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HomeFeaturesArt & EntertainmentLate to the Game(s): The Oblivion of gaming as we know it?

Late to the Game(s): The Oblivion of gaming as we know it?

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

One of this month’s free games for Amazon Prime subscribers is the Bethesda classic The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

It’s an older game – I think I first played it on the PS3 – but it holds up remarkably well, as far as storytelling and gameplay. Minor tweaks aside, the Bethesda/Elder Scrolls gameplay style has been set for a while, and this was the game immediately prior to the immensely popular Skyrim.

If you’re a gamer of a certain age, it’s worth revisiting, or checking out now if you missed it the first time around. If you’re a younger gamer, you might find it worth your while to put the slightly dated graphics aside and take a look at the game that divided the community over horse armor.

What may be more interesting than the game itself, though, is what Amazon’s distribution model says about the future of gaming – and the end result of a monetization mindset that didn’t start with horse armor, but sure caught the public’s imagination with it.

The version Amazon is releasing is being distributed through a code for GOG.com. GOG, short for Good Old Games, is a unique digital distributor in that they not only specialize in older games, they specialize in games without always online requirements or other digital licensing strings or digital rights management restrictions.

When you buy a game through GOG, you own it. You aren’t renting it from a streaming service that can take it away at any time, or lock you out for failing to verify ownership with an online connection. You can download and install it to any machine you own for as long as the site is active, but you can also download the installation files and hold onto them for installing on any future laptop, desktop, or other device.

It’s interesting that this move from Amazon – which is floating their own always online Luna game streaming service as an alternate to Google’s Stadia and Xbox and Sony’s streaming services – comes at a time when Oblivion publisher Bethesda’s own digital distribution service, under pressure from other established online storefronts, distributors, and now streaming services, is shuttering their virtual shop.

Anyone with existing Bethesda.net accounts will be able to transfer their game library to Steam – one of the largest online distributors of digital games for PC and Mac. The accounts will remain active for online matchmaking, but with the game running through Steam’s launcher.

With the Steam deck bringing PC gaming mainstream with a portable system, it’s a smart move. Especially considering keeping up that game hosting and distribution infrastructure is neither easy nor cheap, and Steam parent company Valve already has that down.

It also indicates the various divides in the PC and gaming community that Valve has, almost uniquely, been able to straddle. Steam allows you to install games. In fact, it requires it. It isn’t a purely streaming service like Stadia or Luna. But it also allows streaming of downloaded games from a PC to a secondary device – like the Xbox and PlayStation systems do. There is also nothing to stop it from going in that streaming direction if it decided to in the future. It already has an invested play base with an established catalog that it could bring along if it did.

It might even use infrastructure from one of the existing streaming services if it does so. There are rumors already that Google’s focus isn’t so much in maintaining Stadia as a service as in demonstrating its stability so that infrastructure can be licensed to other brands or publishers.

Consoles, which for so long went hand in hand with the purchase of physical media, have been hybrid download/physical media for at least the last three generations with recent versions of the Xbox coming with a digital download only option. Streaming of a select catalog is also a part of the Xbox Game Pass now, and the PS Now streaming service will soon be baked into various tiers of PlayStation Plus.

So, while it’s still a hybrid system now, it trends heavily toward digital content already, with streaming a more and more significant portion of the draw.

It’s exactly the kind of thing that fans of distributors like GOG gnash their teeth at, and that console gamers who prefer discs will never be happy with, but the rest of the consumers have spoken.

And though the exact future of gaming is never a given, one thing’s for certain; the days of buying a physical disc and agonizing over the ethics of cosmetic horse armor are well behind us. And as one of the games that kicked off the conversation about what a gamer owns, and is entitled to when they purchase a game, Oblivion is worth a look back at as you ponder the future of gaming.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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