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The Advantages of a Digital Library

Digital Library of Steam Games

Despite Microsoft recently going back on their promise of a truly digital console experience, where titles are purchased once and exist forever in your digital library without the need of a disc to play, it’s a concept that had me sold from day one – which was why I thought it was a bit of a pity that Microsoft had to renege in the face of public pressure.

Yes, yes, I’ve heard all the arguments. People wanted to lend their friends their games, people didn’t want some kind of digital DRM interfering with the way they played. Why shouldn’t I be able to pass my disc to six of my buddies in turn without any of them having to pay in addition to my initial purchase? So on and so forth. But really did anyone think about what we were throwing away in order to regain the ability to share our games unlimited amount of times (or, more realistically, resell them for preowned value)?

There are many advantages to a digital library, first and foremost (as I described above) being able to play without keeping track of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of game discs at any one point. Of course a physical library probably looks cooler, though I wonder who exactly we are trying to impress with our mountain of game cases, but a digital library is incorruptible and constant. Your leaky basement won’t ruin any game you own digitally, and wear and tear is virtually non-existent when you have the ability to re-download any title you own without any extra charge.

Putting it into perspective: I like to think of myself as a pretty average gamer. I play a lot of games (probably a little too much) and the majority of the games I purchase are on console. This means in any given year I acquire 5-10 pretty new game cases, which inevitably end up in a cupboard or a DVD rack or under my bed or on the kitchen table or whatever. Now I’ve moved house 3 times in the last 4 years (probably a bit more than average I’ll admit) and as a result my games collection is split into four distinct areas: the boxes from moving, my girlfriends place, my parents place and the great unknown (where games go to die).

This means from my initial investment of, let’s say, $400 a year, I currently can access maybe a quarter of the face value of my cash investment from the last five years. You don’t need to be a stockbroker to work out that that is a bad return.

Compare this to my Steam account, where I purchase the large majority of my games on PC. Each and every title I have ever purchased is available for download the instant I log in to my computer. If my computer breaks (which it did about 2-3 months back), all I need to do is download Steam and log in with my credentials and hey presto I have access to all my games once again – all I have to do is download them to the new system. Now there are drawbacks here as well, I’m not avoiding that, like getting your Steam account banned and losing everything you paid for – but these are pretty few and far between, nowhere near as commonplace as a scratched disc or a misplaced games case.

Obviously Microsoft’s ideas were very forward thinking, trying to force a change rather than embracing what gamers wanted, but I don’t think they were too far off the mark by claiming that gamers have evolved past the need for physical discs and boxes. There are distinct advantages to having a digital library over a physical one, and I can only hope that the day all my console games are backed up digitally (without needing a disc to access them) isn’t too far off.


Image courtesy of N8 of xboxmb forum.

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