4 Reasons The Digital Distribution Of Video Games Will Make Your Life Worse [MUO Gaming]

Dave LeClair 10-04-2012

digital distribution in video gamesLast week we looked at why we should not hate the inevitable future where all video games are distributed digitally 4 Reasons The Digital Distribution Of Video Games Will Make Your Life Better [MUO Gaming] Video games are going digital; it is a fact that we cannot avoid. The chances are great that the next console generation will allow gamers to buy all of their games by downloading them directly... Read More . We talked about the convenience factor, putting more money in the pockets of the talented individuals who make the games we love, space saving and the ability to play new games the moment they launch without having to wait in line at a store. Those are some compelling reasons to put your ball in digital distribution’s court, but there are some reasons you should consider hating digital distribution in video games as well.


There are two sides of every issue, and while a part of me is excited for the prospect of not getting off my couch to play the latest copy of Call of Duty 57 and Mass Effect 9, there are reasons why I am standoffish towards the whole thing. I hope Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo prove this side of the argument wrong, because I want nothing more than for digital distribution to be amazing.

No Resale Value

This works directly against one of my major reasons why digital distribution is good, which is putting more money in the pockets of publishers with no used game market. However, for gamers on a budget, used games might be the only way they can afford to play some of their favorite games. Should they be denied the joy of getting a new a game just because they cannot spend the money for a new copy?

Are we told we can only purchase new cars or homes? Well if games are distributed one hundred percent digitally, that is exactly what will happen.

digital distribution in video games

It sucks for publishers that their game is being sold used, and a retailer is profiting from their game with nothing coming back to them, but in the end, that is the right of the previous owner. They are allowed to sell a good they own. If you do not own a physical copy of the game, you have nothing to sell.


Maybe the developers will implement some sort of sell back program, where you can get a partial refund for a game within a certain amount of time, but I think that is very doubtful. In the end, we may just have to deal with being stuck with a bunch of old games.

Broadband Penetration

For people with fast Internet, downloading your games is great. However, what if you live in a part of the world where broadband is not available? You may have to sit for hours, or even days, and wait for your new games to download.

How terrible would it be to know you purchased a copy of a game you waited months for, only to have to sit and watch a download bar crawl for days on end? This could be the reality for a large portion of gamers.

games distribution


According to the International Telecommunication Union, only seven percent of the world has broadband Internet. The United States has around 26%, the UK has 31% and France has 33%. These are some scary numbers if the world of downloading video games that can easily exceed 10GB is to become a reality. Is almost 75% of the United States going to be shut out from playing the latest video games? That seems like a serious issue to overcome.

Price Control In The Hands Of One

If console games are sold digitally, right from the console, that leaves all the pricing decisions in the hands of the platform holder. In theory, they could raise the prices of games, and it would be out of our control. If a particular retailer decides to charge too much for a game, we just buy it somewhere else. If there is no retailer, either we pay the price or we do not buy the game.

games distribution

What would digital distribution in video games mean for discounts? Would Microsoft and Sony have awesome deals like we see on Black Friday or would games be full price all the time? Steam does a great job of having sales frequently, so that at least gives me hope that we will not be ripped off.


Valve has always been a company that is all about the people; it remains to be seen if the console makers will be as generous as Valve when it comes to pricing their games.

Loss of Retailers = Loss of Jobs

digital distribution in video games

If games are all digitally distributed, will we need specialty video game stores anymore? The profit margin on the sale of consoles is very low, so how can they stay in business without physical copies to sell? Big box retailers like Best Buy will be fine; they sell plenty of other products. GameStop has well over 6,000 locations. That is an awful lot of people left jobless.


I hope I have not completely scared you off from the prospect of digital distribution. As I said last week, there are some reasons it could be awesome. Still, as gamers, we need to be aware that the future might not be bright. We need to be aware of what could go wrong, and how it could hurt the industry we adore so much.


