Retail Blues: Lamenting The Demise Of Game Stores

Writer Jon Morcom sent us this elegy for physical game boxes and physical game shops, and its very British, melancholy portrait of the older habits of our hobby was too lovely not to publish.

The spidery writing on a sign that’s been stuck to the whitewashed windows of what used to be my local GAME store tells me that the nearest still-operating branch is in Vladivostok. Actually, no it doesn’t, I’m lying. But it is somewhere far-flung enough from where I live to make me baulk at the trip. Now HMV too has, in its reduced circumstances like GAME, closed many of its outlets up and down the UK and I’m starting to wonder where I’m going to go to buy boxed PC games in the years ahead.

Digital downloads – they’re just so damn convenient, aren’t they. You know how it goes – you make your choice on Steam, GOG or whatever, type in your card details and inside leg measurement for the future amusement of some band of spotty hackers then click on Download. So you go off to make a cup of tea while the bytes start to slowly trickle through your broadband connection like a succession of slightly drunk single blokes being begrudgingly admitted to a Basildon nightclub on a slow Wednesday night. Start game on completion? Tick. All very well and all very efficient but for me this routine just does not have the same appeal or generate as much sense of anticipation as acquiring a boxed copy of a game in a shop. A joy that is increasingly being denied me.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s a ritualistic aspect to buying a retail copy of a PC game and installing it that a digital download just cannot deliver. For a start, why would anyone want to buy a game that doesn’t come with a box and a booklet? I appreciate that it’s not financially viable for many indie developers to sell their games other than through digital download, but nothing says game ownership and a life constructively wasted like a solid row of DVD cases majestically lined-up in alphabetical order on your shelf, looking like some magnificent shrine to Nvidia the Whispering Goddess of Graphics Cards.

If a game-savvy friend came to my house and inspected my shelves, unless they study my Desktop and my Steam library too, there’s no way of them knowing that I’ve also got cool titles like, say, consummate bowel-loosener Amnesia: The Dark Descent, unfathomable platformer Braid, or arse-on-a-plate space sim Faster Than Light because they have all been necessarily downloaded; great games all three, but I can’t help feeling a little bit cheated that they didn’t come with all the…the bits. Auto-patching and being able to download bigger games while you sleep is, admittedly, very convenient but give me the satisfying rattle of an Amazon delivery being forcibly pushed through the letterbox by a cursing postman or the full-on High Street cash-for-goods retail experience every time.

But just as the accessibility of games and DLC digitally downloaded through distribution services such as Steam, Origin et al has increased in recent years, the availability of boxed PC games sold through retail outlets is diminishing faster than quality toilet roll on the first day of Glastonbury. Walk into any shop that sells games in the last four years and you’ll know that the PC as a platform has been marginalised to the extent that it’s hard to believe the platform still exists. Blame the advent of digital downloads, blame the bean-counters, blame whatever – the fact is we’ve all played games in which even the lowest minion’s health bar is still longer than the list of PC titles your local store has in stock.

Entering the shop, you will see aisles full of Xbox and PlayStation games that extend so far into the distance you can actually see the curvature of the Earth. Navigating your way through this gently-mocking labyrinth of green and blue, you’re on the lookout for something familiar but which is fast going the way of the dodo. Finally, there in a far-flung corner, just near the carousel of strategy guides that are sealed shut like porn you find the PC section. Here you are likely to find a ‘Top 20’ of sorts. This will comprise a dozen empty cases for the number one game, Sims expansion packs from numbers four to seven, vacant spaces for numbers ten, twelve and thirteen and somehow, still at number nineteen, Sins of a Solar Empire.

Adjacent to the Top 20 you may find a rack or two of heavily discounted games from years gone by. Browsing through, you might unearth a few relatively recent releases at budget prices but it’s more likely that you’ll be flicking through a randomly stacked collection of Pippa Funnell horseshit-shovelling sims, early RollerCoaster Tycoons, Civs and Holmes mysteries that are more Eamonn than Sherlock. It can be monumentally disappointing.

The way it used to be, you’d make your choice from a fairly generous range of titles and then take your place in the queue behind a nine-year-old child trying to convince his Mum to buy him Headshot 2: Maxillofacial Trauma instead of Mario Kart and some monosyllabic adolescent in a hoodie and what looked to be a full nappy, attempting to trade-in a twocked PS3. When you finally reached the counter, an impossibly young person with two-hairstyles-in-one and a tractor tyre embedded in each earlobe ratted through the drawer trying to find the disc and booklet for your game. If you were lucky and you’d selected a newish AAA title, you might have got a pristine, shrink-wrapped copy from the Aladdin’s Cave that is the locked cabinet behind the counter but for which no one ever seemed to have the key.

When Dymo Nametag eventually stopped boasting to his colleague about some improbable drinking feat he’d recently managed involving tequila shots and absinthe, he’d ring-up the purchase and take your money. As he did so he might utter what at first appeared to be a matey, hey-we’re-all-gamers-together type comment but which was, in fact, a carefully considered phrase to establish his superiority over you; he’d already played this game and he was better at it than you. “The Cock Blocker shottie is awesome, man.”

Perhaps on the bus on the way home you’d sneak your purchase out of its bag to admire the lurid box art, read the specs or just to savour its heft in your hand. Hopefully, if the box felt bountiful it was because there was a lavishly illustrated multi-page booklet in there and not because it contained a second disc or worse, flyers advertising The Sims Argos Nights.

Getting home you might treat your hard drive to a good defragging. While that process is crawling along it’s time to open up the merchandise. Even trying to remove the shrink-wrapping assumes the ceremonial pomp of a bout of Sumo wrestling and requires about as much strength. If you’re a bit clumsy like me, you’ll see the ‘quick release’ cellophane strip encircling the case but struggle to locate the starting tab. Maybe then you’ll run your thumbnail along the edge where the case normally opens. Nope, can’t breach the wrapping – nails aren’t long enough. OK then, I’ll just work this pen into that little diagonal crossover fold there on the top edge. No, that didn’t work either – you’re going to have to shift your arse out of that chair, go into the kitchen and get some scissors.

Ah, the case finally opens, releasing – if you’re lucky – the intoxicating aroma of the glossily printed booklet within and revealing the tantalising glint of a newly-pressed DVD. Once you’ve eased the disc off its strangely recalcitrant retaining hub, you reverentially lay it onto the slide-out tray and give it a little jiggle to ensure it’s sitting optimally. You close the drive where it spins up to speed and finally starts. The EULA pops up. Do you agree? No, I have an issue with the bit that says despite me having just spent £35 on a disc, case and booklet, the game is not really mine. What, I can’t proceed until I say I agree? Oh, alright then.

Each question you’re prompted with is treated like a life or death decision. Language? English. Installation path? I’ll have a ‘C’, please, Bob. And then you get to the validation process. If it was done through the old GFWL, you would make a mad scramble for the bag, hoping like hell that the receipt was still in it, otherwise, the product key code is entered with all the care and deliberation of a NORAD operative inputting failsafe codes into some missile launch computer deep in an underground bunker somewhere in Colorado. You announce each sequence of characters to yourself reassuringly, as if you’re getting your eyes tested at Boots. “V…3…X…L…G. Or is that a 6?”

Meanwhile, in Bellevue, Washington…

Valve lackey: Hey, Gabe, some dude in the UK wants to validate a copy of BioShock Infinite. Is that OK?
Gabe Newell: Yeah, go on.

