GDC panel strikes conciliatory tone
A summary of the ‘What’s Next in Digital Distribution and Mainstream Games’ panel at GDC has been posted by GamesIndustry.biz, passing on a message of reassurance for traditional publishers, retail chains, and others not yet involved in the practice.
Gabe Newell explained how the Day of Defeat: Source Free Weekend had led to twice as many retail sales as online sales, while BioWare’s Ray Muzyka stated that developers “need to have both forms of distribution to be successful” and that his company would be using digital distribution to compliment retail purchases rather than distribute full products, a conservative tactic shared by publishing giant Electronic Arts with their Downloader service.
Xbox Live Arcade’s Greg Canessa echoed Muzyka’s sentiments, but Ritual’s Tom Mustaine warned that by next year’s conference the digital distribution movement would be more prominent: “A lot of people have been doing [digital distribution] in the casual games space”, Mustaine said, “but as far as AAA episodic, it’s right around the corner”.
The panel’s comments have more than a whiff of collusion about them, with the united front clearly preconceived to help limit any potential splits in the industry, but at the same time warning those dragging their heels to get on board before it is too late. While digital distribution’s complimentary role will undoubtedly remain for some time in the industry at large, whether publishers will be convinced to uproot their businesses to such a large extent for the prospect of weakening their market advantage on the basis of assurances like those of the panel’s remains to be seen. If the struggle undergone by the music industry is anything to go by, weak publishers like Atari and Eidos – perhaps even reasonably strong ones – may well drop away before the transition is complete.