Downloads could replace boxed games

Just to the right of the cabinet housing the television and games consoles there’s a DVD tower. Xbox Kinect games in shiny new boxes sit near the top of the rack, while below them are dusty titles from the PS2 and N64 eras.

From here you can see your gaming history and reminisce about the time you didn’t shower for three days so you wouldn’t lose any essential gaming time on Devil May Cry. Now you’re all grown up, of course, and just spend every second weekend playing against American kids online until 4am.

Yet this tangible reminder of your gaming history could soon be a thing of the past, if you believe EA CEO John Riccitiello, because 2011 is the year digital downloads overtake boxed copies of games.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Just look to the music industry and notice how the age of MP3 players has seen a fall in CD sales. iPad and iPhone owners have been tucking into downloadable games, making big successes of Angry Birds and Infinity Blade.

Many of us have embraced the digital age and our consoles are ready for it. The PS3 and Xbox are equipped with massive hard drives, with enough memory to store a decent library of games, ready for you to play at your convenience.

So convenient are digital copies that you don’t even need to trot off down the high street to buy them. Hit the download button and you can have the latest Call of Duty without queuing outside the shop at midnight. No need to even leave the sofa, because there’s no disc to change.

Downloading games at the stroke of midnight would beat waiting in the cold

The surge towards downloadable content seems inevitable, yet Sony Computer Entertainment chief Kazuo Hirai is not so sure. He reckons downloadable content is at least a decade away from replacing physical copies.

Well, he would say that. Downloadable content could mark the end of the physical disc drive, which is able to play Blu-ray discs on PS3 consoles. After spending big on developing Blu-ray technology, Sony won’t want it to become outdated too quickly.

And this is good news for us gamers. Physical copies of games are great to thumb through on a quiet Sunday afternoon, rediscovering old favourites. But what about lending your mates games once you’ve mastered them? Moving away from physical copies would erode a bit of our gaming community.

Downloading games is a great idea in theory, but just how long will it take to receive a 30GB game over an average broadband connection? With such sizeable downloads you could soon fall foul of your ISP’s fair usage policy and be clobbered with an excess charge. Not fun.

That’s just in areas where broadband is up to the top levels. Much of the country would need major upgrades if it were to be able to cope with exclusively digital content.

So maybe our love of looking over boxed copies of games can go on for just a bit longer. Game manufacturers may like the idea of digital copies, selling more games without spending money on packaging and generating more impulse buys, but us gamers will need more convincing.

Digital only copies of games could potentially work in the future, but until the creases are ironed out gamers are entitled to ask: “What’s in it for us?”

Would you miss your collection of boxed games if digital copies took over? Will the consoles of the future no longer have physical disc drives? Comment below…