The installation progress bar works its way from left to right as the file names flash through at speed giving you a tantalising taste of what’s to come. Even better, you might get a percentage indicator and watch as it ticks over inexorably to the magical one hundred mark. Although these days booklets accompanying games contain less information than a Domino’s Pizza menu and are frequently printed in monochrome instead of colour, I still love to pore over them while everything whirrs away. Try doing that with a downloadable PDF manual you can’t get your hands on until the game’s installed.

You’re just at the point where the game is ready to play when, what’s this? Up pops a prompt that informs you ‘A patch is available for this game. Would you like to download and install it?’ Hmm, a patch already? May as well – you need to be playing with a full deck. At last your new purchase is now installed and fully patched. A mug of tea sits steaming on your desk, just out of mouse range and the sticky residue on your hands from the Chocolate Digestives you’ve just scoffed down has been wiped onto your jeans. You sit back and take a sip as the punchy proprietary ads finally make way for the opening cinematic. And if that’s not gaming Nirvana I don’t know what is.

Just as vinyl LP records are enjoying resurgence and are more accessible to buy than they have been at any point in the last twenty years, I dream of a future where boxed PC games experience their own renaissance and where forward-thinking publishers will learn to embrace the concept of producing a physical product once more. Perhaps PC enthusiasts will again have parity with console gamers in terms of shop shelf space and video game archives will swell anew with splendid examples of the craft. Fast forward a hundred years, tune into BBC 1 on a Sunday evening and maybe some dandy wearing half-moon spectacles and a tweed suit will be sitting with an expectant punter, examining a flattish plastic box. “Hmm, from what I can see of the markings and the draconian DRM conditions, I’d say it’s a Ubisoft, probably early 21st century.” Turning it over in his hands and narrowing his eyes slightly he’ll suggest it’s worth some highly improbable amount of money. And hopefully my great granddaughter will lean forward and say to him earnestly, “Oh no. I would never part with it.”

You young whippersnappers are welcome to your one-click downloads, play-anywhere games libraries and auto-patching. Call me an old fuddy-duddy (and aren’t policemen looking younger these days) but the digital revolution can carry on without me. I prefer my games to come with some investment of effort, a greater sense of anticipation and with some beautifully designed, non-biodegradable packaging around them. Now if I could just find a shop round my way that sells the damn things.

175 Comments

  1. Cinek says:

    I had my share of lamentation over the retail gaming stores few years ago when they switched either totally to the consoles or in a good 90% with some dusty shelf in a corner selling PC games. Now? I’m totally indifferent. I either buy games through digital distribution or – in base of my beloved boxed editions – online (be it through my store of choice or crowdfunding platforms).

  2. nateface says:

    As a (relatively) recent convert from consoles, getting all my games in boxes is probably the ONE thing I really do miss. Though going digital is often cheaper, too…

  3. int says:

    I just received my boxed copy of Wasteland 2 today. Looking forward to reading the manual.

  4. paralipsis says:

    The point at which games no longer came on cassettes which only had a 50/50 chance of reading properly was the end of gaming really. All this “reliable” technology just leaves my totally disconnected from the physical realities of the world.

    • iainl says:

      In Spectrum Land I always found the loading reliability of shop-bought games (obviously dodgy copies could be dodgy) to be rather higher than the “will the disc’s paranoid copy protection system like my drive?” nightmare the likes of StarForce and SecuROM brought us.

  5. SupahSpankeh says:

    He is a skilled writer, because it takes a skilled writer to find anything nostalgic about getting ripped off by that godawful experience.

    May it never, ever, EVER happen again. To anyone. Ever.

    • SomeDuder says:

      Wellllllllllllllllll, there’s something to be said about the olden days of big cardboard boxes with great artwork – I’ve dedicated a few shelves in my living room to display my favourite games, which incidently all have covers that aren’t all that unpleasing to look at (Homeworld? Battlezone? Diablo? nnnnnnng special edition Warcraft! Even the “battle chest” edition of WoW is damn well made. And oh man, the Quake 2 manual was an actual thing).

      It mainly serves as a quick doorway to nostalgia lane, a place where you had to insert optical media into your computer and boot an installer that read your disc at 16x or 32x. It could take a while, getting your stuff going. And of course, you had to maintain your own library of patches and mods, otherwise forget joining that multiplayer game.

      Would I trade the functionality and ease and actual plug and playness of Steam for the shelves? Fuck no, the history is a done deal. Console gamers can only look at digital distribution platforms and wonder why they have to pay €60.-(? I have no idea what a modern console game costs) at a store, where other, unwashed hands have touched the game. We are living in the future, and aside from some weirdos on Youtube and Tumblr, the future is good.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      Hear, hear! Back in the day they would sell me me a game demo on a 3.5″ for 10£. These days they contain 90% console games which suck, and 10% PC ports of said console games which somehow suck even more. The only good thing about the store is the bargain bin where you can get all the old games that didn’t sell well for 25£ each.

      The best part is buying something like a boxed Star Craft II copy, pop in the DVD, and then have to download the whole game over the internet anyway. But to the boxed copy’s credit, the digital download did cost twice as much (because that makes sense, right?).

    • Shuck says:

      I miss the booklets and the cloth maps, but… yeah. And it’s not like publishers are eager to return to selling boxed copies, either – they’d like to get rid of boxed console games, too. The cost of printing and (especially) distributing everything are significant. 40-something percent of what you pay at retail is going towards the costs of making, distributing and selling the physical object, not the game itself.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      I dunno where you shopped, but I found that the experiences of PC game shopping in the UK were generally positive.
      I was on holiday there a few years back and picked up a couple of bargains. It was only when I got home that I realised one of the DVD cases was empty. Found the shop’s phone number, called them, called their central office (it was a Game store, and I had to call central office just to confirm the problem, not to complain) and they posted the disks to me the next day.
      Meanwhile, on any digital download site, if you get a confirmation email from customer services within 48 hours of posting a problem, you’re lucky.

      • Great Cthulhu says:

        That’s my experience as well. I’m from The Netherlands, and despite the pound being rather expensive, I never got back from the UK without a bunch of great bargains. (Books and CDs too.) Been a few years since I last went there though.

      • nexuscrawler says:

        in the Us it’s been a different experience for quite a long time. Gamespot pretty much brought out the entire retail gaming market years ago. their PC section has dwindled to the point of being laughable. Even when their selection was ok their employees were scummy and you’d often buy a “new” game only to open it and find out some worker there had opened the box and played it. More than a couple games I bought there over the years had fingerprints on the discs and missing manuals.

      • Klatu says:

        I have to agree with SupahSpankeh, I still have a boxed edition of Neverwinter Nights with the price sticker which mocks me every time I take it down for dusting or to paint the walls behind it. “£49.99” it says. I paid fifty quid for a game that I discovered that very evening I could’ve bought from ‘the internet’ (Amazon) for almost half the price.

        GAME shop in the St James Centre will I ever get over the existential angst you cause(d) me? Will the wound ever heal?

    • P.Funk says:

      I remember when new PC games cost the same as they do new on Steam. I remember a time when I could go in there and buy a used PC game for about what it costs on sale on Steam. I remember a time when most games came in a box with a glossy manual which had a 50/50 chance of being written to be an in-character or in-universe little story. I remember when printed glossy maps could be stared at and admired. I remember when you could get jewel cases substituted for fancy cardstock holders covered in creative game related pictures. Grim Fandango’s CD holder is to this day my favourite.

      Basically, I remember when every great computer game you bought was as good as a collector’s edition that people today pay $70 for. They really were like vinyl records and to this day I treasure and preserve my games collected from that period.

      There is something special about them.

