It seems like a no-brainer to most computer-affiniados and gamers: eventually, all video games will be distributed online. The question is only, when?
To retailers this seems to be a whole different story. Most of them are in denial, as I can tell from occasionally reading retail game publishing magazines. They’ll be in for quite the surprise in about 10 years, when it will be obvious even to the blind-folded that boxed retail games will soon be a thing of the past. Alongside Blu-ray movies. It is inevitable, as video games and movies alike are moving towards their most natural distribution media format: instant digital home delivery.
Not only will this reduce inventory risks for publishers, it also cuts out the retail middle-man, allowing direct to consumer sales with full control over pricing and availability. With all the advantages of tracking each user’s usage and profile information for marketing purposes. At the same time conveniently disallowing or at least automating the consumer’s rights to re-sell or lend digital products or issue refunds. Neither Floppy Disks nor Optical Media have offered such compelling advantages to media producers.
But first, let’s consult the history of video game distribution before analyzing what it can tell us about the future. One thing I can say with conviction in advance: retail stores selling physical games and movies will be as commonplace in the 2030s as are Vinyl record stores today.