DSi, and others, herald a glorious end to physical media


Don’t be fooled by the cameras and whatnot. The recently launched Nintendo DSi is all about downloads. The oft-rumored PSP2, which I’m 99.9% sure will lack a UMD drive or physical media drive of any kind, will be completely DLC-driven when it arrives this holiday season (and it will have plenty of Hannah Montana too!). The proverbial tide has already changed.

But back to Nintendo. I find it wonderfully ironic that the famously stubborn video game hardware company that shunned CD-ROMs for expensive N6 cartidges in the 90s could very well be one of the companies at the forefront of the DLC revolution in 2010. Note I said “one of,” as there are plenty of services, like Steam and Xbox Live, that have already proven to me the future is here, and actually passed us some time ago.

Further irony is found in the fact that, as you’ll see in the next year or so, many of the developers that jumped (rightly) headfirst into CD-ROM and DVD formats in the late 90s and early 00’s will desperately cling to physical media formats and shun DLC, much in the same way audiophiles said the mp3 could never replace the venerable (and tangible) CD. Whether the DLC format’s “quality” is inferior or superior to its forebear is irrelevant. Convenience and cost will inevitably trump your desire to have a collection of stuff on a bookshelf.

Update: More evidence here. The iPhone, a completely DLC-driven gaming and communications device, has play sessions that nearly equal or surpass those of the PSP and Nintendo DS.


  1. Unfortunately this means that you will never be able to sell the old games you don’t want anymore, and you won’t be able to get a good deal on others’ used goods. After the rampant piracy of the Nintendo DS games, I can’t really blame Nintendo for wanting this, but I hate the thought of Nintendo taking full control. Instead of us buying these games, we are buying a license to play them.

  2. But games will be cheaper. No longer will we have to pay 50$ for a game that’ll last us four to eight hours. So we won’t really have to trade it in. Plus it will take up less space.

    Downloadable content may soon have us selling entire consoles for more based on the games we’ve downloaded. With the harddrives and SD cards reaching space of infinity why not use it instead of cluttering our houses with boxes that may be cool, but we don’t really need for anything.

    But seriously, the DSi is a fantastic price of hardware. I’m finding more and more out about it the more I dive into it. Worth every penny.

  3. I rarely let people borrow my games, but this is a double edged sword for me. In the future I won’t be able to let anyone borrow anything but my system and everyone knows I’d never allow that. I do like borrowing others games though.

    And why should I have to bring my system to a friends house to play a game, there should be some way to play a game you purchased on a system that isn’t yours temporarily. Actually, if I understand Xbox Live right you can already do that by logging in on another system right? Will we ever get something like that?

  4. See, I’m fine with paying $50 if it means I have a hard copy of a game. I like having my shelf full of games, and I like being able to take them places and loan then/borrow them. And quite frankly, I still prefer CDs to straight MP3 downloads because CDs are DRM free and I can do whatever I please with them (just as it should be, seeing as I spent my money on the songs).

    Plus, if your game system is fried in a lightning storm or just completely bricks out totally for no apparent reason, you can pretty much say goodbye to all of what you have downloaded and look forward to buying those games again. No thank you.

    If games become 100% downloadable without any physical retail presence, we aren’t buying games anymore. We’re just paying for permission to play them.

    And anyway, do you honestly think stores like Wal-Mart, GameStop, and Target would let the profitable venture of selling games completely slip away? Believe it or not, companies like Nintendo need places like Wal-Mart just as much (if not more than) Wal-Mart needs Nintendo.

    I can see a future where you can opt to download the whole game or buy a hard copy, but honestly, Nintendo won’t be the one doing this. I guarantee you the successor to Wii and the true successor to the DS will still rely mostly on hard media.

  5. I agree with some of the skepticism. In theory it’s a great thing, but it does bother me that you’ll no longer be “owning” anything. You won’t be able to sell or trade in games you no longer want, unless they come up with a system to do so (and I’ll hold my breath).

    Also I would say in theory the games will be cheaper, but I’m sure they will find ways to nickel and dime us, like with DLC that should have been included in the release. I would say the odds are they will still figure out ways to make us pay more than we think we will.

    I don’t mind the less clutter, that’s one reason I’m for it. I was able to give away my old Nntendo systems and games because now I have them all (almost) on VC.

  6. Glorious my butt! One more thing, what if games distributed digitally being to cost the same $50 or $60 as physical versions? Come on. Would you really not expect companies to do this?

