Game Time With Mister Raroo (and Angel and Devil Raroo)[Mister Raroo's latest regular GameSetWatch column considers the positive and negative aspects of digital distribution - where, naturally arguments for and against are made by an angel and devil sitting upon his shoulders. Can the angel and devil reach a consensus, or will Mister Raroo have to listen to their squabbling to no end?]

Angel RarooIs there really anything to debate here? It’s obvious that Mister Raroo loves digital downloads! Look at all the games he’s purchased from the Wii Shopping Channel, Playstation Store, and Xbox Live Arcade. In fact, he probably plays those games more than any of his disc-based games.

No more driving to the store to buy games. No more game cases cluttering up his shelves. No more having to get off the couch to change game discs! He has completely stepped into the digital distribution era!

Devil RarooOh come now! Mister Raroo’s got some hang-ups about digital distribution. Remember all those digital duds he bought? Does Heavy Weapon ring a bell? Or how about RoboBlitz? They’re just sitting neglected and taking up valuable space on Mister Raroo’s Xbox 360’s hard drive. In an ideal situation, those games would be eBay fodder. But, oh wait! Mister Raroo can’t resell games that he’s downloaded, can he?

Angel RarooLet’s not forget, Devil Raroo, that digitally downloaded games are usually significantly cheaper than disc-based games. Together, the two “duds” you mentioned cost $25, which is less than half the price of most new Xbox 360 discs. Sure, it’s unfortunate that Mister Raroo wasted $25 on games he doesn’t play (knucklehead!), but that’s his fault.

Every Xbox Live Arcade game has a demo, as do some Playstation Network games. As for Wii…? Well, you’re on your own in that department, but in this day and age it’s not hard to go online and read impressions and reviews.

Devil RarooI’ll agree that Mister Raroo is sometimes an idiot when it comes to buying games he shouldn’t waste his money on, but there are times when the demos can make games seem more tantalizing than they actually are. You buy the game and—poof!—you’re stuck with a disappointment.

And publishers sure do what they can to make digitally downloaded games a breeze to purchase. How many times does a message pop up in the middle of a demo prompting you to buy the game? If the demo is halfway decent, it can be hard not to accept the offer and purchase the game on the spot, especially when the price is often deceptively unclear.

Angel Raroo“Deceptively unclear?” I assume you’re referring to the use of “points” instead of actual monetary units for games downloaded from the Xbox 360 and the Wii. I’m surprised you’re not fond of that, since it is indeed devilish of Microsoft and Nintendo to substitute real money with points. Get it? “Devilish”? Haha! Ahem. Getting back on point, I'll admit that purchasing games via digital distribution can sometimes make it feel like you're not spending actual money. After all, there is no physical transaction taking place and you’re often spending pre-purchased points instead of dollars.

Dropping 400 points on a game feels far less significant than spending five dollars. But all the same, unless you have only a juvenile grasp of monetary and mathematical understanding, there is no deception in the fact that you are spending actual money. You do have to spend money on points in the first place, after all.

Devil RarooOh, Angel Raroo, you and your rosy outlook sicken me! You hit the nail on the head with why points are used instead of dollars: they make it seem like you’re not spending real money. Of course, companies like Microsoft may argue that points are a way to bring global consistency to their digital marketplace so as to avoid having to come up with new prices for each county and their own unique currency, but that’s poppycock.

The Playstation Store uses actual monetary pricing and there’s no confusion there. And, for the record, Microsoft’s points are especially confusing. You’d think one point would equal one cent, like it does on the Wii. But no, it’s more confusing than that because each Microsoft point equates to 1.25 cents. That means an 800 point game is actually… let’s see… carry the one… here we are, $10. I’d wager that the funny math of “points” has brought in more money than a one point to one cent ratio would have.

Angel RarooWell, I can’t help you with your lack of mathematical ability, but I can at least point out that digital distribution has allowed for a resurrection of many of the types of games that would never have been green-lighted for a retail release.

As amazing as Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and its sequel are, would either game have ever seen the light of day as anything other than as bonuses tacked on to full-priced game? Doubtful. However, we have seen a modern renaissance of many “lost” genres of games. Digital distribution has given developers the ability to create smaller-scale games and expand their creative visions in ways not permissible with larger releases.

Devil RarooLet’s not forget that the same scenario you’re describing has also allowed some developers to quickly shovel out crap easier than ever before. For every good game available for download, there are plenty of terrible ones. Did anyone really need Pong Toss on the Wii, for example?

And, as with games in retail stores, digitally-distributed games of dubious quality often have the same price point as the excellent games they compete with. Microsoft recently announced they plan to remove games with poor reviews and performance from their online storefront, but I don’t know if that’s quite the right solution.

Angel RarooLike I said before, it’s up to gamers to do their homework by trying out a demo or reading up on impressions and reviews before paying for a game. Thankfully, purchasing a crummy game via digital distribution is a lot more financially forgiving than doing the same from a retail outlet.

