* This Article was originally featured on Pause Your Game, and while it was still written by me, it is an article from a different era, and thus, some things may be broken within the article but are kept that way for posterity.
Over the past few years, there has been a big push for digital being the mainstay when it comes to consuming games (nom). While PC games have almost completely adopted the digital only format, console games have been much slower to the race and still place value in physical releases. The past few months have been a perfect example of this in action, with big name indies releasing physical versions in the near future, demonstrating their legitimacy.
Big Budgets, Big Releases
Any big game released in the past 30 years from a big publisher has featured a physical release in one form or another, even if it was an online-only game. What was once a necessity has now become optional. One would think that as the push for digital becomes bigger and bigger that the value of physical releases would diminish—and they have, just not the way you think. Physical releases have become less of a necessity when it comes to raw sales, in that you don’t lose out on nearly as many sales as you would have several years ago. But, what hasn’t diminished, is that physical releases give the impression of a certain “quality”.
Indie games, when they first came about, were digital-only; this cut down on costs and—for the most part—didn’t require a publisher (unless you were Microsoft). Games such as Super Meat Boy used this to their advantage and spread like wildfire on all the digital platforms as they fully matured. However, regardless of how well the game were made,did,sold etc. it was still an indie game; a very successful one, but an Indie game regardless.
This is just what the perception of being digital-only came to mean, regardless of success. The fact remained that digital-only games were not considered “full games”…until recently.
Delayed Physical Versions
This is a very recent phenomenon. Many top-tier digital-only games are seeing their chance to be inside giant Amazon warehouses to be shipped worldwide. Games such as: Shovel Knight, Helldivers, The Talos Principle were all originally digital-only indie games. But, as their fame progressed and they became smash hits, they reached a certain status, and it was time for a physical release. The interesting thing about this is that, from a sales standpoint, this is actually a very odd choice. Consider for a moment that all of these games have already been released for at least a decent portion of time. One would think, what’s the point? If it’s not a special edition, and your product is already available digitally, how many sales do you expect to see? I would argue, it has nothing to do with sales, and is rather, a show of strength and stability.
See, indie games are always considered indie games; it’s a term that has come to mean multiple things, from how it was developed to the style of the game. I would argue that there hasn’t been an indie studio yet that has moved past the term “indie” because the term has come to represent a certain “thing.” A physical release however, is an effort to say, “We are not just some indie studio; we can play in the big leagues.” It represents a sense of legitimacy, of being a AAA product, and a confidence that this product is so good and that we have faith in a physical version doing well, and this series is here to stay. It’s a trend I hope to see more of, or, at the very least, seeing more indie’s who grow big enough to consider physical releases in some aspect as a show of them being able to play in big leagues.
We are reaching a point now where the term “indie” has become dated, as we see more and more indies enter the arena of AAA developers. We need a new term to mark these products, because “indie games” fails to capture what they really are: new competitors in the AAA scene. What that term would be, I couldn’t say, but I will say that having a physical release (that is not just a limited release) puts them into this undefined new tier. Even through all of their previous success on digital marketplaces and the big push for digital-only, this is still the factor that marks that they are no longer the former, but rather, the latter.
Regardless of everything else, its still quite hard to beat having the physical item in your hand, or rather, what that represents.
For the foreseeable future, this will remain true.
(Editor’s note: Fallon has a different point of view on this, and will address this perspective in an upcoming article.)