Sony saw the writing on the retail wall when it was planning the Vita’s release. Nintendo, while it isn’t there quite yet, agrees with Sony’s vision. Digital distribution is the future. Online connectivity isn’t absolute in living rooms across the world—just over 68% of U.S. households use broadband Internet access, still a far cry from ubiquity—but the days of video games chiefly being bought at a store are coming to a close. That’s why both Sony and Nintendo plan to make all games available for purchase online at the same time they go on sale at retail. Vita does it. Wii U will do it.
Why then is Microsoft refusing to go day-and-date with its digitally distributed Xbox games?
“It comes down to choice,” claims Xbox Live U.K. product manager Pac Bhardwaj in an interview with MCV, “The customer has the choice of going to retail on day on if they really want to buy a particular title, or to wait a couple of months and buy it full price from the Xbox Live marketplace.”
Not all Xbox 360 games are made available as digital downloads on Xbox Live through the Games on Demand program, but those that do typically appear on the service around six months after their retail release. When they do appear, long after they’ve often been discounted at retail, they appear at the full price they initially sold for. PlayStation Vita titles meanwhile are made available simultaneously to physical releases and for $5 less on average.
Microsoft doesn’t see any need to change in the near future.
“It’s a successful model, so why change something you don’t need to? We don’t do Games on Demand on day one, we focus on boxed retail for day one. That’s where our focus has always been and will remain that way for the foreseeable future,” said Bhardwaj, “It’s a successful part of our business, we’re very pleased with the growth and it continues to do really well. Clearly there’s an audience out there who are happy to purchase product at full ERP six or so months after [release.]”
It’s surprising to see Microsoft resisting the shift to simultaneous digital and physical releases considering how forward thinking the company has been with the Xbox and Xbox Live over the past ten years.
Then again, Bhardwaj’s words could be construed as referring only to the current Games on Demand service, not a similar service that could accompany a new device. The rumored Xbox Lite console, which is said to lack an optical media drive, would need big releases available digitally at the same time as retail to survive.