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Bye-bye disc, hello digital? How long before the physical disc becomes obsolete?

Probably one of my last updates before the end of the year, a little opinion piece that will hopefully stimulate some feedback and conversation. Beyond that, expect a Happy New Year greeting come the time.



Although not a new phenomenon, games being released in digital format is steadily increasing with the introduction of services such as Xbox Live and PSN. Being able to purchase titles for the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network services means that players the world over have received easy access to several indie and officially released titles over the last couple of years, allowing them to play said titles from their hard drives or in the case of PSN, transfer it over to their PSP for play on the go. Does this mean however the death knell for disc-based titles?

From the sounds of what CEO of Take-Two Interactive Strauss Zelnick has said, disc-based titles aren't expected to go anywhere, anytime soon. He sees the medium as a vital asset to the company's business model, allowing them to continue generating consistent profit whilst allowing fans to keep a hard copy of the title in their possession. However, the likes of indie developers such as Hello Games and even large publishers such as Rockstar and SEGA show that digital downloads are becoming more popular than ever, especially given the recent financial climate. The ability for them to publish titles in a format that can cut down on production costs of manuals and cases is an important consideration from a business point of view. It also allows the company to maximise profits from the sale of their games via a download-only based service.

Reading an article on today by columnist Paul Tassi, he predicts that by 2020 physical game media will be gone, digital downloads will take over and stores such as Gamestop and Best Buy will disappear or be non-existent. Users will have accounts that will allow them to access their purchased titles, meaning less worries about a hard drive being wiped. Tassi is probably reflecting on the current situation when casting his predictions on the future of gaming. However, the next ten years will be a good measure of how accurate or not his forecast ends up being when it comes to the games market.

We should also consider how the pre-owned market has affected disc-based sales of titles over the last couple of years. A major bone of contention between publishers and retailers, it can not be denied that they have impacted on the sale of newly-released titles as the economic recession has hit. Although retailers would justify that pre-owned sales are necessary for them to remain competitive in business in general, publishers frown heavily on the pre-owned market, seeing it heavily as A) impacting on new sales, and B) the retailers making profit on previously sold titles.

The argument could be posed that pre-owned sales stimulate interest in future titles from these publishers. Another argument could be that no such approach is taken towards pre-owned sales of CDs, DVDs, books and furniture. Moreover some game titles hold little to no value when they are traded and resold, meaning retailers hold more stock than required when it comes to games on shelves. However, the publishers aren't ones to sit idly by; creating an interesting situation as they need to maintain the work relationship with the large retail chains but have this ongoing issue that creates a continually challenging business situation.

Do you think disc-based titles will be around for some time yet? Or do you see digital downloads of titles taking over completely from physical-based media entirely in the next ten years? Any thoughts, feel free to throw them in the Comments section below.

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