Of all the platforms video games exist on none have shown anywhere near the resiliency and longevity as the good ‘ol personal computer. From the very beginning of home computing these devices have been used to play video games and have evolved alongside these games over the years as new technologies became available. From floppy disk, to CDs and DVDs players on PC had gotten used to picking up their games on some sort of physical media but with the advent of the internet and higher bandwith limits a lot of game publishers have begun offering their games exclusively digitally on the PC via various services, which is definitely a convenient option but I think we should also be able to purchase PC games the old’ fashioned way.
Now you’re probably asking yourself, ‘why on Earth would anyone want to buy PC games physically in this day and age?’ Well I’ll admit that even myself see a lot of advantages in a digital-only marketplace. For one, games on PC that are released through serves like Steam are often cheaper or go on sale more often than a title that has to carry the burdens that go along with releasing in a physical store. Also you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home to pick up the game but can download it and often play it relatively quickly, definitely more so than trekking to the closest game store. So yes, digital games have strong advantages over physical games and those are just part of the reason why retail PC games are so rare these days, but I do want you to consider a few key points before dismissing the idea of retail PC games as something that is purely ‘of the past’.
For one, we are currently inundated with download services and storefronts. Steam, Origin, Battle.net and even Xbox all occupy a place in most serious gamers hard drives and each of these have games that can only be found on that specific service. This means of course more accounts, usernames and passwords to remember which, is not so bad until you consider that it also opens up the opportunity for hacking and data breaches. We’ve seen time and time again how vulnerable the current online infrastructure is to malicious attacks and our personal data is definitely one of the key targets in these attacks, so the idea of having to trust multiple companies which are by design high level targets for unscrupulous is at best, unappealing.
However the threat of a shadowy organisation stealing your data for nefarious ends is a bit far-fetched for most people (though the reality is a bit different) there is a much more pressing concern that directly affects gamers who use these services, especially those who have heavily invested in content – that the service might one day, end. If let’s say one day Valve decided to up and close the Steam service what would happen to your game library? Your achievements? Your DLC? It’s likely that it would be wiped off the face of the digital-Earth and you’re left with nothing but memories and an emptier wallet. While the idea of a major corporation like Valve shutting down its marquee service is an extremely unlikely one it’s not impossible and even more so when smaller services are thrown into the mix.
It’s very likely that the concerns I have highlighted here might never come to pass and we’ll all be happily playing games on digital gaming services for years to come without issue but I feel like players, and consumers should at least be given the option on how they want to experience their PC games. So while we may never return to the days of giant retail boxes for PC games filled with half a dozen CDs, promotional materials and manuals it would be nice to see more publishers spend a little bit extra and give us players a chance to preserve and protect things that are important to us.