Will Physical Game Media Soon Go the Way of Records?

Over three quarters of the games I have purchased in the last year were acquired via download, with about 20 games on Steam and a handful of ancient titles re-released on Xbox Live. This was not by preference, as I still harbor the archaic desire to hold in my hands the actual content of a game, maybe pressing it warmly against my chest as I think about all the explosions I caused while playing it.
My recently amassed  library of digital games is a result of stinginess. Every single downloaded game I acquired was on sale for a considerable discount, resulting in my two dozen or so downloaded games costing less than the three newly released disc-based games I bought in that same amount of time.

This pricing situation is why I do not have too much grief about not having a disc in case of being unable to get online (which is not a problem now that I know you can just switch Steam to offline mode) or not having a box with snazzy cover art. I do miss reading an instruction manual in my hands, but those are hard to find even among store bought
games.

My collection of music is as well mostly digital–or, I should say, almost strictly digital–but not 100%. I still have some discs containing music despite giving away all the CD’s I got throughout my childhood. Those discs are vinyl records. That is the way I figure video games will be owned in the future; collected might be a better description than owned.

From what I can gather, the people who bother to post on video game sites are fearful of a future where all video games are downloaded rather than bought at a store or delivered in the mail, the reason being either an old fashioned thrill from holding a brand new release in their hands or a despair of not having ownership of a game not being recognized in the future. Outside of video game websites, I hardly hear complaining about downloaded games–rather the contrary actually. My co-workers don’t fear that their games will be nullified by an executive from the games’ publishers. My younger cousins, nephews, and relatives don’t comprehend the glee I get reading the instruction manual to a new game on the way back from the store.

These gamers, my co-workers and younger relatives–the kind who do not think any deeper about a game other than their current playthrough–are the bulk of the game buying populace. They’re also the bulk of any entertainment market (e.g. music, movies). Their habits dictate the course of the industry.

Outside of this demographic there are outliers that go against the common trends. Within the realm of music there has been an undercurrent of people keeping to vinyl records despite the advancement of more convenient mediums. I’ve been told that the sound of vinyl records is better than the highest fidelity audio file, but that is tough for me to believe. Perhaps it’s noticeable to an acoustic technician, but to the untrained ear they’re indistinguishable from one another.

The population that is old enough to have lived during a time when records were the sole manner of obtaining music either already owns a record collection or switched over to another format of music (CDs, cassettes, legally purchased MP3s). The people I see buying records at flea markets, used record stores, Half-Priced Books or garage sales are young people, or at people least born after records faded from being the medium of choice. As for my own record collection, I inherited a record player and I’m too lazy to poke around torrents for new music when I can get a half dozen albums for less than $2.50 at my local used book store.

What are the motivations for the modern young record buyer? I personally know only a handful of friends who buy avidly buy records and could easily be categorized as hipster, so they’re opinions are the only source I have for the motivations of contemporary record buyers. I could peruse through websites that talk about used vinyl, which are usually populated by egregious hipsters, who I loathe more than egregious fanboys.

These hipsters diving through old records could be the prototype for a new kind of video game fanboy: people intentionally looking to set themselves apart from the masses of consumers who look for badges to prove their separation from mass society. People who want others to know they are more ingrained into their particular interest than most normal folks. Although hipsters help keep the idea of purchasing non-digital music alive, it is not enough for that ideal to thrive. They still get most of their music, either legally or otherwise, through digital means. I don’t expect much more for video games still made on DVDs, Blu-Ray, or whatever.

I never said it was a bright, shiny future for physical copy games, I just foresaw that they would never be extinct. If gaming continues along the same path as the music industry, then physical copies will be found in the extensive collection of an older gentleman compiled in their youth–like how old guys right now have impressive jazz record collections–or in the hands of video games hipsters looking for a gold copy of Legend of Zelda among hundreds of Madden 2005s, much like they do now looking for a Pink Floyd hidden among a bunch of Kansas records.


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