Collector’s editions to become a distant memory?

There’s something special about opening a newly purchased game case. Removing the plastic cover, browsing through the manual and finally inserting the disc. Hell, there’s even a pleasant smell about it. That experience is already on the way to join the ranks of The Beatles, the Atari 2600 and the instant camera; a nostalgic memory of the past. Steam, Xbox LIVE and PLAYSTATION Network are just some of the sources where people can download games and other content and consequently the physical aspect has been more and more withdrawn. Now, Electronic Arts’ Sports label president Peter Moore believes that every consumer will ultimately go online in the not too distant future.

Nowadays most games come in a DVD case – not that cardboard box some of us remember. if you want the old experience, you often have to pay serious money for a collector’s/special edition. A natural progression of course, as long as the cost of gaming goes down with the lowered production costs.

In fear of becoming “another music industry”, EA now wants to let go of the physical media completely. Moore says “We have a cost there that’s a drain on the industry, it’s expensive, and we have every intention over a period of time – whether it’s three years, or five years – of moving this company to be one that is totally digitally-focused.”

Moore also pays tribute to the growing multiplayer community, “I said it then, in 1999, that a game will be primitive in five years’ time if it’s still offline. And this is the way it’s going. It’s tough to name a game now that’s totally offline, that doesn’t have some connected state in some way.”

Games have a lot to benefit from being entirely or partially online. User-created content, multiplayer gaming and downloadable upgrades are just some of the advantages. If the price goes down due to online distribution – it’s even better. But you can’t ignore the fact that a lot of people enjoy a traditional packaged game just like some people enjoy hardback books instead of audio books, and some enjoy good ol’ CD’s instead of listening to an iPod. There are both pros and cons with gaming and distribution going online and that’s because simplicity and speed often go hand in hand with sterility.

If the future brings lower prices, a smooth support system and a way for retailers to survive in an online environment, it’s all good. But I’ll still frown when I’m reading the manual for Mass Effect 3 PDF-style.