Gaming is slowly, but surely, moving to an all-digital landscape. Well, I shouldn’t say all digital. Miyamoto would suffer an aneurysm should anyone even suggest the idea to him. Nintendo’s still about two decades behind everyone else though… they probably haven’t realized gamertags are a thing yet. Digital has quite a few drawbacks to physical gaming. The most pertinent being the complete lack of ownership. If I own a copy of Super Mario World, I can give it to you for free, or sell it to pay for an assassin to take out the Smash Bros. community.
Valve are the pioneers of modern gaming. The Steam service set the tone for how games are purchased today, and their original IP have inspired a generation of game developers. Valve was the first all-digital storefront in gaming. They managed formed a monopoly on it until about 2019. Shame they forgot about Boardwalk and the utilities and underestimated how those lacking spaces could change the board entirely. Valve was the first to offer any sort of digital refund. You can get a full refund of a Steam purchase as long as you file within two weeks of purchasing, and have played the game for less than two hours total. This is the most sensible, and only, digital refund policy in gaming.
Microsoft is implementing, or at least testing, the same policy. It may not be as great as trading physical property, but it serves an incredibly important purpose. Sony offers a semblance of digital refunds. You can request a refund on any digital media you’ve bought within the last 14 days… if you’ve not started to download, or stream, said digital media. The PlayStation Store automatically starts downloading purchases unless you change the settings. Sony has a refund policy like America has healthcare. It’s there, but nobody can use it.
Recently, Nintendo won a lawsuit in Germany and Norway that has set the course for a downward spiral. Nintendo has never offered any sort of digital refund. This lawsuit was hoping to force them into allowing customers to cancel digital pre-orders. This is where my biggest issue sits. Banks absolutely hate refunding digital purchases. The infrastructure just isn’t built as efficiently as it can be, but this leaves many not offering even the most simplistic of needs for digital ownership.
What if you pre-order a sequel when it is announced, and then they reveal it’s nothing like the title you love? What if you buy a game just after a pay-check, but then your car breaks down and you need to pull $2,500 out of thin air? The big three will simply kick you to the door. Steam does allow cancellation of pre-orders, and I can’t help wishing that everyone else would adapt to the landscape.
For as far as the world moves forward, it’s always stuck in the past. As we move into a new era for gaming, we’re forgetting about all of the things we need to keep functioning as an industry. The big three are continuously alienating people who just don’t feel comfortable with a lack of ownership. It completely baffles me with the solutions that are on the table. Yet, everyone needs to remember that there’s a lot of grey between black and white. Not every solution will work on paper, but I do think that everyone should try just a little harder to make them.