What If Batman: Arkham Knight PC Ships Only Digital, Is It Time To Consider The Future Of Retail Market?
British retailer ShopTo has been informed by his own supplier that Batman: Arkham Knight won't have a retail edition for PC. Many have been talking about this matter, we at Gamepur did, too, classifying it as a simple rumor. What if this rumor comes true, then? We are used to see lots of indie games releasing only on Steam, Desura or Humble Store, and that's ok because digital market is their battlefield, they are not interested in retail because of its costs and policies – the same they were meant to disrupt a few years ago.
But, now, it's pretty different: we are talking about Batman: Arkham Knight, the long-awaited AAA finale of Rocksteady's trilogy, the first episode of the acclaimed franchise for next-gen platforms... it will be epic, that's for sure, and this is why Warner Bros. renouncing to a physical release of the PC edition could mean something more than a simple business choice and could lead to a revolution in gaming.
Should Batman: Arkham Knight's only-digital PC release be a commercial success, other publishers could start imitating Warner Bros.' modus operandi. Ubisoft and Electronic Arts, among the others, would begin to take complete advantage of their online store, offering digital contents and extra goods we were used to have only in the physical store for the same price. This already happens, you're right, but we are making hypothesis about this becoming the only way to access games like Battlefield or Assassin's Creed. Our readers probably won't care about that because they're smart enough to move through an online store and choose the best offer, or simply because they are digital native and they are not even used to buy PC titles at GameStop or Best Buy, or whatever. But there's a good amount of people out there, maybe smaller than ever but still there, who needs or prefer buying games in physical stores.
Who could possibly be?
To begin with, people with slower Internet connections will always prefer physical copies. It's not just a fact of renewing the business model, you have to face technical challenges before pushing to a solution or another. For example, I know this isn't a great issue for those living in the United States, but I am Italian (from the South of the country, to be precise) and still facing issues like that, it took me two days, or something like that, to download Bloodborne on PlayStation 4 and we won't have PlayStation Now once it arrives in Europe. That's why I am fascinated by digital-only business models but at the same time afraid that most countries in the world won't be able to sustain and many will be left behind.
If this model manages to entirely "conquer" the console world too, console manufacturers, publishers and developers will all have to work to improve on aspects like how fast you can download your contents and the size of the contents themselves. In the middle of PS3/Xbox 360 era, there were lots of rumors about developers working on new compression algorithms that could substantially reduce contents' sizes, but after the arrival of Blu-ray those talks stopped instantly.
Blu-ray is a good contribution to help the current distribution system keep living and working, but is not the solution to the issues we are talking about: games industry has to reach a milestone where there's the right balance between sizes and compression, a point where there wouldn't be any quality loss but downloads limited to 10s GB.
Going on the way this generation's consoles is shaping up, I wouldn't be surprised to see downloads reaching 100s GB in size: then, the current worldwide infrastructures wouldn't be able to grant the same quality level of access and the digital division between first class countries (based on the Internet connection speed) and second class countries would get even bigger.
The early Xbox One could help and shape the future of gaming, with always-online DRM, but Microsoft had to retreat because many of us weren't ready: just think about this.