      • Werthead says:

        I remember purchasing STARCRAFT from GAME Colchester on its day of release. They’d sold out of the standard edition and only had one collector’s edition left in stock. I didn’t want it, but I got it because otherwise I’d miss out on the game. It was only £5 extra over the standard game and came with a T-shirt (still wearable) and a keyring pendant thing (still on my keyring). Reasonable value. Especially since I still have the box somewhere and it’s apparently worth a fair bit.

        • DrollRemark says:

          Oh god yes, Starcraft’s manual full of lore. I read that on the bus home with mounting anticipation for the game itself.

          • Bassen_Hjertelos says:

            Crusader : No Remorse had a fantastic fold out with propaganda and news clippings from the game world. I’ve kept the original box along with Daggerfall. Ah, good times.

      • Sweetz says:

        Games of that era also had far simpler graphics requiring far less content generation and much smaller teams, yet they still had MSRP’s the same or within $10 of contemporary big budget releases.

        The cost of making the average “AAA” game has more than doubled in the last decade while their prices have not. Something had to give and physical materials that are largely ancillary to the game experience are the most rational choice. Or would you rather be paying $100 for games?

        • P.Funk says:

          I’m reminiscing. Someone was saying brick and mortar was a rip off. I’m saying I differ in opinion, particularly with price. I don’t think I ever saw a standard game MSRP new at more than $50-60, here in Canada.

          As for the big budget and all that tosh, I honestly would prefer it as it was back then. Graphics are just as important as they used to be, they just got better as tech improved the possibilities. To what degree of fidelity is another question but there are plenty of games that produce lots of high quality visuals without spending tens of millions on their budget.

          The fact is that modern AAA games also deal with lots of content requirements that are not interesting to me. I still think KOTOR looks great, that its got great writing and acting. Why does SWTOR have to cost so much more? I see no content difference between a game from 2003 and 2015. The cost on top of a KOTOR was clearly in the massive massive ZOMG fail project. Bigger equals better, but not really I guess.

          I play few AAA titles that are of the “graphics requirement” type since they’re shallow and hardly as evocative as those old titles. Half the nostalgia is in my opinion because those games, despite their smaller budgets, somehow feel more exciting and courageous. Big budgets today produce apparently many conservative and bland experiences. Meanwhile indie developers on shoe string budgets sell me a game for $5-20 and they are infinitely more compelling than most AAA massive budget games. For the cost of packaging them with maps and manuals and pretty posters I can’t imagine the MSRP going beyond the old standard of $50-60.

          So I find the bigger budget, needs must argument to be a bit without nuance. Gaming has changed because the market has started to target different and wider audiences and has in so doing become in many of those big budget adventures about as compelling to many of us nostalgics as a modern big budget Michael Bay film, which isn’t nearly as compelling as an indie film made for a fraction of it.

          Lets also not forget how much money giants like EA spend on advertizing. These days most of the titles I find my joy in are without much advertizing because they haven’t the budget for it. Go figure.

        • Katar says:

          Most businesses knowing that the market will only hold a small price increase in a product wouldn’t be stupid enough to spend double making the product and then almost the same again marketing it. The games industry rarely seems to bother with basic business sense that virtually every other industry has adopted. Why should it be the consumers problem that publishers and/or developers don’t have any common sense.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Physical materials cost virtually nothing per unit. You can usually get the disc copy of a game from Amazon CHEAPER, this is due to digital downloads simply being more convenient, no waiting for delivery or driving to the store, you can play it at midnight as soon as the game unlocks.

          It has nothing to do with producing a physical version and everything to do with the overheads of maintaining a high street shop that can no longer survive due to now having to compete with the more desirable format of digital downloads. The only people who would choose a physical copy are those people like the article writer who want them lined up on a set of shelves, this isn’t a large % of gamers at all honestly and certainly not enough to keep physical copies alive. Personally I’ll take digital over physical for precisely the opposite reason, I don’t want crap littering my house every time I buy a new game when it’s not necessary.

        • Jeeva says:

          On the other hand, Sweetx- their sales have multiplied pretty heavily.

          Quick Googling shows CoD2 cost ~$14.5 to make (source: link to gamasutra.com) and it had about 2.5M units sold (link to statisticbrain.com).
          CoD:MW2 apparently may have cost $50M to produce (and $150M to market: link to latimesblogs.latimes.com), but did sell 23 million units (same as before).

          Assuming the same price, and that the cost of disks (etc) is pretty miniscule, I’d say they’re coming out quite nicely.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Ah yes, whippersnapper, but let me tell you a story…

      Back in the olden days before PC games were exiled to the back of mall chain stores behind a gazillion console titles, PC games before the Web had these things you may never have seen called…. a printed manual.

      Big, thick manuals. Microprose tactical combat games excelled at this, but they weren’t the only ones. Boxed games came with manuals, and keyboard overlays, and big foldout maps for RPG’s. And the games actually worked when you first loaded them, because there was no Internet to patch them after release, and because the people who wrote the manuals needed a working and 100% complete game to write a manual for.

      Downloadable games killed all that, and introduced the idea of “no manual, go ask on the user forums” and games that didn’t have to work on release, because you could just wait for a long series of patches.

      Now get off my lawn. :)

    • Buffer117 says:

      I think you are being a little too harsh, there are definitely some fond memories of buying physical titles, but for me you are going back to the time of things like cannon fodder and colonization with their huge boxes and massive manuals! Once DVD cases arrived it was all rather generic IMO.

      I often think people mistake nostalgic for what used to happen; they aren’t the same. While I think there are legitimate reasons why he has nostalgic views, the market has spoken for itself, people want convenience, and the industry wants it too because it means lower costs and you buying far, far more.

      I genuinely can’t remember the last time I used my DVD drive on my PC and that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

    • PoulWrist says:

      You mean how everyone now rips you off through steam by charging upwards of 30% more than the game costs in a physical store? Yeah, no the digital revolution is very much a doubleedged sword. Sure, it’s easier, but also much more expensive. “Oh you just wait for a sale”, yeah, but no. Also sales make it even more blatant how absurd the starting prices are.

  6. Sweedums says:

    I was about to post a comment about how I really don’t mind the shift over to fully digital games, but then I glanced over to my right, where next to my wardrobe sits three piles of boxed PC games, all “junk” games that have had their codes tied to various accounts… a copy of day of defeat source and the orange box, long since assimilated by steam. Diablo 2 and expansion, now a part of Battle.net, and various others whose use now extends to being a colourful and inefficient coaster. There’s about 45 in all, and I have literally no use for them… why are they still there? they’ve been there for about 2 months now, and I still haven’t thrown them out. Hmmm.

  7. FlopsyTheBloodGod says:

    I pity those too young to have experienced the joy that was reading a new game’s manual on the bus home. Simple pleasures of a forgotten time. And yeah, that smell. The smell of hoarded pocket money spent for its rightful purpose.

    • StevieW says:

      This! Exactly this… sums it up perfectly.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      I got to read the Discworld manual many times while installing the 15 discs or something like that. (I don’t have the discs anymore – Psygnosis replaced them with the improved CD version for free when I e-mailed them to ask about some bugs). I’d rather have a Steam download than hours of disk swapping, but I agree that I do miss the manuals. But good manuals were mostly gone long before the boxes. Most of my DVD-style cases only contain the game discs. (And some of those discs have StarForce on them too.) At that point, there’s not much reason for buying it on disk left.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      As an older gamer and long-time travel sickness sufferer who must concentrate dutifully on the distant surroundings of any vehicle conveying him, I glare venomously sideways at you.

    • Orillion says:

      The last time I had the pleasure was Neverwinter Nights (Platinum, I think). Manual was almost an inch thick, contained pretty much the entire SRD.

