A Cautionary Tale: The Danger of Going Digital

Here at Power Up Gaming, we’re dedicated to bringing you breaking news, interesting opinions and insightful reviews to help you decide whether or not games are worth your time. It is therefore with a heavy heart, that I must tell you that I’ve failed in this most sacred duty. Last year, just as the games drought had finally broken and we were all up to our ears in pre-Christmas triple-A titles, I was assigned Little Big Planet 3 to review.

The more observant of our readers will notice that there is no LBP3 review on this site, and because I feel guilty about that, I’m here to tell you why. In short, when I eschewed the physical world and embraced the future (by which I mean I downloaded the game), the damn thing kept crashing on me.

Now I hear the contemptuous whispers of a thousand IT professionals, and before we go any further I’d like to assure you that yes, I did try downloading it again. I tried several times over the course of two months, with my efforts being hampered by my paltry data plan and Australia’s well-known crappy internet.

So why did I make the choice to invest in an invisible product? And what makes digital copies better than physical discs?

Well, there’s the convenience for one. As someone who has a dozen digital games already fighting for space on her console, it’s the ease that I like. Not having to dig around my collection for games I keep going back to, the ones I consider essentials, such as Madden, Minecraft and Trials Fusion. Barely a day goes by that I don’t dig into one or the other, relaxing as though with old friends who I value all the more because I know them so well.

I wanted Little Big Planet 3 to be one of those friends; a happy little platformer to cheer me up or entertain future nieces and nephews, as yet unborn, but doubtlessly soon to be on the way. From what I managed to play, it seemed to fit the bill nicely, bordering on twee, but with enough fun gameplay to happily whittle away the hours.

Another benefit of going digital (although not relevant to LBP3), is that many games are now download-only, including some remasters of games that have meant a lot to me. Ratchet and Clank, Monkey Island, and Day of the Tentacle all hold special memories and all, when they are released, will find themselves happily ensconced on my HDD.

The digital revolution has also been a great thing for indie developers, allowing us to see games that would never be able to garner a big budget release. Steam, the PlayStation Store, XBLA – all have opened our eyes to the world of smaller studios, experimenting with new ideas and new methods of storytelling. This can only be a great thing for players who are sick of seeing the same old games.

But what are the problems with going digital? Surely the future is here, the future is bright, and flying cars and jetpacks are merely days away from fruition.

To begin with, it’s the lack of support if things go wrong. If my experience has taught me anything, it’s this: screaming in frustration is much more satisfying if it’s done at a person (however innocent), and not a TV screen. More than anything else, it’s the hassle I resent. The hassle of going through Sony’s customer support – I haven’t found a way to get on to Sumo yet – when if I’d gone for a hard copy, I could so easily just go back for another disc.

The worst part is that I appear to be alone in this problem, a single unsatisfied blip in a sea of happy customers. I feel like a kid stuck outside a really exciting birthday party, helplessly watching people scoff down cake that I can’t seem to reach. This is particularly annoying because I paid good money to eat that cake, and I didn’t eat breakfast so that I’d have room for it.

That, if you didn’t follow, was an allusion to the fact that I have limited hard drive space, and downloading LBP3 means I might not have room for something else (yes, I could upgrade the drive, but that costs money, and requires a mechanical aptitude greater than that of a pickled canary). What I’m saying is that the true cost of going digital can be measured not just in money, but in data.

Little Big Planet 3 was a 14GB download, but many games are much, much larger. The trend is that they will likely keep getting bigger as the industry finds new ways to improve graphics. This is data that will a) fill up my hard drive, and b) needs to be downloaded, something that will cause problems for someone with a fixed data quota.

This isn’t a perfect world. We don’t all have infinite data plans, and buying more data blocks or updating my plan will cost money I that I haven’t budgeted for; a problem for someone on a small income.

And what about my hard drive? I’ve had my PS4 a year, have downloaded half a dozen big games, and I don’t know how many small ones (thank you, PlayStation Plus). This, combined with a mounting collection of DLC means that I’m already over halfway full. As I’ve said, there are download-only games that I’m hanging out for, so how long before I have to bite the bullet, roll up my sleeves and actually replace the thing? I wasn’t kidding about the pickled canary, I struggled getting my PS4 set up in the first place, so how am I going to manage reaching in to the thing, with every breath caught and every heartbeat pounding?

Then there’s the fact that once bought, digital copies are there forever, either on your drive or floating in the cloud, waiting to be downloaded again. This might not be a problem for some games like the ones you come back to again and again (I can’t imagine a world where I’ll stop playing Minecraft), but not all games fit that category. As I’ve said before, games I hate are often tossed away as soon as I’m done, traded in at the games store, so that while they might have wasted my time, they haven’t entirely wasted my money. With digital games I can’t do that – it’s a permanent investment, and therefore one that, in time, I might come to regret. Right now, waiting another month to be able to try downloading LBP3 again, it’s a decision I regret a lot.

So what has this experience taught me? Will I go the download route again? The answer, I think, is no. At least not for titles with physical copies available. Download-only games are obviously a different story, but even then I will consider my choices more carefully after assessing the risk, the reward, and the data required with more thought than I did before.

If anything, the experience has taught me to be more cautious. A minor lesson perhaps, but a little more knowledge is never a bad thing.

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