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The High Price of Digital Distribution
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on April 08, 2008   |   Episode 145 (Show Archive)  

   

I'm fine with large cartridges, but this is ridiculous!
Lately there seems to be a major push towards digital distribution. It's more than just companies offering new game content on the Xbox Live Marketplace, it's now a whole retail market that involves buying actual games, music and TV shows. It seems like there's a news story about this inevitable future world from some San Francisco-based journalist at least once or twice a month, and even major video game players (such as Phil Harrison) have suggested that future consoles wouldn't even have a place to put a disc. These people argue that digital distribution

Phil's talk about a discless future would be more believable had he not just quit Sony for Atari!
would make everything more convenient, save you a trip to the mall and would be cheaper in the long run.

There's just one problem - it's all bullshit! Oh sure, it will save you a trip to the store and it may end up being more convenient in the long run, but online games/products are definitely not cheaper in the long run. In fact, in this piece I will argue that in nearly every instance physical is cheaper than download. I'm sorry, but you've been fed a bunch of lies and we're about to do something about that. Over the next four pages we're going to explore everything from Rock Band to Halo to the PlayStation Network. It's not a matter of which download service is best, it's a question of who is screwing you the least. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the high price of digital distribution.

Guitar Hero/Rock Band


Seeing as this is a four player game, I guess one of these guys is faking it. Well, faking it more than the other people, that is!
While there is a lot of downloadable content already available on the Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network, it's the music genre that is making the best use of this new technology. Sure it's nice to have new Halo maps every few months, but there's something to be said about getting three new Rock Band songs every Tuesday, that's the kind of support we only dreamed about when Red Octane was talking about bringing Guitar Hero II to the Xbox 360.

The music is great and we love getting 12 new songs every month, but when we try and compare these songs to what we found on the disc everything starts to look a little less exciting. Perhaps we should start with Rock Band, since it's Harmonix's new game that seems to be fully behind the downloadable future. At the moment their downloadable songs are two dollars each. Now mind you, to date they have offered 11 songs for a discounted price ($1) and one song for free ("Still Alive" by GLaDOS). But even

Radiohead's My Iron Lung cost me $2 to download, yet Creep by the same band cost me a mere 71 cents!
beyond those few cheaper songs, the vast majority of the downloadable tracks are $2 (or 160 Microsoft Points). Is that too much for a single song?

Maybe it is, because it's rather easy to compare what each song costs on the disc versus the Xbox Live Marketplace. Seeing as the game retailed for $59.99 and offered 58 songs, that would mean that when you buy all of the music together you're getting it for $1.03 per song ... about half the price of the average song on the Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Network. Let's say you only wanted the 45 main songs (the songs from the campaign, mostly done by well-known top 40 bands), per track you're still looking at a $1.33.

Guitar Hero III is no different. The $60 retail disc features a whopping 71 playable songs, which would mean that each track was worth 84 cents. And what would happen if we took out all of the "extra" filler? The main game consists of 51 songs, which average out to $1.30. To make matters worse, Guitar Hero III requires you to buy your songs in a three-pack, so the songs are actually a bit more expensive ($2.08). At its worst there is a $1.24 difference in price per song. This is the kind of thing that can really add up if you're not careful.


Believe it or not there's a whole website devoted to erotic guitar hero players!
Need proof? If you just wanted to buy the Guitar Hero III disc it would run you $59.99, the same price as any other brand new Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 game. But let's say you wanted to download all of those songs instead (not that you can, but play along with me), downloading 71 tracks at $2.08 each would run you $147.68, nearly $50 more than it costs you to buy the game AND the guitar. That's just not a good deal.

What's Wrong With this Argument? Like a lot of optional downloadable content, Guitar Hero and Rock Band are giving you the choice between a lot of tracks. Nobody is saying you should buy every song, and unless you have the world's most diverse musical tastes chances are you aren't going to like every song offered for download. Heck, most people don't even like every song on the physical disc, so what you're doing is spending a little more to only get the songs you really want. Unfortunately that "little more" is at best 75 cents more and at worst $1.24. That's not exactly chump change, and as we've demonstrated, that extra cost can really add up over time. But even with this additional cost I don't want Harmonix or Neversoft to stop supporting their product, I am more than happy to pay $2 for a few of the songs I like (even though deep down I kind of wish the songs were a little cheaper). And we shouldn't forget that to date Activision/Neversoft have released more than six optional tracks that are 100% free to download. Sure, these aren't songs I want (do I really need a free Christmas song?), but zero dollars is still better than two dollars.

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