Brace yourselves, next-gen is coming. We all know. The rumours are circulating, the new engines are being shown off and we're all just a bit sick of the PS3, Xbox 360, and especially the Wii-U, which barely matches this generation in terms of capability. With the increased demand for new home systems and new gaming experiences, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that at least one of the major players will reveal something new this E3. It's about damn time. One of the bigger rumours flying around is completely cutting disc-based media out of the next hardware generation. This would be a fatal mistake for any company that decides to release a digital only console. Aside from how much of an issue hard drive space could be, internet download limits, download speeds, network crashing, price and current trends all work against this concept. Firstly, the issue of hard disc space limitations. Deciding to purchase a PS3 or Xbox 360 with a larger hard drive always proves more expensive. All new consoles are, traditionally, fairly hefty investments to start off with, and some gamers will purchase dozens of games for every console they own, and likely fill their hard drive very quickly. Hell, my 160GB Ps3 bought 18 months ago is half full and the only full digital game I own is Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty; the rest is filled with installs, a few demos and videos. As games get more complex and large in size (particularly on Sony's console), it takes more space to store each game. If a modern blockbuster like Uncharted 3, Battlefield 3 or Assassin's Creed III occupies 15-20GB of data, imagine what the increased level size and texture resolution would do to the physical size of these games. And aside from the size of the games, think how long it would take to download them. I live in Australia, where the average Internet connection is much slower than a lot of other first world countries like America, South Korea and even Taiwan. Aside from that, my personal Internet connection is slower than anyone I know, with my PS3 taking hours to download demos and larger updates. I would rather go to the store and buy the game than wait for it to download, and aside from that, some games cannot be played while a download is running.
Another major factor is the stability of the current pricing structure of Xbox LIVE Games on Demand and full game purchases. To buy Assassin's Creed III for PS3 from the Store costs 109.95AUD. To buy from Australian retailer JB Hi Fi (at the time of writing) will cost me only 69. Aside from the massive price differences alone, it should not cost more to download a game than to pay for a physical copy, sold in a store that pays bills, staff and rent, and had to be sent miles across the sea to get to that store shelf. Microsoft and Sony just haven't caught up to pricing standards, and there is never a single sale to be seen. The Steam sales are legendary and set the bar for digital sales. If you're lucky, Sony will drop the price to 69.95 before the end of 2015. Maybe there would be some changes if digital was the only way to play, but if the prices stayed the same, then no one would be playing at all. And what would happen to the simple thrill of owning a new game, seeing it's cover, reading the blurb, smelling that new game smell. Mmmmm, new game smell. Even without the sentimental value of a game, retailers and publishers love striking deals for exclusive goodies like posters, figures and alternative cover arts. If the consoles went digital only, not only would all of this disappear, but so would retailers too. Sure, you would still need a place to buy a new system, but a Best Buy could still exist selling only the hardware, but a GameStop or Game couldn't. And who doesn't love exploring a new game? Seeing the art on the disc, seeing its background pop up as you scroll over it in the game section of the XMB, and reading the intricately detailed manual. Games always look good stacked on shelves too. All of this would be gone, replaced only by slow downloads, big hard drive space and overpriced games. While digital distribution has it's place in gaming, and it certainly has advantages, I don't believe than anyone is fully ready for a digital only generation. In this modern society, we like to have everything now, not wait hours for things to download. Digital games often cost more and don't have all the bells and whistles we love to hang on our wall and display on our desks. In short, digital sucks, and we don't want it just yet.