Despite the many good reasons for digital distribution to be catching on, there are 119 million reasons why retail discs need to keep being an option. Why 119 million? That's the number of Americans that don't have access to broadband internet.
As Ars Technica reports, the FCC has found that roughly one-third of the country either lives someplace where broadband isn't offered, or doesn't subscribe to it where it is. Clearly, some avoid the connection by choice. Others, however, can't afford the monthly bill.
In one sense, the evolution of digital distribution has been phenomenal. Smaller developers and publishers can reach a worldwide audience without having to deal with physical logistics. I had my entire PC game collection -- 15 years' worth of games -- stolen in 2006, but the ones I've re-acquired through GOG and Steam are games that no burglar can take. I don't have to feel guilty about adding to environmental woes with regard to manufacturing or shipping, and I can build my game collection without having to deal with cramming it all into a not-that-big apartment. As digital storage space has gotten cheaper, storing dozens of games on gigabytes or even terabytes of hard drive has become a non-issue.
In another sense, digital distribution still has its woes. While anti-consumer elements come up most often -- the inability to share or resell digital games, poor customer service when problems connecting to accounts occur -- the fact that the nation's infrastructure still lags behind the demands placed on it rarely comes up as often. With companies like EA asserting that the future is 100% digital, and seemingly every electronic device demanding an internet connection at least occasionally, the infrastructure woes will only become a bigger and bigger problem.
Not everyone is going to download multiple gigabytes per month of online games or big-budget shoot-fests. But even Solitaire and Minsweeper, in Windows 8, require a working and stable internet connection to access. The smaller the population that can access games, the smaller the population that can be playing them and learning to love them. And that's just a shame all around.
119 million Americans lack broadband Internet, FCC reports [Ars Technica via GamePolitics]