What is your opinion of digital distribution overall? Do you think it will be amazing or lead to the demise of video games? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Envelope with red sticker Not for resale via ShutterstockSlow connection as a snail via ShutterstockBusinessman sitting on the desk and holding money in a hand via Shutterstock

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  1. James
    September 15, 2016 at 5:47 am

    While I don't think Gamestop will go out of business, what a lot of people fail to realize is that by digital downloading something you can essentially get two gamrs for the price of one (via gameshare). This is especially helpful for brand new games. Example: let's say you buy the ultimate edition of Forza Horizon 3 and it cost you 99.99 plus tax. Now lets say your buddy doesnt have the money to buy the game and cant play with you. If you buy the game at GameStop, thats where it ends, with you playing alone. But if you bought it digitally you and your friend can now play the game together for the same amount of money that you would of spent anyway at Gamestop for 1 copy. You could even spilt the price of the game. Your fruend could give you 50 bucks and now you have two copies and have only spent half of the original price.

  2. Akhilesh
    August 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    You spoil your eye sight when you play digital games because you keep on looking at the continuously at it hours together.But, you don't need to be scared of digital games if you play them for less time.
    thank u.

  3. Kevin Ray
    July 11, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    You see this is the basic problem I have and the division of opinions amongst gamers regarding Digital Only Distribution...The have and the have not's.
    It's easy to be happy with the whole DOD concept when you have a well paying job or parents who have good jobs and therefor easy access to BroadBand but (as Dave points out) what about the 70% to 75% of the rest of the country of gamers that doesn't have or can't readily afford monthly BB but CAN afford a game disc whether from the discount bin or not? What about that mass of gamers?
    To bad?
    I've actually heard this elitist sentiment from quite a few gamers who IMO are mostly kids who aren't paying for these mounting bills themselves to begin with...but it doesn't just come from spoiled kids with little real world experience, quite a few adult gamers also have this short sighted attitude.

    In today's market without the support of ALL gamers I just have a hard time believing that any corporation would be that shortsighted as well, being non-inclusive of all those gamers without Broadband seems suicidal unless you gouge the gamers who Can use your DOD service to compensate for the lost potential revenue.

    Either way it seems like the main people who loose in this scenario are us gamers, who either can't afford the service or are gouged by corporations who TOTALLY control the price of a game's entire lifespan as it has no resale value.

  4. dalton
    May 26, 2012 at 5:12 am

    as most of you, maybe im a gamer. I can tell, if the gaming world does away with resell and game selling stores i would have to give up games. and i dont want to do that. As a person on the path to making games i dont care bout resells its how i found out bout most games the people in the industry is forgeting what they did as gamer and losing they pride to money they make alot wit the new sold copies and people still but them but only a few margins can everyone saythey bought the games they play new no a lot wait for the price to go down 2 3 times from 60 to like 35 sales would fall if the face of this movement and the lose of jobs would weaken our economy. and dont go bashing me cause of a few things im not sure of. im a gamer i dont look in to all this i play games and im working towords making them and this all come from expereance of my gamer life and alot of my friends

  5. Daziam
    April 12, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    For those people saying "Steam sales are cheaper than used titles elsewhere", I think you're somewhat deluded. I live in England and so far on every Steam sale I've managed to find cheaper boxed versions elsewhere in Used Game Stores, Ebay etc ..

    I for one feel that online titles are not cheap at all, How publishers can still charge £29.99, £39.99 upto £49.99 for a title with no box, no cd, no manual etc. Zero Overheads except for the monthly bandwith cost is a joke.

    Every point raised I agree with, it's also the very reason why I have stopped using team and refuse to buy any game that insists on locking itself to you and is unable to be resold. It is our right to resell and buy used. Anyone who disagrees with that has no clue about Consumer Rights.

    • koolaid
      May 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm

      Steam is not the 2nd coming of christ.

