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Game in a Box: Endangered in the next 10 years?


Welcome to Debatoid! We take a controversial topic, form a proposition, and set two contenders the challenge of stating their case in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. After which, users may vote to decide which contender they support. Rules for voting are at the bottom of the blog, but it is recommended that you read the contenders' cases before you cast your vote.

CaptainBus frames the debate:

The inception of video games and the internet share a parallel: It is from work undertaken by IT technicians on experimental computing machines that took up entire rooms in universities that both cultural phenomena originated.

These technicians would have had no conception that their experiments in human-to-computer interaction and improving military systems survivability would snowball into the present; the citizenship may indulge in the fantasy of shooting each other in mid-air from quad bikes as men from another planet dressed in intricately painted and decorated body armour, while they display their bedroom live in real time around the world using a device no larger than a hardback book.

However, despite the Brave New World we live in, that which we considered a "video game" in its typical form 40 years ago is not so very different from its typical form today. You still buy your game in a box, it contains an instruction manual and a small disc or cartridge that fits into your device, and that disc or cartridge contains all the information you need for that game to play and for you to enjoy.

More recently, though, this same old story is increasingly gathering footnotes; games and added content are becoming more frequently distributed online. Entire portions of games such as multiplayer or co-operative play are becoming internet only features. Some games require a pervasive internet connection to recognise a legitimate copy. The number of different standards for how we consume a video game are growing rapidly, and the old standard, the game that you buy, put in your machine, and play, has become multi-faceted and less clear than ever before.

That said, modern methods of communication have not made more antiquated forms obsolete: The paper book and the non-mobile telephone are still alive and well. The car and plane are together far more well-worn tools for getting a meeting together than a video-conference. Most people who work with computers still go to an office. Television is over 80 years old and has not yet had its day.

Fast forward to 2021; will we still have shelves in stores marked "video games" in 10 years time? Is the game in a box a dying dog, or a proud pony?

The proposition: In 10 years time physical media will become marginalised.

Ali D states his case for the proposition:

Itís a gross understatement to say that the internet has changed the way we obtain and consume media. Before the internet, if you wanted to get a movie, book or some music, youíd need to visit a store of some sort and peruse what was available. Now with the internet, and specifically online shopping, part of everyday life, simply shopping at a local store just isnít the way to go. Online giants like Amazon and ebay pioneered online shopping, but that was still for physical goods (DVDs or CDs), but coming into the decade we now have streaming services like Netflix, OnLive, Spotify and Last Fm. Weíre even downloading books and comics onto our portable devices. Eventually, physical media will become obsolete, stores will have old stock and charity and second hand shops will be full of unsellable discs and novels. Some of you may have more of an affinity for physical media, but Iím sorry to say that it is on itís way out.

But the sacred-cow status of physical media will pass: our children will laugh at the notion of shopping for media. ďYou mean, you had to leave the house and go to a store to get a videogame? And if they didnít have any in available, you just had to come back another time when they got more stock in? Hah ha ha hah!Ē Over the last few years, thereís been the debate that physical media ďmeansĒ more than digital, that itís ďpresenceĒ makes it special and more intimate. In 10 years time, weíll realise thatís a strange notion; weíre glorifying the mediums themselves, rather than their content, like those obnoxious hipsters who somehow think that owning a song on vinyl makes it ďbetterĒ than an MP3 of the same song.

But what of games? I know the worry is that digital only releases will kill the used game market. Maybe thatís for the best; too many times Iíve looked for a pre-owned copy of a game only to find itís almost the same price as a new copy. Save a couple of pounds for a second hand copy, a scratched up disc and a coffee stained manual? No thanks, Iím not that hard up. Then thereís the matter of even finding copies of the games I want, most game stores have racks upon racks of pre-owned sports games from yesteryear and below average shooters. Finding the actual games you want is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I believe that digital distribution will overtake retail within the next few years and this will be a good thing. With manufacturing discs finished, thereís no reason you shouldnít always be able to get the game you want, whenever you want. And frankly, who is going to miss being asked if they want to invest £5 on a disc protection guarantee?

