Horror Game Shows What’s Driving Big Releases To Digital-Only


Last month, Remedy announced Alan Wake II, the long-anticipated sequel to its 2010 action game, won’t be released on a disc when it launches on October 17. This news was upsetting to those who prefer to have a physical game on their shelf, but in an interview with Eurogamer, creative director Sam Lake and game director Kyle Rowley gave a little more context behind the decision, and the reasoning sounds better for the game in the long run.

Lake and Rowley told Eurogamer the decision came about because it would give the team at Remedy more time to work on the game to the very last minute, rather than having to send the game off in one state to be printed on discs only to require with whatever tweaks and polish the team added between shipping and launch. Video games have to be put on a disc often long before those physical copies are available to buy at your local shop, and with day-one patches having become the new norm, the version of the game on the actual disc you put in your console is often not the “finished” product. According to Lake and Rowley, this was the best course of action according to both Remedy and publisher Epic Games.

“As creatives obviously, by going digital-only it does allow us more time to polish the game,” Rowley told Eurogamer. “Like, a significant amount of weeks actually. Because otherwise, the game that goes on the disc, obviously it has to be playable without a patch.”

Rowley continued, emphasizing the team’s desire to polish the game as best it can.

“We didn’t want to release something that we weren’t proud of basically, and that we didn’t want players to play. So hopefully this way we can give you a better version of the game.”

Why does the shift to digital-only matters

On paper, all of that sounds great. Devs get more time to make the game the best it can be, and players get the best version of the game on launch day. However, physical media is bigger than some of us wanting a box to put on our shelves. Digital distribution has become exceptionally fraught in recent years because we live in a capitalist hellscape where companies can yoink a piece of art from public access at a moment’s notice. Streaming services are wiping shows and movies from their catalogs with an alarming frequency and companies like Nintendo are shutting down digital stores and requiring people to seek out overpriced physical copies of rare games. We’re only six months into the year, and dozens of games have already been Thanos-style snapped out of existence.

On top of this, physical copies are some people’s only means of playing games in a timely manner. In the U.S., rural areas are often beholden to Internet service provider monopolies that offer poor Internet speeds with no alternative. I spent my life in a small town in Georgia where I had to take entire consoles to my college campus to download games and updates because the internet at my home was subpar, and the company my family went through was the only option for our area. Buying physical copies was the only way to circumvent 50+ GB install sizes without having to wait over a day for the game to be playable. This lack of access is a systemic issue that goes far beyond video games, but it serves as a reminder that the shift from physical games has far-reaching consequences that go beyond nostalgia for boxed copies. The video game industry is leaving rural communities behind, and as the perks of digital-only become more apparent to companies, it’s likely only going to get worse.

In fact, these kinds of shifts are already becoming more prominent, even when boxed copies do still end up on store shelves. Many big games will release special editions with download codes rather than a disc, such as God of War: Ragnarök. Over the weekend, there was a brief scare that Bethesda’s upcoming sci-fi RPG Starfield might not have disc copies at all. This ultimately doesn’t seem to be the case. The standard edition will include a disc, while the $300 special edition will only include a download code. Though it’s not the worst-case scenario, it did seem pretty believable for a minute because this just seems to be landscape we’re heading toward. For better and worse.

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