A changing landscape: Major downloadable games
Digital downloads have become a huge part of video game consoles over the course of the current generation. We all know the PC has been offering digital titles for quite some time. It's no secret that the digital space is a great avenue for indie developers to release their content, but something else worth noting is the fact that digital markets such as Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network aren't just hubs for games created by small devs, DLC, and classic games. No, these days, even major publishers can release content, and they can take full advantage of the fact that digital downloads take less development time, are readily available to consumers, and have an inviting appeal.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is one of the more recent examples of a fully fleshed out gaming experience being made readily available to consumers. Alan Wake was a pretty big title on the Xbox 360 back in 2010. Gamers were pumped to play the game, and when it finally launched, it delivered a satisfying blend of survival horror, third-person shooting, and intense storytelling. The game finally made its way to PC last month, and in what can only be called a really smart move on the part of Microsoft and developer Remedy, Xbox 360 owners also got something cool: Alan Wake's American Nightmare.
What makes American Nightmare such a great idea is that it isn't a direct sequel to Alan Wake. Instead, the titular protagonist's latest romp is a side story — one that really delivers exactly what fans of the first game wanted, which was more Alan Wake. The game didn't launch as retail, though. Microsoft and Remedy decided to make American Nightmare a digital download. The result: less development time, smaller cost, and quick delivery.
Another prime example is Serious Sam 3: BFE. This old school-style FPS series has been around for a long time, and it has a strong fan base of gamers who have been following it religiously due to its insane situations and reliance on more traditional FPS tropes such as health pick-ups (because regenerating health is the easy way out). Rather than putting this $40 game on a disc and releasing it for the standard $60 price tag seen prominently these days, Devolver Digital and Croteam went the digital route. What we got was a polished, entertaining shooter that delivered on all fronts, providing a good shooting romp. Thanks to its digital release, though, it was cheaper in price, and it was accessible right from the computer.
As this console generation continues, we've seen more games get released via digital distribution, and that's certainly a good thing as far as some titles are concerned. Retail releases are still really important for most gamers. There's nothing quite like going out on a game's launch day, picking up your reserved copy of the latest triple-A release, and going back home, growing more and more eager as you get closer to your house, knowing that in just a few minutes you'll get to play that game you've been waiting so long for. And there's no denying the lovely aesthetic of the physical game itself, which is nicely placed within the confines of a shiny plastic case.
Still, as important as these triple-A retail releases are to publishers and developers, it's great seeing these same companies opting to make extra content that's not DLC on digital retailers, whether it's on the PC or on a console. It gives gamers who are already fans of certain franchises something cool to look forward to. When American Nightmare was announced, it received a positive reaction, and the thought of more Alan Wake resulted in fans of the first game being really stoked to enter Remedy's psychological horror world once more.
Fan appreciation aside, the digital download market allows developers to experiment with new ideas for their IPs. If the idea is a failure, then the companies involved don't need to worry too much about losing a ton of money or fans. If it's a success, though, everyone benefits from it: gamers get a cool new title to play, and the people who make the game get a nice payout, and they can pat themselves on the back for releasing a solid piece of gaming content. It really is win-win.
I'm of the mentality that we will always need the Skyrims, Zeldas, and GTAs — big titles that are released at retail for gamers to go out and buy. That said, digital distribution allows for new side stories within those same franchises to be realized. It's not necessarily about DLC, but rather turning out a product for fans to enjoy. And as for games like Serious Sam 3, digital distribution is a platform that allows for games that might otherwise be overlooked to get a big release, even if it isn't at your local GameStop or Best Buy. Digital distribution is no longer just an avenue for indie devs, and it's no longer just a hub for DLC. It's a place where gamers can get great content at a low price without having to wait an incredibly long period of time for it to be developed, sealed, and delivered.