Personally speaking, Iíve gone totally digital when it comes to buying PC games. Steam is a shining beacon in my eyes. Like a lot of people I was initially skeptical of the service (buggy launch and all), but now itís my go-to service for gaming. I live quite a while away from a regular videogame retail store, but with Steam Iíve got a great range of titles at great prices, regular sales and a brilliant range of indie titles. Youíve got to wonder why I would shop at a store, when Iíve got what I need just a click away? Steam is also a great leveller when it comes to cultivating indie development: with the makers of Super Meat Boy and the Bit Trip series saying they got more sales on Steam than any other platform, itís clear to see digital distribution is a great way to sell your game and get it into the hands of people.

10 years for physical media to become marginalised? I donít even think itíll take 5 years. Letís get one thing straight, you might not want it to happen for perfectly valid reasons. Iím just saying it will happen, whether you like it or not.

SuperMonk4Ever states his case against the proposition:

Don't you love the smell of a freshly opened game case? The smell of the fresh plastic and the game manual filling your nostrils. Holding that game case firmly in your hands while looking the art of the case. Taking off that fucking plastic wrap and annoying package sticker. Opening the case up and the game manual being right there if the player needs any help. Maybe going into the notes pages and writing disturbing messages or drawing a huge boner. Then, the center of the package, the disc. Popping that disc out of it's green prison and dropping it into the tray and hearing that automatic hum of the system at work. I mean... that isn't weird at all, is it? I love physical media. I still buy CDs in an era of MP3s for crying out loud! Maybe I'm a bit of a collector but I love having a physical selection and displaying them with pride.

Physical media will always be around. I don't have a doubt about that at all. However, I disagree that digital distribution is the way to go for every game in the future. The consumers proved this with the sales of the PSP Go not being that... great. It is true that digital distribution services like Steam help the smaller guys get big (I love you Amnesia) but the bigger developers need a broader audience. Not everyone has a high speed internet and some people don't have it at all. I believe the pros heavily outweigh the cons when you take them all into perspective.

There are multiple pros I can list off the top of my head. Such as the ability to do whatever you want with your copy of the game. You can take it over to a friends house and play it with them, maybe trying to show them why they should get said game as well. Hell, you can let your friend borrow the game as well. If you are disappointed with a piece of shit game, *Cough*Mindjack*Cough*, you can return it to get your money back. After you have pretty much completed a game and you are done with it, you can trade it in towards another game you have been eyeing from across the store.

The collector deep inside me also loves getting the Special, Limited or Collector editions of big games as well. Some of my favorite decorations around my room are special editions and the awesome gear they come with. I have the Noble Team statue sitting on my dresser alongside with the Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Jack-in-the-Box. If you can find it, I recommend picking up the Alan Wake Collector's Edition.

One of the other things is that, with most digital download distributers, all your downloads are tied to one account. Well, I currently live in fear of losing all of my Xbox Live content. Back when I first received my 360, my brother and I were naive. It was the first console we took online. Well, my brother received a message over Xbox Live from a bot about free Microsoft Points. He followed the link which took him to a page that looked exactly like the Xbox.com login page. Being the great brother he is, he thought of me and tried to get me some free points. He entered my info and hit enter yet nothing happened. He shrugged it off and forgot about it until I tried to log into Xbox.com about a year later (Hey, I don't use the website that often). My info wouldn't work and I used every password I use but I still couldn't log in. Checking my info from the Dashboard, I noticed that my e-mail had been changed. I immediately seeked help but to this day but it still hasn't been resolved. This example may be a bit extreme and out there but I'm sure I am not the only one with this problem.

