In November of 2013, Microsoft faced blowback after revealing that their new console would require an “always online” internet connection and that game ownership would be tied to players’ Xbox Live accounts, making it harder to trade in games and even lend them to friends. Sony capitalised on that blowback with their infamous E3 dunk. But now, looking towards what seems like the final year of this console generation’s life cycle, the “always on” digital future of consoles that once worried us is basically upon us once again.
Google has announced their online-only gaming platform, Stadia, and this week, Xbox became the first major console manufacturer to enter the digital-only future with their Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. Sony also revealed details for their next-gen console this week without mentioning any “always online” catch, so we know that hardware won’t be going away any time soon.
Still, with digital sales on the rise, these announcements have me a little worried about physical games eventually going the way of the LaserDisc.
While people are still grappling with the technical ramifications of Google's Stadia platform, gamers have begun asking deeper, more troubling questions. What do mods look like in a world of game streaming? What happens to game preservation? What happens if Google dwarfs gaming the same way it has with search, browsers and advertising? And most worryingly of all, what happens if Google decides to walk away from the industry later on?
I talked with Kotaku’s Heather Alexandra to raise the question: Are games headed towards an all-digital future?
Watch the video to watch our entire discussion or read a short excerpt here:
Heather: … The Capcom Home Arcade is this arcade stick with arcade games, but it’s like a handful of games. Or the new Sega console that they’re doing. There’s going to be a point where I don’t have access to those.
In theory, I don’t have easy access to [older games] and it’s frustrating to see companies not really maintain and provide access to their older games and curate proper libraries. And now to move our current generation of games to something that is more ephemeral and less tangible— it’s really scary.
Paul: That’s what makes this all-digital Xbox One S so fascinating to me, because we’re starting to see what’s been happening to laptops and other mobile devices for so long, which is: most people don’t use this drive, so we’re going to rip it out, make it cheaper to mass produce, and make it cheaper for the consumer. And anybody who wants that drive can buy an optional thing on the side. So I’m curious what the answer is moving forward that could replace cartridges or discs.
Heather: I don’t know. The thing that scares me about preservation and what it means to have digital games only is, I’m super afraid that companies are going to curate what they think are important games and provide access to only those things, and then that’s all we have.