Why I'm not down with online download games (for now)

There’s something special about rushing home to crack open a newly purchased videogame. Before removing my jacket or throwing down my backpack, I’d rush over to the living room and turn on my game console. While the console is slowly powering up, I’d use every bit of my fingernails to scratch open the stubborn plastic wrap. Start from the top and unravel the plastic around its body; my fingers are every bit as excited as the brain controlling them. It is nothing short of a magical moment.

More than music, books, or movies, I simply love buying videogames in physical formats. Sometimes I actually like to arrange and play with the Gameboy and DS game cartridges themselves. There’s nothing better than spending the morning hours of an overcast Sunday morning in bed stacking game cartridges like gambling chips or demolishing them like a real life version of Boom Blox. It’s an incredibly dorky thing to do, I admit, but it’s something I’ve been doing ever since childhood and the experience is certainly part of why I feel connected with the gaming culture in general. I don’t want to stop simply because all my games now reside in the cloud.

My DS Game Collection

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue buying music on iTunes or downloading apps on the App Store. But like a grandfather recalling days of old, I fail to understand the appeal of purchasing core games digitally as opposed to owning traditional, retail copies.

Unlike buying music or other types of entertainment, downloading full games take a long time. There have been nights where I thought, “Ah, I’ll just spend the rest of the night playing whatever games I find on Steam.” But only when I confirmed my order did I realize that the only entertainment for the rest of the night was watching the download bar progress. Whereas I can begin watching the movie as it’s being downloaded, I have to download the entire game completely before I can proceed to install and enjoy the game. Digital delivery usually means instant gratification, but core games don’t have that advantage due to their sheer size as well as the relatively slow internet connection we currently have today.

What’s makes even less sense to me is the concept of buying games digitally for home consoles. Hard drives fail and things happen. On a PC, I can at least back up my games, wipe my harddrive, perform a fresh install, and start over. But what happens if my console eventually fail and its warranty has since expired? Unlike the previous generation of game consoles where I can simply swap out the memory cards and games onto other working consoles, there’s no easy option for me to back up my games that are stored on the hard drive (as well as the saved data associated with the games). I can’t perform a fresh install even if I’m able to because apparently it’s illegal.

I understand the PlayStation Store has a 5-time download limit to purchased content, so I should be able to re-download them onto another working unit if necessary. But I pay to own my content on my PC as much as I do on my PS3, so why can’t I treat them the same way?

With Steam being so successful and with the recent launch of the EA’s Origin service, I wonder if retail games will suffer the same fate as music, books, and so many types of digital media that are now living in the cloud. Maybe I’ll be less of a skeptic in a few years when we’re able to download a full game within minutes, but until then, my nostalgia and my constant fear of Murphy’s Law is keeping me from hopping to the digital bandwagon.

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