Most gamers prefer physical media

The research company Ipsos ran a poll in the UK, and found out that “64 per cent of the users polled would rather have games on physical discs, while only 25 per cent would prefer digital copies”. The survey involved “over 1,000 Internet users aged between 15 and 50.” A detailed article about the findings is available at THINQ.

Such results do not surprise me in the slightest. I am a casual gamer, in that I usually buy a game every couple of months or so, and I usually purchase them from the UK, where they are much cheaper than in Italy. The reason I do that is that, since I never get games that have been just released, having to wait a week for the delivery is not a big deal. Savings versus instant gratification. (Disclaimer: that may not be the fact when GTA V comes out. Can’t help it.)

That is one of the reasons I prefer physical media: the price usually goes down on boxed discs, whereas digital downloads have a tendency to stay at the same price for much, much longer. Just compare the full games that you can now download through Xbox Live: they are invariably priced €29.99, even though the same games can now be found boxed and sealed for as low as €10.

Of course, physical goods can be lent and resold, which is what the big companies do not want you to do. Their line of business is 1-1: one user, one sale. If you sell your copy of Mirror’s Edge, DICE only makes profit once. If you rent your copy of Fable II to a friend, Lionhead only makes profit once. They don’t like this, and in a way it makes sense. However, perchance they should attempt to charge less on the game in the first place in order to have bigger sales. Game studios can and do make extra money on extra downloadable contents, after all. (And they sometimes manage to make money on that twice: many people who downloaded “The Lost And Damned” for GTA IV ended up buying the “Episodes from Liberty City” physical game, which carries both TLAD and “The Ballad of Gay Tony”.)

And while you can install games on an Xbox 360, it is not needed. It’s sure nice to have it load faster and quieter, but you can just run it from the disc itself if that’s your cup of tea. Considering that hard drives for the 360 are hard to find on their own, and usually come at insane prices, it’s not a bad thing. But when you download fifteen games at an average of 6 GB each, you start having a problem. (Yes, you can “hack” the hard drive bay, and I have done that. This is about “normal” consumers, though.)

Playstation 3 is not as kind: virtually all games require an installation, but at least you can swap the hard drive very, very easily. That’s a blessing, considering that some games require in excess of 10 GB, even when you have the disc.

These are the main reason for consumers — including me — not to feel like a digital download is worth such high pricetags. They have no resale value, and they have a higher cost in terms of space needed. Not to mention that it takes time to download gigabytes of data, and not everybody is on broadband; those who do, moreover, might have download caps.

The latter is also why I am stunned that Apple insists in saying that Blu-ray is not making its way onto Macs any time soon, and that it’s a “bag of hurt.” Do they really think that everybody is willing to spend money on purchasing/renting movies off the iTunes Store? That’s just not going to happen, for several reasons:

  1. It’s just not available everywhere. Unless you are in the USA or in the UK, forget about video in the iTunes Store.
  2. Even in those countries where it is available, bandwidth may be an issue.
  3. Users only get 720p movies, whereas most — if not all — movies on Blu-ray are 1080p. That’s two and a quarter times the picture resolution, and well over five times the data size for a comparably smooth quality.
  4. No resale value. Or, rather, no resale chance.
  5. Other alternatives, at least in the US: Hulu, Netflix, etc.

Physical media is also very important for backup: a single-sided recordable DVD holds as much as 4.7 GB of data, and can be filled up in a matter of minutes. How long does uploading that much data when your upstream bandwidth is barely 50 KB/s?

Ultimately, whatever companies say, physical media is going to be around even in the age of cloud computing. Now let’s go and check for some bargains on videogames that support multiplayer, shall we?