Despite the advent of online game stores on all three consoles, most UK console gamers apparently still prefer to hoard collections of gaming discs than download games.
A recent survey conducted by Ipsos revealed that 64 per cent of the users polled would rather have games on physical discs, while only 25 per cent would prefer digital copies. The survey quizzed over 1,000 Internet users aged between 15 and 50, covering a variety of areas of digital content areas, including film, music and newspapers, as well as gaming. Of those, 577 were gamers.
Ipsos MediaCT's director Ian Bramley told THINQ the findings were, "partly down to the second-hand market, which isn't that surprising." However, he added another key factor was the mindset that requires you to physically own a product. "People do like to own, and I think this is one of the key challenges with digital - how important is owning a collection? This mindset is particularly evident in gaming, where I think people like to own a collection."
Of course, the other main factor is price. Gamers expect to pay less for a digital game, as it doesn't have any of the production and distribution costs associated with it. "Interest absolutely drops away when you get to the types of pricing that you might charge for a new physical disc," Bramley told us. "People's perceptions are that they're not prepared to pay as much for digital content - they make the connection that it's not a physical disc and therefore it should be cheaper."
In the survey, 55 per cent of those polled said price was the key factor in determining their interest in downloading games. Meanwhile, 27 per cent said having games available online before they were in the shops would be the key factor for them.
Sadly, the survey didn't include PC gamers, which could have changed the result somewhat. Bramley says PC games have been included in the survey in previous years, but were excluded this time due to the constraints of adding music, film and press questions to the same survey.
"We really had to think about what we could do in the scope of one survey, so we had to limit it to just consoles," says Bramley. Would the survey have been any different if it also accounted for the PC and download services such as Steam?
"Yeah, I think so," says Bramley. "It wouldn't surprise me if there were similar levels of interest in digital content on the PC, but I suspect there might be more of a preference for digital than physical. Obviously they [PC gamers] are less rooted in having to own physical discs. I think it's a slightly different profile of gamer."
Even so, the fact that so many console gamers prefer to stick with physical products shows we still think we have to own a physical product in order to actually own it.
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At the top of the list of concerns about digital downloads, 35 per cent of those polled said they just preferred to own a physical disc. Meanwhile, 33 per cent said they were worried they'd lose their games and 20 per cent said they like to own a physical collection of games.
Interestingly, 17 per cent said their console simply wasn't connected to the Internet, which doesn't bode well for the future of gaming services such as OnLive.
It also looks as though owners of different consoles have a slightly different outlook on moving to digital downloads. A huge 82 per cent of Xbox 360 owners said they were potentially "interested" in a download model, compared with 76 per cent of PlayStation 3 owners and just 62 per cent of Wii owners.
"They [Nintendo owners] are less likely to be downloading than Xbox or PS3 owners," points out Bramley. "I think the only area where the interest is more level is when they're downloading classic games, but their interest in all the other models was lower."
However, Bramley also explains that although Wii owners are less interested in digital downloads then the owners of other consoles, the figure is still high. "Although it's only just over half of Wii gamers, it's actually pretty strong," he says, "particularly in the context of film, music and press."
According to the survey, only eight per cent of the gamers polled had downloaded a game on the Wii in the last 12 months, compared with 59 per cent who had bought a game in store. By contrast, 23 per cent of Xbox 360 owners and 18 per cent of PlayStation 3 owners had downloaded a digital copy of a game.
Given that we still seem to be clinging on to the notion of physically owning games, will we ever see console games moving beyond physical media?
"At some point the market will shift," says Bramley, "where it's more digital than physical. There are also limitations at the moment in terms of the consoles themselves and what they can actually hold." As a case in point, the Wii only has 512MB of storage space as standard, which isn't enough to hold much in the way of new and complicated games.
According to Bramley, the advent of services such as OnLive next year could herald the switchover. If successful, he says it "will certainly accelerate people's perception of digital, and maybe accelerate the potential decline of physical discs - when people are more used to accessing stuff online."