Steam and Digital Distribution

List of Steam games

So just for those of you who missed it, Steam had a holiday sale over the Christmas holidays where they sold the majority of their games catalog at price discounts of up to 75% off.
Me being the stickler for bargains that I am, I couldn’t resist and bought every game I had been holding out for at that time. I probably spent something like 150 bucks, but I ended up with over 100 new games in my account. And these weren’t just small indie or casual games, either. I’m really looking forward to trying out Prototype, GRAW and Arkham Asylum… after I’ve finished playing Dragon Age. ^_^

So while I was settling down to playing my new games, I started to actually ponder the concept of digital distribution a little bit. I was feeling a lot happier and excited about getting and playing these games that I had downloaded, rather than bought from a store and was trying to figure out why.
I guess in its simplest form, it’s merely just buying digital content online and downloading it to your hard drive, as opposed to going to a shop and buying the exact same data on a physical form of media. On it’s own, this seems pretty uninspiring, so I started to think more about why I was feeling more satisfied about it. Here are some of the reasons I came up with.

Pros of digital distribution

  • Laziness++
    I never had to leave my house to get these games. Nor did I have to go to the shop, sift through piles of old game boxes, find the one I want and then stand in a line so I could buy it. The whole process was much quicker than that. ^_^
  • Availability
    When you’re relying on physical media, there’s always a finite amount of stock in the shop, and once that runs out, you’re either going to have to wait for more, or you’re just plain screwed. Since digital distribution is just downloading a copy of the data already, the stock is basically infinite. :)
  • Diversity
    Since there is only a finite amount of space in a shop, usually only the most current or popular games are stocked and available at any given time. Given in contrast, since there’s no kind of limit like that for digital distribution, then it’s really easy to pick up classic  games you might have missed while they were in the shops.
  • My PC Games Collection

    This is like 2/3 of my PC game collection... and I doubt I could fit any more!!

  • No Physical Storage Space
    This one’s pretty huge for me. Since you didn’t actually buy anything physical, that means no more extra junk cluttering up your living space by buying this. Since I went through the effort of buying it, I try to be very protective of all of the physical copies of games I’ve bought. That being said, I seriously have no space for potentially 100 or more extra game cases. So being able to own a game, but not have to physically store it is great! ^_^
  • Helps prevents piracy
    There’s no doubt about it. Piracy sucks. It makes companies want to install crappy DRM into their software that ultimately screws over paying customers as well as taking money away from the people who originally developed it. Since digital copies are usually tied to one account, this can help discourage it (Please note, it’s not perfect though)
  • No publishing fees
    Since there’s no need to package up physical copies and ship them around, a lot of money can be saved on distribution fees. This ultimately means more money for the original developers.
  • Sustainability
    This is one that I think hasn’t really been emphasized a lot, but is definitely true. Since every physical copy of digital media no doubt uses up a certain amount of card, paper and plastic, (Not even mentioning shipping and distribution) it’s safe to say that digital distribution is far more environmentally sustainable, and would have a negligible carbon footprint compared to physical media.
  • OMFG Price!
    This one’s the clincher. I dunno if  there’s a reason for this, but compared to the rest of the world, buying games in Australia is EXPENSIVE! Maybe it’s the import fees of shipping them out here, maybe it’s some kind of import tax, maybe it’s the fees to produce and package the software on physical media, maybe it’s just the game stores being greedy, but buying a game here is usually a significant investment (For a new, anticipated game, usually $100AUD and up)
    That being said, even if they’re brand spanking new, and even if the USD to AUD currency rate is horrid, it’s usually cheaper to buy games on Steam than buying them from a shop, usually by a factor of 50%. And when Steam has discount sales, usually that saving becomes even more prominent.

On the flip-side however, I’ve noticed there are a few downsides to Steam and digital distribution.

Potential cons of digital distribution

  • Putting the shops out of business
    Even though the games shops are more expensive and more of a hassle to use than online distribution, they do provide a lot of people with jobs and help fuel the local economy (and sometimes even the local gaming community). Not that I don’t see game shops going out of business directly because of digital distribution anytime soon, but they’ve gotta be thinking about it.
  • Breaking into the industry
    Since a lot of games usually require large budgets to be produced, these budgets are usually provided by publishers. With the publishers being cut out of the equation here, it might be harder to start off developing a large title (Of course, with the surge and popularity of indie games these days, this might not be such a problem)
  • Download Bandwidth
    This isn’t bad in countries like Japan and America where the internet service packages don’t screw you over as much, but here in Australia, it’s usually quite expensive to get an internet access account with lots of bandwidth. I myself only really have about 25GB I can potentially allocate towards game downloads, and even then, I think that’s good compared to some people. With AAA title games now reaching into 10GB and above sizes, this might be a real issue for some people. :'(
  • Power of the provider
    Some people are starting to get a little worried at the power of the Steam service provider, Valve. Given how they’re currently starting to monopolize the availability of games exclusively through their service, the possibility of good competition is pretty low. :O
  • The system goes down…?
    Since instead of owning a physical copy of the game, I’m relying completely on Valve’s service, if the system happens to go down (ie natural disaster, or the company goes bankrupt etc), what does this mean for the games I’ve bought? I’m reeally hoping it doesn’t mean I’m screwed. O_o (UPDATE: According to the comments, this shouldn’t be a problem. Valve has a backup plan in place. :D)

Overall though, I’m really glad that Steam and digital distribution has come around, it’s given me access to a lot of good quality stuff that ultimately I might not have had access to otherwise.

What do you think of digital distribution? Are there any points that you disagree with or think I missed?