have in your digital collection! On PSN there is no easy way of seeing what content you have paid for, but rather it is buried in a list of ALL items downloaded from the PSN store - including that demo for Super Rub a Dub
that I downloaded to entertain my 5 year old niece for 20 minutes, 5 years ago. At least with Microsoft you can look at your billing history and see an actual list of your purchases! Still, I do think that both PSN and XBL would do well to take a page from game collectors and let us view our purchased collections as collections - stuff we bought in a nice format more similar to something we're used to. Something that looks a little more like this:
I think that personally I will watch my digital purchases. I don't want to be committed to next gen hardware. I'll still buy games if the price is right and if it's a game I want, but I'll keep in mind that I may be making a longer term commitment than the 2 or 3 hour trek it takes to complete Journey
. I love my iPad and my iPod, and if I ever decide to get a phone, it will be an iPhone - simply so that I'll have access to that 99 cent copy of Word Solitaire
that I find so addicting (not to mention that my entire life now resides on my i-calendar and while I can access it from the i-cloud on my non-i, windows PC, there is likely no easy painless way to transfer it to another device). I'm becoming more aware of the ties that bind because of my i-experience.
In fact, for my next gen console I'm rather liking the concept of OnLive. I'm kind of digging the netflix concept of paying $9.99 a month and having access to 150 games to choose from. I don't own any of them, so I'd be breaking all ties to the concept of digital collections. They might be slightly older games, but the concept is slick. What's even better is many of these games can be played on the PC, TV and even on my iPad. I love the idea and the concept... but the reality is that I'll probably end up buying the next Playstation console for one very simple reason... Sony is holding my friends hostage! Unless I buy a Playstation console, I won't be able to play with Byronic Man or Clockwork or Red or any of the other numerous friends I have on the system who will also probably buy a Playstation console because they too have friends being held hostage by Sony. Others will stick with Xbox, not because of the games... but because Microsoft is holding their friends and their XBL Indie game collection hostage. Digital loyalty. We may not want it, we may not need it... but it's there. It's insidious. It's diabolical. It's good business.