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We are not ready for a digital only future

Recently, I was at a startup event, talking to another like-minded marketing expert about how to reach customers at a larger scale. I’m good at marketing, and I am proud of the work I do. But, at the same time, I want to pick others’ brains to see what I can do to launch a new product into the marketplace. I want to launch a service in the video game industry, where I see another company isn’t doing well at monetizing it. I aimed to address that problem, and reap the rewards. Because Video Games today is a 25 billion to 100 billion dollar industry. I see a lot of opportunities available in it – and in many places, NOBODY is taking advantage of it. At CarlosX360 Co., Ltd. I, we, want to fill those holes. We want to take advantage of the marketplace that nobody is willing to take advantage of.

So, in this conversation, the marketer was asking “What is the benefit of renting games? Isn’t everything now all.. digital?” My answer: Yes, and no. And likewise, we are just not ready for digital only future. Sorry, but we just aren’t. Digital Only games are usually done by small budget, small development teams. Most of the retail games are done by large corporate publishers in the industry. 20% of the industry’s games that are on retail shelves are done by manufacturers-partnership-with-developers, and manufacturers-owns-developer or publisher-owns-developer.

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Why aren’t we ready for digital-only future?
We’ll get to that answer eventually, but let’s start with the essential questions. Okay?

There are a lot of digital-only games on marketplaces right now, so again: Why are you saying we’re not ready for digital-only?
As I’ve explained before, most of the digital-only games are done by small development teams that only have a small budget to work with. On the other side of this answer: Most digital-only games are small. Meaning small download sizes. When PSN/XBL (PlayStation Network or Xbox Live) were released, most digital-only games has a download size of 2 to 5 to 10 gigs per download. That means, if you bought a 60GB console (which PS3 launched with), you’re liable to fill up that tank rather quickly. If you bought a 100GB unit, you’re going to fill that tank with a glass half-empty. PS4 launched with 500GB. Most downloads are now between 5 to 10 gigs per download. In fact, the recently-launched Black Ops 3 Beta has a whooping 13 gigs download size.

Most games that are released to retail shelves are usually [and roughly] in the 20 to 30 to 50GB sizes. That means these are high-budgeted, high-production, and generally with a lot of content, a lot of code, a lot of textures, and more. 2014’s biggest game is none other than Grand Theft Auto V. Nevermind that the game is so big it sold around 30 million units to date. The game is so big, you’d have to fill that disc to the fullest extent of Blu-Ray’s disc. Not only that, you’d need like… 1,000 servers to maintain the community of GTA Online which holds 30 players per match in an open world sandbox.

Now, I want you to really think about that. Games aren’t getting smaller today, they’re actually getting bigger.

Open-world games are now all the rage today. Metal Gear Solid 5, which is slated to be released a few weeks from now – on September 1st. Usually, Metal Gear has always been about heavy story, heavy cutscenes that has action. Up until MGS4, the series has always been a linear series in the sense that most chapters have to be played in a single line. Some iterations in the MGS franchise had elements of open-world games such as being able to explore the stages or levels, but still have that linear feel to it – in the sense that the story is one-dimensional. This was true starting with MGS3. However, MGS5: The Phantom Pain is so big, that Hideo Kojima, the legendary developer behind the Metal Gear Solid franchise – went on Twitter to post an image of the size and scope of MGS5: The Phantom Pain. That image showed every single game’s map, just to give players an idea just how big the game is.

My point is, games are getting bigger with every generation of the industry. We are now at a point where we are closer to those photo-realistic visions. But can we cram that into a server and allow 1 million people on the same server?

My answer: No!

Why?

What – What you mean why!? Okay, let’s.. for the sake of getting you to understand how important this is: I’m going to start with Call of Duty. Activision merged with Blizzard and became the world’s largest video game publisher, and now has a large server farm. Obviously, Activision merged with Blizzard because they have immense amount of expertise in both RPG’s, MMORPG’s, and dedicated servers. Activision for years, has wanted to get into the world of MMO’s, so this was a perfect match, right?

But, for this example, I’m going to start with Call of Duty so you understand what the problem is. Call of Duty, since 2007, has always been an online-multiplayer-centric game. Activision sells Call of Duty as an action-packed single player game, but you know what is the most popular component of Call of Duty? Online Multiplayer. Each match has at least 12 vs 12, 16 vs 16, or 24 vs 24 for the various different game modes, right? Multiply that by [an average] 20 million owners every. single. year. Today, Call of Duty has 124 million players combined.

COD4 was such a revolutionary game, that everyone wanted to play online. EVERYONE. This put stress on Activision’s pocketbook. Because back then, servers were expensive. It still is, and that’s part of the point of this article.

Activision is happy to offload the cash to keep these servers running all these years, to make casuals, players, hardcore gamers, long-time gamers all happy. However, in Call of Duty, there’s a proverbial tree, full of bad apples. Starting half-way through COD4’s popularity, you’re likely going to come across lagswitchers, lag, glitching, exploits, and so on and on. The list is too long. But in general, Call of Duty invited more cheating than any other franchise at this point. Unreal Tournament, Quake, and the countless of First Person Shooters that are played online – they don’t [usually] have the headaches that come with a Call of Duty title. That’s how bad it is.