      Steam sells non-transferable licenses to games, they do not sell games as products.

      If you can understand that much, then you know that digital is not the way to go.

      To think that the consumer is smart enough to know what a good price is, is one thing, to know what they are buying is a completely different story.

  6. Cryptic
    April 12, 2012 at 1:30 am

    I just got high speed (or I should say "high speed", since it is 1mbps) in our area. By I, I mean I did it. I worked to get a grant from the USDA for a wireless network in my town. But I don't get very high speeds with it. It can take days to download from Steam sometimes. I boutght LA Noire when it was on sale about a month ago, and it took almost two days to download. I love Steam, but sometimes, the speeds just suck on my end. We have a very incomplete broadband network in this country.

  7. Jaxx89
    April 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    My bad
    Batman Arkham City on sale will cost me 1600bucks whereas a physical copy costs me 999 bucks without sale.
    I just checked the gamestop website and a local game retailers price.

  8. Jaxx89
    April 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    To all the ppl bashing dave for what he has written....Not all of us have high end broadband connections to go about downloading digital copies of the games.
    Some of us stay in a part of the world where, unlike the US, things are still costly.
    If I have to buy a game on sale on Gamestop or Steam or Amazon, despite the sale, as I have to convert the USD to my own currency, it still comes more than the physical copy.
    Eg. Batman Arkham City after a sale wud cost me about 2000 bucks whereas I cud get a physical copy for just 999 -1600bucks from a local store.

    Yeah so basically even despite the sale, I wud end up paying more money than I wud be paying for a physical one which as dave said can be re sold.
    I mean its not like I'm gonna keep playing one game over and over again.

  9. Susendeep.Dutta
    April 11, 2012 at 4:03 am

    You have mentioned all the points exactly.I think that console companies might be trying to do what iTunes did to music industry.

  10. Alvin
    April 11, 2012 at 12:05 am

    At the moment, i would only buy digital games if they are for sale at a dirt cheap price (because of the points you mention). I've heard too many cases of unfairly banned account = games inaccessible which is always a concern regardless of how rare these cases are.

  11. Trevor L
    April 10, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    One of the biggest problems I see from a developers point of view is what about giving games as a gift during the holidays? Will retailers sell "cards" that allow kids to hop online on Christmas morning and punch in a code? That would be really lame.
    As towards your point on resale value, I accepted long ago that my "hobby" is a big digital money pit. lol It will be interesting to see how this all pans out.

  12. Rold Treman
    April 10, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Dear Dave,

    This article is complete horseshit. If you want to be a writer, then be a real damn writer and don't submit idiotic opinion articles that not only possess the insight of a fifth grade autistic child, but which also include idiotic stock photos of snails on Macbooks and Mr. Anonymous Businessman with a stack of hundies in his hand. Secondly, real writers cater to a topic of experience, and don't dabble in new things unless they learn enough to sound competent.

    Digital distributions of new games are cheaper during sales than even used copies of their physical counterparts; the 26% figure for U.S. broadband penetration is *per capita* and not *per household,* the latter of which is close to 80% and not the measly 26% you present; prices are controlled by publishers and not by platform holders; and finally, the fact that Gamestop is going out of business is a result of obsolescence, and not due to some great evil, and is thus a necessary byproduct of technological advancement, similar to bookstores circling the drain as eBook sales continue to rise.

    Although I realize that this article exists not as an intellectual beacon but instead as a lure to increase this website's pageviews and ad revenue, the few unfortunate souls who actually read through this for its content deserve a bit more effort on your part, Mr. Author.

    • Rold Treman
      April 10, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      In addition, I strongly recommend you begin writing fictional short stories in your spare time, and submit them to a website/group that provides constructive criticism. There is no comparison for quickly improving your writing, as you are forced to spend quite some time on each line of your work, making sure your diction and and prose is eloquent, smooth, and enjoyable to read.

