Digital distribution the future of software? Only if you don’t mind having stuff you’ve paid for deleted

Game publisher Electronic Arts has a special new power it’s given itself over products consumers buy from it – the power to block them from playing their own software.

It’s like if you bought a car from Holden, and then said something publicly that Holden didn’t like, and so Holden came around and disabled your car and it was now worthless.

Meanwhile, EA and other dinosaur publishers think they can charge more for a digital download than a physical product, as part of their cunning strategy to delay digital distribution (from which they profit handsomely, having no physical costs and no retailers to cut in on the profits).

Which, given what they want to do with it, is possibly a blessing in disguise.

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6 responses to “Digital distribution the future of software? Only if you don’t mind having stuff you’ve paid for deleted

  1. Digital distribution of software is already here. Every major Linux distribution has used over-the-net installation since the mid-1990′s. The difference being that once it is installed, that’s it – it’s yours. The problem isn’t digital distribution – it’s proprietary software that is made to support a pay-for-play business model rather than solving the user’s actual problem.

    Open source gaming has come a long way. The latest hyper-realistic shoot-em-up may not be available on Linux, but every other kind of time-waster from chess to space invaders and more is available. Like Mario Kart? Then you’ll love Tux Racer. And it will cost you nothing in money or privacy.

  2. jordanrastrick

    @uniquerhys: Yeah. But the open source movement will never build widely adopted programs for non-nerd end users, except where a for profit company (usually in the proprietary software business on some level) has a strategic incentive to subsidise the development.

    Meanwhile, EA and other dinosaur publishers think they can charge more for a digital download than a physical product

    The psychology of this is interesting. Pure digital goods these days are in most cases superior to a physical product, for both the consumer and the producer. Yet both sides feel the other is getting more out of the deal, and so the price change should go their way.

    Because these markets are something like monopolistically competitive, prices are more likely to fall than rise in the long run; which the experience so far bears out. But they can’t go all the way to the true marginal cost of zero. What will the median novel cost, real terms, in 2100? $1? 5c? 5 seconds of your attention devoted to ads?

  3. narcoticmusing

    The issue with digital downloads that you’ve excluded Jordan is that the consumer pays extra to download it (via their bandwidth fees and the cost to store the product on their computer – which is proportionally much more than the distributors costs). In addition, with say, novel’s and games, the purchaser also has to buy custom hardware (from which software manufacturers get kick backs) – thus we’ve already paid for the digital copy a few times over by the time we buy the licence.

  4. jordanrastrick: “Yeah. But the open source movement will never build widely adopted programs for non-nerd end users, except where a for profit company (usually in the proprietary software business on some level) has a strategic incentive to subsidise the development.”

    GNOME and KDE (graphical desktop environments for GNU/Linux, including office apps) were well underway on a volunteer basis before the sponsors turned up. The corporate Unix world at the time was all for standardizing on Motif (ugh!) and CDE (double-ugh!). The reason why there are so many subsidised open source projects these days is because the commercial Unix vendors died or joined the community to survive. Co-operation leads to more productive outcomes than competition.

  5. jordanrastrick

    The issue with digital downloads that you’ve excluded Jordan is that the consumer pays extra to download it (via their bandwidth fees and the cost to store the product on their computer – which is proportionally much more than the distributors costs).

    I’ve accounted for these. They’re vanishingly small costs for all digital goods except for games and movies, and even for those they aren’t that significant; ultimately they’re subject to ongoing Moore’s laws fall in prices. Compared to the convenience of digital distribution for the consumer (and, for that matter, producer), they simply don’t matter.

    GNOME and KDE (graphical desktop environments for GNU/Linux, including office apps) were well underway on a volunteer basis before the sponsors turned up.

    Pffft, GNOME and KDE. Real unixers use xmonad for windows management :P

    But seriously, GNOME and KDE have a large market share of desktop *nixes, and rightly so, but *nixes have a tiny market share of the desktop overall (I’m assuming of course in all this you exclude Aqua / OS X.) The share is growing globally, thanks to certain governments mandating use of open source operating systems in various countries that want independence from Western developed proprietary software for strategic reasons, but that’s really just a special case of the subsidy phenomenon.

    The reason why there are so many subsidised open source projects these days

    is because its in the economic interests of for-profit technology companies. This Joel on Software post is really worth reading, and does a great job of explaining not just the examples he cites from the time he wrote the piece, but the current major success stories of open source like Android.

  6. jordanrastrick

    eh…. should have been a quotation around that second to last paragraph, it was part of what uniquerhys wrote that I was responding to. Oops.

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