So, my friends over at EZ-Mode Unlocked have been discussing the latest next-generation console rumours. It's a smart, well-mannered debate, but, as with most debates on new technology, it seems to skip over the affordability issue. In this case, for me at least, it is the affordability of Internet service packages, and games, as it relates to digital distribution.
The rumours say that the next Xbox will eliminate the disc-drive in favour of a digital distribution model, while the next PlayStation will retain the blu-ray drive and implement some kind of DRM to prevent the playing of used games. Essentially, the consoles are becoming more like PCs as they attempt to create a more efficient distribution system and eliminate the used games market. If these rumours are true, I may have to give up console gaming altogether and limit my PC gaming habits.
Digital distribution is nothing new. Valve Software's Steam has been around since 2002 and there are many other similar services (Origin, Gamefly, GOG.com, Gamersgate, Gamestop PC downloads) that serve the PC market. And it's true that Steam sometimes has great sales, but the AAA titles and some "lesser" titles are still overpriced. Gamers can also download games through PSN or XBL, but they, too, can be costly. I myself make use of Steam --- only when there is a sale, though --- but because of slow download speed and limited bandwidth, I maintain a small library of PC games and a much, much larger library of used Xbox and Playstation games.
I'm not the type of person who can afford to pay full retail for every new release. I love video games, and I appreciate the work that goes into them, but if I can get a game for 25-75% off the original retail, I will do so. I don't mind waiting for used copies to come into my favourite bricks-and-mortar store because I couldn't care less about multiplayer and I find the features offered by limited editions, collectors editions, and online passes lame and useless. The hype surrounding a game has usually died down by the time I pick it up, but I don't feel I've missed anything by waiting for it to become affordable.
I have to be very selective about the PC games I buy and download because the Internet service package I have gives me only 3Mbps download speed and 25GB/month of bandwidth usage at a cost of $47/month; this is reasonable for my budget. The next package offered by my ISP gives 18Mbps and a bandwidth cap of 70GB for $48.99.
With taxes and modem rental I would be looking at a monthly bill of around $60; this is not reasonable for my budget. I can't imagine having to pay either of these prices and full retail for games on two consoles and a PC.
So, if the XBOX goes all-digital, and the PlayStation features anti-used games DRM, I may have to give up both of them and stick with my PC. Many big titles are now cross-platform; there are few platform exclusive games that I play (Halo, for example); and I don't use any of the so-called social features of XBLA and PSN. So switching to PC-only wouldn't be a problem. Also, not playing console games could save me some money, and that money could be put towards a better Internet service package, but I would still have to be picky about the titles I download because, as I mentioned above, they are overpriced (and there is no guarantee that digital distribution will change that). But this is all speculation based on rumours. And the next-gen is due to be released until the 2013 holiday season. So, I'll have some time to play used games and think about what to do about this first-world problem.