  7. @ Kannon

    Yeah, I agree with Brian here. I still see us paying $50 a game if everything goes DLC. On the plus side however, now we are paying for the “privilege” to “borrow” a game, instead of that old, tired way of doing things where *gasp* you actually owned the game and could do what you wanted with it. Sorry, but I don’t see physical media dying out anytime soon.

  8. Brian, others: I expect capitalism to do what it does best. Reward those companies that provide great product for the right price, and punish the rest. If a game company thinks it can get away with that, then by all means let them try.

    And res evil is right, this is just a theory of mine and others. However, if the system works as advertised, used games will become irrelevant, just as horses did to travel at the advent of the automobile. You simply won’t think about used games because the lower prices and nearly infinite amount of storage (1TB ain’t that expensive anymore) will have made the practice obsolete.

    And why wouldn’t you “own” these DLC games? People are completely fine backing their PCs up on a home server (as is the responsible thing to do with important files), why should this be any different with video games?

  9. You might see a small price drop, as low as $10 below current retail, but I agree… We will still be paying way too much.

    I like the message the consumer sent to Sony with its PS3.

  10. I must admit, I see a major problem here. Aside from the fact that you can’t sell your old games, nor buy used games at a lower price, and any other negative thought said above. There is one major concern I have… how long will it take to download? Games that we see right now on the Wii Shop aren’t very large (at least none that I know of). Imagine downloading SSBB, the largest game on the Wii. Now imagine in the future when Wii 2 or Wii 3 comes out and they have made a new SS, one that uses newer technology and therefore has better graphics/game play and is larger then SSBB. The download time will be very long, and I don’t know how many of us will want to wait for a game to download when you can just go out, buy it, and play it within minutes.

    (I apologize if someone has already mentioned this in the above comments, I really didn’t read them all word for word)

  11. “Convenience and cost will inevitably trump your desire to have a collection of stuff on a bookshelf.”

    definately. amazon mp3 ftw.

    but this has made owning an external hard-drive necessary for backups. how will we do this on video game systems? i should be able to plug my external drive into any game system’s usb port and backup my content.

    not sure who’s clinging to physical media anymore. at best, sony is trying to keep bluray going, but i think they’ve got a decent case right now as downloading hi-def movies is really taxing for most internet connections. but sony, apple, nintendo, amazon, microsoft, google- theyre all already there. in fact, nintendo is really following apple into this territory for handheld gaming. honestly, nintendo feels like a follower on all things online.

  12. Also this might be interesting, I just came across it. Nintendo doesn’t seem like they want to head in this direction.


  13. to further illustrate my last point- how many gamecube games can you download onto your wii? and how many xbox games can you download onto your 360?

  14. Haha wow, I totally just realized that I came across the same link that this blog post has, what are the odds, never mind about my link above.

  15. I don’t see this happening anytime soon for a couple of reasons. First of all, like mentioned above, I don’t think retail stores will just sit by quietly while Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft suddenly take all of the software out of their stores. The video game market is huge, and there are too many retailers out there making tons of money to let this happen.
    Secondly, I think it would lead to huge let downs in game sales, especially in the 4th quarter. During the holiday season, people like to give presents. So many parents, and grandparents, and uncles and aunts, etc… like to be able to hand little Johnny a nice gift wrapped present. If Johnny asks for Halo 3, Uncle Bob can go out and buy it for him. I don’t think you will see the same thing happening with Downloaded games. If uncle Bob can’t go and put his hands on the gift, then most likely he will spend his money on something else that he thinks Johhny might like – something he can wrap up and give to him. Sure, he could give Jonny the money to download the game, but most people prefer to actually give a gift, not money.

    Sure there are some advantages about downloading games – Less space and cheaper (hopefully) cost, but I just don’t see the market going completely this way any time soon.

  16. I won’t surrender my right of first sale as eagerly as some of you, but there’s a more practical issue that I see. For years I’ve been lending games to friends and family members, and borrowing games as well. People are not going to stop lending each other games just because the publishers found a way to reduce the number of rights we have, any more than they stopped sharing music when they signed up for iTunes. When physical media goes away, the only way to do that will be to pirate them.

    Well then, so be it.

  17. @JoshDad

    Have you been to a Target recently? I just started noticing this myself, but they have an entire “music rack” that sells small plastic placards that look like specific albums – like a gift card that only works for ONE product in a store. It’s the kind of thing you would never expect to last, but apparently they’ve been around awhile – and people are buying them.

