Taking it to the wire
Dave Cook looks at what is available in the world of online gaming and the latest download services
Downloading media has become increasingly easy in recent years. Your mobile phone can download games, your television can stream radio and DVDs can be rented over the net and played on your games console. While users are increasingly warming to the idea of buying media through the wire, there are still purists who believe that owning a CD, complete with inlay card and backing case, is the only way to go. Unfortunately for those people, most of the big players in multimedia content are happy to switch to the digital download format.
There is much talk of a future where stores such as Game will be replaced by a service much like the iTunes store in which users can browse near-endless catalogues of releases and download games straight onto their hard drive. The largest and most successful service of this kind is Steam (www.steampowered.com), which is operated by Half-Life 2 developer Valve. The range of games has grown massively since it first opened its virtual doors in 2003. It currently offers Valve’s entire back catalogue as well as other developers such as Rockstar North, PopCap Games, Activision and Sega to name but a few. At the time of writing the service offers approximately 250 titles for less than you would pay in high street stores.
Taking the idea of online marketplaces even further is newcomer A World of My Own (www.awomo.com) which has enjoyed a positive reaction in the gaming press. Operated by Richard Branson’s Virgin Games, the format plays out like World of Warcraft meets The Sims where your digital persona can walk around detailed cities and talk to other gamers. There are no limitations to what a player can do, be it walking around town, chatting, browsing games in the shops, taking part in online tournaments or chilling out at a trendy virtual bar.
For those who just want the games without the virtual world element, there is also a simple iTunes Store format available for quick browsing and play. Alternately, if you don’t want to wait hours for a game to download, head over to www.streamtheory.com where similar retail games can be purchased and played as they download, with the advantage that while you are playing through level one of a game, level two is being saved to your hard drive.
Much like Steam, AWOMO encourages independent coders who operate from their bedrooms to sell their works on the service. It’s possible that, in the future, work will become noticed and these cottage coders could hit the big time. As well as offering a springboard for small developers, streaming services such as Steam and AWOMO, along with Xbox Live and Playstation Network, offer great benefits for users and game companies. So, in a sense, everybody wins.
With so many positive factors it might just be a matter of time before we’re all doing our games shopping through the wire. But as ever with such a fickle industry, only time will tell.