Kai Huang, Peter Moore and Neil Young forecast a grim future for physical media at the University of California at Berkeley's PLAY Conference this past weekend.
Huang, co-founder of Red Octane and parent of the Guitar Hero franchise, went so far as to predict that this generation would be the last to own physical media. In five or 10 years, he said, everything would be digital download-based.
Moore — current head of EA Sports and former overseer of all things Xbox — agreed for the most part. He said that the console model of video games (where you get one complete game on a disc for $60) was a "burning platform." As in, do you stand on a burning platform and face certain death or jump into the waters of digital distribution and face probable death?
Clearly, you want the digital distribution. Right?
Despite Moore and Huang's faith in the future of digital distribution, however, both developers are releasing three to four disc-based games on console a year. Complete with plastic peripherals which cost even more money to manufacture than video game software, mind you.
Red Octane's Activision's motivation behind ubiquitous releases as accessibility. "We need to give [our users] channels to access additional content," he said. Not everybody is ready for the DLC revolution, apparently, so they have to keep putting out physical media for the next five to 10 years. Or however long it takes for my physical-media-dependent generation to die out and accept digital everything.
Young had a slightly different take on the digital future. He would, because he develops games almost exclusively for the iPhone like Rolando and Eliminate. Young said episodic content doesn't work because you can't chop a complete game into tiny pieces. Rather, said Young, game makers should be looking at ways to monetize usage. To him, this means making a game that's free to play and then finding ways to trick you into microtransactions. Like shelling out for extremely nerdy clothing for your virtual avatar in a free-to-play role-playing game.
It all comes down to the fact that the video games industry is risk-averse. If console makers believe that the next generation of gamer won't shell out for $60 for a disc that gets scratched up eventually anyway, then we can expect the next iteration of console to not have a disc tray. And when that happens, maybe we can all stop shelling out for plastic guitars and a new copy of what's essentially the same football game every year.