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

Stew Shearer | 8 Aug 2014 15:00
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Physical video games are a dying breed. Granted, it might not seem so at a glance. For most people buying a video game still means heading over to Wal-Mart, walking back to the electronics section and asking an underpaid, blue-vested associate to open the games cabinet and grab you a copy of whichever big sequel you happen to fancy that month.

True as that experience may be for many however, the experience of digital sales is increasingly becoming the preferred way of doing things for countless others. Just last year, digital game sales saw a boost of more than 30 percent while retail sales declined. Moreover, while physical games might be the current standard for North America, other gaming scenes around the world have already embraced digital distribution to a much deeper degree. In other words, while the physical, shrink-wrapped version of your favorite game might not be hard to find right now, an eventual future where you have no other choice but to pick it up on Steam may not be as ridiculous as it probably sounds in the present.

It's an eventuality that, honestly, leaves me more than a little sad. Don't get me wrong, I have sipped more than a few times from the cup of digital distribution. My Steam and GOG libraries both contain dozens of titles. As much as I appreciate those platforms however, I'd be lying if I said I didn't prefer owning a real, tangible game. A big part of that, I'm sure, is just straight up nostalgia. I grew up blowing into NES cartridges and to me buying a game is mentally defined by the actual act of handing someone my money and going home with something I could hold in my hands. If it weren't for the matters of money and convenience, I'd choose that over a digital copy every time. And I'm not the only one who feels this way. There are some who still value the good old days and would love nothing better than to see them return.

Perhaps chief among those parties is IndieBox. A small, self-funded company aiming to "Bring Back the Box," it takes new indie games, packages them in a retro-flavored box and delivers them to subscribers along with a bevy of extras like soundtracks, full color manuals, posters and more. According to the co-founder John Carter, it's the company's hope that the success of a business like their's could help mitigate what they see as some of the darker side effects of the ongoing digital revolution.

"Right now, there's a slippery slope with digital distribution," said Carter. "When a person won't pay five dollars for a game because they know it'll be on sale for one dollar the next week, they're saying that game isn't worth five dollars - that their time can be better spent elsewhere."

This is a sentiment that others in the game industry have expressed in the past, earning a variety of responses in the process. When Positech's Cliff Harris, for instance, spoke out against deep digital discounts, his stance drew the ire of more than a few gamers who were understandably pleased with the sale-centric state of things. Where Carter and Indiebox differs, however, is in their belief that deep sales should be combated not by complaining but rather by giving gamers more for their money to change their perception of a game's value. IndieBox aims to sell not just physical games, but a bona fide experience rooted in those same simple pleasures that gamers like myself already know and love.

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