Thursday, May 24, 2012

Physical VS Downloadable Media

The other day my nephew and I went out trying to grab a copy of Diablo III, finding it sold out at several locations.  Eventually I talked him into just downloading it.  I asked him why he didn't just do that in the first place, and he told me that it was basically the same thing but he enjoyed the novelty of the physical copy.
While in this particular case I would have seen the download as the preferred method, I can see his point.  For most of my life physical media was the only way to get games.  As physical media is dying and downloadable content is becoming the norm, I find a part of me clinging to the past.
As I develop games I try not to get too far ahead of myself, thinking about distribution while I'm still programming, but my mind tends to wander and I can't help but dream of the day that my work is out there and (hopefully) being enjoyed.
I've looked into disc manufacturing.  I've imagined having my game on actual store shelves, if only on the shelves of mom-and-pop games stores that I frequent.  I've thought of a mail-order limited run of a "special edition" copy, and laughed at myself for thinking anyone would care if I made anything I considered to be a "special edition".
I've also considered the down sides of this.  I want my games to be enjoyed for a long time and physical media has a habit of getting lost or damaged.  While my work ethic will require me to make the game as bug-free as possible before distribution, updates might be required.  I like making games for Mac, but they've started a trend of not putting optical drives in their computers.  Finally, manufacturing is expensive, and I might make too many or too little copies.
On the download front, there's a few options on how to distribute.  The big ones are Steam and the Mac App Store.  I've also seen a few more sites like playgreenhouse.com.  There's some perks for the player, such as not having to keep track of a physical copy and the ability to redownload.  For the developer, it takes a lot of work out of DRM and marketing.  The downsides are that it's not as accessible to people with limited or no internet (something I had to deal with quite a few times in the military or when visiting remote areas), and developers tend to rely too much on the ability to update their game rather than make it right the first time.
I'm still a ways off from deciding exactly what route I'll take, or if I'll even pick one over the other.

EDIT: Just a couple days ago Apple released OS X Mountain Lion with Gatekeeper.  While all-in-all it's a good idea, it makes non-App Store games (and by extension, any type of physical media distribution of Mac games) a bit tedious.  It's just the industry evolving, I guess.  I'm starting to lean in favor of downloadable media.