The iLL Panel: The Digital vs Physical distribution debate

The iLL Panel: The Digital vs Physical distribution debate

The iLL Panel is a series where the iLL Gaming staff pick their brains over topics related to the game industry. Given the nature of our staff, it can end up being either a mosh pit of fanboy nerdgasms or a bitter fight usually accompanied with death threats and all-out war (ok, maybe we’re not that extreme).

This month we pick our brains over which of the formats of game distribution is preferable, Digital or Physical? We also talk about Collector’s Editions. Taking part in this iLL Panel are Sahil, Rishi, Anikait, Tathagata, Ajay and Chirantan.

The Physical

physical games collection The iLL Panel: The Digital vs Physical distribution debate

A gamer’s physical collection. If this was digital, what would they have to show for it?

Getting straight to the point, Sahil starts the discussion by professing his preference for Physical distribution, while noting that digital is more convenient and could be anti-pirate, which is countered by Chirantan stating that Piracy is more easily propagated through digital means by use of file sharing protocols like Bittorrent. Physical gets more voices of support from Tathagata, Rishi and Anikait who bemoans the slow internet speeds in India and the current trend of bloating game sizes. Points put forward in favour of Physical included the false reassurance that you own the games you have bought (Truth is, you merely own the licence to operate it), the ease of sharing, the ability to show off your game collection to visitors and the creativity that is possible with box art.

The Digital

Screen Shot 2014 07 28 at 1.19.59 pm The iLL Panel: The Digital vs Physical distribution debate

Digital stores like Steam hit the spot with their deals

Chirantan Points out that the Games themselves exist as digital entities and so it makes Digital distribution a more natural fit. There is the convenience of delta patching and relative data security, though storage space and internet speeds are the main obstacles. Sahil agrees that Digital distribution is the future while rueing that this only gives greater control to the publishers. Anikait points out that Digital distribution allows for freebies and massive giveaways like that of Metro 2033 or Origin’s On the House programme or even Steam’s Free Weekends or free games for PS+ and Xbox Live Gold Subscribers. After all, who doesn’t like freebies?

The discussion then turns to the costs involved in Digital and Physical distribution which also affect the possible discounts available in each form. While Physical distribution generates more employment, it comes with greater cost overheads for publishers and can only be discounted to a limited extent in sales. It just can’t compete with Digital distribution where costs are minimal and discounts can be steep due to fewer overheads as Chirantan points out. Rishi adds that when it comes to copies sold, Digital distribution tends to get more customers when the games in question are discounted but otherwise comes second to Physical distribution when all platforms are considered. When it comes to reach, Digital distribution can go just about anywhere with an internet connection, while Physical does require storefronts, though with the rise of e-commerce sites with well-developed delivery networks, Physical distribution can theoretically do the same.

Sharing and resale, the DRM issue

The discussion then shifts to the possibilities of sharing and resale that Physical Distribution enables. This applies more to consoles where one only needs to have the game discs to play, rather than on PC where there are nasty restrictions imposed by DRM (Digital Rights Management). There are ways to share Digitally distributed games such as Steam’s Family sharing, but these come with their own limitations. However Physical media are more vulnerable to damage and scratched discs are many a gamer’s nightmare. The topic of DRM seems to launch tangential discussions regarding various topics like Game Ownership and resale, the Xbox One’s highly flawed original vision, the fallibility of various PC Digital Distribution Programs (Origin, Uplay, Steam and GoG), porn (Yes, it sneaked in there), and some insider tech support info courtesy of Ajay. Anikait and Rishi are nearly at blows over the Xbox One until the conversation is brought back on topic with some effort from Sahil and Chirantan.

Collector’s Editions

collectors edition items The iLL Panel: The Digital vs Physical distribution debate

Collector’s Editions: a gimmick or something worthy of their price?

Shifting gears to one of the biggest advantages of Physical distribution, the Panel talks about Collector’s Editions (CE). Sahil calls out Ubisoft on its abuse of CEs for its recent launches like Watch_Dogs, which was a new IP and as Tathagata points out, doesn’t merit any collector’s edition by not having any collection heritage to it. Rishi chips in with the self-defeating idea of having a Digital-only CE given that it lacks the rarity and uniqueness that go into making something collectible. The Panel agrees that having digital items defeats the purpose of a CE and physical goods make for the best Collectibles.

However, the Panel is divided on what kind of Physical goods are better collectibles. Chirantan suggests that items of practical value like shirts, posters. Artbooks, Board games and USB keys are good while Rishi, Tathagata and Sahil believe that good statues make for the best collectibles given their rarity and not so straight-forward way for production. Chirantan counters this with how statues will end up gathering dust and eat up space only to be consigned to storage anyway. They all agree that some thought needs to be put into the contents of a CE by publishers lest they end up with horrid fiascos like the semi decomposed female torso that came with Dead Island Riptide’s CE. Examples of good and bad CEs fly around while Anikait proposes a standard model for all CEs. This is quickly dismissed since the uniqueness of a CE is what enhances its collectability. Blizzard and Atlus get lauded by Rishi for their brilliant CEs.

Diablo3CE The iLL Panel: The Digital vs Physical distribution debate

Blizzard has been lauded for its worthy CE bundles.

Given how most of the iLL Panel are music aficionados, OSTs (Original Soundtracks) enter the discussion. All agree that OSTs make a great addition to any CE, preferably as a separate disc. You could probably convince us to buy a CE just by including the OST. The Panellists now list their best and worst CE picks:

The Best Collector’s Editions: Diablo 3, Bioshock, Dark Souls 2 and Fallout 3
The Worst Collector’s Editions: Dead Island Riptide, Fable 2, Watch_Dogs and God of War: Ascension

The Verdict

As the discussion stagnates with everyone repeating themselves, the panel is called to a halt and our panellists are asked to state their preferences. Sahil, Rishi, Anikait and Tathagata favour Physical distribution for their games while tolerating digital for extra content like DLC and deeply discounted sales and bundles. Ajay is divided and decides to sit on the fence while Chirantan is in favour of Digital distribution for its convenience and practicality. The panel signs off wondering if CEs are really worth collecting given how quickly games shift in popularity. Let us know what you think in the comments. Until next time, iLL out!

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