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Blizzard: "The day's coming" for day-and-date digital releases

Simultaneous release for Blizzard games inevitable; current digital sales monitor "guessing" by necessity, says Pardo

Blizzard's Rob Pardo has said that the time for a simultaneous digital and boxed released of all its online games is coming - and is an inevitability of market changes.

At the weekend during its annual BlizzCon event, the World of Warcraft creator said that its next expansion, Cataclysm, would be the first that users could buy and pre-load before release, ready to play as soon as servers are turned on at launch on December 7.

Traditionally Blizzard has given bricks-and-mortar stores a small head start and made a big fuss of in-store launch events.

"We've just been slowly changing it over time," said Pardo of the window between boxed and digital product. "Each time we've had a narrower window and I think it's just borne out of the industry changing and digital distribution becoming more and more popular."

"We're now at the point where it's time, especially for the World of Warcraft community because they're online by definition. They are already able to handle very large pieces of data so we felt that this is the best thing for the community, the opportunity to download and pre-order the game before we launch."

Although he said discussions about full games, including the forthcoming Diablo III, were ongoing, he admitted the "day is coming."

"I can't say for sure that this is the way for sure that we'll deliver now all future games, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was, either. Once we get a little closer to Diablo III we'll make a determination. But the day's coming. You can definitely see digital distribution all around the industry, it's becoming a bigger and bigger per cent of the market."

Number-crunching firm The NPD Group said recently that it will no longer detail specific sales figures of boxed product in the US as it is unable to give a fair representation of the retail landscape due in part to the growth of online subscription and digital sales

"It's always been tough to do metrics in any industry and especially once you start having a lot of digital distribution it's hard to capture the real metrics of the health of the industry," added Pardo. "Even if you look at something like NPD there's still an estimation involved there, they don't really have real-time data from every retail chain.

"By necessity they're guessing. But I think the industry is as healthy as ever," he said.

The full interview with Rob Pardo, where he also discusses why Blizzard can give advice but would never be able to dedicate resources to any of Activision's other projects, can be read here.

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Latest comments (22)

Stephen Woollard Online Infrastructure Specialist, Electronic Arts10 years ago
To quote Agent Smith, "That is the sound of inevitability..."

Downloadable SKUs are the way forwards, especially for PC titles. People get their games quicker and in a manner that suits them, and studios/publishers can reduce costs and time to market significantly.

The only future for boxed titles on PC as I see it are special, limited and collector's editions.
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Jason Stewart Associate Producer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe10 years ago
Starcraft II cost more for the digital download, than it did for the boxed version.

How do they justify that?

*Disclaimer* My comments are my own and do not represent that of any company...blah bah blah.
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David Stenow10 years ago
I've always wondered why digital distributors are so reluctant to share online sales. Especially in the case of Valve, wouldn't it be in their best interest to make Steam sales public? I could understand that public firms would want to keep figures that describe monthly operations undisclosed to protect shares from fluctuations. Valve however, a private firm that's market leader in it's niche, could only have full disclosure on sales as a selling point towards developers and publishers, no?
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Show all comments (22)
Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D10 years ago
Yeah, digital download prices need to come DOWN. Otherwise, why not just buy the boxed version and then have it there should you need to reinstall it easily etc?

I've bought a couple of digital download games, but by and large the prices are a rip off. Bit like ebooks (which I don't buy, but my wife does so I know the cost etc).
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Jeff Wayne Technical Architect 10 years ago
Agree with Jason. Not just SC2 but with many new releases, their cost is much higher digitally than from Amazon for example. I notice in particular new releases on Steam where they are 50-60 euros but why pay that when you can pay 30-40 euros from Amazon and get a nice glossy box with various bits and pieces in it?

Digital distribution has many genuine positives for both consumer and publisher. It reduces packaging and distribution to retailers costs for publishers and gives them far more direct control. There is absolutely no sign of the cost savings being passed onto the consumer though.

As part of this shift to digital distribution, one would have hoped publishers would be trying to make it more appealing than retail by passing on the bricks and mortar distribution related cost savings to the consumer in my opinion.
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Radu Ciu Product Manager, Alliance Computers10 years ago
It's marketing , they do not want online to be cheaper because that would decrease the perceived value of the product from the price point of view.
Furthermore a game without any physical support is perceived as lower value than a box.

