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Monday, April 30, 2007

Problems In The Land Of Downloads

A pair of articles from Ars Technica tosses a dash of cold water on one of the better reasons to own a new console these days, downloadable content. The first indicates that Microsoft's latest attempt to make a more expensive console is having a bit of a DRM issue:

I moved my Live account from my old system to the Elite easily enough, and then I started to redownload all my Arcade games. This is kind of a process since I have over 20 games and the system only lets you queue up to six downloads at a time. I sat down and played some Geometry Wars, and then I remembered hearing about the problems people had with migrating their games. I rarely have my system away from my home network, so I reached back and unplugged the cable to see if I could play the games without the online authentication. 

All the games, all of them, turned into demos that asked me to download the full version. This is very unhappy making. I plug my cable back in and get on the phone.
-- If you upgrade into an Elite, your Arcade games have a surprise for you

For those too lazy to follow that link, the phone call doesn't go well.

The second reports that the Wii's Virtual Console is getting sluggish sales as of late:

As of January 24, over 1.5 million games had been downloaded from the Virtual Console. Given the low cost for Nintendo inherent in the Virtual Console system, this was a remarkable show for a collection of age-old games that would have otherwise been mere memories. From February until now, though, sales were in the 1.8 million range; a strange occurrence given that the console's user base has grown substantially since early January. Iwata's comments suggest that in the first two months Nintendo was selling 750,000 titles each month, but that has dipped to 600,000/month since February. Those aren't bad sales numbers, but with many more Wiis in use today than in December, the downturn is surprising.
-- Nostalgia getting old? Virtual Console sales heading south

I think the real problem here is that until the Wii's library significantly improves, the VC is one of the better reasons to own the machine. Since most people probably buy a Wii due the hype surrounding the controller, I doubt this could lead to a decline in overall hardware sales for the big N - but it's not a shiny moment for them.


Unknown said...

1) A NeoGAF post a while back had the right word for the kind of DRM issues we're going to see in a few years: "life expectancy". How long can you expect those digital purchases to last? So far dealing with iTunes, arguably the biggest DRM vendor anywhere, has been reasonable. For $0.99 a song you could recover things you lost somehow, at the very worst. But when it comes to microtransactions (which can pile up in a hurry) and full game downloads, the bills to just replace rather than argue with customer support are going to get big quickly.

And, unlike iTunes, you can't back your stuff up to CD.

It's going to get nasty when the next generation arrives and Microsoft wants to charge you a transfer fee to move all you stuff. Or Sony. Or Nintendo. Or Valve.

2) I didn't read the story at the link, so sorry if this was already said, but it appears to me that Nintendo are making good on their promise to recruit more people to gaming. That is, the first waves of Wii hardware went to the faithful and the hardcore, i.e. the heavy VC users. Now that the general public is getting most of the new Wii hardware, the number of downloads per owner will of course drop, because those new systems belong to grandparents and parents who never played anything on the NES or SNES or Genesis or TG16. They're happily playing Wii Sports and such, and Nintendo's plenty happy to have them.

Unknown said...

3) Also worth noting that Sony documents precisely how to upgrade your PS3 if you want, and that provides ... in a sense ... a means to back up your data. Whether that works in practice moving to a new platform, who knows?

Josh said...

Yeah, my only complaint with iTunes is that you can't redownload again on registered computers - but I get that limitation to a certain degree ... I just think forcing a CD burn is annoying at times (especially when it comes to things like audiobooks).

But it's better than just being left out to dry, which seems to be the norm and certainly what some Elite users just wandered into. It will be interesting to see just how well Sony, Nintendo or Valve follows suit.

On a side note, I'll probably download Steam tonight. Just to see if it can improve the derth of titles I've got right now on the PC.

Yeah, the Wii's VC is certainly not a widespread appeal model. Nintendo needs to open up to the indie market and not just the emu crowd for that to happen - so for a certain extent it's a demographic thing. However, I think it's also an offering problem. I mean, some Turbo GFX game I've never heard is neat and all - but where is GoldenEye anyway?