Sure, you might be out $10 if you download a bad game, but that’s a lot better than the alternative of $60. And with the rise in episodic gaming, developers have the ability to not only have the ability to provide a gaming experience that can be purchased in installments—allowing for gamers to bail out if the game is not to their liking—but many nagging issues can be addressed and improvements can be made with each subsequent episode.

Devil RarooAngel Raroo, again your sunny disposition disgusts me. Episodic gaming may allow for developers to improve a game with each release, but will most of them take the effort needed to do that? I have a feeling that most of them will be lazy and just siphon out a completed game in chunks in order for it to count as episodic.

Or, on the flip side, developers might delay the subsequent episodes for who knows how long, leaving gamers with an unfinished product. Plus, when tallied up, the price for each particular episode of a game can equal or even surpass the cost of a full-priced retail game. Episodic gaming sounds good on paper, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Angel RarooYou have to remember that episodic gaming is, in many ways, still in its fledgling stages. There are already some companies that are doing things right. Telltale Games, for instance, not only gives a discounted price for gamers that subscribe to a full “season” of episodes through their website, but at the end of a season the company will mail subscribers a disc that contains all of the episodes -- as well as bonus content for just the price of shipping.

I understand that Telltale’s practices are not yet the norm for the industry, but they are blazing a trail that I hope other developers and publishers take note of and follow. Sending a disc-based copy of the game is not just a great way to thank loyal supporters, but it provides them with a hard copy of the content as well.

Devil RarooHold up just a minute, Angel Raroo. You just brought up a crucial point. With the transitory nature of digital files, what’s going to happen to my downloaded games when my computer’s hard drive crashes or the next generation of home consoles are released?

For the time being, I can most likely re-download games free of charge, but will I be able to do so years down the road? What if ten years from now I want to play Castle Crashers but my Xbox 360’s hard drive has crashed? Will my digitally-downloaded games transfer to the next Xbox system? Don’t tell me that I’m going to have to repurchase games I’ve already paid for.

Angel RarooI’m no fortune teller, but I think it’d be foolish for a company such as Microsoft to make a move that would alienate its loyal user base who purchase and play games via Xbox Live.

When the Xbox 360 was released, gamers were permitted to transfer their Gamertags from the original Xbox, so I’d imagine that they will be able to do something similar when the next Xbox hits store shelves. Besides, I’m sure by that point there will be plenty of new digitally-distributed content for gamers to purchase, so Microsoft won’t need to make gamers repurchase games they bought for the Xbox 360.

Devil RarooYou’re forgetting that companies love money and consumers are often stupid enough to purchase games they’ve already paid for. Just look at Mister Raroo’s collection. How many copies of Pac-Man or Super Mario Bros. does he own? It’s pathetic. Why should Nintendo include free NES games in Animal Crossing games when people will pay five bucks a pop for them on the Virtual Console?

When the next Xbox comes out, all Microsoft will need to do is offer the same catalog of Xbox Live Arcade games and there will be plenty of gamers who will pay to buy them all over again, especially if there is “new” content like a slight graphical upgrade or a handful of new Achievements. People like to spend money and they need little incentive to do so.

Angel RarooI’m going to remain more optimistic. Digital downloads are still a relatively new and developing form of distribution. Naturally, it’s going to take some time and a lot of trial and error before digital distribution becomes more standardized and widespread. Nobody can necessarily predict what will happen in the coming years, but I think it’s clear digital distribution is not only here to stay, but it may very well become the leading way in which publishers will sell games to consumers.

The days of having to preorder games and drive to a brick and mortar establishment to pick them up on release day may soon be behind us. Even now gamers can purchase digital equivalents of disc-based games through outlets like Steam and the Playstation Store.

Devil RarooI’m still not convinced. I have no doubt that digital distribution will become even more commonplace than it is now, but I don’t foresee discs going away any time soon. Have you tried downloading a retail-sized game from the Playstation Store? It takes forever!

You can drive to the store, buy the game, and play a good chunk of it by the time the download is finished. Also, as long as people continue to be happy to be pay through the nose for unnecessary downloadable content and add-ons, I refuse to concede that digital distribution will become the be-all, end-all it could be. I do think things will get better, but there are still too many problems with digital distribution for me to fully embrace it.

Angel RarooPhew! All this discussion has me tired out. Let’s tell Mister Raroo to go get us something to drink while we kick back and enjoy some video games. Devil RarooLet’s play Burnout Paradise. I just downloaded it last night from the Playstation Store. It was so nice to download it from the convenience of my house. No driving to the store, no dealing with pushy clerks. Digital distribution is awesome!

Downloaded it? You fool! I went to my local game store and bought a used copy of the game for even cheaper! What are you thinking? Even with heading out to the store I was probably back home enjoying the game before your digital copy was even halfway downloaded. What do you have to say about that?

GUYS! LET’S NOT START THIS AGAIN!

Mister Raroo is Tired!

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com.]