Waiting for BSG: Digital Distribution Ups and Downs


Lask week, cable network Sci-Fi, on the eve of a deal to hand off production of hit revival Battlestar Galactica to NBC, dropped the ball on digital content distribution, setting back support for their iTunes offerings by at least a few weeks, if not an entire season, and simultaneously validating less expensive digital distribution offerings.

After hearing and believing promises that the show would be available “the next day” on the iTunes service, I decided to cancel my cable subscription and trust in the forward progress of the digital distribution movement to feed my (admittedly adolescent) need for nearly instant science fiction drama satisfaction.

Then, at the dawn of “the next day” I, like many, many others, lined up in the official BSG forums to await news of when we’d be able to pay our two dollars for the show on Apple’s iTunes service. It would be a futile wait: The show refused to heed the demands of countless internet forum posters to appear on Saturday or Sunday of that week. Or Monday. Or Tuesday even. And then the talk turned to where one might be able to find it illegally.

One hopes that the situation will improve in the future. Especially since a number of networks are getting it right, offering their shows mere hours after being broadcast, and for free. ABC, NBC and CBS have all recently launched or re-launched free, ad-supported content streams featuring their most popular shows. CBS’s in particular is fantastic. I spent my weekend, between checking iTunes for BSG, catching up on CSI: Miami episodes with only minor, 30-second commercial interruptions. NBC’s Media Manager program is also fantastic, although it, too, had failed to update with the latest episode of BSG.

With the major television networks catching on so quickly, one wonders when the supposedly more “cutting edge” game industry will follow suit. There are some game industry digital distribution success stories, mainly involving Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, but recent developments suggest that games are still stuck in the grip of the ailing retail model.

Gamestop/EB’s new digital distribution service(s), went online this week, offering bargain bin titles at twice bargain bin price. Beach Head 2000 wasn’t worth $20 when it shipped, and I wouldn’t pay more than $5 for it now, with or without a disc. And while I’m pretty sure we’re all flattered they think Deus Ex is still worth a Jackson, six years after it was released, I’m afraid they’re being overly-optimistic. Don’t even get me started on Deer Hunter.

Of the over 1000 titles on EB’s download list, I didn’t see a single one that I’d be interested in buying, especially not for over twice what they’d cost me at a retail store, and three times what I could get them for on Ebay. They do have my new favorite game, Ultimate Duck Hunting, but again at twice the price I think they’ll be able to get for it. I think they’re missing the point.

Valve Software’s Steam service is making a lot of news this week, especially now that critical darling Psychonauts (read more about it next week in The Escapist) has made an appearance. Although I think that at Steam, too, the prices are much too high for media-less content. Especially content that didn’t sell all that well to begin with.

I do not think that free is necessarily the way to go with game content downloads, after all, games have only rarely survived in ad-supported models, but I think we can do a lot better.

And before you start telling me how much games cost, and why high prices are a necessity, take a look at how much some of your favorite TV shows cost to produce and prepare to have your mind blown. Yet even with multi-million dollar production budgets, some of thsese shows can afford free, ad-supported digital distribution. It sure gives you something to think about … while you’re waiting for your downloads.

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