NOTE: I wrote this back in May for The Escapist, but I just got my decline e-mail for the article pitch, so I'm sharing it with Destructoid on the rebound. Some of the content is outdated, because it was written before E3 so things like downloading full 360 games on your console aren't included in the article, but I acknowledge it personally.
When Nintendo initially announced the features of the Wii (formerly the Revolution) the one feature I was most excited for was the Virtual Console, which would allow users to download old Nintendo games from the NES, SNES, and N64. As a gamer whose favorite games of all time reside in the 16-bit era of the SNES, I was excited to have access to classic titles from a single medium, despite I still have my old consoles plugged in at my parents� house. Without realizing it, I knew that downloading games to the internal memory of a console would become the future for video game distribution.
As excited as I was for the Virtual Console, it took well over a year before the service would gain momentum, and even then, none of my favorite titles were to be found. The problem was my favorite games were RPG�s from Square Enix, who was slowly returning support to Nintendo, when they weren�t whoring out Final Fantasy VII or re-releasing their backlog in $40 packages. I eventually lost hope for the Virtual Console, but was still content with the retail games Nintendo put out. After the epic fail that was Nintendo�s E3 2008 Press Conference, I lost hope for Nintendo and promptly jumped ship to the Xbox 360, and by promptly I mean as soon as I acquired the adequate funds for a 360.
Not all forms of digital distribution are perfect either. A poor example of digital rights management (DRM) arose with EA�s Spore last year. Consumers who purchased the title were only permitted to install the game three times. This was implemented to prevent the amount of piracy for the game, which is highly prevalent for PC games and PSP games. Many users admitted that they would rather pirate a game than purchase a game that utilized a DRM service. Sony made the decision to release Patapon 2 for the PSP exclusively via download. They do have retail cases that include the download code for the game when purchased, but no UMD.
As with the Virtual Console, I enjoy having all of my games available to me from a single source, not to mention I don�t have to hassle with blowing into cartridges or scratching discs. I�m also guaranteed that a game will always be in stock and are sold at arguably reasonable prices. Also, if there happens to be a situation where you need to free up some space on your hard drive or your system fails, these services usually allow you re-download games you previously owned at no additional cost.
Going back to Valve who seems to know how to handle digital distribution adequately with their DRM service called Steam. Steam features over 600 games available to download that range from independent ventures, to best selling popular titles. While the focus is mainly on Valve�s titles such as the Half-Life games and Counter-Strike, EA has even included some of their games to Steam�s library. Steam is also focused on the community aspect with gamers. Matchmaking services for multiplayer games are provided as well as an intricate modding community for those who enjoy playing around with level creation and physics tools found within the games.
In closing, with services such as Xbox Live Marketplace, PlayStation Store, Steam, and many others, I fully embrace the idea of gaming going mostly if not completely digital. Considering downloadable games are more cost efficient to both developers and consumers, it would be foolish to think otherwise.