Should we wave goodbye to buying video games at retail?

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Is it to early to proclaim—loudly, as you do—the practice of buying video games at retail dead? Yes, it probably is too early; yet we continue. Microsoft’s announcement today that it will make available, sometime this year, full retail games available for download via Xbox Live, may well be more important than Project Natal, or “Project Christmas” as I like to call it. (All those months spent learning Portuguese have finally paid off!) And while, yes, it make be too early to make any sort of rushed pronouncements, I’d say it’s say to start thinking about the future.

Now, to PC gamers, the ability to download full games via the Internet isn’t exactly shiny and new. Steam‘s legitimacy has long been established, and smaller outfits like Good Old Games seem to be gaining traction. And, to be fair, console gamers have been able to buy older gamers, like Genesis-era Sonic, NES/SNES-era Mario and the original Halo, for a while. But the ability to buy something like Halo: ODST on launch day, right from the comfort of your couch, should be celebrated. (Note: I have no idea if Halo: ODST will be available for download. I just needed a new game to illustrate a dumb point.)

It’s a simple as this: would you rather download the game directly to your hard drive, and start playing it immediately, once the release date hits, or would you rather go to a store—wherever that it!—or wait for UPS to show up, care of Amazon.com? Provided you have the hard drive space—come now, Microsoft, you really ought to lower the price of the 360′s hard drive—I’s say the choice is obvious. Send me a PDF of the manual and we’re all set.

(I write this wondering how Sony will handle the PSP Go!. Assuming it is, indeed, UMD-less, will it totally move PSP game buying to the PSN Store, or will you still be able to walk into Wal-Mart and buy a box with a downloadable code inside? After all, not every young teen has access to a credit card; how will these kids buy games, hence?)

And you do wonder how companies like Best Buy and GameStop will react to this. Probably with some quick-fire PR speak: “We think gamers value the experience of going to a store, and speaking to a knowledgeable sales rep about all the latest titles.” Well, I don’t, but I’m not exactly Joe Sixpack when it comes to such things.

I, for one, welcome our download-only overlords.

Photo: Flickr

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