    My only problem when the DLC revolution is answering the question: “What’s little Timmy going to open on Christmas?” The only answer I can figure is one of these “Voucher Cards,” – they look like the game cover, they could come with a manual or other bonus features – and they are ESSENTIAL to the survival of a DLC driven market, many consumers are uncomfortable with using their Credit Card on their console and many more don’t have a credit card at all. For some reason, most of the Wii owners I know prefer a Wii Points card to simply using the credit card in the shop channel.

    In the end, I think this is a “next generation” thing. Our generation is too entrenched in our physical media mindset to comfortably make the change – but generations born and raised in the world of ipods and DLC won’t care.

  18. @ joshdad

    what will the brick and mortar stores be doing if not “sitting quietly by”?

  19. And this brings up an issue that was once lobbied against Nintendo and then forgotten or ignored. If our Wii or DSi dies, why do we have to pay to download the games again? What’s the point of linking our systems to the Club Nintendo account if we can’t have a moderate level of protection of our purchase? It must be the same reason why we can’t combine Nintendo Points across our DSi and Wii. I would have loved to have transferred the 300 I have sitting on my Wii to my DSi so that I could have bought another game. Can’t do that, and I don’t see ever as happening unless people jumped on this the way did for a storage solution.

  20. @ Sean
    I agree that there is definitely a trend going in this direction, but I don’t think it’s something that we are going to see anytime soon. I still say that Uncle Bob would rather buy and wrap a “real” present rather than a gift card most of the time. If, as the article states, the PSP2 does go with a completely downloadable format, it should prove to be an interest test case to see how well they do in the 4th quarter against physical media.

    @ deepthought
    What can the department stores do besides sit back and take it? Simple, they can refuse to sell the hardware until they are happy with the arrangement. I know it sounds radical, but somebody has to sell the systems that are going to run these games. If Walmart, Bestbuy, Gamestop, etc… don’t then who will? I think these retail stores have a lot more pull with the gaming developers then you might think, because of the companies reliance of these store to keep moving the hardware, and keeping them happy has got to be one of the main objectives of the developers. Again, I do think that in the future something will work out (perhaps like Sean said, having the stores sell the cards you need to get the games or something, so the retailers can keep making a profit on the games), but I don’t see the retailers just sitting back and allowing such a huge profit to slip though their fingers without putting up a fight. Nor do I see this happening anytime soon.

  21. @ joshdad-

    if your competitors just decided not to sell video game consoles, wouldn’t you make sure you had your shelves well stocked and advertised the crap out of this?

  22. that is, i don’t see any practical leverage yet.

  23. @ Deepthought

    Not if you were going to be losing hundreds of millions in software sales you wouldn’t. Sure you might make up some of that money, but in the long run, it would be much more lucrative to get the game developers to keep the software in the stores, then it would to make extra sales in hardware.
    Most stores only make small markup profits for selling a piece of hardware, but they make much more markup in selling software (at least I know we did many years ago when I worked retail, I’m assuming this still holds true).
    So even though Best Buy might make more money on hardware sales if they sold consoles when others stopped, they would still be taking a beating in the long run by not having the software to sell.

  24. but if the option to buy online is available, i think consumers will follow it. stores sell less anyways. and then there is a huge incentive to cheat on this ban if everyone else stops selling consoles. i see no leverage there. any other leverage?

  25. that is, you don’t have to stop shipping games to retailers to change the market. you just provide an online alternative. eventually stores just wont be able to sell games anymore, even if they have them in stock.

  26. As I look up at my large collection of NES cartridges, I’m not so sure I want physical media to die out completely. I think that games should be like most out-the-box software and should be installable on it’s native console/handheld.

  27. I will never understand the push for DLC only. For a number of reasons, most of which have been mentioned above, but the one big thing is that if I own a “master” copy (i.e. hard copy) of the product, I can then do whatever I want with it. The big thing is music, I can buy a cd and get uncompressed music the way it was recorded, or I can download it at a most often a greatly reduced quality. Also, what about those games that you can play multiplayer with a single disk, or other things like that not available with DLC. I will forever prefer holding something that I own in my hands that I can manipulate and do whatever I want with to the locked-in-ness that comes with DLC by donating a few GBs of storage.

    And to throw my hat in the ring: no way will the price of games drop if bought online. For one, just look at the cost of DLC now, I would argue that it’s more expensive than the disk games and quite often it is more expensive to download the game than to go buy it from a store.

