Will game discs become obsolete?

Generations of gamers have used cartridges, CDs, DVDs and (more recently) Bluray discs to experience gaming content on their home consoles and personal computers. But times are changing. Downloadable content, digital distribution and content delivery systems have taken over the world of video gaming. Of course, this didn't happen overnight — it took years of coding, tweaking and an incredible amount of testing and beta testing before we could simply click on an icon that said “download” to get our video game content. And ironically, the gaming business probably has piracy to thank for it.

For years, piracy drove the business of interactive entertainment to a near-bankrupt state (the PC market in particular), but one Bellevue-based publisher drew from the idea and turned it into what is probably the most effective and efficient business model in the business today. Yes, we're talking about Valve Corp, creators of the Half-Life franchise, and their Steam content delivery system. The only service of its kind at the time it was launched and the largest today, Steam has nearly 1,500 games in its online library today and over 30 million registered users. Originally started as a channel to distribute games developed by indie publishers in an effort to support them, Valve now currently has both indie and big-budget titles in its library, and its service is available worldwide. Gamers can not only download their favourite games on their computer, they will have access to them no matter where they are, and they can download it on any PC, any number of times (since Steam has online backups of all games purchased by them). The service has evolved, embracing ‘cloud' computing, allowing settings and saved games to be stored online, while also offering forums for social interactions (through ‘Steam groups'). Steam initiated the DLC movement and thankfully, major game companies including Microsoft and Sony have followed suit through their Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Store services. New games (which have physical media releases) are not available for download on either XBLA or PS Store right now, but a strong back catalogue of older games, including indie games, demos and more.

If Steam is the present, OnLive is the future. OnLive is an on-demand platform that is entirely based on cloud computing. Eliminating hardware cost altogether, OnLive lets you play games stored on remote servers on either your low-end PC or a dedicated gaming unit which is sold by them in glorious hi-definition — all you will need is a decent broadband connection. The service was launched in the U.S. earlier this year with access being provided through a subscription model. A flat-rate plan is also planned later this year. The obsolescence of game discs, therefore, is inevitable.

(Courtesy: Blur)

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