Physical vs. Non-Physical

After OnLive was announced, the internets has been ablaze with discussions of having physical vs. non-physical copies of games. OnLive is a service that’s supposed to let you play any computer game on any TV, not having to invest in expensive computer hardware to get top-end graphics. You have a small black box that you connect to your internet connection and to your TV, and a (presumably) wireless controller. The actual games are being run on far-off computers using cloud computing technology. All your commands are sent off via the intertubes to the far-off computers, and the video feedback is brought back to your TV.

There are also other services that lets you play games without having a physical copy of it. There’s the popular Steam service for the PC, there’s the Virual Console and WiiWare for the Wii, there’s the Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox, and there are probably many other services that I am unaware of. These services lets you download games onto your computer or console though, giving you a digital copy of the game.

In theory I wouldn’t mind not having a physical copy of a game. The games would presumably be cheaper for the consumer as the companies wouldn’t need to pay to have pay for any of the production costs related to having a physical copy; older and lesser known games could be made both available for easy purchasing (rather than having to use eBay to find used copies) and be made compatible with newer OS’s (rather than trying to find some fan-made patch); valuable shelf space would be saved in people’s homes; and – most importantly – it’s more environmentally friendly as there would be no plastic production and shipping involved.

I must admit that I have not used any download gaming services so far, so I don’t have any real experience with such services, but something that I’m worried about with the increasing emphasis on the “digitalizing” of games is that I won’t have direct access to all the relevant data of the game. This means that I might not be able to extract files from games – for example, I recently extracted the wonderful piano music from the equally wonderful game Gabriel Knight 3 – and I’m sure it also means that it’s harder, if not impossible, for fans to make functional mods for games – I remember having fun back in the day trying out various mods for Max Payne. Certainly with OnLive no one would be able to do either of these, as all you’re getting is the video feed. I’m sure most developers and publishers would not mind this, as it gives them more control over their own product; no one would be able to listen to game music outside of the game unless an official soundtrack has been released. Also, if access to important game files are restricted, it would also mean that you would be unable to play the games you have purchased if the service you purchased the games through ceased to exist.

In conclusion, why hasn’t the Gabriel Knight 3 score been released?

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