Digital distribution is hot stuff these days but according to numbers compiled by the NPD Group, most of us still prefer to take our games home in a box.
Speaking at the 2009 DICE Summit this past weekend, NPD analyst Anita Frazier said 75 percent of gamers expressed a preference for boxed retail copies of videogames over downloaded versions in a recent survey, while 58 percent have never actually downloaded a game at all. Of those who have, however, 77 percent described the games purchased via digital distribution as "just as good" as the retail versions.
At least part of the reluctance to embrace digital appears to be rooted in price: 65 percent of respondents claimed they'd be more likely to purchase a digital copy of a game if it was priced ten percent lower than its boxed equivalent.
The evolution of digital distribution is bad news for retailers, of course, although GameStop predicts it will take another 10 to 15 years before it becomes a "full-blown" sales channel. But supporters of digital say it will happen much faster and even GameStop began to take steps to stay in front of the trend all the way back in 2006 when it launched the Download Now service on its website.
Regardless of when it begins to actually supplant retail, the number of gamers who claim to prefer retail copies will doubtlessly shrink as digital distribution, and gaming as a whole, becomes increasingly ubiquitous. I love game boxes; I love opening them, gently removing their contents, reading the manual while parked on the can and lovingly sliding it into place on my shelf when the game is finally done. But reduced distribution costs and easier access to markets will only make digital distribution an increasingly popular option with developers, and for better or worse thrill of browsing the shelves at EB isn't going to satisfy the growing legions who just want to play the damned game.