      Oh, and the CD keys totalled something like 76 barely-distinguishable letters and numbers. And letter-numbers.

      • Premium User Badge

        tigerfort says:

        The indistinguishable letter-numbers are called “lumbars”, because that’s the body region they’re a pain in.

        • Orillion says:

          If I could give you fake Internet points for this comment in any way, I would.

    • OscarWilde1854 says:

      I find it’s the money I am most nostalgic about.. In general life as well. Credit and Debit cards are so impersonal (albeit, also much more hygienic…)! I miss hording some money together as a kid and seeing how much I had saved and then taking it into a store to pick some obscure game. That exchange of physical money for a physical product seemed like such an experience in itself!

      /*Yes I’m aware you can still purchase things with real money….. Just saying it isn’t as common..*/

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      I too had this satisfaction, it was a joy for as much as it lasted. I started going digital as more as game boxes started turning into an uninspired disappointment, other than having less shops around in general.

      With that said, i’m happier now. Sure, maybe i had bigger spikes of joy in my youth, but now i think i found a happy medium and digital is all i need moving forward.

    • sonofsanta says:

      I still remember reading the Diablo 2 manual on the bus home from Lincoln, the hour long bus journey needed to actually get to a gaming store. Bloody Lincolnshire.

      On a related note, as a result of living in the arse end of nowhere and having to mail order most games, my abiding memory of game manuals is receiving New Game in the post in the morning and taking the manual into school to pore over all day. Never have school days seemed so long.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      This is correct

    • Perjoss says:

      Is it wrong that I miss having to enter word 7 of paragraph 3 on page 57 of the manual to prove that I own my copy of the game?

      :)

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      Ah, yeah, I still remember travelling to the slightly bigger city I went to school in by train, then on the way home, reading the manual of some newly bought game a few times a month.
      The one I really remember though was when the train was cancelled and I had to take the bus home, a longer trip, but it was compensated by the thick wonderful Arcanum manual I devoured.

    • Great Cthulhu says:

      True, back in the days when pc games still came in boxes big enough to put shoes in. Those really were a joy to open. Some contained not only a voluminous manual, but also maps, posters, comics, nick nacks… Like a mini-Christmas!

      Incidentally, much the same was true for the old (A)D&D boxed sets. Damn shame they don’t make those anymore either.

  8. psepho says:

    For me it was the discounted ‘3 games for £10’ rack at GAME. That was my gateway into PC gaming when I first had a computer of my own circa 2001. I think my first three were Hitman 2, Thief II and Deus Ex.

    Incidentally, I never got round to playing Hitman 2, thereby starting a tradition of overbuying discounted games that I have continued to this day.

    • sonofsanta says:

      Likewise – there was a particular thrill in finding that a game that only came out last year! had already dropped into the 3 for £15 section and desperately searching for two other non-crap games to justify the purchase.

      Doubly irrelevant now, as apart from the fact that said section probably no longer exists, I thoroughly expect any game from last year to be £3.74 in the next Steam sale. I love them sales, I do, but they really have changed my value perception of games.

    • DrollRemark says:

      I think my first three were Hitman 2, Thief II and Deus Ex

      Jesus, there’s nowhere to go but downhill after a start like that.

  9. Koshinator says:

    My computer doesn’t even have an optical drive hooked up atm…. physical media is on it’s last legs.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      Indeed. I took the drive out of my laptop and put it in an Icy Box. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to use it in the last four years.

    • P.Funk says:

      Nonsense. USB thumb drives will endure until the next interface port shows up. There is a point where even the cloud can’t substitute for a little morsel of physically preserved information. And by little I mean several times greater than the hard drive capacity of my Compaq from 1999.

      • jrodman says:

        There is a point where even my butt can’t substitute for a little morsel of physically preserved information.

        Brought to you by… immature browser plugins.

        How I love them so.

    • iainl says:

      I still buy a couple of albums a week on CD, because in-car MP3 players are universally awful and they sound nice on the big hi-fi. But ripping them into iTunes is the only thing I ever use optical drives in computers for.

  10. Frosty Grin says:

    I recently upgraded my PC, and the old DVD drive was incompatible with the new motherboard. Hadn’t been using it for years anyway. So I just didn’t buy a new one. Now even if I decide to buy a physical copy of a game, I’ll have to download the game itself from Steam. Will it be profoundly pointless – or maybe not? Because the DVD itself is hardly the most exciting part of the physical product – and the noisy installation is good only in that it’s faster than a download, not counting the trip to the store. The game itself isn’t physical anyway, so maybe there’s a market for boxes with Steam keys and physical extras, such as art books. A boxed game – minus the game. How modern – or postmodern.

  11. captain nemo says:

    If I remember correctly (it was a long time ago), games like X-com used to also have novellas in the box too; short stories set in the game universe. The tech-tree poster from Civilisation also graced my wall at one point.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Ah yes, Frontier: Elite II had the manual, a gazetteer of systems, a folded starmap, and a novella, as I recall. Baldur’s Gate II had a manual so thick and detailed that you could probably use it to run a tabletop AD&D game.

      • Drake Sigar says:

        Think I got the strategy guide in my BG box, but it wasn’t very helpful. Many guides back then (Wing Commander springs to mind) had this habit of presenting the tips in a story written in the first-person from the perspective of the protagonist, or rather the writer’s version of the protagonist. Diana Nightflame in this case. There were sidequests bundled in the back but they didn’t seem to be in any particular order or anything. Fun to read though.

        • Cinek says:

          Wing Commander IV box? Now that was something. They included entire flippin book inside! And the manual was almost like reading a pilots guide through combat, formations, and fighter operations.
          And all these CDs….
          Outstanding game.

    • Arren says:

      Novella in the box? Brain says: The Dark Wheel

  12. Drake Sigar says:

    The way I figure it, the cloth maps and neat extras were removed (to be repackaged in a hundred quid edition), manuals faded from existence years ago, and the CD is tied to an online account and doesn’t work independently out of the box.

    Seems like the removal of the box itself is just a formality at this point.

    • jezcentral says:

      Even if I buy a retail copy, when I get home, I still end up just entering the Steam code (they all have them now) and downloading it.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        I find it incredibly frustrating when trying to install a game from the disk and being forced to download the whole thing. Not great at all back when I had d/l limits and such. Less of a pain now because it is FINALLY cheaper to buy pc games online.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Exactly the same. Amazon regularly sells boxed copies for a few quid cheaper than the digital equivalent on Steam/GMG/Wherever. Still no need to use any of it other than the tiny piece of card with the code on. Really wasteful and silly really.

    • Cantisque says:

      I bought the Gods & Kings Civilization V expansion in physical form from Amazon because it was a good deal cheaper than buying it on Steam.

      Waited 5 days for these pieces of plastic manufactured on the other side of the globe, to be delivered by a guy in a van, just so I can put the product key into Steam to start downloading, then threw the box and game into the trash…

      So yes, there doesn’t appear to be any practical use for physical games now.

  13. Crane says:

    “This branch of GAME has now closed. Your nearest specialist gaming store is GAME, Manchester Arndale”

    …but there’s a privately run games shop right down the road. It’s better, too. Has a huge stock of retro games and import stuff.

    “Yes, well, they’re not a SPECIALIST gaming store.”

    Fuck you too, GAME. Fuck you too.

  14. Melody says:

    The convenience is undeniable, as well as the money (and materials) we save. It’s something I do want, and it’s generally a huge benefit in our lives. But there’s something about owning a physical product, holding it, touching it, storing it, showing it, that pure data just doesn’t have, no matter how pretty our digital shelf. (and that, quite aside from the thought that I don’t actually own my steam library; usually I do think that I own it, even though I know I technically don’t)

    Obviously I do buy digital stuff, but when it comes to my most precious books, CDs and games I still try to find a way to get hold of a physical copy, even if it effectively means buying it twice and I may never actually “use” (play, read) it over the digital version. I spent a lot on the Dreamfall Chapters kickstarter, for instance, in order to have a physical copy.

