For some reason I was suddenly curious as to how much money I’d spent since last December on digital content for the 360, such as XBox Live Arcade titles and more recently Rock Band DLC. Of course you buy things in Microsoft Points on the 360, which like Wii Points and Disney Dollars are designed precisely to disguise how much money you’re actually spending. The PSN has my respect in this regard for taking the brave step of actually pricing things in units of real money. Quite why Microsoft and Nintendo chose to go against the precendent set by every other marketplace in the developed world (except Disneyland, but that’s intentionally ‘wacky’) I’m not sure – I doubt we’d take most high street retailers very seriously if they required us to buy things in ‘Starbucks Bucks’ or ‘HMV Quatloos’.
Anyway, when I totalled it all up, I’ve chugged my way through 13,000 Microsoft Points in 9 months so far, which in the real world is £110.50, and judging by the dates, about half of that has been on Rock Band DLC, the rest being XBLA titles. I’ve spent more on digitally delivered content on my 360 than I have on boxed games (just software, excluding plastic peripherals) – some of that is because I received most of my boxed games as presents, and I picked up a back catalogue from eBay, but even so, I do think my own habits are a sign of how quickly digitally delivered content is becoming accepted.
Small purchases (micropayments is an often used term, although that usually refers to even smaller amounts) are just easy to mentally justify, even if you end up making enough of them to exceed a larger pruchase that you would perhaps think about more carefully. It’s really easy to slap down £1.36 for a new Rock Band track (that’s less than 2 tubes of Pringles), or £6.80 for an XBLA title (Geometry Wars 2 is particularly a no-brainer); it really doesn’t take much to convince you, particularly when you know exactly what you’re getting – after all you can check out the Rock Band tracks on RockBandContent.com and play demos of every XBLA game before you buy.
Taking out the overhead of the retailer and physical distribution makes products cheaper – that’s obvious. Games are, in general, very overpriced – we pay £40 for a boxed game which required the same budget to make as a Hollywood blockbuster I can pick up across the aisle for a tenner. One obvious reason is that market is smaller, another reason is the silly situation we have where a console platform holder takes a huge slice of the pie just for letting developers deploy on their platform. All these things are interlinked – the audience is smaller partly because the content is so expensive, which leads to content marketed more at the core audience which spends that money, and larger margins required to make back console hardware development costs, etc etc. Nintendo has broken out of that to some degree, but they’ve mostly appealed just to the mass market, leaving most of the core audience on 360 and PS3. Ideally we’d have a situation where the whole spectrum of game players (‘core’ and ‘mass market’ are the most talked about but there are lots of graduations) existed in one place, just like you have with movies, and obviously this is the holy grail that certainly MS and Sony are trying to chase, even though I have serious doubts that we’ll ever get there until the industry rids itself of the counterproductive market segmentation that multiple proprietary consoles creates. I do think that digital distribution helps though, because it disrupts the status quo, creates a more fluid situation that just can’t exist very easily elsewhere, and makes a space for people to experiment more – both as producers and consumers – and to see what works.
I’d love to know the bigger picture of how much money is spent on the likes of XBLA, Steam, PSN etc. I’m sure it’s generally smaller than retail sales, but I’d be interested in knowing the trajectory of those numbers, and in particular which kinds of players they are. Anecdotally I get the impression that digital distribution tends to be good for those ‘ex hardcore’ gamers like me – we don’t buy a ton of games anymore, but like quality bite-sized content and are willing to pay for it. We’re not casual, but we’re not hardcore anymore either.
Anyone else got interesting comparisons of their physical / digital purchase numbers?