In the end though, I guess it comes down to what you prefer. The PC has been moving pretty quickly into the download territory. However, the console scene will more than likely stay in favor of physical copies. No matter what though, I will always prefer having the physical copy of a game. Especially if there is a special edition that comes with CD containing the soundtrack. Oh I am a sucker for those.

Many thanks to Ali D and SuperMonk4Ever for their contributions.


Votes are now closed and collected on this week's Debatoid! It was exciting to have another close-run contest. After some early heavy voting for the proposition it was starting to look a bit one-sided, but faith in the benefits of retail editions of games outweighed the views on the current tide of digital distribution and live streaming gaming opportunities that have found their way onto the market:

Congratulations to SuperMonk4Ever on his victory, and commiserations to Ali D on his defeat.

Whatever current trends currently face the retail space, there are two things you can rely on, that is that unless all your ducks are in a row, you will not overthrow the status quo.

The recent hacking scandal surrounding the PSN has served to illustrate that internet gaming is still a new and frightening frontier. This console generation is the first with internet gaming on every machine, and each method that companies use has their penalties, be they a service charge, confusing points systems to purchase games against, or a less robust service with fewer features. Full retail offerings are coming into the console download space but are often massively overcharged and require a good deal of hard drive space, clear indications that the industry itself is still questioning the internet as the sole marketplace of the future.

Nonetheless there are some developers, such as Double Fine productions and Telltale Games, that have embraced online gaming an done so with fantastic results. Here is a space where they can distribute fine nuggets of games at good prices and not have to contact one distributor or publisher to do so. By doing this they have massively reduced overheads, and totally evaded issues surrounding lost revenue from consumers buying used copies, which is still a most thorny issue that even the most successful retailer contends with when considering the quarterly turnover. Deals and promotions can be arranged with a simple nod in the direction of Valve, Sony or Microsoft, and Steam, PSN or XBL is awash with promo banners showing off the new price-points to any user that logs in. Promotional marketing of physical media would require carefully managed teams distributing posters or stands, educating retailers and consumers, not to mention a barrage of television, radio and poster campaigns, at exponentially greater cost.

Ten years time is a long time in videogame terms, so to consider how we will play games in such a time does require Nostradamus levels of soothsaying. Clearly though, amongst the community, it does not appear to be a time in which shelves no longer house those shiny plastic clicking dream-holders.

Here are some of the highlights from the comments:

"Digital distribution is the greatest thing ever! We live in a world where I can buy and play a game right now in my undies - that is amazing!"

"I have no doubt that games will become purely digital distribution in the future. Conrad talked about it briefly on Backlog yesterday and I had to agree with him, it is the future but we aren't ready for it yet."

"I believe that digital distribution will be the only way to acquire games in ten years. Special editions will not contain the game per se, but a card with the redeem code for it. Publishers who don't own their own studios will be in a bad situation, since the studios could publish their games directly with the digital retailer."

"As much as we may want to think, a download isn't forever. What if your hard drive fries? And the service has been abandoned (original Live comes to mind)? How do you get that game back? Where can you find it now?

And what if I don't have internet where I live? Or a very strict download cap? How will I get access to any game once I reach that limit, assuming I even have an internet connection? Wait till next month? Doesn't sound very appealing to me."

"Until distributors take a serious look at how many sales they could gain by adjusting the price points of their games to combat the used game market, I can't conscientiously accept digital distribution across the board."

"Collecting things is my favorite thing to do, and buying games on PSN or Steam just doesn't feel the same to me. I only ever use those services to buy indie games that don't have physical copies. I still buy CDs, DVDs and video games from local stores. I love perusing the stores, looking at all of their wares and perhaps stumbling upon something unexpected. I just really hope that the day never comes when that is no longer an option for me. Call me old-fashioned, but that's how I feel."

Occams electric toothbrush
"Having that item in my possession, sitting on my shelf, having acquired it and now owning it is a feeling that cannot be replaced by downloading it.

