Is Digital Distribution really the Future?


Cheaper. Faster. More Convenient. These are all things promised with the advent of digital distribution. But well after the heralded arrival of iTunes, the Xbox Live Video Marketplace, and the PlayStation Network Video Store, consumers are still left feeling uncertain. While a small minority adapt to the perceived future of gaming and media at current prices, more budget conscious people stick to the cable box or Satellite dish despite tempered chagrin.

One should always heed new technology as experimental. Just Google “Red Ring” for proof of that. Hardware concerns–whether we recognize it or not– acutely affect digital distribution. When servers are down, you can’t access streaming services like ONLIVE or Netflix. Hard drive space despite cheaper prices is still a problem. The PS3 already has a resolution for this with the ability to read and write to external hard drives, USB thumb drives, and for older units, SD cards. Recently Microsoft has decided to let gamers to officially use external sources for storage. Perhaps a 1TB external hard drive will be enough space for videos, games, pictures, and themes over the life span of a console. Barring any hard drive crashes or server failures, the convenience of downloading or streaming media is indeed great.

Amassing large amounts of media online usually faster…unless you’re using the PSN with a 6Mbps or sluggish connection. A gamer usually can get a game from a local retailer in about the same time. When downloading bigger games like Gran Turismo Prologue 5 or Burnout Paradise, that becomes questionable on all platforms. Smaller titles like Sony’s Minis, PSOne Classics, Arcade games, and older digital games don’t suffer as much only because of their size. With the ISPs, Google, and the FCC pushing for faster broadband speeds, maybe this problem will eventually fade away.

Premium pricing is one quandary that digital distribution has yet to conquer and a reasonable remedy is nowhere in sight. Buying HD movies on the PSN Video Store usually runs $19.99 which is marginally cheaper than the physical copy which often includes both the Blu-Ray and DVD copies. Even when considering purchasing television shows, you will end up spending $1.99 for standard definition or $2.99 HD per episode. So buying Season 5 of Lost in HD ends up costing $50.83 plus tax, but Amazon.com has the Blu-Ray set for just $34.99 with free shipping. Why should shoppers squander $50.83 on one season of one show when cable / satellite offers a lot more for about the same price?

Convenient. Yes. Faster. Sometimes. Cheaper. Not by a long shot. After accounting for the costs of retaining an Internet connection, even the term “reasonable costs” becomes ludicrous. With more people affirming digital content, ISPs are raising prices and introducing more usage restrictions. Digital distribution is indeed a perilous slippery slope. It reduces the sources you can buy media from and in fact, destroys the very idea of competitive pricing. Amazon.com, Walmart, and other companies battling for your bucks are left completely out of the equation. Is hampering the success of global retailers really worth the luxury or is all this digital distribution talk just a reflection of society’s lethargy?

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