It’s no secret that Sony has had problems in the past with download speeds. As a PlayStation fan with broadband internet, I can’t help but get annoyed at the hours it sometimes takes for the smallest of downloads to finish. At this stage in the console’s life, it’s probably too late to expect any major fixes, but there is a work-around that other platforms have already started to use. If Sony can take a hint from companies like Valve and allow digital pre-orders, and more importantly allow users to pre-load said games, it could make the consumer side of the interaction much more simple.
Valve is a company known for its PC games and Steam platform. As Steam is one of the most popular venues to buy PC games, it can handle large amounts of people attempting to download from its servers at one time. We need only look at the launch of Half Life 2 when Steam was still in its infancy to see the growing pains which led to their current sales philosophy.
When the game launched, if you pre-ordered the game online, there was one major hurdle you had already cleared: the one gigabyte download. There were authentication problems with some purchases, but those are unavoidable with anticipated titles. What Valve realized was that they could save their consumers a huge headache by simply allowing them to download the game ahead of time.
Flash forward a few years and Valve has built on this original idea. They not only allow you to purchase and load its games online ahead of time, the company also incentivize it by providing a 10% discount to anyone that does. Granted, this discount applies to Valve developed games, but many other studios have taken this idea. These pre-order methods allow the user to purchase a game, download it, and have it ready to play at 12:01 the day it is unlocked. Download speed is no longer a factor.
This isn’t to say that Sony hasn’t been trying. Anyone familiar with the PlayStation Network will know of PSN PLAY, the pre-order initiative Sony introduced last year. During the promotion, not only were pre-orders allowed, they are encouraged with the possibility of free themes and DLC. This shows that Sony is not afraid of digital pre-orders. However, this needs to be the norm, not an annual event like Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade. For a more recent example, there’s the Move title Sorcery, which consumers could buy a week before its launch date. Here we see a step in the right direction in what is, hopefully, Sony testing the waters.
More signs that Sony is moving in the right direction can be found with the upcoming release of Assassin’s Creed III. It was recently announced that customers on the European PlayStation Store can pre-order AC 3, and can do so in a variety of ways. The standalone game in addition to a selection of bundles are offered, and each can be downloaded about a week before release. Now, we can only hope other territories soon get the same options.
The major downside to allowing digital pre-orders would be the safety of the data involved. By allowing users to download the entire game, the opportunity for pirating arises. The solution is to simply not allow any downloads until a week or two before launch. As previously mentioned, that’s exactly what was done with Sorcery and is being done with AC 3. Sorcery was sold digitally ahead of time, with no major hiccups. The risk of piracy is always going to be there, the only question is whether Sony is willing to take a chance at improving the user experience at the cost of possibly aiding pirates.
My point here is this: I want to play the games Sony releases on PSN. I think they do a great job releasing quality games, a lot of which you can’t find anywhere else. I just don’t want to have to spend my entire night downloading and installing a much-anticipated game, when other services have long since solved this problem.