Certainly the digital distribution method will continue to be a popular and mostly efficient method but I don't ever see a box release going away. Midnight releases, opening the box and the excitement of taking the plastic off the case, those moments are as much a part of game culture as the games themselves."

"There are many reasons why I feel that physical media will still be around for a long time.

First off, kids. Yea, that's right, kids. Guess what kids don't have? Credit cards. Guess what kids would need if we lived in an all digital world? You got it, credit cards. Now before you give me the whole "well they can ask their parents, or go to the store to get a points card...". I say no to both of these, first off, not all parents have or can get a credit card. It doesn't matter your personal opinion on why they can or cannot, the simple truth of the matter is that not everyone can. If a kid wants a game but doesn't have access to a credit card what do they do? Stick a $20.00 bill into the front of their Xbox? No, they go to the store and buy a points card! But wait, if they are at the store to get a points card to buy a video game, then why not just buy the game right then and there, at the store? Makes sense huh?

Another reason why I don't see digital distribution being the sole way of purchasing games is because of our high speed infrastructure here in the States. Now I can't speak for other countries but I can tell you that we will not be ready for everyone in the States to have accessible and affordable high speed internet within ten years. Hell, the Government's plan for high speed internet for everyone isn't scheduled to complete for another 15 years, and let's be honest, this is the United States Government we're talking about here. 15 years is a pipe dream.

Oh and then we cannot forget about storage space. Now my current Xbox 360 has a 250GB hard drive, plenty of space for what I need it for, mostly because I don't have to install every game that I own to the hard drive. That's what the physical copy and disc drive are for.

Currently movies for the PS3 are stored on a Blu-Ray. Blu-Rays have the capacity to hold 50GB of data. Imagine downloading 50GB to your hard drive. Now imagine how big your hard drive is going to have to be in order to hold the fifteen must have games that you just HAVE to have!"

"Digital still has too many problems it has to resolve before it can truly become fully accessible. Chief amongst them is the shear amount of accounts youīll undoubtly be forced to create. One for Steam, one for GOG, one for iTunes, one for Amazon, and then for Paypal etc..."

"There are good points to non-physical media, but they're more than canceled out by the industry's insistence, with few exceptions, on using it primarily to make using their products simultaneously more profitable for themselves and more of a hassle for consumers. Until this changes, I'll happily make room for those boxes"

"Seems a pointless debate. Like Ali said, it doesn't matter what you want, it will happen, because it's a hugely more profitable model for developers/publishers. However with America being as... stagnant as it is developmentally, I think 10 years is a legit minimum to see it really start happening on a large scale.

The key point really will be what happens with the next generation of consoles, which presumably will be built focused around an online mercantile model."

Maurice Tan
"Actually, even though I tend to go download-only with all things PC, that Witcher 2 collector's edition made me think twice until I saw the price. But without cool extras, why would I bother to wait for a store to deliver it to me or go out and buy it?"

Corduroy Turtle
"Let's not all think with our Steam accounts here. Digital media is cool and all but I'll be damned if I'm going to buy a bunch of shit that is absolutely WORTHLESS once it hits my hard drive. Actual digital ownership is going to take a while to figure out and that is not going to happen in 10 years time. "

Fame Designer
"Just because a disc and a case are physical, doesn't mean the data hasn't been written to it in the same way it would downloaded to your hard drive. For you collectors out there... We hold a certain sentiment for our old cartridges. But someday we might miss our old XBox 360s and those hard drives with all the downloaded content written on it. The console itself was the method of storage. It seems silly to love the data you've downloaded less than the physical data on the shelf."

"Since most of my real life friends and I live within driving distance of each other, we often trade games whenever one of us comes to visit. I come over to his house one day and he has Bayonetta, I borrow it from him and I return it to him when I'm done. I get Dead Space 2, he wants to play it, I give it to him when he comes over. By doing this, it does two things: it saves us money and we both get to play a game we like. With digital media, not so much."

