The Sad State of Digital Software Distribution

Thanks Jeff,

But I will give the $249.99 for a copy of windows and addons a miss.

Heh, and you are complaining you’re being ripped off? Try buying a game in Europe ;). XBox360/PS3 games, typically retail at 64.99 euros. That’s 95.55$. Compare that to typical US prices of 59$.

Add to that that we’re paying 1$==1Euro prices for our hardware and you have an idea how lucky you are that retail prices are that low. :slight_smile:

I have to also point out that on steam, if you’re not in America, you’re getting the short end of the stick for Call of Duty 4, it comes out a week later than in stores, and costs $20 more, and it is actually Activision’s fault, they set the price, and release date.

Hey Jeff,

Digital distribution has a long way to come and it won’t get major market acceptance until software developers pass on the savings to the consumers.

Also, Microsoft does offer the digital distribution option on their Office line of products

Have you considered comparing digital downloads to something like iTunes? Although Digital music is not software. You can still draw a comparision between the two.

I recently rediscovered the Sam and Max series ( But besides being a cool game, I thought the distribution model was quite nice too. Instead of shipping one big game they decided to split the game up in episodes. They’re shipping out the separate episodes via their website. You can either buy separate episodes, or get a subscription for a whole season. Now they’ve completed the first season, and there’s a DVD with all the episodes on it.

I don’t like digital downloads of software packages. I’d rather have the physical media. What if your hard drive dies or somehow the download gets damaged? They don’t cover this and I’d rather not have to pay for it again.

And in regard to publishers being afraid of digital copies being pirated, this argument is total BS. Most software can be found on torrent sites and P2P apps hours after its public release. The download is only going to expedite this by a matter of an hour or two.

The same things is true for books.

The publisher’s web site has the full list price, plus shipping, and in many cases (I’m in California so O’Reilly in particular) sales tax anyway.

I suppose it’s so they don’t get accused of undercutting the retail channels but it’s certainly annoying.

The idea that broadband is ubiquitous is a myth. Outside of a few select countries (Korea, Netherlands) it’s simply not the case. In the U.S. it’s actually much worse than most people think. Congress recently reprimanded the FCC for their intentionally misleading metrics of broadband availability. The FCC was interested in making it appear that there is plenty of competition in the area and there was no need to require the embedded local telco monopolies to open up.

The way they were counting broadband availability was that if a single house in a zip code had access to broadband, they counted the entire zip code as having access. Having worked for DSL companies and also having been a DSL customer for the past 10 years I can categorically say that’s not the case. Leaving aside the absurdity of breaking it up by zip code (which the telcos largely ignore in terms of dsl provisioning), it’s not at all unusual for one home to be able to get it while a home half a block up the street in the same zip to not have access.

Once you get outside major metropolitan areas broadband access is iffy at best. Even in some metros there are large swaths where it simply hasn’t been rolled out. For those of you on the coasts it might seem like everyone has broadband access, but it’s simply not the case. The real broadband availability (ignoring affordability, as for most people broadband qualifies as a luxury rather than a necessity) is signigicantly below 50% in the U.S.

Same applies for Hellgate:London, the new game from Flagship studios (with EA behind it). 29.99 for a digital download (last time I checked)
when retail it costs less (except some cases)

Shows you how greedy the corporations are I guess. Apart from that, its a pretty good game and totally worth it.

I have the same experience, and it makes me angry and sad. Not only for the pricing, I have problems with games from steam I dont have from physical dvd installed games.

I have one question directed to the game industry: Why would I buy a game online when a retail one is better in every sense. I get a box, manuals and I dvd I can store off the cpu? The way things are with the buggy overpriced games and the problems with them. why would I not download cracked games instead?

@Akira: DVDs scratch easily and may damage, too. With invasive copyright protection it’s generally not possible to make a working copy at home.

If it’s done right, there’s a digital locker of sorts that keeps track of which software you actually own. For my audio software (Native Instruments, Ableton) this is the case; I can just download the latest version from the site and I don’t need the original installer CD or DVD. A good thing, since the latest version usually won’t need a load of updates.

@Akira, not true for some, for example: Steam lets you download a game as many times as you wish after purchasing it, as long as you can login.

I kinda like STEAM, although I agree it’s sicksad we don’t get a decent price cut. And add to that the fact that they don’t use a distributed delivery method, so for popular releases (cough HL2 Orange Box cough), you’re stuck on a single overloaded content server. Sucks downloading with 100kbyte/s on a 20mbit connection.

Magazines suffer the same fate. I’m a KitPlanes subscriber and I can subscribe through Amazon for (+/-) $20/yr for the dead tree version, with all the printing and mailing costs, or I can subscribe to the eEdition for $30/yr and get each issue as a 20 or so separate PDFs (each on their own page, but that’s a separate issue…). I know that distribution costs are near zero for their electronic edition, and it steams me that it costs more. Mind you I have complained to them about this (and about the multiple dowloads issue) so I’m not just fuming on my own.

Maybe the common answer to all of these is to the same kind of competition in the download versions that we have in the physical verison.


Things are as expected, really. If people are willing to pay X for a product, it will be sold for at least X. There is no reason for a company to undercut the retail price of their own product, it just lessens their own profit. No company is going to choose fairness or logic over profit.

I didn’t like digital distribution - that was until I shoved my Half Life 2 DVD in the computer and the install refused to complete. Tried cleaning the disc, installing it on my laptop and such, nothing. Annoying, since I wanted to complete HL2 finally.
I shoved the game back on the shelve, annoyed that there was no way to play the game…
Until I launched steam for some reason, and noticed the “Download game” option - I had bought the physical HL2 box in a shop, installed it, registered a Steam account, and entered the serial number. But here was the option to download it from Steam’s servers!

Suddenly Steam seemed like a good idea! I can install HL2 via the DVD, takes 15 minutes. Or, if the DVD was dropped in a Volcano (or scratched), I can click “Install game” in Steam, and it starts downloading! It might take a few hours, but that’s preferable to staring at a dead DVD.
If I want to replace the damaged DVD, I can backup the game files to a folder, and burn them.

The only problem I still have with Steam is offline play. I can’t install the game on my laptop without an internet connection. I can’t play the game reliably without an internet connection. Although it’s probably improved since I last tried to play HL2 offline (over a year ago).

Telos your failing to realise the main point if the makers of the game don’t have to make as many dvd’s, manuals, boxes and factor in the shops delivery costs and own profit margins which I would guess totals upto about half the price of the game then they can afford to charge half the amount for an online download. Ok in the real world they wouldn’t half the cost but a cut of say 20% would encourage downloaders and boost the game makers profits. WIN WIN I don’t know of anyone who would regularly download games if you can buy them in the shops for the same price including the dvd, box and manual.

Um, actually this is situation normal when it comes to retailing. Try buying any product directly from the manufacturer, if you even can. You generally aren’t going to pay a penny less than list price.

The reason is fairly simple. The manufacturer can’t sell for less. That is part of the distribution agreement. Only an idiot would distribute a product if the manufacturer could undercut the retailers at will. And if you were a retailer would you want to carry a product when the manufacturer is competing with you?

Nothing to see here. Move along now.