Thursday, March 23, 2006


Demo Discs - Dead or Still Relevant?

Joystiq posted up a plea to kill off the demo disk. Here's the relative quote:

As a medium of distribution, it's time for physical media to die and never come back. Internet users have for years now been downloading game demos from myriad websites, and console gamers are now getting the chance to do the same. With the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo "Revolution" all promising digital downloads, isn't it time we did away with ecologically disastrous demo disks for good? And once we've ditched demo disks, let's work on tossing those dastardly CDs, UMDs, MDs, DVDs, HD-DVDs, and Blu-Ray disks too, like so many cookies after a rough ride at the amusement park.

Everytime I read something like this I just laugh and wonder how the writer could be so short sighted. Yes, being able to download demos is nice, but it is certainly no replacement for having demos on a physical media. Broadband penetration in the US is only at around 60%, and there's a LOT of gamers that live in remote, rural areas that can't get it even if they want it. Even then, a lot of so-called broadband connections are crappy 128k connections that are fine for web surfing but painfully slow for downloading 300mb demos. On top of that, the hard drives in consoles aren't all that large (esp. the 360), and unless people are happy with downloading, playing right then, and deleting, there's going to be a demand for a more permanent storage.

And as for full fledge games, we're nowhere NEAR ready for digital-delivery only. Not even on the PC, where hard drives are large and cheap. With games regularly being 5gb+, that's just too big, even for fast broadband, to put up with when buying a DVD is so much quicker, more convenient, and above all, permanent. Sure, you'll always have people who like digital downloads, and that's fine, but there's a LOT of people not ready for that yet who prefer a physical media.

Even in the music world, where songs/albums are relatively painless and quick downloads, there's still a demand for physical media. In conclusion, we're not there yet, and we won't be for quite a while. Broadband is going to have to get much faster, storage capacity on our devices bigger, and even then there's still advantages to a permanent physical media.

What do you think? Tell me in comments.

Everytime I hear anyone talk about getting rid of ANY physical media I just remember the concept of the "paperless office". Remember that? All these computers were going to make paper filing, printing, etc. go away.

Except it hasn't. If anything it has created more. People like physical media, the very concept of digital media is beyond the way most people have been wired to think.

Plus, as you said, it's incredibly short-sighted. Still, let's argue that we have unlimited storage space and instant downloads anywhere for anyone. I still think people will want a physical copy that they can have on hand for an easy installation should their hard-drive crash. Indeed, I have gotten very tired of hunting down patches for games everytime I decide to reinstall something and swear I am just going to copy the patches I need to a CD-ROM and be done with it.
You are correct... the games are growing in size as fast as our capacity to download them. Plus they are so big (even the install files) that it's cheap and convenient to just have a bunch of them on a demo CD.

It still takes a significant amount of time to download even just a demo of a modern game. Console gamers especially are NOT into waiting - that's most of the appeal of console games - flip it on and go. No one is going to want to wait for huge downloads on their console - not if they have other avenues to get them.
I think in a world where users have virtually unlimited storage capacity, virtually instantaneous internet access (as in, can download at least 100mb per second), and virtually problem free, always on internet (99.999% up-time), hooked to all your devices, then sure, in that world, people will not need physical media. Because in that world if you want to watch something you just go out and download it, or if it's already on your massively large hard drive you just play it. But in the real world, where limitations do exist, we're a long way off from getting rid of physical media. Blu-Ray discs are what 50gb? When we start having 50gb games, do these "no physical media" people really think people are going to want to wait to download that crap, even on fast broadband?
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