I must admit that up til now I’ve been a cynical to the whole retail-games-available-as-downloads thing, and still am to an extent. I mean, yes, I can see what’s in it for the hardware developers and/or publishers (such as Nintendo) that put them out ; they spend nothing on packaging or shipping of their wares yet still make a profit. But what, I asked myself, was in it for the consumers?
As far as I could tell ; higher prices. Apart from when sales are on (which is rare if you’re following a specific title) you will always pay the RRP. This is very much not so if you shop around for a retail copy. Take Monster Hunter 3 (which was the subject of our recent Celestial Council). The privilege of downloading it via eShop download is currently £39.99. Contrast this with the price on Play.co.uk (£36) and Amazon (£31.86) and, at a quick glance, its clear to see you could get this title cheaper by shopping around the retail stores. You also don’t get any of that fancy packaging ; no box, no instruction manual (not a physical one anyway). And if you get bored of the game ; what then? Its not like you can sell it (yet another point scored for the companies putting them out).
Still. That said I actually bit the bullet tonight and spent £10 more than perhaps I should have on a title I’ll never be able to sell. Yes I bought Luigi’s Mansion 2 over the eShop. And as I wait for it to download, watching those little apple-shaped Christmas balls (or whatever they are) that represent data nuggets populate the block that represents my game I realise ; yes, digital download has a fair few advantages for the consumer.
I’ll begin with the first and most obvious one just to get it out of the way ; convenience. When you’re feeling down or bored and simply can’t be bothered waiting for a package to arrive from Amazon (or even to sit through the commute to the nearest video games store. Which, heck, might be closed) no fear ; you just log into eStore and download the game you’ve had your eye on just like that. Indeed its what I myself did tonight. And it felt pretty damn good…
Still on the convenience point ; from now on wherever my 3DS goes ; Luigi’s Mansion 2 goes. It is quite a scene at 3DS meets (like the mighty DS:London) when everyone decides to play a multiplayer game like MK7 (where having your own cart is recommended). Because what follows this decision is a furious scramble by each participant for their cartridge. Which can be inconvenient if you’re huddled up between a bunch of people and you have to reeeach to find your 3DS case, or your game is in your bag or something. I know right, #FirstWorldProblems. Yes, I’m looking forward to not having to partake in these silly shenanigans next time I’m asked if I’d like to join in a game of LM2.
Then you have the environmental argument. There are few things a gamer can do to significantly reduce their carbon footprint more than by choosing digital download over their boxed counterparts. Ok, so you’ll need to have your router plugged in (if downloading from home) which will mean you’ll have to use electricity. But many people these days have their routers on all the time… Another resource needed will be a bigger SD Card if you plan on downloading many titles. But this still leads to much, much less waste than continually buying retail copies of games. The aforementioned box and instruction manual, not to mention the cartridge itself and all the little leaflets included, amount to a fair bit of plastic and paper, ink and, yes, electricity being used. For once I don’t feel guilty for purchasing a game!
Another advantage is that 3DS gamers who move abroad (especially to countries that don’t speak English or countries with high game taxes) are, I can only imagine, only too grateful to have the option of downloading UK titles at the RRP online. Personally the one international destination I would most like to live is Taiwan. To send a 3DS game to Taiwan, scheduled to arrive within 10 days would set you back £8.80 in postage costs using the Royal Mail. If we were talking about Monster Hunter 3, even given the impressive price quoted by Amazon earlier in this article the game would still end up more expensive when sent this way. And there would be no way I’d buy it from a local store ; I can’t read Traditional Chinese!
My final point is that companies such as GAME are now selling downloadable copies of popular 3DS games themselves for much more reasonable prices than you’ll see through simply logging into eStore. Basically you can walk into stores like GAME and buy cards with eShop codes on them, which you subsequently use to unlock the game. This is a highly exciting development and goes a long way to diminish the point made earlier about the supremacy of competition pertaining to retail boxed versions.
In conclusion, I hope this article has given you some food for thought. Personally I’m still not planning to make all my purchases through download just yet ; I only have a 16gb memory card for one thing, plus I dislike the fact I can’t lend out or sell downloaded games. I am, however, grateful for the option that I can download 3DS games any time, day or night. And pleased I downloaded Luigi’s Mansion, if only because I look forward to the convenience having it on my 3DS at all times will bring.
Please let me know any thoughts you have on the topic in the comment section below. I’d be very interested to hear others’ view on the debate!