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Hard-Copy Hang Ups: Boxed vs. Digital

Gary Pepper
Diablo III, Digital Distribution, Digital vs Retail, Game manuals, Hard Copy, High street

Hard-Copy Hang Ups: Boxed vs. Digital

Or...One Man's Quest To Put Diablo III In His Hands

Getting a new game, it's an experience that has been 'evolving' like a deranged Pokemon over the years. For a gamer that cut his teeth during the 90's golden age it can be a little hard to adapt to change. A lot of the time buying a hard copy game feels less and less a badge of honour and more of a chore.

Back in the day, PC games used to be objects of beauty. Mighty cardboard slabs, artefacts if you will, more often than not filled with supplementary content that not only enhanced my level of immersion but also sold the game worlds to me in ways that the somewhat low level of technology at the time perhaps could not. Manuals used to be such an important part of games for me. Whether it was in the car on the way home, on the bog or while waiting for my siblings to get off the computer, the game manual was always there to keep me knee deep in game lore.

Occasionally, if you were lucky, you got a map to pore over, planning routes and noting topographical curios to check out later on. Or perhaps you had a thick brick of appendices, displaying unit stats and tech trees, and all of the other illustrated information that any budding armchair general simply cannot do without.

Hard-Copy Hang Ups: Boxed vs. Digital

These days games comes in a sleek yet homogenised plastic slivers. Manual size is shrinking to that of junk mail leaflet (not to mention the worthless use of that space 'We Love Katamari' being a noted exception to this rule.) and supplementary material is the exception rather than the norm. There is the odd special or collector’s edition that breaks the mould but a shiny tin is hardly worth getting excited about. Additionally, one cannot help but wonder what black magic has managed to convince us to shell out an extra tenner for mod-cons that we used to get in the normal package before.

But you should never underestimate the powerful addictive qualities of sheer convenience. Digital has exploded in a big way, and it's not difficult to see why: the popularity of digital downloads is steadily growing (and has been for some time) due to faster Internet being readily available, more efficient means of digital distribution, the growing availability of titles through online distributors, and the reduced price of digital copies. Put simply, it is becoming harder and harder for me to justify my old guard sensibilities of buying hard copy.

Hard-Copy Hang Ups: Boxed vs. Digital

Then Diablo 3 came out and I decided I would buy it in the same way I bought its predecessors. At a store, from a retail meat bag, by thrusting my cash pounds into their fleshy mitts. So off I went to my chosen store to obtain what I'd been waiting 12 years for. What I found was my retail therapy curtailed by a lack of stock not just in one store but all branches of my chosen vendor and indeed all branches of every vendor within fire-balling distance. Incensed at my plan to purchase a hard copy on the high street being scuppered, I conceded to using online sources. To my dismay all I found were hugely overpriced re-sales and a big fat lack of hard copy stock.

When did this start happening? A PC game selling out is something I've never had to get to grips with. Diablo 3 became the fastest selling PC game of all time, selling more in one day than Diablo 2 sold in a year. I'm not surprised by that. What I am surprised by is the apparent lack of faith retailers have in their PC gamer flock. Only 300 special collectors’ editions were available to the public during the London launch at HMV. It's Blizzard! They only make two games! Everyone's taking notice of this release, so why not go the extra distance?! That being said, I can't say I didn't swell with pride just a little when I heard the game had sold so well.

Hard-Copy Hang Ups: Boxed vs. Digital

So with no games in my shop, and online prices too dear, I had to wait. I could have gone for the download at this point but instead I staked out the shop I would buy it from, and waited patiently like a hungry spike fiend. There's something potent about deferred gratification, especially when it's bound up in misguided pseudo-moral string, and so I stubbornly set my jaw.

I can't say my patience was rewarded.

By the time I got to the store after it came back in stock, it had sold out. Resolving to order it from the retailer’s warehouse, I ended up missing that boat too - the lengthy sign-up process for increasingly shiny new loyalty cards had further eaten up my time. I had to wait a total of 4 weeks to get the game. In the end I was denied the joy of buying it in store and got it sent to my door. The rigamarole had been for nothing.

"Downloads ho!" I cried "Death to hard copy!" If it's this difficult to buy such a big release from your local store then you might as well save yourself the bother and also the days of waiting if you have to order it by just downloading. Obviously if you don't have a decent Internet connection then hard copy is a necessity; however it won't be long before that's no longer a problem. Plus, if this year has taught us anything, it's surely that you might blink and suddenly half of the high street games retailers in the country could suddenly disappear.

Hard-Copy Hang Ups: Boxed vs. Digital

We live in an age of immediacy now. Why wait when you can have it in a few moments? Why spend energy when you don't have to? Why leave the house? You don't even have to leave the chair if you download, and who really enjoys bending down to pick up the mail anyway? Besides, we don't even have a manual to read any more - just a leaflet that is only useful during an unforeseen shortage of loo roll. The games industry is always changing and as gamers, we should change with it. Perhaps we should end this desperate fight for a return to the good old days. It will only end up making us sad.

That said I almost had to eat those words when Diablo 3 arrived. The game came packaged in a sexy fold out, embossed, box within a box affair. The manual was full of lore and delicious artwork. I pawed this artefact for some time before firing it up and subsequently missing my deadline. Maybe there are still some companies out there who still understand.Things may have changed, but perhaps at least Blizzard still loves us...well kind of.

The honeymoon period of my Diablo 3 experience was somewhat short-lived, and I’ve come out the other side with some issues regarding this long awaited game. But at least the box is sexy and I’ve got some good toilet reading.

Add a comment2 comments
Cavalorn  Aug. 9, 2012 at 20:42

Such a true post! The Diablo 3 box is cool looking indeed.

Last week I was at a friends place... a stereotype gamer dude (see: South Park episode "make love not warcraft") who owns countless collector's editions - including the Diablo 3 CE. By that time I never had the chance to unpack a Diablo 3 CE. So I unpacked that huge box...
...and the first thing I saw was the Diablo 3 game dvd case.
Just a normal dvd case.
In this hyped collector's edition.

Made me lol somehow.

MattGardner  Aug. 10, 2012 at 09:36

I love that fact that, back in the days when dialling up to the internet was horribly painful, devs and pubs had to make their games stand out on the shelves - especially when it came to PC games. So you just had huge boxes, packed with goodness. I still have the almost biblical tome for Civ 2. I loved poring over strategy manuals and immersing myself in stats - still have the ones for Heroes 1, 2, and 3. These days you're right - it's normally a glossy pamphlet with lots of disclaimers and copyright information, some warranty small print, and if you're lucky maybe a controller layout. Or it's in PDF form, which just isn't the same thing.


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