It’s been a long-time coming for the video game industry, but it looks like a digital-only future is slowly becoming more and more a reality. Both the PS4 and Xbox One are offering digital copies of games day-and-date with retail copies, and many publishers are encouraging gamers to purchase digital either through sales, discounts, or special bonuses.
Clearly, both console makers can see the writing is on the wall, and whether or not gamers as a whole like it, there may soon come a time when physical copies of games simply don’t exist. Microsoft‘s Phil Harrison, for example, addressed such a future, saying that there is an “unstoppable, inexorable momentum” pushing the industry towards a digital-only market.
Harrison’s comments come courtesy of an interview with MCV in which he addresses his own comments about the digital-only future. Specifically, Harrison stressed the viability and convenience of having a game available day-and-date on digital storefronts.
To be fair, Harrison did acknowledge that both Sony and Nintendo were first to the day-and-date concept (on consoles), but he says there were certain technical and policy reasons keeping Microsoft behind. That will all change with the Xbox One, though, as Microsoft’s next-gen system will offer every release on Xbox Live.
Granted, Microsoft may have invested a little quickly in a digital-only future with some policies that were not consumer friendly, but they have since learned the error of their ways. Now the focus is on showing gamers that digital is the way to go, and then maybe those policies might return.
With Microsoft well aware that digital is the way of the future, the question then becomes whether that will be during the Xbox One’s lifecycle or its successor’s. Well, according to Harrison, the Xbox One will have a 10-year lifecycle. He says that Microsoft will continue to improve the feature-set, functionality, and performance of the console, keeping it competitive for a long time to come.
In addition to moving towards a digital-only future, Microsoft is also looking to improve multiplayer on the Xbox One. As the above video shows, Microsoft has made significant changes to their reputation system, which now evaluates players on a greater scale. If, for example, a player gets blocked, or if they tend to grief, actions will be taken that will lower the player’s reputation.
However, reputation is only one part of Microsoft’s move towards improving their multiplayer experience. That other part, the Smart Match system, takes a player’s reputation and matches them with similar gamers. In theory, Smart Match should ensure that gamers who are in good standing are never matched with players who tend to disrupt the experience. It’s a smart way to approach multiplayer, but we’ve seen reputation-like systems before, and they don’t always work.
Additionally, Microsoft is beefing up their server support with their new cloud-based services, ensuring players’ multiplayer matches run without problem. The cloud is a big buzzword for the next-gen, and both Microsoft and Sony are looking to leverage their individual cloud-based services to improve online gameplay, as well as the user experience.
Although a full reliance on digital copies is still a few years away, Microsoft is also looking to give players beneficial features for the here and now. Some, like achievements and friends lists, feature small tweaks, while others have been completely revamped. However, it’s only when these features are put into practice that we will truly know how successful they are.
How long do you think it will be before games are only available digitally? Do you prefer a digital or disc-based copy of a game?
Microsoft’s Xbox One will be available November 22, 2013.