    • jezcentral says:

      Yes, but my wife can find out about physical copies. She has no idea about the 350+ games I have in my Steam library. AND SHE NEVER WILL.

      • OscarWilde1854 says:

        “I only bought them because they were $3.00!!!! That’s $XX.xx off regular price!!! It would have been stupid not to! If you really think about it, 300 games multiplied by $XX.xx is nearly enough to buy a new car! WE SHOULD GET A NEW CAR!”

      • phlebas says:

        “This? Oh, it’s something I backed on Kickstarter a year before we got married.”

      • TheTingler says:

        AMEN BROTHER. I’m desperately trying to work out how to buy a Wii U and not let her notice, whereas SHE WILL NEVER KNOW about that copy of Sam & Max Hit The Road and that Kickstarter I upped my pledge on this week.

    • iainl says:

      Oddly, I don’t have this with games at all any more. Only the other day I was in the big HMV in Milton Keynes and spent a while picking out a couple of movies and a handful of albums to buy, but I didn’t so much as set foot in their games section. I just don’t feel the need to own my games on shiny discs, except for the way CEX will sell me old SingStar packs for the price of just one or two songs from the download store, and that’s sacrificing quite a lot of convenience to save money.

  15. natendi says:

    Great article (especially about trying to extract the game box from the plastic with a pen :P)

    Another advantage of physical copies in the installation speed. I have crappy broadband with a peak download of about 800kB/sec, but probably 350 average. Having the physical copy (at least on Steam) means that I can install a 15GB game fairly quickly with some patching downloading afterwards.

    Annoyingly this may be changing. I recently got Company of Heroes 2 from Game for £5, tried to install via Steam. It stated that the game was installing, but I am convinced that it was merely downloading it as it was incredibly slow (as per my crappy download speed). Perhaps I was wrong or something else was going on.] but I hope that the disc wasn’t empty :S

    • MrTijger says:

      Yeah, nowadays whats on the disc is rarely the finished product, you usually need a 5-10Gb day one patch to get a playable game.

      • Cinek says:

        Patches like that do happen, but it’s far from “usual”.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Yeah, what with crappy download speeds, I go for a physical copy as often as possible. When installing a game from disk into Steam, sometimes it does try to download instead of just reading the disk.Try stopping the download, deleting local content, and running the disk again. I find it works for me.

      • natendi says:

        Cheers, I did try that on other games (Shogun 2 tried to install by downloading but managed to get it from disc), seems that CoH2 wouldn’t even after trying what you said. Its only single disc so maybe it has at most 4.7gb at most so will need a lot of downloading!

    • Werthead says:

      I had the opposite issue. I bought the new THIEF as a boxed copy from Amazon because it was about a third of the price of the Steam edition (a surprisingly common occurrence). When it arrived I validated the Steam key and downloaded it instead because it my download speed (100mb connection via Virgin broadband) vastly outstrips my DVD-ROM drive’s optical speed.

  16. mechabuddha says:

    I get what you’re saying, that buying games in a physical store can be an experience. You can chat up whoever is there about the latest games, what’s good or bad about that one game, get recommendations, hear passionate stories about really moving or exciting games. Except it hasn’t been that way for years, or at least since Gamestop-style stores have pretty much taken over. Nowadays, if I ask the person behind the counter about a game I’m interested in, I get a “No, I haven’t played that one, but have you seen the special we have on selling back X games when pre-ordering?” It’s a soulless experience, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out buying digital.

    • P.Funk says:

      Thats like saying you don’t miss the small pokey vinyl shop you used to buy from because today its just an HMV/Virgin megastore.

      I miss the old, not the new. The new is crap. I also happen to think that iTunes is horrid. Steam is so much better than iTunes in my opinion.

      • TimePointFive says:

        I’ve said it a lot, but if Steam offered it, I might start purchasing music again.

      • mechabuddha says:

        That’s kind of my point. I don’t mind buying digital now because physical stores are terrible. But if we could go back to the old way, I would totally go for that. It’s why I still buy my comic books from a store, even though they’re more expensive — they still have that old feel.

    • Grygus says:

      I only bought Master of Magic back in the day because a store clerk saw me looking at Civilization II and said that I should try them both. He was so right that I went back to thank him. He wasn’t working, and I forgot about it. Still! The thought was there.

      I only bought The Walking Dead because it came in a bundle. Just as pleasant a surprise, but the story isn’t quite as good.

  17. Serenegoose says:

    I’d be 100% behind this article if boxed games still gave you a cool manual. Now they barely have more than the default keybindings and an install guide. Still, it was well lovely. I remember coming back from ye games shop with an armful of games from the discount section, looking at the manuals on the bus or the back of the car (depending on how affluent my family was that year). Excellent nostalgia.

  18. fish99 says:

    I miss boxes, and occasionally if it’s a complicated simulator or something, I miss manuals, but what I don’t miss is physical retailers. There’s so much more competition now we’ve gone fully digital than there ever was back when your choice was just EB and the one independent retailer in town, and the consequence is that even with inflation, PC games are cheaper than ever. Also I can do without the stress of high street shopping. Men just don’t belong in shops.

    As for boxes, there’s some that were just too good to throw away. System Shock 2 – I paid £65 to import it from the US to play it 6 weeks early (it was totally worth it btw), and I still have that box. I also kept the boxes for Thief TDP and Thief 2. They still look like new.

  19. qrter says:

    When I started reading this, I thought to myself “I bet this’ll be like one of those vinyl bores going on and on about rituals”.

    Yep.

    • jezcentral says:

      You young whipper-snapper. No appreciation for the finer things in life, that’s your problem.

      Of course, this were all autoexec.bats and config.syses in my day. As far as the eye could see.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        Yeah and I had to keep a boot disk for every game like System Shock or Daggerfall or Tie Fighter and it took forever to boot from disk and to figure out random values of XMS and EMS. Also you had to format any boot disk for whatever reason which took DOS five minutes for 1,44 MB. Glad that’s over.
        I never saw a real gamestore complete with rarities and bearded shopkeepers anyway. Maybe in the big cities. We only had those small stores with very recent games for a number of years now.
        Good bit of writing here, Nvidia really sounds like some mad goddess’ name.

    • BooleanBob says:

      You don’t understand, man. Anyone’s first love affair with consumerism is a tender, beautiful thing, more than worthy of two thousand-odd words of masturbatory guff.

  20. sharkh20 says:

    Out with the old. In with the new.

    • P.Funk says:

      Bleats the modern consumer drone.

      • OscarWilde1854 says:

        It’s funny how people stop thinking this is the case.. you call him a consumer drone but you’re on a computer? 20 years ago it was out with the old pen and paper/ typewriter and in with the computer. Everything was “new” at one point and you’ve surely adapted to quite a number of “new things”.

        Otherwise, why are you doing anything more than banging rocks together in your leafy shelter trying to make fire? Oh wait.. fire was new at one point as well… just stick with the rocks.

        • Grygus says:

          Pffft your magma has cooled into rocks? Kids today.

        • P.Funk says:

          Thats an oversimplification. I’ve been using computers forever it seems. I also like typewriters and pen and paper. I own many books and frankly don’t see kindles replacing the simple pleasure of leafing through a book or having a magnificent library on your wall.

