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Jon Hartley avatar 12:28 PM on 01.07.2008
Monday Rant: Digital Downloads & Xbox 720, Bah!

What better day for a rant than a Monday, and what better subject than the inevitable progression in technology? Well, it seems inevitable if you visit any number of forums, gaming, or movie sites, that is.

If you've been in a thread where "next-gen DVD" has been discussed, or even the recent "Xbox 720" thread here at the 'toid, surely you've seen the smarky, matter-of-fact proclamations that of course, digital downloads are the future and the future isn't that far away. And oh yeah, it makes perfect sense to have a next-next gen console in the next few years from Microsoft (in all fairness, this is all speculation anyway). I've read the so-called facts and taken in the predictions of the inevitable events to come, and I have this to say:

Y'all are fucking crazy.

What many of you fail to recognize is that technology and consumerism are two very different things. It's true that from a technological standpoint, digital downloads are a sensible and very possible way to enjoy movies, games, or (as we've already seen) music without having 178,387 discs cluttering our living rooms. However, whether or not you're ready for digital downloads, the rest of the world is not.

It seems that some of you fine folks have not been to a Wal-Mart lately. That's right, Wal-Mart. The place where commonfolk jockey for position at the $5 DVD bin; the place where parents still shrug their shoulders at "next-gen" consoles and settle on a PS2 for their bratty kids. Wal-Mart represents the reality of the American consumer, and the reality is that a large portion of the market (you know, the market that companies rely on to make a profit, which is what this is all really about, right?) is not ready for digital downloads or an Xbox 720/PS4. There is a huge gap between consumers that are early-adopters, who have a 5th gen iPod, a couple next-gen systems, a nice PC with broadband internet, and those who are still fine with regular DVD, who only use the internet to check their e-mail or play a flash game, and who could give a rat's ass about newly developing technology. Again, you may be ready for digital downloads; that doesn't mean everyone else is. As of a few years ago, only 46% of Americans had broadband internet, for example. Even if that number has continued to grow, we're looking at about half of all Americans, or a little more than half. From that portion of the country, surely a much smaller percentage than that really has a huge interest in doing away with physical media.

Here's perhaps the most obvious, but least talked about reason that digital downloads aren't going to be the norm anytime soon: Americans like to own shit. Lots of shit. They see the pretty packaging, they want it. They want it to sit on their shelf at home and look pretty. They want to amass a collection. An iPod makes sense. It's portable and convenient. Digital downloads for movies and games make less sense, and directly conflict with the average American's instinct to have lots and lots of shit. I mean, come on. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence can figure out how to copy or download free movies, or even games, very quickly. Yet, people are still buying DVDs and games. You think it's just because they have tons and tons of integrity and are honest, hard-working folks? Bwaaahahahahahahahaaaaaa. You give much more credit to society than I do. Hell, the only reason people stopped illegally downloading music in such high numbers is because of an irrational fear of being caught and flogged in the town square by the evil RIAA.

And an Xbox 720? Get outta here. I've seen D-toiders posting nonsense about a "5-year console life" as if its written in stone, when in fact it's anything but. With each growing generation, the amount of time before a new console is released is actually lengthening, and even then many people aren't early-adopting and are buying a console a year or two after its initial release. Don't believe me? Let's look at Sony, who's had the most success in the disc-based videogame era:

Playstation was released five years before Playstation 2.
Playstation 2 was released seven and a half years before Playstation 3.

Don't talk to me about the short timespan between the Xbox and Xbox 360, either. Xbox was late to the party and they had to push the 360 for an early release to beat Sony to the punch in the next generation. Clearly, Sony's increased console lifespan is the optimal business model for a company looking for maximum market penetration and profit from their videogame system. In other words, don't expect a 720 anytime soon, unless Microsoft is really, really dumb. If you want to see the videogame market fall out or if you're rooting for massive consumer backlash, then by all means root for another console generation in the next few years. Common sense tells us that if someone who finally sprung for a 360 after the price drop this holiday season has their $350 ($450 if it's an Elite) investment backfire in a few years, they are not going to be pleased. And you can be damn sure they won't be waiting in line to get another, even more expensive console that will be topped in another 5 years.

So do me a favor, my Destructoid brethren. Talk about the future of digital downloads and consoles all you want, but let's not be naive enough to assert that these things are in our immediate future when they are, in fact, not. You're better than that.

 
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