In my opinion boxed titles have a long way to go even if digital distribution will be a big part of the market for the years to come. And i'm not talking only collector's edition, i'm talking see the music industry today and add a twist for bigger prices / product.

Plus without offending anyone not every country/region has access to broadband internet. What does make sense for a MMO might not for a single player experience game.

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Martyn Brown Managing Director, Insight For Hire10 years ago
By and large digital prices are lower. They are artificially high to protect retail, thats the ONLY reason.

Digital sales may attract a hefty slice to the platform holder, but it's still way less than wholesale distribution, retail and cost-of-goods.
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Exactly what Martyn said.
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Jason Stewart Associate Producer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe10 years ago
Valid point Martyn.

I still don't see how it can be justified to charge 10 more for a digital version of of a title when it costs less to deliver to the consumer. Apart from the obvious profit margin :o)

Are we (the industry) not trying to build a bigger consumer interest in the industry?

I'm sure we would all admit that a 500k profit from 300k unit sales has bigger potential for the company and the industry than a 500k profit from 50k unit sales.


*Disclaimer* My comments are my own and do not represent that of any company...blah bah blah.
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Simon Cowley Sales Manager Europe, NCsoft West10 years ago
Digital selling prices are reflective of the SRP and so far don't seem to deviate. Neither the publisher nor the digital reseller can be blamed if a retailer wishes to sell the boxed product at below the recommended retail price.


*Disclaimer* My comments are my own and do not represent that of any company...blah bah blah
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Jason Stewart Associate Producer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe10 years ago
That's a good point Simon. I suppose I'm looking at it from a parents point of view who paid 90 or so for 2 digital downloads for his sons, when I could have got them both in a nice box, that feels like you've bought and own something for 60.

Did you steal me disclaimer?
;p

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jason Stewart on 26th October 2010 3:27pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 10 years ago
I'm a boxed games guy, period, although I can see the appeal of having nothing taking up space, instant (well, sort of) patches and (sometimes) faster installs. In terms of single player only titles, I say boxed is better if you have no need to play online, don't have access to broadband or hell, are just an antisocial jack-wagon. Register once online after the install (or during for some sort of disc check security feature) and get it over with, then go play your game in peace.

One of my huge issues with download games is the server killing CRUSH when everyone goes to download that new game at the same time before you see message boards filled with pages of complaining that it took a few hours to get their game (*horrors!*) or some other craziness that kept them from playing EXACTLY when they wanted to.

Of course, what one does when there's a blackout while downloading, they get their pc or laptop stolen or any other worse case scenario where having a physical copy is a better thing seems to escape a lot of folks until it actually happens (points weather control machine toward Blizzard HQ and waits...)

g.
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Barry Conway Xbox One Cert Regional Coordinator, HCL Technologies10 years ago
Surely the problem behind digital distribution is control over price. One can walk into HMV, GAME, Tesco etc and compare prices, add a reward card/student discount/pre-owned to reduce the price etc and come out with a variety of differnt options. When we start to purchase games exclusively online and with the type of controls companies will place then there will be little legroom for the consumer to bargain. Apple controls the App store, Sony controls PSN while Microsoft controls XBLA, if i want to buy a game in 5 years time I worry if the only option I have will be what it says on say the PSN.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Barry Conway on 26th October 2010 5:46pm

