My house is littered with the remnants of gaming eras gone by. I think this is mostly a function of my formerly very frugal self, one who would keep all packaging so that I could resell things at a slightly higher value, thereby fuelling my obsession with gaming further. The initial habit remains however I’ve long since past the time where I’ve needed to sell things in order to continue my habit and now I find myself surrounded by the physical remains of my ravenous gaming habit. However those numerous relics of my habit are only a fraction of the total games that I play with the vast majority of them now coming to me in a purely digital form, no longer taking up space in the physical world.
It seems that this particular trend isn’t just my own experience either as a staggering 92% of games sales on PC are digital. Part of this is likely due to the meteoric rise of the Free to Play model with MOBAs being responsible for a large part of revenue on the platform, enough so that it’s pushed PC gaming back to the top of the pile. Digital hasn’t completely taken over every gaming platform yet however with console users still largely preferring to purchase retail copies, with only a handful habitually downloading their games. Downloaded titles are still seeing positive growth on these platforms however and given enough time (and improving bandwidth) there’s little doubt that consoles will have a similar split sooner rather than later.
Now you’d think as someone who’s a bit of a collector’s edition junkie that I’d be heavily skewed towards physical copies however the times when I feel compelled to spend that extra cash on a physical copy are becoming few and far between. In fact based on the pre-orders I can dredge up I’ve bought a grand total of 3 physical games this year with only a further 2 before the year is out. Based on my weekly review habit this puts me pretty close to the 92% figure that applies to PC gamers as a whole, a rather interesting fact that I wasn’t really aware of. Primarily I can attribute this shift to 2 factors: money and convenience.
When I’m looking for a game to review the last thing I want to do is browse around a game shop for hours looking for something that might be appropriate. Indeed at home I can access gameplay videos, screenshots and even other reviews should I wish, all from the same place that will take my purchase. Combine that with the fact that Steam titles are typically cheaper when compared to their physical counterparts (sometimes by a large margin thanks to sites like DLcompare) and buying from a digital platform is just the better decision to make. Consoles, for the most part, don’t meet these two qualifying factors with the respective platform stores usually being the same (or higher) prices as retail and lacking any of the convenience features that Steam et. al. provide.
Honestly though this statistic really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who considers themselves a PC gamer. Steam has been the go to platform for the better part of a decade now and whilst some of us might lash out a little more cash on a particular title now and then those times are becoming increasingly rare. I don’t see this trend stopping anytime soon either as the downsides are so minimal when compared to the benefits that digital platforms provide. What will be interesting to see is how the retail games industry copes with these figures as time goes on as I’m not sure many could survive if only 8% of total games sales went through them.
I’ve never had much luck with Internet speeds. That’s probably because unlike most of my geek brethren I always seemingly forget to check the distance to the nearest exchange from the place I was looking to rent or purchase, something which is now top of my list. Heck even my parents who live in a rural area outside Canberra manage to get better speeds than me thanks to their short distance to their exchange, even though my line of sight distance is almost equal to theirs. It’s still a worlds away from the dial up that I used to make do with but I know there’s a whole other world of faster speeds out there that are just tantalizingly out of reach for me.
At the top of the list is the the holy grail of Internet connections in Australia: the National Broadband Network. Whilst it might be in the realms of fairy tales and unicorns for most people in Australia I know a couple people who’ve managed to get themselves on the service thanks to being in the right place at the right time. From what they tell me its everything that its marketed to be with extremely fast speeds that aren’t dependent on distance from exchange, the modem your using or how much your hardware likes you on a particular day. Unfortunately short of moving into a location that has it already (there are quite a few now, but they’re still the minority) the wait for it is going to be quite long.
There is one technology that is available today that can deliver some pretty impressive speeds so long as your’re within range of a city CBD. The tech I am referring to is, of course, 4G wireless.
Now if you’ve been here for a while I’d forgive you for thinking that I wasn’t a big fan of the whole 4G idea especially when its mentioned in the same breath as the NBN. It is true that I believe they’re solutions to different problems but just as the underlying technology alludes to (Long Term Evolution, or LTE, if you were wondering) I do believe that it is the future of wireless communications. Unfortunately I don’t believe that the wireless network would be capable of supporting all the Internet requirements of Australians even if the specification is theoretically capable of it. It certainly has its place though, however.
As part of my new position with Dell I was given a laptop for accessing the corporate network but the site I’m currently attending doesn’t have an unfettered connection for me to use in order to do so. Initially I was just tethering to my phone as I have a pretty decent data plan (1.5GB/month) that barely ever gets close to being used and for the most part it worked well. However should I pick up my phone to go somewhere or if my S2 was having a particularly bad day I’d lose the connection, dropping anything that required to be always on (like the VPN). Frustrated I decided to grab myself a wireless broadband dongle and for a cool $130 I got myself a 4G one that had 3GB for the first month.
