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Format Wars 2018 – Physical vs Digital vs Streaming

By Eden Rain

August 2018

     We have gone through a lot of different media formats over the year, which brings us to what’s next on the horizon in the never-ending war of how we receive our media, how we play it, and now if digital do we actually own it. Now mostly I’ll be referencing media formats as towards video gaming but we might delve into movies and music too. Today we have basically two main forms of media we use to game Physical media (IE: DVD, Blu-Ray’s, & Cartridges) and Digital media (IE: Downloads). Signs are now showing that It seems physical media appears to be slowing and could be making its way out the door  as media formats before it. Will physical media go the way of Beta, VHS, & Tapes? But it’s not so much a bad thing or is it? Only time will tell! But there are many signs of this happening, I can attest to this shift as I am experiencing the shift from physical to digital. Something about this situation makes this different than any other change in format. The future appears to be moving to a format that we no longer can physically feel or touch. Its turning to media that we just use and basically exists as a series of code in a computer or in an online service. I’m not alone either; it appears consumers are moving to a digital vs physical library.

     Going through the years as a parent I found myself feeling the same for video games, its much easier and quicker to download a game digitally vs sticking a single disc or sometimes a few discs in and or having to install it. You don’t have to drive to a store or have the pre-order at a store and wait for a midnight launch or the game selling out anymore. You can get the same game downloaded on launch or have it pre-downloaded now. STEAM also installs the game as your downloading it making it quicker to get playing. But this brings a caveat about digital, even with a physical disc the games usually need a day one patch to function. So why do we need to buy physical games now? If we are just going to end up downloading most of the game anyway? With constant patches and updates again why should we buy a physical copy when the physical version is never going to function properly without its patches or updates. Now I understand some people are going to be limited by internet speed and download strength. But It’s perplexing questions like these and others that make digital formats seem like a bad idea. For example, if a person buys a physical game takes it home but has no access to the internet and isn’t able to update the game. What happens when or if they game has a major progression bug that stops the player from playing? Then what? The player now has a defunct product they can’t use or a game they can’t finish though. Having internet access helps to answer this but unfortunately not everyone has reliable internet access in the United States.

     When Microsoft launched the Xbox One in 2013 they had this in mind, almost like Microsoft could almost see the future with digital and streaming. Microsoft has said the X-Box One was an online only console with the focus being mostly digital. Microsoft had seen the signs of people moving to more digital library and knew consumers would eventually buy into a system like STEAM and the PC. Microsoft wanted to usher in this new way of accessing our games and media/ But Microsoft didn’t sell this future or the X-Box one very well plus being a more expensive console also didn’t help them at all. Sony stepped in and took the fire, but while touting you can be offline and play your games and all the hype of being and or playing offline with the PS4 in 2013. Here we are now 2018 any every game is mostly updated on launch or soon after to fix bugs and glitches. So now 2018 both the X-Box One and PS4 are mainly online mostly now and moving more that way. Both X-Box One/ PS4 are providing and offering more services to keep you online. We have way more games as a service and they need to be online 24/7 (PUBG, Fortnight, OverWatch, Fallout 76, and more). Now comes a few questions about our digital library's. Now that digital libraries are getting more popular, do we actually own the game or content like a physical copy? Now that we don’t actually physically own the content is it really ours? Microsoft’s wording on “digital goods” paints a picture for us. Microsoft's content usage rules states

“Digital Goods are licensed solely for your personal, non-commercial use (which excludes use for promotional purposes), at a level customary for such use. Microsoft may stop distributing any Digital Good or add to or reduce the capabilities for any Digital Good, at any time. You may lose access to or capabilities of Digital Goods, or have the nature of your access changed”

     So, it seems like we don’t own our digital content anymore, are we now just renting our digital content for the same price as physically buying it. Which is now a little worrying since a few game publishers like Ubisoft, and what they have envisioned for the future of Ubisoft & Streaming. Also EA/Electronic Arts with their EA Live Streaming service are now starting. Streaming is an interesting idea but it’s not without its problems too, I’m not sold on it yet for gaming wise. Streaming is dependent on a good internet connection and it’s not always easy to get decent internet in the US for a decent price also without data caps. Also, game streaming could be more dependent on the hardware its going to play on making it another possibly expensive hardware purchase in the future. It’s an interesting time to be in for sure when it comes to steaming, but it also seems to be the same for streaming music too as more people (including myself) are moving to Spotify or Pandora instead of purchasing CD’s or individual songs.

     So, what does the future hold for all of this, will we completely stop buying physical media? Again, time will tell but current signs show the future of media is going to be mostly digital. But again, is it a bad thing? Things are not completely doom and gloom for physical media though as recently the Nintendo Switch shows consumers still buy and want physical media. But I do find it somewhat discouraging knowing that my huge STEAM library might not always be there. I had hope to have my STEAM library available to my kids so they can enjoy the all the games I have played. Which brings up another inevitable question, who owns my digital library on whatever platform when I die? Will they still be able to access it, again questions are raised about our digital future. It seems kind of uncertain, with new technologies on the horizon it’s hard to foresee. We could move on to some new super high-tech format in a few years who knows. It’s hard thing to predict, again I have seen many new formats come and die quickly in the format wars Mini-Disc, HD-DVD, UMD to name a few. But it’s exciting times to see everything transpire to what we use now on a daily basis. We have many questions about our media future does it include being physical, digital, streaming, or some new tech we can’t foresee? There are many debates, sides, and things I’m sure I’m nothing thinking about when it comes to this. But having this conversation opens up ideas and makes us aware of things we haven’t thought about when it comes to our media. I’m just hoping that in our future it’s us “the consumer” who comes out the winner and we don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars for games, music, or movies we don’t actually own. Hope you enjoyed the article and always remember to stay…

Kinda Geeky




Hello Everyone,

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