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Bring Back the Box: What We Have Lost With Digital Distribution

Stew Shearer | 8 Aug 2014 19:00
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"With the physical game, there's a palpable memory tied to that game even before you open it up," explained Carter. "Tearing off the shrink wrap, opening the box, flipping through the manual - for me, those were iconic elements of my gaming."

Which isn't to say that IndieBox is just responding to the growth of cheap, instant gratification-based digital distribution. As much as Carter and company hope to counter the tendency of companies to devalue their digital offerings, he admits that he and his cohorts are working almost as much to reverse the course of recent trends that have seen many publishers and studios putting less and less effort into the retail versions of their games.

"When you buy a AAA-title game for sixty dollars, it comes with a CD in a plastic case with a single sheet of paper for your registration code," he said. "What happened to the days where a game came with a cool poster or map of the game? Because of how much I used my Final Fantasy VI map, my mom laminated it for me. There's so much value there that by drifting away from that, contemporary gaming companies are really missing out on an opportunity to connect with their customers."

It's an idea that's perhaps not lost on everyone within the game industry. Aside from indie developers whom Carter says have been "very excited" about the working with IndieBox, there are still examples of studios willing to put in the work to make their physical titles something that even digital devotees might consider buying. CD Projekt RED, for instance, announced recently that the standard retail edition of The Witcher 3 will come packaged with a companion book, a map, the game's soundtrack and stickers. The Xbox 360 edition of The Witcher 2 likewise came packaged with extra goodies that many other companies wouldn't even have considered. According senior PR manager Tomasz Tinc, it's a practice that evolved from the studio's early experiences fighting for customers in its early days competing with software pirates.

"Game distribution on the Polish market back in the early 90s was successful mainly because we were offering more than pirates could ever offer -premium swag, exclusive items, and so on," said Tinc. "We want everyone to get the most bang for the buck and we don't care that others are satisfied with less, we think that downsizing things is not the way to go."

Unfortunately, this attitude is arguably an exception in an industry that seems committed to continually trimming the fat. It's not hard to understand why, of course. Making games, especially at the top AAA level, has become an increasingly expensive endeavor. When you're facing down a budget that's already in the tens of millions, it has to be tempting to look at a soundtrack CD, rule book or poster and think about the cash you could save by just shaving it off. Even so, at the end of the day there's something to be said for going the extra mile. When I received my IndieBox copy of Escape Goat 2, for instance, I'd never had any interest in the game before. As I peeled off the plastic, opened the box and dumped the treasure trove contained inside onto my kitchen table however, I found myself excited for it in a silly, gleeful childish way that's all too rare for me now. And you can bet your ass that I'd be willing to pay a little more to feel that way again.

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