EA Says Going Fully Digital is Inevitable. How Long Before Everyone Else Follows?

So, you have a little extra money and a little extra time on your hands, so you’re in the market for a new video game. You’re not lacking for options, that’s for sure. Will you splurge for a triple-A console title, or will you go a simpler, cheaper route and download a little something for iOS? According to EA, one method (hint: the download) is the wave of the future: the company recently revealed that it expects to go 100% digital before too long. Maybe a wholly digital market is inevitable, but it’s also kind of sad.

EA recently brought in over one billion dollars of digital revenue, and it expects that number to climb to two billion dollars before much longer. Frank Gibeau, the head of EA Labels, told Gamesindustry that EA’s game distribution will likely be 100% digital soon.

“It’s in the near future. It’s coming. We have a clear line of sight on it and we’re excited about it,’ Gibeau said. ‘Retail is a great channel for us. We have great relationships with our partners there. At the same time, the ultimate relationship is the connection that we have with the gamer. If the gamer wants to get the game through a digital download and that’s the best way for them to get it, that’s what we’re going to do. It has a lot of enhancements for our business. It allows us to keep more that we make. It allows us to do some really interesting things from a service level standpoint; we can be a lot more personalized with what we’re doing.’

EA Mobile brought us Flight Control Rocket, and more is comin’.

While the change is going to happen soon, Gibeau stresses that it won’t occur tomorrow. ‘[I]f customers want to buy a game at retail, they can do that too,’ he told Gamesindustry. ‘We’ll continue to deliver games in whatever media formats make sense and as one ebbs and one starts to flow, we’ll go in that direction. For us, the fastest growing segment of our business is clearly digital and clearly digital services and ultimately Electronic Arts, at some point in the future [is] going to be a 100% digital company, period. It’s going to be there some day. It’s inevitable.”

(Cue ‘Jaws’ theme.)

EA’s history with digital distribution isn’t perfect (the company’s PC distribution platform, Origin, isn’t exactly tearing up Steam), but it has already announced that has a huge social and mobile game push planned for the rest of 2012 and beyond. In other words, out of all the behemoth-sized game companies out there, EA is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of digital distribution. Its plans to go 100% digital aren’t surprising, nor should they necessarily be taken as a sign that the online market will consume retail wholly and completely within the next handful of years.

However, there’s no denying that publishers and developers big and small love digital distribution. Games that are sold through marketplaces like Steam, XLBA, PSN, and the App Store are far cheaper to make and ship to the consumer. No printing. No boxing. No shipping. No fees paid out to GameStop. Just hot from the developer’s computer to your own PC, or to your console or mobile device. The big guys save a boat load of money, and the little guys have a shot at making and distributing fresh new ideas.

So what’s ‘sad’ about the depleting relevance of game retail? Well, if you grew up with physical games, then you understand how exciting it was when your parents drove you down to the store, let you pick out that game you’d been lusting after for months, and then drove you back home to crack it open and inhale that new game smell. That’s all empty sentiment, though. Kids that are growing up primarily with digital distribution can’t really feel nostalgic for something they never experienced in the first place.


[via GamesIndustry]

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