  28. I guess what I’m saying is, DLC is great and all, but there’s a kind of fun, a sort of magic that comes with actually holding in your hands the game you just bought. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way…

  29. I do agree with Jack that the free market/capitalism will ultimately decide the victor (that is if the current administration doesn’t stop f’n with the free market /rant over)

    If more people start buying their games that way, then that’s where we will head.

  30. I’d say the main reason I play my iphone more than my DS is the fact that I don’t have to get off my ass to change the game or go online. DLC FTW.

  31. @DaveRage

    And just when I though that people couldn’t get any lazier……

  32. @DaveRage Listen to HyperPhazon, you are L-A-Z-Y.

    I don’t want to be part of a DLC only gaming world. That means patch fest since developers will just have a deadline, throw it out there and if people buy it, then they’ll fix it.

    Thank goodness Nintendo is behind the times in these kind of things – though sadly they are starting to catch up.

    I want to physically own games I pay more than $15 for. Even then I feel pretty sketchy about it. These are sad times.

  33. Physical media and virtual media are in two different worlds right now. Virtual content usually maxes at $20 where physical media can cost up to $60. Consumers are less willing to spend the same amount of money on a game they have limited rights to. Why do you think we haven’t seen $60 for Xbox Live or WiiWare? People would be put off by the price, even if we are using “points” to buy things.

    I believe we technically license physical media (I know for a fact that’s how DVD movies work) so we probably don’t have any more rights compared to virtual media. Of course we can’t resell virtual media…

    I’m skeptical if the prices will be cheaper for virtual media too. iTunes was $.99 for songs and recently bumped up to $1.29 for some songs. There’s no savings there. Companies may make the prices low initially to get more people to make the jump, but once we don’t have a choice then you’ll see prices increase.

  34. Half of me:

    Yeah! Freaking awesome! Now I only have to play like twenty bucks and get like five games!

    Half of me:

    Holy shit! No! Nuh-uh! Not cool! The systems we have aren’t that advanced! Not even the DSi can download a full length Zelda adventure or Metroid Fusion 2!!!

    @ deepthought:

    Your conversation with Joshdad was intruiging…

    Until I lost all sense of what you were saying. (What? I’m only in middle school. I can only act smart for so long.)

    I mean, I understand the gist of what you’re both saying. Joshdad is saying that we won’t have an entirely DLC-driven market soon, and I see where he’s coming from. And you’re saying…? That we will?

    Personally, I’d rather have both physical and digital software. Until the gaming market can in fact be able to have a completely DLC-driven system (which, I don’t think it would be able to, for rather obvious reasons) I’m perfectly fine with buying software from a store rather than downloading it. Unless the option of DLC is the only route for certain games. If Metroid Fusion 2 came out exclusively to DSiWare, then I would download it. But if the option of physical media was also out there, I’d rather do that.

    Besides, I hardly think that the technology has caught up with the idea. It’s getting there, sure, but not quite yet.

  35. “Glorious End”?

    come on. Is having to pay whatever price is set by companies hard and fast all that glorious? Is losing entire games by the touch of a button glorious? Is lacking a physical hard copy glorious? Is being unable to buy used or borrow video games from friends glorious?

    I’m sorry Jack but you are blinded. This so-called glory will lead to consumer rip-offs in a very non-free-market way. This is entirely ludicrous and unfair and if this “glorious system” rolls around, you can be sure I won’t pay a cent for it. Illegal downloads FTW.

    Oh, and is it “weird” to want to own or collect your own private property?

  36. Oh and your argument that cost will make me want to go all DLC? I think your honestly bonkers. Right now I could pay 800 points (about 9 dollars) for Sonic the Hedgehog on the VC. OR I could drop 30 dollars and get over 40 genesis AND arcade games including Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, 3, and Knuckles. For less than the price of four genesis games I can get over 40. For the price of about 2 Neo-Geo games I can get 16. For the price of about 4 or less Namco (NES ports of) arcade games I can 14 or 16 and never have to worry about my system shutting down and my data getting lost.

    For the smart consumer, hard-copy format is the way to go. Even on iTunes. Either pay a buck a song that you can only use with your own iPod and iTunes or pay 5 bucks and get a CD with better audio quality and freedom of use.

    DLC is a nasty and foreboding future and if it becomes the standard, it could be potentially ruinous.

  37. I can’t see this being any cheaper – the costs of physical media have to be pretty negligible.

    I also like having games to go back to… with modern DRM it’s pretty unlikely that backing up games via a portable hard drive or similar will be possible and your storage space will inevitably get full – so you’ll have to delete your older games. I guess they might integrate a system similar to the virtual console where you can download it again for free which would help somewhat with this, though Wii games are a bit over 4gb each so this could chew through my internet bandwidth pretty quickly.