      By doing this you also get into the habit of making a point without resorting to gimmicky writing like, "Right guys? Imagine that. It would be scary, am I right? Will it really happen?" The point of submitting an opinion piece is to bridge those connections yourself instead of posing them as questions to your audience, and the question you should be asking your readers is not "What do you think will happen??" but rather, "This is what I think will happen, so what do you think the *implications* of this occurrence will be?"

    • Dave LeClair
      April 10, 2012 at 8:22 pm

      Think about it, do you see great deals on the games on Xbox Live Arcade? VERY Rarely, because there is is no where else to get those games so they can charge whatever they please. If all games were sold the same way, why would it be any different? Would they start having sales all of the time? No, why would they, because if you want the game you have to buy it from their service. Steam may give great deals all the time, but that's Valve, and I see nothing in Sony or Microsoft's history that tells me they would follow Valve's pricing model.

      Feel free to disagree, but your excessive hate kind of made me laugh, and I appreciate that.

      • Rold Treman
        April 10, 2012 at 8:47 pm

        What you are discussing has nothing to do with digital markets, but rather with competition. Xbox Live Arcade has no competition from any other service that sells the same games. Steam, however, has competition from other online distribution platforms, and also puts games on sale for a huge influx of purchases from customers who wait for price drops. These dynamics operate in supermarkets, street drug markets, and every other market you can imagine.

        If this is what you want to focus on, then the insight you should be providing is "4 Reasons Why Single-Seller Digital Distribution Platforms Will Make Your Life Worse," and then provide a link to any basic intro-econ video lecture for an explanation on why.

        Why would you waste time talking about how GameStop will lose jobs, or by incorrectly using statistics (which you will not bother to change, I assume) to make some point, when you could have been discussing the possible issue of having the next Xbox paired to only a single Game Marketplace, run by Microsoft. You could have gotten into the likelihood of competition from other digital retailers, you could have made some predictions by analyzing the strategies of PC distribution platforms, you could have discussed whether the next-gen console race could be dependent on something as simple as which one has better access to digital game distribution service(s), etc. Instead of talking about real issues that are relevant to digital distribution itself, you went on and talked about issues like job losses at a crappy retail chain and how some people might not have access to this new technology, which are issues that plague pretty much everything "new."

        You could literally rewrite this article to cover everything from DVD sales, to physical book sales, to physical album sales by search-and-replacing "digital game distribution" with "video streaming," "eBooks," or "iTunes." The point of being an author is not to write generic crap, it's to inform your readers of something specific, and *why* it's specific, which makes it interesting and prevents the question of, "What moron would put a snail on their Macbook?" from being the take-home message you deliver.

        As for my excessive hate, I just hope that it makes a difference for one author who seems to enjoy their work, in a sea of authors who put out similar boring, pointless, and generic work every single day.

      • Christopher Pepin
        April 11, 2012 at 2:15 am

        Rold had a point though. Steam isn't the only online distributor with great deals. Direct 2 Drive, GOG, Gamefly, and Amazon all have amazing deals much better than I see from used games. If you don't like that a console forces you to buy console games then don't use that console. Many games are becoming cross platform though meaning if the Xbox Marketplace has too high of prices get the Playstation.

        Your statistics where misleading and overall most of your points where things that would have been valid concerns 5 years ago when people didn't know how downloadable games would fit in the market. Now they have become fairly common and we can see that most of them aren't actually that big of a problem.

        Overall the entire post does just seem poorly done.

        • Chris Hoffman
          April 11, 2012 at 3:35 am

          I'm a big fan of digital distribution, but Dave has a point here when it comes to consoles.

          When you want a PC game, you can get it from tons of places, so Steam and elsewhere have good sales.

          When you want a console game, you'll have one store, so there won't be an incentive to have sales.

          Lack of resale value doesn't matter when you're getting the game on Steam during a crazy sale (what I usually do), but it does matter if the console stores keep the same price and never do price cuts.