Lord Death of Murder Mountain
"I want to purchase the game in its entirety; I don't want to pay money just to own the license to play the game. It's hardly a likely prospect, but what happens if Steam collapses? I'm guessing that every license you forked out for will be revoked. Your money, alas, will not be refunded."

"It's gonna happen. I have an iPad... and will likely never buy a physcial book again. I like being able to carry around my own portable library. I like owning a "forever" copy of a book rather than losing "Atlas Shrugged" yet again and re-buying a third copy. I like owning movies that I can play on my computer, my PS3, my iPod or my iPad.

I also like the ability to buy a day 1 release game from the comfort of my console. In fact I'd like to pre-order the thing and have it download over night and waiting for me when I wake up on release day! Yeah, it's gonna happen! No more scratched discs, no more lost games (or melted when I left it sitting in the sun in the car), no lent it to a friend and never saw it again... just mine, forever."

"There's other hurdles DD has to go through first before taking over physical such as lack of tangibility in the customer's mind, DRM issues and specially dumping once and for all this dumb "the future is in the cloud" idea, but in my opinion right now the biggest one is publisher's poor attitude to DD customers."

"As much as I agree with Monk, I can't help but have that feeling that digital media will become bigger and definitely better than the way it is now. Think of services like OnLive and Gaikai being able to stream full games at max settings to ANY computer with an internet connection. Both XBLA and PSN have conjured up amazing titles you can pretty much only get digitally. Steam is also becoming a huge part of the video game industry with it's wide range of digital titles and infamous sales.

Digital distribution may not be your go-to source for gaming today, but that doesn't mean in 10 years from now digital distribution won't sky rocket and put a huge dent in physical media.

Think about it; it's people's jobs to think of newer and improved ways to make digital distribution better and more efficient for consumers. We live in a time where new technology takes place every day. Just as Ali D said, it'll happen sooner or later whether we like it or not."

"SuperMonk makes a good point about the dangers of putting your personal info into a database with his story, but Ali's point that digital distribution will eventually make shopping easier than searching for physical copies rings true enough to get my vote."

"Sheer momentum will take us there. As he makes clear in his post, its not about what we would like, but about what will happen.

Digital distribution means more profit for the publishers, plus they hate the used game market, and efforts have been made for over a decade to devalue and limit the transferability and use of one copy of a game. I remember the first time I had to buy two copies of a game because it wouldn't let me and my brother even play LAN without a unique code for each of us. At the time I thought it was a travesty, but now its simple given that any kind of online play will be tightly controlled.

Online codes, redeemable first purchase DLC, XBLA games, all of them moving in the same direction."

"Well, I'm the sort of guy who a few years back didn't think YouTube would kill off MTV2, but hey, five years later and I watch music videos on a website. So yes, this one is a tricky topic for me."

Ydenyse Sosa
"I think it is inevitable at some point in the future, but there are some obstacles. The first is universal broadband access. The second, and more important, is the relationship the game distributors have with the big box stores. This is the same reason why you can't go online and buy a brand new car from the manufacturer. While the game companies love the idea of killing off the used game market, they don't want to piss off their Best Buy and Wal-Mart friends."

Son of Makuta
"I fucking love Steam. Please let it never go away. I have a stupid amount of Steam games, all bought for considerably lower prices than I'd pay elsewhere, but you know what's annoying about Steam? If I want to free up some hard drive space and decide to uninstall something, I have to redownload it (which, in the case of games big enough to be worth deleting to free up space, takes hours or days depending on where I am) before I can play it again. That's a minor quibble, though, and I still have a little bit of room on my computer for inevitable future purchases.

While there's a lot of potential in digital distribution, it's not going to replace boxed games unless a) the lack of box (and thus purchase security) is counterbalanced by a reduced price, and b) it becomes simple and widely-known enough for non-gamers to happily use it. Or, I suppose, c) digital distribution becomes extremely widespread due to all the non-computer-literate people fading from society, but that might not happen for decades, certainly not before 2021."

