Monday, October 26, 2009

Hey You - Off My Cloud

If you were to buy a red car, you would perceive that most cars on the road are also red. I call this the Red Car Effect - or RCE for short. I made this up, so don't bother Googling - you'll just get this page, anyways. And this one, which I'd never seen until 30 seconds ago.

My point is, I recently had an RCE day. A day where I heard something in the morning that made me pay attention to something else in the afternoon, which led me to actually have an opinion about something in the evening.

In the morning: A friend of mine related an experience where he had found a forgotten copy of a video game in his house. Still pristine in its shrinkwrap, smelling of 9 year's worth of CD out-gassing - my friend loaded it onto his modern PC, happy with his unexpected windfall. Mind you, there were problems in combining these 2 pieces of technology that had been separated by epochs in tech-time, but it was an interesting story nonetheless and I couldn't help but hope some patching would fix his problems.

In the afternoon: I was driving around town running oh-so-bland errands and checking out a new podcast. A few of the disembodied voices started talking about direct-download video games. As the story goes, a bigwig executive from EA Games recently opined that the next decade would witness the demise of disc-based game media in favour of direct-download distribution. We'd all pay less (no media to distribute!) and the distributors would store our games somewhere in The Cloud.

In the evening: I thought about direct-download some more. It has some merit, I suppose. Steam has been working this model for awhile now and it works not too badly. But I'm super-skeptical. First off, The Cloud is a lovely buzzword in tech these days, and the chattering classes of tech have made it the current darling of the IT consulting business.

But the reality is that it's simply a collection of servers that are attached to the Internet - owned and operated by a company who wants your money. In this alone, there are mountains of issues to be solved before we see the demise of the CDROM or DVD gaming media: Cloud capacity, security, escrow guarantees, re-installing games on new/upgraded PCs, etc. etc and friggin' etc.

And that's just for starters. Buying a new game often has some social or synergistic aspect that direct-download can't satisfy. Need a guitar for Rock Band? You're going to a store. Want to dig through the clearance bin? It's better at a store. Want to kibbutz with the guy behind the counter or check-out the gamer-chick in the next aisle ? Well, you get the picture.

And what of my friend and his found treasure? In a world where The Cloud rules all, he would have been denied his eureka moment. And would The Cloud even bother to remember a 9 year-old game that had never been touched?

For me, direct-download isn't very attractive, at least for the big, expensive games. Spending $10 for a fun PopCap download doesn't feel very risky, but I'm not ready to trust The Cloud for Fallout 3. And, really, I love that new game smell under the shrinkwrap.

7 comments:

Kid Dork said...

As that friend, I did find a patch for the game from our lovely friends at Bioware. So far, the game works fine. There is joy.

I'm with you on the pleasures of actually going out and buying games, since I've found many lost and forgotten treasures in discount bins or on the Lost Shelves of Future Shop. I'll download games like Osmos or whatever crack PopCap is currently selling on their virtual street corner, but playing MMOs has shown me how badly things can go when you try to download anything much larger than that. And besides...that check out girl at Future Shop smiled at me last time I was there. That's surely worth the drive.

Crazylegs said...

We are kindred spirits, KD. And glad to hear that your antique game has come back to life.

But listen - that Future Shop girl smiles at me all the time, too. Do you think she's just playing us? No matter. It's still better than getting leered at by that chubby guy over at EB Games. *shivers*

Adam Kantor said...

I'll go out on my own with this saying that I am all for digital downloads and here's why.

Kid, You found that old game in your house and you may now play it and enjoy it but who else can? The game is pretty much lost forever because the technology to support it is gone, as is the media itself. The same can be said for any cartridge based system as well. This is why we use emulators to play these old gems.

The beauty of digital downloads from the cloud is that it levels the playing field. From my time browsing the PSN for PSP games I can honestly say I am very excited at the prospect of not have to "find" a game anymore. They are all there and their prices are no longer based on rarity.

I have seen prices at EB fluctuate radically on older stock due to availability. If they don't have enough copies of Final Fantasy X guess what, the game now costs $10 more. People trade it in and the price drops. With digital downloads there is no more pricing based on supply and demand because the supply is infinite. Therefore the costs stay constant.

I could go on about the ease of access, (I got Gran Turismo at 7am on the day it launched in my living room), portability, (with no UMD I don't have to carry anything but my PSP), and storage, (no more piles of discs but I think you get where I am coming from. I am all for digital only distribution.

David said...

Unless you are using a real ISP like Execulink, the trouble is going to reset with download caps. And speed throttling. Your access to digital media will be controlled by the isp and whether or not you are using their store.

David said...

Rest, not reset.

Crazylegs said...

Adam - You make some great points. But my issues with direct-download really boil down to data management. I guess the best metaphor is managing MP3 files vs. CDs. I think you'll agree that having 1,000 purchased MP3s on your hard-drive is much more convenient (for storage, playback and media-shifting) vs. having them on 100 purchased CDs - right up until you have disk crash or playback technology somehow changes. Let's say you don't have them all backed up. How do you get them back? Will the original vendor(s) grant you replacement downloads? Take it a step further and suppose that some of those MP3s were solely-available from a vendor who is no longer in business. How do you get your replacement then? Let's go a step further and suppose your MP3s can onyl be downloaded to a specific player device - i.e. The Ramones only play on an iPod while Green Day only plays on a Zune. What happens when you fill up your Zune? Are you done buying MP3s from The Zune Store, or is it more likely that the The Zune Store is going to sell you some (more) proprietary technology to manage your Zune MP3s?

I'm just scratching the surface, but these are the issues I have with managing direct-download games. Control over what I buy shifts from my hands into a vendor's hands. I don't like that.

Jim Dandy - You are oh-so-right with capping, throttling, and traffc-shaping. ISPs are already trying to take their cut of the downloading pie. If a bazillion gamers starting flooding the Net with Oblivion downloads, you *know* the ISPs will want their share. What pisses me off is their crocodile tears about how hard the work to manage their networks inspite of nasty downloaders today. Fact is, if you're willing to pay Rogers or Bell 'business rates' for Internet service, problems with capping suddenly disappear on the same wires that Joe Average gets to use. While it's true that Canadian telcos have chronically underprovisioned their networks (vs other countries liek Japan), it's nowhere near as bad as the telcos would have us believe. The bottom line is that they aren't satisfied to simply provide the wires for market value. They want to make money off of what we *do* with the wires. Imagine if they did that with phone service - i.e. charge you more if you talk to someone about business vs. talking to your friend about a TV show you saw last night. Bastards.

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