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Renting games is something I’ve started to experiment with recently. I know it’s not a new idea, but it’s something I avoided for a long time because I have a “collector-type” personality. That means I enjoy acquiring stuff even if I’m only going to be using it a few times, but even us collectors have a limit.

Let’s face it, video games are expensive and they depreciate in value worse than a recalled Chrysler. The final straw for me was when I went out to purchase the new Wolverine game — a game that got decent reviews and looks like fun, but doesn’t appear to have a ton of replay value.  Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but I felt the asking price of $70 (plus tax) was just too high given the amount of time I expected to be playing with it.

What I usually do in this situation is just skip the game entirely, or wait a few months and pick up a used copy at a lower price. But in doing so I’m either missing out on a good time, or putting off a good time until I no longer care about it. Renting seems like a reasonable compromise. Of course, it’s better for me as a gamer than it is for game publishers. And that got me thinking about where the video game industry is heading.

Consider services like Xbox Live, the Playstation Store, and Nintendo’s Virtual Console. They all allow you to purchase games from a growing online library and download them directly to your console of choice. And then there’s the PSP Go — Sony’s new handheld that ditches UMD discs in favour of flash memory to store digital downloads.  All of these services give console manufacturers complete control over the distribution of software, and they leave no room for a third-party used game or rental market.

So now I’m wondering—as I compile my online queue of games I want to rent—how long will it be before all games are distributed digitally? That definitely seems to be the direction the industry is headed in, despite the inherent limitations involved. And that raises another question: what kind of games will publishers be making in a world without discs? That direction seems to favour shorter, simpler titles—the kind that appeal to the much talked-about “casual gamer” (and don’t require hours to download.)

UPDATE: 6/6/09 – Xbox 360 gets full retail games available on-demand

What do you think: can digital downloads co-exist with hard media games? Or are we soon going to be managing our collections according to how much bandwidth our ISPs allow us in a month, and by how much drive space we have? Are we truly destined to give up the right to hoard stacks of game carts and discs, or sell them for pennies on the dollar?

The very thought is almost enough to drive a man to papercraft!

joe at dpad dot ca

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