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Recharged Shields: It’s time to push for a digital future or be left in the dust

Music, film and games are the three staples of the entertainment medium.  We could throw in sports or another kind of social gathering, but in general when you think of ‘entertainment’ in it’s broadest form, the focus is usually on a man-made product tailored specifically for you to enjoy.  Entertainment is show business after all.

Barring a mass natural disaster there is no way that either music, film or games are going away anytime soon.  Over time their forms might change in the way we consume said media but at their heart and soul – on a genetic level – the way they touch us in many different ways won’t.

For so long we’ve been used to buying our entertainment out of a packet, getting home, unwrapping that cellophane and looking at a bright shiny physical specimen.  Usually jam packed with potentially hours of use to help us laugh, cry or unwind after a tough day.

But with the recent high-street crisis over in the UK it’s time for us to sit up and take notice, the end of physical media is nigh.

His Master’s Voice, more commonly known as HMV has been one of the main stays of Britain’s high streets for almost a century.  After it’s humble beginnings selling gramophones and later radio and television sets HMV turned itself into one of the dominant forces for music in the 90’s and early 00’s.

The troubles of HMV and others are the nails into the coffin of physical media

But the influence of digital soon came into force, Napster and later on iTunes didn’t just become side issues in the play for musical dominance but became the only players in town.  And while Napster fell by the wayside, iTunes and digital subscription services such as Spotify and Sony’s own Music Unlimited are just a few of the alternatives to walking in somewhere such as HMV.

Luckily for HMV there are no shortage of buyers for the troubled firm and restructuring specialist Hilco appear to be the current front-runner.  But unless there is a major shift in strategy from HMV and other troubled firms such as Blockbuster UK and GAME then the inevitable is only being delayed and not averted.

It’s a similar position for the film industry.  There are now a host of instant streaming options when it comes to watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster.  I remember as a child when I’d walk into my local newsagents to see films available for rent or turning on the TV and sporadically seeing a special offer at Blockbuster.  Nowadays though?  Not even a whisper.

Enter any cinema, turn on almost any TV channel and I guarantee you that within the adverts you will have seen a proposal from either Lovefilm, Netflix or Blinkbox to stream content straight into your living room.  Of course the selection is key here but the streaming services are getting more and more depth to their catalogues   When it costs around £3/£4 to rent one film from Blockbuster and just £6 to have Netflix for an entire month why would you consider the former?

Blockbuster UK do of course have their own rent online service but honestly how many people knew?  I walked into my local store just a few days ago and didn’t see a single mention of it.  Yet I am bombarded form here to Timbuktu about streaming god knows what from god knows where while watching Loose Women on ITV +1.

Then finally there’s games.  More specifically console games.  Mobile gaming and PC has already ventured almost entirely into a digital format and I have to admit having your entire library at the touch of a button does appeal.

Of the three staples of entertainment video games have taken a steady time to cross the divide but finally we are at a point where it’s no longer a question of if but when.  In the last generation of consoles we went from downloading quick puzzle games like Hexic HD and Super Stardust to all the gigabytes a day one purchase of Assassin’s Creed III could throw at my poor hard drive.

While the pricing structure is still a bit iffy – with European prices constantly above the usual physical price – it’s just a bump on the road to the inevitable switch to an all digital future.  Much like how iTunes changed the way we can purchase individual album songs and Netflix asked us to pay £6 per month for access to a library, we are going to see publishers trying different methods of eeking that extra few dollars that before just wasn’t there.

Sony’s PlayStation Plus is a great example of this, gaining regular income where before there wouldn’t be.  I’d hazard a guess more people continue to re-subscribe to Plus ‘just in case’ next month is something exciting rather than playing every inch of the available content.

Developers and Publishers will try to sell single and multi-player content separately, free to play will be common place and not restricted to high-end Alienware users.  Even Nintendo have made sure that almost every retail game available for Wii U is on the eShop – and this from a company who have only just started entering the online gaming foray as a serious contender.

If I was in charge of a major retail company I would be planning for an all digital future.  The medium won’t change, your girlfriend will still cry at the latest rom com, you’ll always have that one song that reminds you of an ex and I’ll always be hunting trophies.

But it’s the delivery and service of this content over the next few years which will see who lives and who gets brushed aside in the unforgiving world of retail.

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HMV enter administration

3 Responses

  1. Michael reilly

    In Australia we’ve been seeing the same slow death for physical shops (selling a variety of products) that are now seriously feeling the squeeze from online retail. Music, books and games are three of the main targets, and as you say, there appears to be no bright future for anything other than virtual products available for download.

    A couple of the issues I currently see with this model include the lack of digital infrastructure (a particular issue in a large country like Australia which has many poorly serviced areas beyond the coastal cities) and high pricing for a reasonable amount of large downloads, which is what full retail console games require.

    I see all the advantages of downloading, but am still seeing that the producers, distributors, and the internet retailers, haven’t quite figured out fair pricing for a purchase that doesn’t have all the additional costs of a physical product. Pricing structures and per unit costs should be correctly reduced to reflect the new world order – otherwise customers will look for other alternatives, which includes them simply not spending their valuable cash.

    1. Craig Shields

      Some good points there.

      Pricing is certainly one of the key areas when it comes to going all digital and as you say, at the moment it’s not universally competitive when it comes to games in particular.

      A quick look on the Wii U e-shop for instance tells me that Assassin’s Creed III is still £54.99 while Amazon currently have it physically for £27.

      It all depends on if the consumer is willing to pay the higher price to have it digitally, if not we should see these prices come down. My fear is that people will pay the higher price and it’s a trend that continues well into the next generation of consoles.

      1. Michael Reilly

        Yes, I share your fear regarding pricing. Hopefully enough consumers will see sense and demand fair pricing for virtual goods.

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