The Rise of the Downloadable Games

This generation of consoles has been decidedly different from previous generations. Online multiplayer has finally arrived in a big way, Nintendo is once again on top, and the quality and quantity of games to choose from has arguably never been better. However, one of the most significant changes in this current console generation (including the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360) is the proliferation of downloadable content. This content runs the gamut from extra levels or song packs for existing games, to movies & TV shows, to even full-fledged games that are available only as downloads. While each of these categories is significant in its own right, I’d like to focus on the later here.

Downloadable games are a concept whose time has come. In order for the digital delivery method to be a viable one, several advancements had to be made. First, widespread broadband connectivity had to be established with each console’s user base. The original Xbox definitely got the ball rolling in that direction. Another condition was that consoles required a considerable amount of internal memory for storage of downloadable files. Again, the first Xbox led the way on this, although interestingly the 360 took a slight step backwards by not having a hard drive as standard. The PS3 has this feature, while the Wii gets buy with a decent amount of internal flash memory that can be expanded via an SD card. The final piece of the puzzle was a distribution mechanism, which was achieved with the various console’s store fronts. Now all the pieces are in place, and downloadable games are growing in popularity.

I’ve noticed that, speaking for me, a significant portion of my own gaming time has been given over to downloadable games. “On the Rain-Slicked Precipice of Darkness,” a game from the creators of Penny Arcade, and the Homestar Runner games for the Wii have been two recent favorites. These games are original releases, and are conveniently available for a reasonable cost of $10-15 over the internet. Another advantage is that they are not quite as long or epic as many $60 store-bought disk based games are, meaning that they tend to fit a little better into my currently rather limited gaming time.

Downloadable games are also a great way to catch up on old favorites or older games I might have missed. For example, the classic Super Nintendo game “Super Mario RPG” has recently become available via the Virtual Console on the Wii. This game has been touted as one of the best Mario games ever, but prior to its release on the Virtual Console the only way to enjoy it was by buying a used copy on EBay.

Not everything is great about downloadable games, however. Currently, there is no legal way to transfer a downloaded game from one console to another (there are hacks and workarounds, of course). Additionally, there is no way to back-up games once they have been downloaded, so they could be lost if the console they are stored on breaks down or is irrevocably damaged. After years and years of owning a physical artifact for each game I have played, I find it a bit unsettling to contemplate the fact that some of the games I am currently playing exist only as 1’s and 0’s on a fragile spinning magnetic disk!

Even so, the extra convenience and selection offered by downloadable games outweighs the drawbacks of these doomsday scenarios. It looks like downloadable games are here to stay, which may not bee a bad thing. It is just going to require a little adjustment!

By: Andy Rucker

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