          I embrace the new, but without rejecting the old. There is an undeniable quality to the physical object. Its very difficult to match that with digital extras. Even today our super expensive special editions to digital games come with physical items. Hard to have something special to mark the occasion of a classic game release if you can’t actually put it on a shelf. The interesting thing about old games is that you don’t need more than the standard edition to have a great heirloom.

          I also want to point out that the obsessive acquisition of “the new” is a mentality that leads to pointless minor revisions on things like phones that actually have negative consequences for the environment. Technological waste is not a good thing, yet we dispose of much of it due to needless cycles of “new” that is actually hardly new.

          So really I’d prefer it as “In with the new, next to whats good from the old”, but thats not as joyous a phrase to chant. A study of how attitudes within our culture as they’ve been affected by consumerism is very interesting.

          The whole Luddite accusation is so boring. You can do better.

          • sharkh20 says:

            You essentially did the same exact thing with your original reply. I said a pretty common saying, you immediately say it must mean that I am a “modern consumer drone.” First off, my comment had nothing to do with consumer trends and making purchases based entirely on what is “hot.” It had everything to do with progress.

            Personally, I find it incredibly more efficient to obtain a game digitally than it ever was when I had to go to the store. Sure, there is no physical disk that I can display on my wall for my grandkids some day (which I could still do with my older games anyway,) but I don’t have to worry about a bunch of stupid tasks to get to the game I want to play. I preload before it comes out. It comes out. I double click on the game. I play the game.

            Also, you act as if computers haven’t changed at all over the years. Computer hardware changes at a rapid pace just like most things. Pen and paper used to be quills,ink, and parchment used to be engraving on tablets used to be blood paintings on cave walls. We are always pushing on to find the most efficient method for our tasks. The best method typically becomes the norm. Sure the old way doesn’t literally go away, but it is no longer the most efficient way of performing the task and is therefor figuratively outed.

            There is also the issue of cost of entry versus need, but that is a different subject.

          • P.Funk says:

            Well you make a quip without any explanation of your deeper meaning and I respond equally. Basic proof that conversations are more fun than trading one liners. The rush to recrimination is an internet staple but if we can keep our heads it can lead us someone interesting nonetheless.

            Though there is a difference between the progress of tech such as from inkwell to ball point and going from phone to phone on an annual basis. There are also wider trends within our industrial consumer culture that seek deliberately to promote a disposable mindset focused purely on the latest of the latest. Planned obsolescence is a very real strategy to promote a culture of constant purchasing. Everything from soldered in batteries you need to RMA to replace on a digital device to lightbulbs, there is a definite consciousness to how that works. The good old “they don’t build them like they used to” is not a fantasy. Just ask someone who remembers jeans from the 60s or earlier. Today’s Levi’s ain’t your (grand)daddy’s Levi’s. The denim these days is so poor by comparison that it will wear out rather quickly usually unless you’re dropping serious cash most of the time. Ironic given denim originally served as a robust material for making clothing for labour.

            Also, even if the new is fabulous, you often lose something in the process. I think the all digital future will require a bit of a bounce back because a world of nothing but impersonal touchscreens will necessitate a fetish for the good old satisfying feel of electro-mechanical and the like.

          • sharkh20 says:

            I think we are probably on the same page with a lot of things. I agree the new isn’t always better. In the case of how games are sold, however, I believe the new way is better. Not true with everything as you said. Touch screens, for instance, are nowhere near as good as mechanical buttons when it comes to input for gaming, and until the new thing is more functional for the task, buttons will be the best method (this includes keys and mouse clicks obviously.)

            I don’t disagree with you on the industrial consumer culture. With the information age, industry gained the ability to cause mass spread manipulation into what the “best” thing is. In the end, it is up to the individual to sort through the crap and make the decision on what he/she thinks is best.

            I didn’t think my comment would lead to such an in depth discussion to be honest. Sorry if I wasted your time.

          • P.Funk says:

            Being thrust into a multi response, multi paragraph back and forth and finding agreement in the end is hardly a waste of time. I quite enjoyed that actually.

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Sometimes “new” is progress.
          Sometimes “new” is the previous model, with a new sticker on (see most tech and some fashion).

          So your mileage may vary.

      • sharkh20 says:

        I am glad you have never bought anything in your life and that you replied to my comment with your mind

  21. RPSRSVP says:

    I started feeling sorry because any B&M store closing is sad by default but then I remembered that Gamestop plans to work with devs to carve up content for preorder deals. I’ll let Jim Sterling go into details:
    link to escapistmagazine.com

    • TechnicalBen says:

      And they know while their model of reselling brings higher prices, I doubt such things filter down to devs or it is any better than the greater number of sales from lower priced online retailers. (Their second hand market is both hated and loved by different parties)

  22. newc0253 says:

    It’s weird this nostalgia for something that only existed for a relatively brief window of time. The first time i remember going into a PC game store was about 1995, and the last time was maybe somewhere around 2008.

    For me, it’s actually the trips to the local post office depot to pick up a game I’d ordered, with all the attendant anticipation, that i have the fondest memories of.

  23. geldonyetich says:

    I miss what video game shops used to be. Full sized PC boxes full of such wonders as the Fallout 2 manual and codewheels. Now, I dread going anywhere near a video game shop, those are the evil places that want to buy my games for 5% of the amount they will turn around and sell them for. They’re pretty much only good for hardware these days, and even then I was disappointed with their return policy (usually nonexistent) and their warranties are riddled with loopholes. What a way to run a railroad; game shops aren’t dying, they’re committing suicide.

  24. Sp4rkR4t says:

    The ‘event’ of going to the games shop was cool, as was doing literally anything with a reward at the end when we were kids. Games shops themselves can fucking burn like the vile and extortionate places that they were.

  25. uncleb says:

    The man is correct. There’s an investment in going to buy a game c. 1995 that you don’t get today. I used to have to be on the train for 45 minutes each way to get to the city centre to buy a game. You’d travel to spend £20 on a game, plus 30% on public transport fares, to know that you’d have a good 90 minute wait after the purchase to even put it in the CD tray (walk back to station, wait for train, be on train, walk home, start PC, download AV update over dialup, insert CD etc). Things like cloth maps were artefacts of an unknown age you would be visiting shortly. There might even be other things one would do while in the vicinity of the shop, such as go browse those racks of shiny metal music thingies, which were all the rage at the time.

    In these days of 150Mbps consumer broadband when a game can be downloaded and installed in 20 minutes, there’s no investment of time in the same way. There was a time when all this was a risk not just of the hard earned coin but also of one’s precious spare time. We just don’t have that same level of emotional involvement these days. The opportunity cost of acquiring a game has gone through the floor. There isn’t even the same gamble of not knowing whether or not a game is suitable for sale because the review isn’t in PC Gamer yet! Does anyone else remember the infamous Elite 2 back cover where the main point of the advert was that the bugs had been squashed?

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      “In these days of 150Mbps consumer broadband when a game can be downloaded and installed in 20 minutes…”

      Hah, rest assured that i still can enjoy the feeling of anticipation to the fullest with whole day / overnight downloading!

      Yes, it’s that slow.

  26. Ergonomic Cat says:

    I understand the nostalgia. I really do. I backed Wasteland 2 at the level that got me the cloth map. I have a Darth Malgus statue on my dresser (without a lightsaber, sadly). My Fallout 3 lunchbox still sits underneath a pile of xbox games.

    But when I buy a new PC, I install Steam. I install Origin. I download 3-4 MMO aggregators. I click on about 47 things. Then I go away and wait for my collection to rise from the ashes.