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Martyn Brown Managing Director, Insight For Hire10 years ago
In 5 years time I believe there will be fairly settled pricing tiers for content across all major platforms. It's already getting there. There shouldn't really be much difference between various sources. Long term prices are only going to come down as the true mass market arrives.
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Jon Irenicus OCAS 10 years ago
I still cant imagine mass shift to digital distribution in near future. I know that prices of digitaly distributed games are artifically kept high, because game distributors cant lose retail at moment. I am selling computer games for more than six years, and iam gamer who remember when Team 17 released ALien Breed for AMiga and my memories goes to 8bit gaming too. I will tell you one thing - i see every day that average customer, for example mum who buys games for childrens, is not prepared for digitaly distributed games. They like to buy something physical, to give it to their childrens and see joy in their eyes. I have seen many average non informed customers, who bought PSP GO and they were very unhappy, when they realized they cant buy games on physical medium. FOr PSP GO, best way is to install Media GO, choose software /you MUST know what is good game for you in that time/, pay game by credit card or prepaid card, download it to PC, than copy it to PSPGO /this is faster proces for most people than download it directly to PSPGO, when you dont have very fast Wifi/. This proces is way to complicated for most people.
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Barry Conway Xbox One Cert Regional Coordinator, HCL Technologies10 years ago
Should digital distribution become the norm that doesn't necessarily mean the idea behind a mum going into GAME for christmas presents will be lost. Retailers would have to adapt to any change and if anything they might well become better for it. Sons and daughters are growing up in an age where they're used to downloading content, parents just might not necessarily be. So its potentially possible that a mum going into GAME could go in, receive expert knowledge and advice about what to buy (rather than simply heading for the top 10 chart and picking something random out) from the clerks there. They could even be shown the title on a demo machine (what with the newly expansive space in store where game cases used to be kept) At the end of the process they could purchase a download code, take it home and present it to said child (add love, kisses and santa.)

Wishful thinking? Surely retailers wouldn't just sit by and die
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Peter Law Freelance Game Designer and Unity Developer, Enigma 2310 years ago
@Greg exactly how would you play a boxed game during a blackout? Or even when your PC is stolen? :P

Of course, what one does when there's a blackout while downloading, they get their pc or laptop stolen or any other worse case scenario where having a physical copy is a better thing seems to escape a lot of folks until it actually happens

None of those scenarios help the boxed version. Blackout = no power, can't play downloaded or boxed (on PC, laptop won't last long). If your PC/laptop is stolen, then your boxed copies might get stolen too at the same time... where as something like Steam, means you login on another computer and change your password and re-download your games (for free).. boxed copies would require you to remember what games you owned and then to go buy them, and if you're lucky get the money back from your insurance company.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 10 years ago
Ive been buying games, ripping them, cracking them and putting the discs in storage for over a decade.

Inevitable.
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Aidan Fitzpatrick Artist 10 years ago
I assume that now that the middle man - high-street Retail - has been cut out, the savings will be passed on to customers in the form of a lowered RRP for digital copys?...
I didn't think so.

This the biggest thing hold back digital distribution for me as a consumer.
Current retail prices for boxed games include a cut for retailers, publishers, devs etc...
But with digitally distributed titles being sold for higher prices than in a physical store, with less overheads etc... i find that insulting. The only form of digital distribution I consume regularly are the sales on Steam.
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All it takes is a small pebble to create a movement.

Self publishing and interdependents could utilize the volumetric, lower RRP price for a digital download product can ultimately provide abundant profits as a simplistic business model. Whilst providing good value/quality products with good best practices and good reputations.

Once these become reasonably well embeded, these could theoretically do very well, and in essence undercut the retail marketplace. Thus marginalizing the retail experience for the special collectors edition, etc. Afterall, both retail and digital have a place in all gamers hearts, and merchandising/memorabilia is a great way to take the vacuum leftover from lesser retail products.


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Simon Cowley Sales Manager Europe, NCsoft West10 years ago
@ Aidan

Its not the be all and end all of this situation, but there are still middle men on the digital platform who rightly want their cut - Steam being the largest and most well known. Effectively they stand where the retailer stands on boxed products.

Some publishers are better than others at marketing their own product directly to consumers. If you were pushing out a small indepdent title, you would consider if its better to do it all yourself to a limited audience or put it in the wider shop window where you make less but have much better reach and larger potential sales due to existing customer base and traffic.
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Roydon Wagner10 years ago
I love digital distribution personally. I do think it is the future and I can't wait for it to grow more.

I'm not too happy about some of the pricing though, as others have mentioned. Steam sales are great (as is GOG), but in general, it is a bit silly that many games are exactly the same if not more expensive online that in retail stores. I feel that it is precisely a reaction from the big retailers (as someone else mentioned).

I do remember reading an article awhile back that mentioned Gamestop was putting pressure on steam to not undercut their pricing, and they were threatening to not stock a game if it went on steam first or something. Can't remember which title it was.

Anyway, I haven't really been partaking in these absurd online prices. I'll wait till that full price game comes down on the steam sale thanks.
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