    The main reason I can’t see this happening is brick and mortar stores – the main purpose they serve is advertising space, space that would not easily be gained back through traditional advertising on the internet or in meatspace. A customer in the video game section of a store or indeed in a store that specialises in games is already interested in the product being sold. In advertising circles thats worth more than gold.

  38. @Andrew G.

    “Plus, if your game system is fried in a lightning storm or just completely bricks out totally for no apparent reason, you can pretty much say goodbye to all of what you have downloaded and look forward to buying those games again. No thank you.”

    You obviously have never used Steam before. Purchased content is bound to your account, and it can be redownloaded however many times you want. Additionally you can make backup copies to hard media like DVDs. Any digital only distributor that doesn’t allow for those things just isn’t doing it right and doesn’t deserve your money. You’re never ever ever required to repurchase something for ANY reason.

    @Everyone else
    Similarly, every other complaint about DLC that I’ve seen in the comments isn’t well founded on how the services actually work.

    Broadband penetration means that I can download 10gigs in an hour or two. It’s nominal compared to going to a store. Not everyone has broadband yet, but that will change going forward.

    The one valid issue that does exist isn’t one that I’ve seen, and that’s what happens when the distributor you’re using goes out of business and closes their download servers. Thus far this hasn’t happened to anyone, but it’s a potential issue.

    This is an inevitable trend though. Digital distribution makes way too much sense. The PC market has already transitioned over, consoles will follow suit in time.

    I mean, the biggest question is whether the movement of hardware onto the cloud occurs before or after software has gone completely digital, not whether it happens or not. As soon as the technology matures we’ll be down to input devices, displays and the network, and *nothing* else. It’s more efficent for everyone involved that it work that way.

  39. DLC is the way to go. I don’t lack waggle, and I don’t like getting off the couch to change games or my pants. I even bought Super Punch Out on the VC last week even though I already have the physical game. The luxury of having the game 2 clicks away was well worth the 8 bux.

  40. FYI: It was already said (in game informer I think) that the PSP2 will have no drive.

  41. Also @everyone who talked about this….

    I see you all talking about “I got to repay if my system dies, that is honestly only nintendo’s fault.” Sony, Microsoft, Valve, all let you redownload your stuff infinite times. Not that I think that virtual only is a good idea, just my 2nd cent.

  42. @ lite

    joshdad and i both think the market will shift to online. i just don’t think the brick and mortar stores have any significant leverage to stop this as distribution methods will respond to the market’s desire, which i think will shift online hard, and not to the retailer’s plans.

    also stop posting at school or i’m totally telling your teacher! detention for you buddy. 😛

  43. I think you’re completely wrong when you predict that a psp2 would have no umd slot or any physical media whatsoever. While many people are used to downloading games right now, think of how much smaller the handheld’s target audience would be if you could only download games. It would be a bad business move in my opinion.

  44. DLC is based mostly off of uninformed impulse buys. if they offer demos its lessened a bit but it still relies a lot on the fact that its just there and its easy.

  45. @ deepthought:

    I see what you mean by that. But I hardly doubt we are ready for a completely DLC-driven gaming market. Look at the facts:

    Game retailers will only be able to sell hardware, leaving a significant drop in sales.

    A monopoly of first-party games will be established. Bob won’t have a chance!

    Hard copies of software are permanent and don’t take up as much interal memory, which in a DLC-driven market, would be drained quickly. Repeat after me: Fridge-cleaning.

    And I’m awesome enough to not get caught blogging from school, but smart enough to not do it in the first place. Thanks for the heads-up.

  46. haha

    i keep reading that as the ‘dsi bowser’ and think you have some wicked cool ds

  47. also, btw, the main disagreement isnt when it will happen, but if stores can stop it

  48. @ deepthought:

    I’m not too sure about that…

    “GameStop Boycotting Games”—

    I just don’t see that happening….

  49. It’s working for music, so I can see it working for games.

  50. Sure, when games get down to a buck each, it’ll definitely work for games. But some of us like to play games that are worth more than a buck, and we would like to make use of that investment when we visit friends and family, and we would like to cash in our investment when we’re done with it.

    I’m not saying downloadable games aren’t going to take over, because it seems pretty inevitable. I’m saying I won’t give up the rights associated with physical purchases, and I don’t think I’m alone.

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