When I upgraded my computer, it took me a few days to realise it was missing something. When I went to install my copy of Black and White 2, I realised that the case had no disc drive to use. That game, like several others I own for the PC, aren’t available elsewhere; no digital copy exists. And with the recent release of Google Stadia, it’s got me thinking about whether the shift to digital only is really a good idea… Especially if we’re talking about streaming.

The conversation is by no means new – Concerns about digital distribution really started popping up around about the time some PC game boxes contained Steam codes instead of discs… But we’re at an all new level of digital dependence: beyond the Xbox S All Digital, unable to take physical media of any kind, we now have Google Stadia. That streaming service doesn’t even let you keep the data of the games you stream in any capacity. You simply own nothing for the Stadia; it’s like a shittier version of Netflix, but for games… And that’s a little iffy in my opinion.

Whilst we technically don’t own any of the games we’ve bought for, say, Steam (instead owning ‘licenses’ to use said programs), we do have a lot more control over them; by physically having the data, we’re able to move and modify the games as we see fit. But with products like Stadia, you get nothing. No mods. No community bug fixes. Nothing. Because there can’t be anything – You don’t retain the data; and this wouldn’t be much of a problem, if many gaming companies weren’t watching Stadia with a hungry curiosity.

And why shouldn’t they? No more physical sales means no more physical printing and distribution, no more second hand market that would ‘cut into profits’. Larger game publishers like EA could just have their own streaming service, and cut out the middle man of consoles. If game companies have demonstrated anything the past few years, it’s that they approach things with a mindset of short term profit over long time consequences.

They wouldn’t really care about what it could mean for consumers to no-longer own their products; that it’d create a dependency on them to keep access to the games. They wouldn’t care that many titles, including older titles, would simply be unavailable because they’ve decided there’s no profit in them. That they’d spread people between dozens of monthly subscription services. Could you imagine forking out $100 a month to have access to a variety of games across different publishers? Could you imagine how unsustainable that’d be for lower income people who might only spend that twice a year on games..?

And this is, of course, assuming a company is 100% competent running such a service. Which is… Yeah.

Digital distribution can be a very handy and efficient method of obtaining titles, provided you have the internet connection; you can obtain games cheaply, remotely, and quickly. But it absolutely needs to retain an element of ownership to work. Streaming is a dangerous path for gaming to consider; one that needs to be approached carefully. Certainly more carefully than Stadia has. Otherwise we might one day go to upgrade our computers and discover we can’t even install certain exes anymore. I mean, in 2009, did you ever think there’d be computers without disc drives..?

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