It’s a rather tiny device resembling an overgrown USB stick (and it in fact has a USB stick in it as well for driver installation, pretty neat) so you can imagine I was slightly sceptical about its capabilities to deliver true 4G speeds with such a small antenna. The signal in the area where I’ve used it the most isn’t particularly fantastic either and I was relegated to the NextG network, which is still not bad by mobile broadband standards. However over the weekend I was up in the middle of Sydney on the 11th floor of a hotel in Darling Harbor and I was privy to full bars of signal strength on the 4G network. So like any self respecting geek I gave it what for.
And boy did it ever deliver.
For regular web browsing the difference wasn’t particularly noticeable but I did see something when I opened up Steam on my laptop to try and get a game configured. The download speed I saw was about 2 MB/second and I figured it was just updating from the cache. It in fact wasn’t and was downloading at those blazing speeds right over the wireless broadband. To put that in perspective that kind of speed is about 4 times what I get regularly at home and I wasn’t even trying to stress the connection fully. In hindsight I should’ve done a speed test just to show you what it was theoretically capable of but just simple Steam download test seemed sufficient enough to prove its value.
Unfortunately I feel that the ludicrous speeds I saw are a product of the lack of usage at the moment. Currently there are only a handful of 4G handsets capable of being used in Telstra’s network and the $130 dongle looks quite expensive next to the $30 3G dongle that’d do the job for pretty much everyone. Whether the 4G network is capable scaling up to the same level of demand that the 3G networks currently have is a question that won’t be answered until 4G reaches a similar level of penetration that 3G has today. With the rapid pace of handset development that could come much sooner than you think and 4G services might become much more commonplace sooner rather than later.
I’m probably one of the best kinds of customers. For starters I worked in retail for over 6 years so I know what I can do to make the process easier for everyone involved. More importantly though I usually spend an inordinate amount of time researching what product I want before heading out to the store or placing an order, meaning the sales/support people spend a whole lot less time with me, nabbing a sale without any kind of work whatsoever. Bearing all this in mind I don’t have a high tolerance for getting the bum steer when it comes to shopping online or in person but I’ll usually just take my business elsewhere instead of making a big deal about it.
Today however, I feel like making a fuss.
So there I was this morning, browsing my feed reader looking for inspiration as I usually do when I come across this post saying that Peggle, one of PopCap’s crack-like casual games, was free on the Amazon Android store for today only. Considering I shelled out for Plants vs Zombies on the iPhone and thoroughly enjoyed it I figured that whatever hoops Amazon made me jump through to get it would be worth it and would be a good candidate to test out my new Samsung Galaxy S II (review coming shortly!). So I hit up the web store and signed in using my Amazon account, downloaded the application, opened it up and hit the install button on Peggle. That’s when I received this lovely error:”The Amazon Appstore for Android is not yet available in your region”.
So after dicking around with Amazon’s unoptimized web interface (yeah they have an app but their website doesn’t seem to recognize Android devices), side loading their market app and inevitably handing over some personal information I’m not allowed to get the free application I sought after? Whilst I’m not an Android developer I’m pretty sure its easy to tell if a user is in a region where the app store is available before you make them download your application. In fact I’m so sure of this that I reckon it’s been done deliberately, forcing me to install their app store before telling me just so I don’t drop them completely once I found out that their free app du jour isn’t available to me. That’s what we call a bait and switch and that’s a real quick way for me to get the fuck out of there and never return.
I’ve bought stuff from Amazon in the past and had a good experience with them but this Android app store shenanigans has turned me off the idea of getting any application from them completely. If before I downloaded the application (which I did on my phone) they warned me that “You appear to be in Australia which we can’t currently service, press OK to continue to install the Amazon App Store” I would’ve been fine with that, since then it would just be me trying to skirt around their restrictions. Instead they let you sign up and only at the very last second, after you’ve given them your email and access to some personal data on your phone, do they tell you that it’s not currently available. For this the app has been uninstalled and it will take a metric shit ton of good will from them for me to install it again.
Sure this is a relatively minor quibble but like I said I’ve got little tolerance for this kind of crap, especially when there’s no technical limitation behind it. Not once yet have I had any problems with the regular Android market and it looks like it will be in my best interests to stick around on there, especially when Amazon has shown that they’re not interested in having my business. Maybe one day we’ll get over this whole idea of “regions” and we won’t have to put up with these kind of ludicrous restrictions, but until then I’ll just be taking my business elsewhere and Amazon can just fucking deal with it.