"Video never killed the radio star. It only made the radio star slightly less prominent. People said vinyl was dead when cassettes and CDs arrived, but disk jockeys and mixers still found a use for them, making their own little resurgence in the 90's and 00's. Cassettes and VHS may have died out, but those former mediums and conduits of entertainment I mentioned earlier haven't.

Likewise, I doubt you'll endanger the boxed game in ten years."

Many thanks to all the great comments that keep coming in for this series.

Debatoid will be returning soon, and you may want to screen your eyes if you do not want a projection of what the next topic will be, but if you flick through this end paragraph you may see a clue through the film of horrid puns. You may be reeling too much in horror to usher in any suggestions. However, I must Cannes the issue and can't make any further concessions that we have come to the end of the blog.

Here's looking at you, Debatoid!

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About MassDebateone of us since 1:12 AM on 03.14.2011

New header kindly contributed by falsenipple

Brought about as a result of a CaptainBus/Sean Daisy fever dream, Debatoid offers one proposal with two sides; two users give the case for and against the proposal and you vote for the outcome.

Debatoid changed its name to MassDebate, but don't fret; the principle of controversial topics, smart candidate and avid discussion remains at the forefront! Vive la mÍme chose et la difference!

If anyone wants to volunteer a topic or submit their interest in being a contender then please PM MassDebate, email captainbus AT gmail DOT com or message _SeanDaisy on Twitter.

Debatoid Debates:

Do FPS games prevent videogames' cultural relevancy?
The proposition: As long as FPS games are our most popular genre, videogames will not be taken culturally seriously.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

Will Mario still be New and Super in 2036?
The proposition: Super Mario platformers will still be released to critical acclaim and commercial success in 25 years time.
Debatoid accepts the proposition!

JT Murphy
Corduroy Turtle
Are scores necessary in video game reviews?
The proposition: Scores are necessary in video game reviews.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

Andrew Kauz
Are zombies an overused gaming concept?
The proposition: Zombies are an overused gaming concept.
Debatoid accepts the proposition!

Ali D
Game In A Box: Endangered in the next 10 Years?
The proposition: In 10 years time physical media will become marginalised.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

Are video games trying too hard to be like movies?
The proposition: Video games are trying too hard to be like movies.
Debatoid accepts the proposition!

Can sex have a positive role to play in video games?
The proposition: Sex has no positive role to play in video games.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

Does portable gaming represent the dominant future of video games?
The proposition: Portable gaming represents the dominant future of the video game industry.
Debatoid rejects the proposition!

mrandydixon (PC)
Sexualchocolate (PS3)
rexwolf2 (Wii)
Nihil (XBox 360)
Debatoid Special: Which platform is best for home gaming this generation?
The proposition: The PC / PS3 / Wii / XBox 360 represents the best that this generation's home gaming has to offer.
Debatoid selects the PC!

In 25 years, will controllers with sticks/buttons be rare in gaming?
The proposition: In 25 years, controllers with sticks/buttons will be rare in gaming.
Debatoid changes into MassDebate and rejects the proposition!

MassDebate Debates:

Byronic Man
Is XBOX Live a dangerous precedent for basic online service?
The proposition: XBOX LIVE sets a damaging precedent by charging a premium for rudimentary online service.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Has rhythm action gaming had its heyday?
The proposition: Rhythm action gaming has had its heyday.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Sean Daisy
Are videogames too focused on destruction?
The proposition: Videogames are too focused on destruction.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Is there eough racial diversity in videogames?
The proposition: There is enough racial diversity in videogames.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Are videogames addictive?
The proposition: Videogames are addictive.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!

Has genre distinction lost its relevance?
The proposition: Genre distinction has lost its relevance.
MassDebate rejects the proposition!