All three of the next-generation gaming consoles have serious online services attached, and many developers of PC games also sell their wares through digital delivery systems these days. Today, those downloads account for about 8 percent of total gaming revenues, according to a fresh eMarketer report, but the firm expects that portion to grow to 22 percent by 2010.
These figures include full-game sales, service subscriptions, and incremental game updates like mini-games, expansion maps, and in-game music sales. The fact that each of the console makers is listing online play as a major selling point contributes to the generous growth forecast.
The Wii and the high-end PS3 ship WiFi-ready, and you can buy WiFi adapters for the other consoles—unless you prefer to run Ethernet cables to your living room, since most of them have gigabit network ports too out of the box, with the notable exception of Wii. Microsoft’s Xbox Live, Sony’s Playstation Network, and Nintendo’s free online games are lining up next to Valve’s Steam and direct-download solutions from the likes of Electronic Arts and Activision to provide an attractive method for buying games online.
Consumers are trading a trip to the mall for a few hours of download time, assuming they have broadband connections, and with the American consumer at least, convenience is king. On the other hand, there should always be a place for physical media and mall stores. Hard drives will eventually fill up, and a head crash can wipe out your entire collection unless you have a disc lying around. And some of us question whether it’s fair to charge close to physical retail prices for a lightweight download.
“Far from stealing revenue from retail outlets, digital downloads may help the gaming industry break through the plateau it has seen for the last several years,” says eMarketer analyst James Belcher. Some customers will undoubtedly move from the retail store to pure digital downloads, and these projections are hardly good news for the likes of EBGames or Best Buy, but there is also the subset of customers that will simply buy more games or play more for-pay mini games with the increased availability of these items at their fingertips. </p