THQ – Pushing the Digital Frontier
Despite a disappointing performance this year, video game publisher THQ is optimistic about the future.
A dearth of new releases was blamed for the stark dip in profits, but a strong fall/winter line-up, an increased emphasis on the development of core titles and the implementation of a cost cutting realignment plan that will see under-performing products dropped or scaled back has been cited as justification for the predicted return to form for the publishing giant.
Worryingly – particularly for some of us old fuddy duddies – THQ has been keen to emphasize the increasing importance that digital sales will have on its future success. Many old time gamers – the type who come over all nostalgic at the memory of pixels and unergonomic controllers – will find the concept of not having a physical copy of a game difficult to grasp. Perhaps it’s age-induced paranoia but there is something about a purely digital media collection that just doesn’t sit right. If nothing else, the PSN debacle last year proved that online media sources are not infallible. The idea of parting with a considerable amount of hard earned cash but having nothing (beyond some ones and zeroes) to show for it, will require a major change in thinking and a not inconsiderable leap of faith for older gamers. Though it is unlikely that we are going to see the advent of drive-less gaming consoles any time soon, the rise of digital sales does seem to make this a very real possibility for future generations.
Assuming that there is still a high-street retail element in the gaming industry in this hypothetical future of drive-less consoles, the rise of a purely digital marketplace would effectively kill the used games trade overnight. The very nature of digital sales, with publishers able to track gamers through their online accounts, makes the transfer of ownership of a game from one consumer to another impossible. Ever since the notion of selling used games was conceived, it has been a major source of friction between publishers and retailers due to the fact that retailers get to keep one hundred percent of the profits while the publishers are left out in the cold. Downloadable gaming therefore, makes perfect sense because it allows publishers to basically cut out the middle men, i.e. the retailers, but do they risk doing more harm than good? Will consumers be willing to pay new-game prices without the reassurance of being able to sell their purchases on once they have grown tired of them or should they prove not to live up to expectations?
Furthermore, as anyone who has been taken in by the promises of broadband providers will know, download speeds very rarely live up to what has been advertised, especially during peak times. Imagine the chaos that would ensue upon the release of major titles as gamers clamber to download their copies only to find that half the world is trying to do the same thing at the same time.
Instead of committing fully to turning the gaming industry into a solely digital medium, publishers need to consider alternatives that would safeguard their interests without bringing about such enormous, and potentially disastrous changes. Instead of competing against retailers, publishers should work with them, striking up a deal to share profits from used games.
In short, THQ et al should think long and hard about committing fully to turning the gaming industry into a solely digital medium.
Written by Kyle Percival