With larger hard drives and faster bandwidth, a future in which players are downloading a majority of new releases isn't all that unimaginable since eliminating a retail middle man could make the prospect very enticing for publishers and developers. But what about the sexier aspects to this digital model? With such a digital infrastucture, these oft-prophecised downloadable purchases only scratch the surface.
What if publishers could counteract the Blockbusters/GameFlys of the world by offering digital rentals, and taking the idea a step further, stick it to GameStop resales by offering a simple system in which gamers could trade or sell their games online?
Stepping back to compare the digital movie industry for a moment, Apple recently signed on all the major film studios to rent their releases online. How does such a system work technically? It's easy, if a movie could be purchased and downloaded before, a download that costs a little less and is tagged to expire is really no more difficult. How does such a system work pragmatically? Apple, wanting to support (read: profit) on their media hardware, only takes the most modest chunk off the song/movie's sale price. The rest goes to those who create the content.
Does this not seem like the obvious next step for the gaming industry?
As for building a digital resale marketplace, such a scenario grows far more complicated, but not impossible. Now that gamers are comfortable dealing in points, imagine this simple system: you buy a game for 100 points, sell it for 50 points, and buy a used games for 75. So what's the catch? You can't sell a used game, and you only get sale points credited if something buys your game.
Is the plan flawed? I'm sure. It took all of ten seconds to think of. But the important idea here is that an all digital model could have publisher-profitable limits on trade that would be made up to consumers by its extreme ease of use.
But most of all, the truly enticing aspect of such a model (for publishers/devs) is that consoles could provide a relatively safe haven for such a rental/trading system to exist. Unlike PCs, the specialized hardware and OS of these closed boxes make potential exploits far less likely at the scale of the average user—and when they do occur—far more manageable to the infrastructure as a whole (because, face it, firmware wars work pretty freaking well).
And while I'd love to have complete freedom with my digital content, I'd gladly make a few sacrifices for one, simple to use system that works from my couch.