        • Christopher
          April 11, 2012 at 4:07 am

          The fact that people are less willing to pay the full price after the initial launch is an incentive to cut the price. Also as the consoles begin to focus on digital distribution instead of disc's people are going to start comparing the Microsoft/Playstation store to things like Steam when choosing whether to buy a console. If they aren't competitive people won't buy them.

        • Chris Hoffman
          April 11, 2012 at 7:10 am

          I hope you're right! They'll have to deal with prices getting driven down by Steam-like sales, cheap mobile games, and even "free-to-play" games.

      • Sachin Kanchan
        May 29, 2012 at 7:37 am

        now i agree to most of whatever you is also true that sometimes hard copies are cheaper than the online digital is also that if you buy hard copies online ... you may get it at different prices at different places..

        i mean i looked out for COD 4... the same game, hard copy...had a price difference of $4-5 on different sites..

        what i liked most is your comment above

    • moi
      July 25, 2012 at 4:56 am

      I agree with the authors points.
      For example Nintendo's New Super Mario 2 for the 3DS, which will come out on August 19th, will offer the hard copy as well as a digital copy and they are both priced at $ 39.99. The savings on offering the digital copy will go straight into Nintendo's pocket and won't be passed down to the consumer.. I'm not looking forward to digital only. I mostly buy used games. And i also like to sell my games when I don't want to play them anymore.You can forget about that with digital only.

  13. RichF
    April 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    So basically there are no reasons to fear digital downloads. Thanks!

    • Jonny
      August 25, 2012 at 2:06 am

      Digital Distribution is probably the most horrifying and disgusting thing to ever come in my life, I'll explain why. Have a look at this video: Now I'm not saying I want to be like him but, When I buy a game I like having it as a physical copy, I don't have to knock on anyone's door to play the game I want, I don't have to wait and download anything, I can play with or without internet access and most importantly as a customer I feel like I OWN the game.

      Digital Distribution (will call it DD from now on) makes you think the games you buy on steam or origin are yours. Wrong they're not, whenever they want they can take their server down and screw you over, when your internet dies and you just want to play a singleplayer game you can't because you need to load the DD service too. In the end those with the physical disc get the better end. Also as a personal matter, I like having that game case on my shelf part of the collection.

      So FAR the only DD I have never argued about (and probably never will) is the GoG Service. If Digital Distribution goes towards that way then I think DD has a good future. For those who don't know what the GoG DD service is, they sell old (and lately) new games as well, where you can download the setup file to your hard disk and burn it on disc, install whenever and wherever you want without internet activations and all the hiccups without EVER having to login anywhere.

  14. Wreath
    April 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    This has been a long thing coming. The PC community has already known what this has been like for years as more and more retail stores refuse to sell PC titles on the basis that it is a one time sale.

    And currently it's been easier and easier for people to get online in the U.S as more and more retail/ service industry chains offer free wifi, so you can at least take your lap top into a Barnes and Nobles and play some games.

    I also own most of my stuff on steam, and I do not have a problem accessing any of that stuff. I think the industry will be fine and will adapt before we see any major changes to the market.

    • koolaid
      May 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm

      It's scary that you think you own your games that are listed in your account on steam.

      You are confusing a fundamental difference in the very essence of what you spend money for, licenses to games are not games as products sold.

      You own a license to a single copy that you cannot transfer to anyone else, and it is also bound to a single service supplied by a company which can dissolve at anytime.

      • Krist
        May 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm

        Exactly why I buy a hard copy whenever possible, digital doesn't make me feel like I have ownership of the particular objuect, what if the business just so happens to go out of business, will that game still be available to me? What if I bought a game I don't like, guess I'm stuck and can't sell it. There are so many other variables in digital downloads that It would require many other aspects of life be upgraded as well before a completely digital world seems plausible. I am kinda looking forward to having a 160Tb ps4 haha