Friday, December 7, 2012

Assassin's Creed III Made Me Swear Off Digital Distribution. PlayStation All-Stars and Far Cry 3 Brought Me Back.

I can't remember the last time I actually went to a store to buy a game. Getting up, putting on pants, dealing with people... It's all just a hassle. If I can't download the game directly, I'll order it online, but even that's not ideal. Paying for shipping, checking tracking numbers, and waiting for the game to show up isn't that much better than driving to a store. It's more convenient, sure, but it's slower and I still end up with a disc.

That's right, I don't want the disc, either. I'm at that stage. Even though getting up to swap discs is the most minor of inconveniences, it's an inconvenience nonetheless and it's often enough to kill an impulse to boot up a given game on a whim.

It's like a TV remote. If you've ever had a broken remote and needed to get up and walk to the TV every time you wanted to change the channel, you know that it radically changes how you watch television. You don't mindlessly surf. You don't fiddle with the volume. You don't flip back and forth between channels during commercial breaks. You stick with what you're already on.

Sony's been doing a fantastic job recently at offering full-priced retail games, the kind you'd normally have to buy at a store on a disc, through the PlayStation Network with its Day 1 Digital initiative. It's all old hat for the PC gamers who haven't bought a game on a disc in almost a decade, but on console, it's still new and exciting.

And I can't think of three more perfect games to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of digital distribution than Assassin's Creed III, Far Cry 3, and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.

The only questions I had about buying Assassin's Creed III digitally were, "Should I buy the bundle with the season pass or get it piecemeal later?" and, "How soon can you take my money?" I was pumped.

But then it turned out to be a huge disappointment, and now I'm stuck with this 11GB file I don't want anymore.

I can't sell it back or give it to a friend or anything. All I can do is delete it, but that feels too much like deleting money, so instead, it just greets me every time I turn on my PS3 and reminds me how much money I wasted. An Assassin's Creed III disc would at least politely collect dust on the shelf like the latest useless trinket from Grandma and wait until it's convenient for me before reminding me how much money I wasted.

I'm pretty selective about the games I buy, so I hadn't had that problem before with a game I've downloaded. Just like that, I never wanted to download another game again for fear it would also be terrible and I'd be stuck with it.

But then Sony put PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale up for download and the temptation not to put on pants and leave the house was too strong to pass up. So I downloaded it.

Now, I find myself getting in a couple rounds of All-Stars any time my PS3 was on because, well, why not? I don't have to move or think about it at all, just tap a button and there we are. You get the same accessibility with little PSN games like Rock of Ages, but there's still something novel about a digital copy of a game that feels like I should have had to insert a disc first.

I don't like it, but because it's digital, I'm stuck with it.

Then Far Cry 3 came out as a download too, and now I'm constantly giving in to the urge to boot it up and sadistically hunt pirates in the jungle. It's just so easy.

Far Cry 3 and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale exemplify everything I've always loved about digital distribution: Like Just Cause 2 and Need For Speed: Most Wanted before them, they're impulse plays, games that allow me to get in for a few minutes or a few hours and feel fulfilled either way. I can load them up without any consideration of whether it's worth it to get off the couch and swap out the disc.

Assassin's Creed III is the total opposite: I don't like it, but because it's digital, I'm stuck with it. And to add insult to injury, it cost just as much as a retail copy. Need For Speed: Most Wanted had a $6 discount if you pre-ordered digitally, and Just Cause 2 was free as a PlayStation Plus promotion.

The only real downsides I've had with Sony's Day 1 program so far are with the timing. You can't preload the game and start playing it right at midnight when it releases, and for that matter, you can't even start downloading it at midnight because the PlayStation Store never updates until around 6 p.m. or later anyway.

Still, it's a great start, and bodes well for the future. It's encouraging that almost all games on the Wii U are available for download, even if the system doesn't actually have the memory to support it.

It's interesting how quickly my opinion of digital distribution changed over the course of a couple weeks. I'm sure publishers are happy that my copy of Assassin's Creed III is stuck with me for life, but I'd rather there be an alternative, like forfeiting my license to the game to get a percentage of my money back in credit.

It'll be really interesting to see what Sony and Microsoft do with digital distribution with their next consoles.


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