Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-07-07 18:19:38
Digital Distribution and Ouya's Bold Step
It's too early to judge whether or not the Ouya will become a viable option for gamers of all varieties, or if it will remain a niche product lapped up by indie developers and tinkerers while the rest of the world look on in mutual bemusement. No matter what you think of the Ouya, however, there's no denying that it does, in some respects, push gaming in a new and exciting direction. As video games become increasingly digital, most major consoles now offer their biggest games in downloadable form. I purchased Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the 3DS via digital download (which worked out roughly around the same price as a physical copy) and when The Last of Us was released, the Playstation Store had it up for £39.99, which isn't, to its credit, a bad price for a new AAA game.
Sadly, one major problem with digital downloads, apart from the fact that the player doesn't receive a physical product, is that, as of now, games are hardly priced competitively. On the Playstation Store, for example, Remember Me was, when last I checked, retailing as a digital download for £47.99. For a game that is neither critically praised nor expensive elsewhere - you can buy a physical copy of the same game on Amazon for £35.00 - the price the Playstation Store is asking for is, effectively, taking the piss. Digital downloads should cost less than physical copies; apart from server space, costs such as physical boxes, manuals and the like are eliminated with a digital method of distribution. At the very least, digital games should be priced competitively (roughly the same as their physical counterparts), or else players will feel as if they are getting ripped off.
The Ouya does digital distribution well enough because it lets you play games before you buy them. It isn't all perfect - pop-ups encouraging you to buy the full game are usually a few pixels away - but at least you can decide if a game is worth the investment before taking the financial plunge. Having 10 minutes of hands-on experience with a game is usually enough to form a strong opinion about it, and that same 10 minutes is usually enough time to decide whether or not you wish to continue playing the game and invest money in it. I love that the Ouya allows players to try before they buy.
As digital media becomes the norm over physical, I hope that other major console developers will follow this same trend. Quite a few games offer demos, which is a good start; making these demos easier to access would be the natural successor to this model. Downloading demos on the Playstation Store isn't a particularly enjoyable affair, after all. If players could stream a demo instantly rather than download it, they would be able to make far quicker decisions as to whether or not they wish to buy the full game. In addition, I would love to see digital games being priced fairly - £39.99 for a digital download of a new AAA game is fine; that's the typical price that gamers are used to paying for a new release at launch. Charging £47.99, however, goes above and beyond what players should be willing to pay, especially when physical copies can usually slash a tenner off of that price without breaking a sweat.
The Ouya certainly seems to have the consumer in mind. I cannot think of anyone who dislikes the notion of being able to play a game before committing to a purchase - it makes perfect sense in a fair digital gaming landscape. As 'going digital' is the future of the gaming industry, we need to see developers constructing more practical and fair ways of conveying that content to consumers. The Ouya method, while still not perfect, is a good example of how digital gaming should be advertised to players; it treats gamers as mature and responsible individuals who can decide if something is worth purchasing based on an extended - and playable - preview. Over time, gamers will become more vocal about features they are entitled to see in the following years; and, with a little luck, major console developers will listen.