For years, Activision has been fighting off the hacking, the cheating, and the other bad apples that come into Call of Duty. Up until Black Ops 3, Activision has time, and time again denied fans’ requests for 100%, full dedicated servers for every single game played. Regardless of console of choice. Because it’s just too expensive.

Another part of the Activision Blizzard merger is Blizzard, widely known for Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft franchises. Blizzard released the hotly popular World of Warcraft. It’s an Open World MMORPG. It’s bad enough the whole game is open-ended. Open World games usually have so much information on a disc, that most of the game is compromising something in exchange for something else. With World of Warcraft this is the compromise: The game has low-textured environments, characters, items, etc. A limitation that Blizzard exchanged for that Open World feeling, talking to millions of other players in the same world. But to accomplish that, you’d also need more than one server talking to each other. Otherwise, you can expect lag, frames dropping, missing character models, or items, or missing locations or whatever else is supposed to be in that world.

I empathize with many people who think that World of Warcraft looks like a game made in 2000, but is still being sold to millions of people worldwide. Gamers are usually “eye candy” folks. That means, gamers won’t buy a game if the game doesn’t have awesome graphics, or have detailed worlds, environments or locations. That’s how it is!

Okay, so Digital-Only future meanswhat exactly?
Well, if you’ve read up until this point. Congratulations, you’ve learned the examples of why retail games continue to exist. Right now, I’ll get into the gritty, little, technically pesky details. Ever since PlayStation Network or Xbox Live was released respectively, we’ve seen more digital sell-throughs. Many people think that digital-only is the future because of how easy it is to buy games off the PSN/XBL/Steam stores – but the reality is this is overblown. We are still not at that point where technology is evolved enough that – we can have 100% persistent, consistent, constant… “always on” digital future. No.

Hacking is so popular today, that it’s not even funny anymore. Hacking is supposed to be something hobbyist, something to expose the holes to companies to improve their online offerings, but instead… Hacking has become a narcissists’ dream come true. We are constantly getting hacked for no reason at all today.

PlayStation Network has been hacked since 2011, and is still happening every Christmas just to gain that notoriety status. World of Warcraft and Xbox Live are not victimless in this hacking debacle, either. Each hack resulted in most games not being able to be played online. Which, regrettably, has angered so many gamers worldwide that, many people still want physical, retail games to exist for as long as it can.

When Xbox One was first revealed, Microsoft has been shrouded in extremely negative controversy, that many people did not want to buy an Xbox One. Retailers were and still are not able to sell Xbox Ones like hotcakes, which Sony is able to do with their PlayStation 4 units. Why? Well, back then, Microsoft was going to introduce some innovative technologies to prevent second-hand sales. They were going to put DRM’s on every disc to ensure that you actually own that disc. On top of that, your console would have to be “always online” in the sense that you have to have your internet connection – connected to the Microsoft server(s) to ensure that your disc is validated, can play online, and so on and on. Gamers worldwide were so angry, they gave Microsoft that negative backlash all year long with that single. mistake.

Or, I could give you my biggest example yet: OnLive. Once you download the client for OnLive, you’re taken to a intuitive User Interface that allows you to go to many of it’s features. You can buy games from the service, and stream games off the dedicated cloud servers. Most of the games on the service are PC games, and some of them are ports of console games. You can also go online, and battle it out with others, or with others. So, you’re not only “downloading” the actual game off the server, you’re also playing the game inside the sandbox server, and the kicker is, you didn’t need to upgrade your computer to the latest and greatest graphics card or the latest Graphics Processing Units (GPU’s). Or upgrade your Central Processing Units (CPU’s).

Doing this was taxing on the server, it was also taxing to the connection that is being communicated to your computer. Likewise, if you don’t have adequate computer horsepower, you won’t get perfect, 100%, uninterrupted gameplay – meaning no framerate drops, no choppy gameplay, no slowdowns. That’s the norm. Lots of slowdowns, framerate drops, dips, and choppy gameplay.

This past April, OnLive just closed their doors and is now currently selling off assets. Sony acquired the important OnLive assets to support the PlayStation Now technology. OnLive’s competitor Gaikai was acquired by Sony in 2012, they perfected the PlayStation Now service so much, that Sony was, still is willing to support the PlayStation Now service through and through. Thing is, this is Sony, a large corporation. A small startup like OnLive or Gaikai can’t keep going like it has.

So, do you still think that we’re ready for digital-only future? I don’t. I want to play my games without having to be subjected to an offline server. There are a lot of “what if’s” with digital-only future, that I still want, and I still buy physical, retail games. I also want to rent games before deciding to buy the game completely.

Conclusion
We are not ready for Digital Only future because games are getting larger, much bigger than you think they are. Servers aren’t cheap, it’s expensive no matter what reason you’re using the server for. Hacking is the new normal on the internet. Companies can’t keep up, to protect their servers from attacks. In fact, it costs more money to install Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) protection, or to hire security consultant(s) to help ward off criminal hackers. Game worlds are getting bigger, and more taxing on the servers that inhabit these games.

We are not ready.

And don’t get me started on the idea of streaming 20GB or 50GB games – we’re just not there yet. Until then, we’re staying where we currently are until technology is evolved enough to have “Digital Only” consoles.

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