A few months ago, before the release of Prey, 3DR blowhard Scott Miller shot down negative comments about the future of digital distribution and praised the coming digital distribution revolution. Obviously, the “praise” was nothing more than a giant plug for the service that they were using for Prey: Triton.
In his post, Miller wrote about the many advantages of a system like Triton (two of which were anti-consumer). He said that
There are other advantages, too, but I’ll save those for discussion after Prey is released via Triton, that way I can point them out specifically using a real world example. After that post, Triton was never mentioned again.
Triton is now dead (their domain is now parked) and when it died, all the copies of Prey that were purchased through it died with it. Legitimate “owners” of the game could no longer play it. Benefits! Now 3DRealms announces that they will ship free boxed copies to all Triton purchasers. So much for digital distribution.
That’s really the problem with this model. Games that are tied to a service or “phone home” become useless when the service dies. Where as I can still play that twenty year old copy of Super Mario Bros. provided I still have the proper hardware, I can no longer play a four month old game because the service it was tied to has gone under.
So far this hasn’t been too big of a problem, but it’s going to creep up the longer that this option remains with us. XBox Live is often praised for doing some of this right, but it’s still a new service. The question remains, what will happen when it matures? What will become of those XBL Arcade games that you purchased when the next generation XBox arrives? What about the generation after that? The success of digital distribution does not rest upon technology and bandwidth, it depends on portability and permanence, two things that a hard copy does well.