Being at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo yesterday brought back memories from my childhood. I remember walking through Toys R Us with my grandpa and struggling to choose between Final Fight and Street Fighter, all based on the cover art. As a young adult working at a gaming store, I used to love alphabetizing the games and instantly knowing where each game was whenever a customer was in need. Adding to these memories were the arcade machines of the past, which led to a trip down memory lane for Josh who recalled gaming at wonderland in Portland with his friends. The reminiscing ended when, like a ton of bricks, it hit me: if gaming goes exclusively digital, our kids can’t share similar memories. I was disappointed. To some extent, these memories are the reason gaming is still a part of my life. But on the other hand, isn’t it our duty to support the evolution of something that continues to bring us joy? The question is, will digital distribution serve as the logic evolutionary step for the industry? Or will it unplug “retro” from the gaming dictionary?
Let’s face it, eventually large bandwidth and hard disk space will be available to all gamers. I’m not betting on a timeframe but I’m confident we are 2 gaming-generations from it. Even today, PSN and X-Box Live are loaded with old and new games for your downloading pleasure. You could be a digital only consumer if you wish. The current hurdle is the lack of support by retail as publishers and console manufacturers are undercutting the retailers’ ability to fully participate in the market. This market, however, is highly competitive at retail as a games marketing budget has a strong impact on it’s success. From the online perspective, virtual shelf space can be limitless causing consumer confusion. When digital dominates the market, I have no doubt the money will find it’s way into the hands of everyone but retailers. So the interface, marketing, and searching will improve over today’s standards. Its important to note that it may mean more in-game advertising to help educate the consumer. I’m sure code can appropriately replace the outstanding associates at your local electronics mega stores.
Looking deeper into this future, I think of my kids in 25 years. Can they get together with their friends to talk about the days of the PS3 and 360? Will they attend expos like PRGE to trade for rare copies of Heavenly Sword? Likely not; but what they instead will be doing is something we all wish we could: easily access the games we play now and learn from them. They can iterate upon the practices we’ve set in place to truly evolve gaming to levels discs can only dream of. Will they miss out on that feeling of playing an antique Tron arcade? Certainly they will. But like old cars or even castles, if our generation preserves the items that have shaped our lives, our kids won’t have to resort to sitting on grandpa’s lap to hear about the tales of Mega Man.