The downside of foregoing physical discs
Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Over the holidays I read a review about an older game – Dragon’s Dogma – that I was sure was in my collection, but I’d never finished. I couldn’t remember starting it, though I was sure I had at one point and sat it aside based on what I was reading in the review. I couldn’t even remember what platform I had it on, though I thought it was most likely to be on PlayStation or PC since those are the two I play most on. After checking my PS4 library and my Steam library and coming up with nothing I decided, since it is an older game, I probably had it on PS3. Really wanting to give it another shot based on what I had read, I went to pull that older console out of mothballs and dust it off.
What I found was disappointing.
The game was in my digital library, but I could no longer download it, for reasons that I’m still not clear on.
Here is the thing, I have a huge physical collection of PS3 games, as well as disc and cartridge based games for older consoles. I haven’t counted them in a while, but I easily have in excess of 60 disc based games still in my PS3 collection. But more and more my collections have trended toward digital downloads, as most have. I’m not sure how many digital games are in my PS3 collection, because of some changes to the PS3 store that we will address in a little bit, but there are 285 digital games in my PS4 library – with 212 of them coming from my years of paying for a PlayStation Plus (PS+) subscription. I’d say my PS3 library is probably fairly similar. My Xbox and Nintendo digital libraries, while not as impressive, are still respectable.
MyPC collection is even deeper. I currently have 421 games available to download in my Steam collection, which is my largest digital PC library. When you add on the download permissions in EA Origin, Epic Games Store, Ubisoft Connect, Bethesda.net, IndieGala, GOG. com, and Activision/Blizzard’s Battle.net, well, let’s just say I have a lot of games.
Some of these games were review copies. Some were what we call “product knowledge” or PK copies, from my time working for Electronic Arts. A lot of them on gaming consoles come from subscription services like Xbox Live Gold and PS+. But most of them I’ve purchased, either directly from digital storefronts or through charity fundraisers on IndieGala and Humble Bundle.
Obviously I can’t have all of those games downloaded and installed on my PCs or my consoles at all times, so I do what a lot of folks do in the digital age – I download a game when I want to play it, then I delete it to make space for another game I want to try.
That’s what probably happened with Dragon’s Dogma.
Normally for PlayStation all you have to do is find the game in your library on PS4, or in the game store through the console or online at store.playstation. com, and redownload it. You can even tell the online store to go ahead and start downloading it to your console, so if you want to buy a game in the morning from work, and play it that evening when you get home, it will be downloaded and ready.
But Sony has recently removed online access to older consoles like the PS3 and the handheld PS Vita through the PlayStation store website. The only way to connect to the PS3’s game store, to either purchase games or download games you are already entitled to, is to boot up the console and visit the storefront that way. This was why I had to pull out my PS3 and hook it up instead of just visiting the online link to see if I was entitled to the game on PS3. When I visited the store page for Dragon’s Dogma, though, there was no download link. No purchase link. There was only the game page and links to purchase add-ons. Usually this occurs when a game is only available as a physical disc, but I know this game is not one of the games I have on disc.
I also know I had installed and played some of Dragon’s Dogma at some point, probably through PS+ (though I may have purchased it during a sale too), because I have some trophies in my collection for completing the introduction. I probably had it installed on my first PS3, which eventually went bad and was replaced. That or I deleted it to make room for other games at some point in the past. But if I want to play it again, I’m going to have to purchase another copy for PS4.
With so many other games in my library, just waiting to be played, I can’t see myself doing this. So instead I spent an evening finding other games on the PS3 store that I own, and don’t want to lose access to, and downloading as many as my hard drive could fit. This included making some tough decisions about what games to keep and which ones to delete or pass up. It’s a dilemma more and more gamers are facing, or will face if they haven’t already.
There were protests a few years ago when Ubisoft removed Scott Pilgrim vs the World from digital storefronts – the only place they were available. What this meant was that if you didn’t have it already downloaded, you weren’t going to be able to download it again.
Most recently Sony has removed Cyberpunk 2077 from their online store because of complaints about the quality of graphics and other game glitches that rendered the digital release unplayable for many. They offered refunds to those who had purchased the game – a rarity in the digital age – but for now those who want to play the game on that console, even with glitches, are out of luck.
It’s enough to make the more cynical gamer want to limit their purchases to physical copies. But even purchasing a physical copy doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to play the full game. Because of the pressure to release games before holidays, or to meet other projected release dates, more and more game publishers are pressuring the studios they work with to ship incomplete copies, with purchasers expected to connect to the internet to download “day one patches” that will make the game playable. In fact, it’s been an industry standard for at least a decade now. Don’t have reliable internet access, or want to play the game years from now after a studio has folded or a publisher discontinues support for the game? Too bad.
So what can you do? Outside of buying several huge hard drives and regularly downloading, and updating, all the games you’ve purchased onto them, very little. Console generations come and go now, just as they always have, and the manufacturers cease support and updates for older consoles. While older consoles that shipped with complete games might continue to function just fine as long as they are maintained, and older disc and cartridge based games can be ripped (i.e. digitally copied to a computer) and played through emulators, modern games from the last two or three generations are more tricky. Some of them require connecting to servers to play, and when those servers are discontinued the games are functionally dead. This has happened with several different MMOs (massively multiplayer online games), but it’s also happened with single player and local co-op games.
You can also make a choice, as a consumer, to eschew games that don’t ship complete, but that is going to limit your gaming options. Nintendo, as a console manufacturer and game publisher, does better than most at shipping complete games. Sony and Microsoft, though, have more of the big titles from third party publishers, who rarely ship complete games these days. But even games from their exclusive publishers rarely ship complete. Nintendo isn’t completely immune to these issues either, especially when you are talking about digital downloads or games from other publishers.
On PC, purchasing games from GOG.com, a storefront that specializes in mainly older – and therefore completely patched – games is an option. All GOG games come free of DRM (digital rights management, a system that can require pinging publishers’ servers to authenticate ownership) as well, so you don’t have to worry about a consistent online connection. But you still have to have the room on an internal or external hard drive to keep all those games. You’d also have to count on GOG sticking around if you didn’t immediately download and archive all your purchases. While it doesn’t look like they are going anywhere anytime soon, other online retailers have disappeared.
Remember all those games purchased through promotions like Humble Bundle, the digital retailer that donates a consumer determined portion of sales to charities? Some of those were in the form of digital codes for redemption at another online game site called Desura. At one time Desura positioned itself as a DRM free and indie alternative to Steam. They had a website, where you could make purchases and redeem game codes, and had their own version of “indie bundles.” They had a game launcher like Steam as well. But they were sold several times after launching. While Desura as a website is still around, it no longer has a game launcher where you can access any games you might have purchased through them in the past. In fact, you can’t download any games through them at all. Instead they essentially serve as a browser portal for emulating Android and iOS mobile games. So all those cool indie games that myself and others paid for are now gone. Floating out there in the ether. Short of finding a pirate site – a risky prospective for multiple reasons, and one I cannot in good conscience recommend – those games are just gone.
Sadly that’s the trade-off we make for the convenience of pre-loading games for launch day play and less physical clutter. As consumers we either need to demand a change, or we learn to live with it and get used to the idea of purchasing games again on new platforms. That, or we move on and play some other game in our library.
I know what choice I made on that one, at least this time. But maybe some day, when it’s on sale for a couple of bucks at GOG, or I find a used disc copy equally cheap, I’ll give Dragon’s Dogma – and other games I’ve lost to the digital graveyard – another go. But today? For today I’ll move on to another game. After all, it isn’t like I’m suffering for choices.
Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes. com