    As opposed to trying to remember where the hell I put the Diablo case, looking inside once I *finally* find it, to reveal Starcraft and the 2nd Diablo expansion, and begin a painful scavenger hunt.

    I have 5 large boxes in my basement full of jewel cases, game boxes, etc. They have been there for 6 years.

    I’ve replaced the box in general with the collector’s editions, which have legit cool stuff in them, rather than just being the install discs and a manual. And with 3 kids, I don’t have space to line up 100 game boxes, nor would I trust them to survive long.

    My 8 year old gets a very similar experience by watching Youtube videos, choosing what he’s going to download, and then watching the download bar tick away with excitement.

    Plus, digital is always there. I have never once wanted to get a digital game, driven to Steam, and found that, despite the fact that I pre-ordered and paid in full, Steam sold all the copies they got (which was about 20 less than they expected) to people who came in first, and people who work at Steam.

  27. Cosmo Dium says:

    the rise of board game stores is a thing. classic local ‘shop’ feeling, slightly diff medium. so satisfying

  28. Werthead says:

    For me the romance went out of buying boxed games when they switched over to the CD/DVD-ROM boxes. Saved space and far more efficient, but I did miss the bigger ‘event’ feeling of getting a big box packed with discs and manuals. Over the years I had to consign many, many boxes to the bin or recycling and kept the discs/CD-ROMs. But I made sure I kept some of the classics. The ones I still have are:

    Baldur’s Gate I & II (and Tales of the Sword Coast)
    Homeworld and Cataclysm
    Hostile Waters
    Ground Control
    Planescape: Torment
    Icewind Dale
    Freespace II
    StarCraft and Brood War
    Half-Life, Opposing Forces and Blue Shift
    Frontier: Elite II (Amiga)
    Monkey Island II (Amiga)

  29. Gap Gen says:

    I’m glad this still exists: link to gamesceneuk.com – they had a pretty great discount/second-hand game selection. I used to regularly go in and buy something that looked interesting for a fiver. In some ways it’s a shame I can pick up a bundle of ten games for that much and then just dump them on my imaginary internet pile of bundle games I will never play.

  30. satan says:

    I liked watching the previews that were always running… but yeah can’t think of much else nice to say about local game stores, farewell exorbitant prices frozen in place for years.

  31. HogOfSerendipity says:

    Go outside? Take the bus? Stand in line? Madness!

    • GameCat says:

      What’s outside? Is it some sort of new output stream?

      • HogOfSerendipity says:

        Unsure. I hear it’s very advanced, but I don’t believe it. Probably more lies cobbled together by a clueless PR-department. Next they’ll claim the sun is real. A likely story!

    • Amazon_warrior says:

      I went Outside once. The graphics were ok, but the gameplay sucked.

  32. SnowWookie says:

    I can appreciate having some physical memento of a beloved game. Looking around my man cave, I have a framed TF2 Heavy poster, a Star Citizen bronze card, an aperture science mug and random other things.

    I can understand wanting music on vinyl. The primary purpose of music is listening and you get a different experience listening to vinyl than you do digitally.

    But the primary purpose of games is to play them and the only way physical media ever contributed to that was to make it significantly worse, and I have no desire whatsoever to go back to being ripped off for physical copies of the game it self.

  33. vahnn says:

    I will admit, I absolutely LOVED reading game manuals, and they are still a sorely missed part of gaming for me to this very day.

    I was the kid who went to the story, grabbed the box, threw my hard-earned cash on the counter, rushed home, ripped open the box, and… read the entire manual from front to back while my bro played the game for the first time.

    Then I’d finish reading and walk into the room and see him doing stupid shit say, “You know, you can press Up + B to activate your shield and avoid taking all that damage.” And so on. Then my turn would come to play, and I’d have a blast and smash through the game and have a blast.

    Reading those game manuals is a huge part of gaming that I’d love to see make a return, but it’s unlikely. However, the rest of the buying-the-game-at-the-store experience can please die and not quickly enough. Put the disc in, install the game, run the game, STILL NEED PATCHES, continue to download a lot of shit anyway, more installation screens, make sure the disc is in the disc drive, don’t lose/scratch the disc or you can’t play this game ever again, etc.

    Granted, there were ways around the keep-the-disc-in-the-drive problem, even back then, but it was a pain in the ass to always have to maintain and preserve that physical copy of your disc in order to play that game. Say you need to clean install your OS or game files became corrupted. You’d better have that disc or you’re screwed!

    We’re much better off these days, if you ask me.

    • Cleave says:

      Very true. I’d also need A LOT of shelf space if my Steam library was physical, although massive bundle deals would probably be less tempting if you had to carry all of the boxes home.

    • Rao Dao Zao says:

      On the flip side, if the internet or your DRM scheme of choice flakes out you’ve got nothing. Call me paranoid, but I trust me to handle a disc carefully more than I trust Them to handle the internet!

  34. Freud says:

    I’ve thrown away all my physical copies of games. I’ve thrown away all my music cd’s.

    I thought about it and it was years since I last used any of it and that wasn’t about to change, so I just decided to get rid of all of it.

  35. Misha says:

    You, Sir, are a genius. That’s the sort of writing that keeps me coming back here.

    I could go on forever about just how much I like this article, but suffice it to say that you perfectly encapsulated the nostalgia of an old fuddy duddy like me who was a gamer before gaming even existed, a fossil who loves the new ways and is a Steamaholic at the same time.

    You made those days of yore come to life through your writing. You are a wordsmith.

    Now I’ll go pore through my collection of old disks and sniff them for their ancient scent even though I’ll probably never play them again while simultaneously enjoying the convenience of having everything available to me with the click of a mouse.

    Ah, nostalgia. It’s been a long, wondrous journey so far and I hope to be traveling for many years to come.

    Thanks for the memories!

  36. Goomich says:

    “Try doing that with a downloadable PDF manual you can’t get your hands on until the game’s installed.”

    Why? Can’t you just download downloadable PDF? Are you on DOS or something?

  37. spacedyemeerkat says:

    I used to love thumbing through a meaty manual.

    Didn’t anyone here back Wasteland 2 at the level required to get the boxed version, complete with cloth map and a full colour bound manual? I did. And my goodness was it a surprise when it arrived. Just the smell of the box was enough to evoke memories of blissfully ignorant teenage years.

    But I’m a full time Womble now. And, generally speaking, we need to stop wasting resources. My Wasteland 2 box will probably ultimately end up in the bin when I die. It won’t be any use to my partner or offspring I may yet have. So, in the meantime (which I hope will be a fair old while yet), it’ll sit on a shelf silently gathering dust and rarely being looked at. Much like my CD and vinyl collection. Come to think of it, why do we put collections together anyway? For me, I think it was to impress some unseen woman. Might as well dispose of them all now, then.

    A good article which brought back some lovely memories – thank you.

  38. Quinch73 says:

    I still remember buying Valhalla for my Spectrum. It had a great picture of the Sutton Hoo viking mask on the front. It was the first time my mom told me to stop playing games on the computer. Now its my wife and kids telling me. I still remember giving Fafnir the key.

  39. Cleave says:

    I remember standing in an HMV store (after convincing my parents that our new computer wouldn’t be able to run Encarta properly without a Voodoo 2 card) holding a copy of Half Life in my left hand and Sin in my right. I chose poorly although am kind of glad I did because Sin would have seemed shit if I’d bought Half Life first :)

  40. Salazaar says:

    I love nostalgia… I loved getting the bus in to town to pop in to Virgin with my birthday money and picking up a big box copy of B17 by Microprose. I loved the return journey, reading the half a dead tree’s worth of wonderfully written manual and finally running the game off half a dozen or so 3.5″ floppy discs. I remember (I didn’t love it so much) the time I didn’t have the code wheel in my copy of Monkey Island so I took it back and exchanged it (they’d run out of MI) for The Godfather (worst decision ever).

