Majority of developers foresee a digital-only era, but few agree on when that will come

Develop Jury: Physical media extinction â??inevitableâ??

A cocktail of strong debate and sparkling wit was the outcome of Develop’s first ever Jury Service feature, which resulted in a near-unanimous verdict that physical content is now on borrowed time.

On Monday Develop asked a selection of prominent developers if Square Enix president Yoichi Wada was on the ball when he claimed that traditional home consoles would soon die out as the industry shifts to digital distribution and server-based gaming.

Develop Jury’s verdict – which you can read in full here – was largely in agreement with Wada, citing the consumer convenience of digital goods as well as online games’ potential to curb the second-hand market.

“If you look at the model adopted by the music industry, it is getting rarer and rarer that you would physically buy an album,” said Traveller’s Tales director Jon Burton.

“iTunes, Amazon MP3 etc is a faster way of getting what you want. The trick is educating the public to be confident of buying things in this way,” he added. “It is obviously working looking at how many apps have been sold on iTunes for instance. Extrapolating this into Movies and then games, it is just a matter of time before the public confidence in ‘soft goods’ grows to a point where convenience outweighs owning a physical copy.”

John Chasey, of British mobile game developer FinBlade, expanded on the issue.

“There is a vicious circle occurring where retail is seeing a growing percentage of sales are in the second hand market since the margins are greater, which reduces revenue for publishers and developers.

“They will therefore migrate towards online as a method of increasing their margins.”

Though the jury were undivided that digital content will eventually eclipse physical, a larger debate arose on the subject of exactly when this would happen.

Bizarre Creations’ longstanding commercial director Sarah Chudley suggested that games won’t move online until all luxury goods do, while Team 17 studio director Martyn Brown claimed that the revolution was, in fact, happening right now.

Zoe Mode General Manager Ed Daly, meanwhile, took the bold step of quantifying his prediction:

“While games might have been slow to get going they’ll probably be first to vanish from malls and high streets, 15 years I reckon, bar some developing countries and charity shops,” he said.

Daly went on to add that “history gives us few examples of technology standing still”.

Yet the Tag Games founder Paul Farley suggested that the dawn of digital distribution won’t come via gradual evolution, but instead a defining turning point, much like the arrival of smartphones.

“Without an iPhone style revolution,” he said, “the time scale of transition will be a matter of many years and not overnight.”

Meanwhile, experienced industry superhero Gary Penn – who is also convinced that digital will rise above – touched on the cultural impact of a digital era.

The Denki creative director claimed that “as the intangible becomes more rooted in reality, the tangible will become increasingly valued by the cognoscenti to sustain a specialist industry.”

Penn’s broader comments were splashed with a bit of tongue in cheek, though Zoonami CEO Martin Hollis managed to up the stakes with his wonderful fleeting comment, which read:

“There will always be a place for plastic circles. I’ve put mine in the bin.”

“Is that too short an answer?”

Develop would like to again thank this week’s panel who participated. If you’d like to take part in future Develop Jury Service features email

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