Empty Shelves: What Does The Increase In Prominence Of Digital Downloads Hold For The Video Game Collector?

Digital downloads are the future of gaming, but what does that mean for the video game collector and his/her library?

Human beings are a very bizarre lot. We embrace a plethora of behaviours that are regarded normal by some, but strange by others. These range from more placid activities, bird watching and train spotting for instance, to sky diving, base jumping and other such adrenaline-fuelled deeds of daring. One act that we embrace, possibly more that any other, is that of item collecting.

Whether this goes back to early days of man, stockpiling in order to see out leaner seasons, only anthropologists may know.  What is apparent is that many different types of individuals, over all stratas of society, hoard, amass and accumulate assorted objects en masse. Be it car license plates, antique glassware or ceramic figures of small boys urinating, we collect it all.  Many, it is said, even collect video games.

Back in the day, the only way to get the latest video game releases would be to buy the disc (or cartridge!) in high street stores or, latterly, online. In recent years, however, video game titles have been simultaneously launched as a hard copy and as a virtual download. Although a service available on home computers for a far longer time, this ability to download video games on consoles became widespread as the current generation of machine’s online capabilities improved to a sufficient degree.

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This development heralds many advantages. Downloading offers unparalleled convenience due, not only to its speed, but the fact that (web connection willing) games can be purchased regardless of where the gamer resides or when the title is desired.  Moreover, as downloaded games are stored virtually, we save greatly on our increasingly limited storage space.  Though currently this service is offered along side a game’s physical release, that of box, disc and manual, many industry pundits and commentators believe that soon a day will dawn when new titles are available only on a downloadable basis.

To a certain extent this has already happened. Smaller scale games released on home console download platforms, including the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) and the PlayStation Store on PlayStation 3, have been largely only available virtually. This includes even high profile releases like PlayStation 3 exclusives Unfinished Swan and the multi video game BAFTA winner Journey, to name but a few.  These titles do sometimes get a physical release, but most do not.  Many feel that triple A blockbuster video game titles, will eventually go this way also.  How, though, does this trend affect the ardent collector of video games, those who seek to save and treasure the releases themselves?

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Well, in this event, video game collectors would be forced to purely concentrate on accumulating the huge and varied back catalogue of retro titles. Vintage releases, even now, make up the bulk of game collecting, with titles from the Atari 2600’s Pitfall to Space Channel 5 on the Sega Dreamcast, among others, readily available on internet auction sites. This is possibly the case as the older the release the more significant the challenge to both track down, and to find the game in a complete and pristine condition.

One of the main advantages in the ability to download games is, conversely, the one feature that would make collecting near pointless. The fact that all titles and releases would effectively be accessible all the time, by anyone, would take much of the pleasure away from the collecting process. Much of the fun, enjoyment and delight in collecting any piece is in the process of trying to find the item itself and the pleasure given in eventually tracking it down. In many cases, the rarer the item, the more excitement one receives, especially if found at a bargain price!

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Even if new releases do eventually become available for download only and without the ability to purchase a hard copy, video game collecting will never fully disappear.  Although the ability to collect newer games will all but vanish, the capacity and desire to seek out and find vintage and retro titles will continue with gusto.  Even when much of their back catalogue was available with only a click on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console download service, for example, game collecting kept going strong and prices of more valuable pieces never dipped.

People will long yearn to gather objects and proudly display their collections.  Is this human nature or a learned behaviour- who really knows?  What is evident is that although newer releases may become solely available for download, video game collectors will still have a colossal amount of titles for the Atari Lynx, Nintendo Virtual Boy, Sega Mega CD and Colecovision et al, to hoard, amass and accumulate!

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