    I remember the days when games still didn’t run quite right out of the box, but you had to wait a month or two for your favourite mag to put a patch on the cover CD because the internet was too damn slow at that point.

    These, and many more like them, are the event which shaped my childhood and helped me become the person I am today. But I’m dammed if I’m going back to them! I like digital distribution, it’s convenient, quick, cheap and competitive. I can find the games I want for a price in willing to pay. Game (like Virgin, HMV and the rest) are an archaic remnant of the last century, and while I wish them luck, I shan’t shed a tear when they inevitably slide in to irrelevance.

    This is the way of the new epoch. Where’s my Persuadertron?

  41. Boosh says:

    I’m 42, I remember riding down to a very small independent (they were only independent then) computer store, with paper round money to buy 1 or 2 cassette games for my Acorn. It was miles away, a 2 hour round trip.
    No fat manual for them, and only 50% chance of the game working, at best.
    If I had the cash I’d also buy a magazine which had printed lines of code in for a ‘free game’, and spend hours typing it in.

    This continued, into the Electronic Boutique era, where I was camped out on Diablo2 release day, or any of the other random days where I would just scour the shelves for hidden gems. I found M1 Tank Platoon 2 that way, and real beauty of a fat box and manual which kept me busy for years.

    Do I miss it? No, not at all.

  42. gibb3h says:

    I received my boxed copy of Wasteland 2 as a kickstarter reward the other day, yes, I did pay $70 to back it, but for that I got 2 copies on Steam/GoG and this old school boxed copy so I don’t feel too bad about it.

    I haven’t taken the wrapper off the box yet, and I’m not sure if I want to, it will probably just sit on my shelf with the few other big boxes I have scavenged from charity shops :(

  43. MrFlakeOne says:

    I used to work in store with physical copies of games and everyone who was coming there was just an old nerd, unaware of digital distribution, prices quickly became irrelevant to what was offered by Steam for example, not counting cdkey stores. Whole thing was hilarious. Actually only games that were selling were those for consoles.

  44. Haplo says:

    I did all of this when I was younger. I’d save up my money to buy two or three games a year, which I’d be eying for months whenever we went to the shops. I’d eventually have enough -usually around birthday or Christmas time- and I’d run into the store and I’d grab the game and on the way home I’d stare lovingly at the cover and open the case and read through the manual. I’d admire how pretty the cover looked when I put it in with all of my others in my big gaming shelf and my big gaming box. It felt good. Especially with some games- Baldur’s Gate, remember the first one? It had a big thick manual with little in-character notes from Elminster and Volo, and had setting details and was just a hell of a thing. That game came with a big ol’ map as well.

    Now most of my gaming purchases (bar consoles) are electronic ones. And in all honesty, looking back, I don’t actually miss buying hard copies all that much. It’s not just that electronic download purchases are more convenient (they are), or are cheaper (they are for me!). But at some point I came to the conclusion that it felt, to me at least, that having the big elaborate manuals and the other goodies was kind of a big indulgence, considering they were, at best generally auxiliary goods to the primary good. And for that matter, to me, it felt like kind of an indulgence to print a box and a disk for this one electronic item when it could be transmitted perfectly fine straight from the source to my computer without the need of a physical middleman.

    That, of course, hinges on a person having good access to internet services, which is far from guaranteed- I have a friend who lives in the States in a region with poor internet access who becomes properly enraged when he’s told a game he’s been looking for is digital distribution only. And that’s fair, because asking him to download, say, the titanic 30gb monolith that is Shadow of Mordor on internet as poor as his own is a big ask when it’s far quicker and more reasonable for him to buy a physical copy. My own internet is fast enough to download even games as huge as Shadow of Mordor in a few hours- so it’s not a problem for me, but it is for him, and so the brick-and-mortar retail stores serve a purpose.

    But apart from console games I can’t find or buy on various marketplaces, these stores serve no real purpose for me anymore. Nostalgia isn’t really enough for me to consider it better than digital considering my own circumstances.

    • Lagran says:

      I have a friend who lives in the States in a region with poor internet access who becomes properly enraged when he’s told a game he’s been looking for is digital distribution only.

      I’ve got a friend in the US who recently moved, from a place with decent internet to a place so out of the way her only option is excessively high-cost (almost $100/month) satellite internet. It’s also so out of the way that she’s nowhere near any kind of decent game store even if the games she was interested in did have physical versions.

      In the end, she just sighs and sets her computer up for continuous, multi-day downloads.

      • Haplo says:

        Yeah, this is exactly what he does when his hand’s forced. I feel for the poor guy, honestly.

  45. Krazen says:

    Before Steam was even a glimmer in Gabes eye, GAME had an internal team working on a digital download platform. They had great contacts with all the publishers and had all the skills & required industry clout to make it work.

    tl;dr The then management team cancelled the project because “That’s not our business, we sell boxes”. The rest as they say is history.

  46. Volcanu says:

    On the subject of game manual’s, what do people reckon were some of the greatest?

    Baldur’s Gate II’s was pretty damn fine and had a real heft to it. But I think my all time favourite has to be Age of Empires II. It was packed with illustrations and historical context for the different units, not to mention pages of tech trees. Poring over it as a young ‘un is probably a major reason as to why I ended up doing a History degree at university.

    Before that I remember a group of us huddling around the C&C manual every breaktime for a good week, even though none of us had actually played the game (it belonged to my friend’s dad).

    I’d be interested to hear what other people think were the great manuals of our era.

    • Cinek says:

      Wing Commander IV. Certainly one of the best.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        I was a big fan of the books that came with Elite II. A book of stories from the universe, and a gazetteer with details about important planets.

        Also the manual itself was pretty cool, though my main memory of it was a ST magazine reviewer complaining that his box didn’t have the manual in it.

    • Zanchito says:

      Homeworld, no doubt, it came with the equivalent of an ecyclopedia of the full history of the world back to the dark ages up to the events of the game. I think you can probably find de PDF somewhere, it’s well worth it.

    • ansionnach says:

      I liked the one that came with Aces of the Pacific. There was a bit about the game, information on all the aircraft and a reasonably detailed history of the Pacific air war. The history bit may have been the largest section in the entire manual. I did like the one that came with the first Baldur’s Gate as well and found the tables on all the classes, weapons and the rest very useful. It’s not the same having to go through it digitally, even if you do have a second screen.

  47. mOrs says:

    “like a succession of slightly drunk single blokes being begrudgingly admitted to a Basildon nightclub on a slow Wednesday night.”

    Looks like the lad likes alliterations a lot.
    What a very well written piece of work, was what I wanted to say, anyway.

    Dunno if I really agree though. I felt somewhat ripped of when I bought a box back then and discovered it only contained a disc in a paper sleeve and a reference card the size of a postcard. These days I get nothing but some bits and bytes, but it’s usually way cheaper to buy a game at launch than it was with retail games.

  48. Heliocentric says:

    Its not convieience, its priice. I got the newish Tomb Raider reboot for £2.99 on steam, I go into a game store and see it for £29.99. Game as a company are outmoded and doomed trying to skim off the early adopters and gift buying grandparents, plastic boxes with a slip of paper inside with a CD key and a url for the manual wont change that. Long before I got into digital downloads as my only frequent game purchases I used play.com, its not convenience, waiting 5 days for a box but it was cheap.

  49. Artist says:

    I dont miss buying physical copies at all!
    But I greatly miss my consumer right when buying digitally on Steam!