Alternative Access

Alternative Access
The War Continues

Tom Endo | 28 Jul 2009 12:29
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Yet despite these declarations in support of physical media, the evidence strongly suggests both companies are laying the groundwork for a future in which all games will be distributed digitally. Microsoft announced at this year's E3 that it would be releasing games from the Xbox 360 back catalog through Xbox Live this August. "We just see it as a way to give consumers choice," says Austin. "There are a lot of titles that are difficult to get." But behind this relatively innocuous statement lies the fact that Microsoft is using digital distribution to fill a gap currently occupied by the used games market - another step toward replacing brick-and-mortar retail outlets with downloads.


For its part, Sony has already experimented with full-scale digital distribution, famously releasing Warhawk in its entirety through the PlayStation Store. However, such releases have been few and far between, with no concerted strategy on the order of Microsoft's latest announcement. Sony's first major commitment to digital distribution as a primary means of software delivery is coming instead in the form of the PSP Go, which will be the company's first entirely network-based device. Lempel stressed that it was a combination of consumer feedback and the flexibility that the platform offers that drove the decision to release a version of the PSP designed solely around digital distribution.

Divergent Evolution

Yet in spite of each service's strengths, they both have weak spots. Regarding the PlayStation Network, it's clear the scope of services offered to users is overwhelming. Lempel acknowledges this. "There's a lot we need to do to fully educate users," he says. "People may not know about features like Home interoperability ... and the ability to stream content from PS3." He also mentions the device's photo and music managers, which many users may not be utilizing to their full extent.

Confronted with the issue of Xbox Live's baggage, Austin notes that "one of the big things I see is that people don't fully understand the [game] license model that we have. It's robust. With Xbox Live, license information is stored in the cloud. Games can be downloaded to your profile. As digital distribution increases, it will be important that people understand this."

For its part, Sony's network comes across as being much more ambitious than Live - not because it strives for higher quality, but because it has become nothing less than the digital flagship for all of Sony's initiatives. While the PlayStation Network may have started as a network for gamers, the expense of developing it and the desire to fully recoup these costs have forced the network into a much larger role. As has, perhaps, the failure of the PS3 to establish a larger beachhead in American homes.

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