With the announcement that Microsoft will be closing the Xbox 360 digital store in June 2024, this officially puts the gaming industry in a situation where all three of the major console platform holders have at least flirted with the idea of closing their legacy digital storefronts. And with this development comes another case to be made for the continuation of physical games being produced. Because the fact of the matter is, when a digital storefront goes away, there is a high probability exclusive games will vanish along with the store. Now let's take a look at how each of the big three has handled closing down storefronts thus far.
Nintendo was the first of the big three to do this, not simply just flirt with the idea. And they've already done it more than once. First with the Wii back in May of 2014. Then with both the Wii U and the 3DS on March of 2023. Now with this happening two times, you would have thought Nintendo's fanbase would have raised at least a bit of a fuss about this. Don't get me wrong, there were people that were upset. But nowhere close to the amount that should have been. When you look at Nintendo's legacy systems, you can only imagine the amount of digital game exclusives they had. Now the good news is that if you've already purchased something and it's in your account, you can still download it. But having the digital store close means almost wiping games out of existence with the exception being the few lucky enough to have certain games. And what's worse, when you go to Nintendo's own site, at some point, you won't be able to re-download things you purchased. If you don't believe me or you feel I'm "hating" on Nintendo, go look at their website for yourself.
The fact that this happened twice with one company should have been enough to make people see the importance of physical games. Especially when you take into account over 1000 digital only games were wiped away. Which brings us to the second member of the big 3 to flirt with closing their store
So far, this is the one that is the most interesting. This is a situation where the people raised their voices and got the results they wanted. Back in July of 2021, Sony announced they would focus on the PS5 and PS4 and close down the PS3 and PS Vita stores. Now initially, this wasn't met with too much pushback. However, as we got closer to that closing date, the Playstation audience became more and more vocal. And it became such a hot-button issue that Sony pulled a 180 and reversed the decision. Personally, in this age where game preservation is one of the forefront issues in the industry, these digital stores shouldn't be closing. Every gaming company is making money hand over fist. Keeping their older stores open isn't some big strain on their giant profits. Say what you want about Playstation's fanbase, but they are vocal. And they don't just take anything just because Sony says so. And you know what, I respect that. You can be a fan and admit when the platform you buy into is wrong on something.
So far, we have one company in Nintendo that's done this twice. Then we have Sony, who did the right in my opinion, and reserved their decision. Now, we have the third member of the big three platform holders with their own closure announcement.
Mircosoft is the last to announce the closure of their legacy store with the Xbox 360 going away in July of next year. As of right now, there isn't too much uproar or fanfare about it. But that can very well change as the closure date gets closer. After all, when Sony first announced their closure of legacy stores, it wasn't met with uproar until the time got closer. That's when the Playstation fanbase started letting their voices be heard. I'm not an Xbox guy, but I honestly hope the Xbox fans get vocal the way Playstation fans did. The big issue for me personally is that of the 3, Microsoft was the one most vocal about game preservation. They even used it as a selling point with the backward compatibility program. So for them to do this is in my opinion hypocritical because by closing the store they know a good number of xbox exclusive digital games go with it. And the fact that they stopped the backward compatibility program magnifies the problem. Only around 600 games made it into the program. This means that close to 70% of their games aren't backward compatible. Now, to their credit, they definitely do better with backward compared to their two competitors. But they clearly aren't as willing to respect people's purchases (Phil Spencer's own words) as they advertised themselves to be. With any luck, Xbox fans will force a 180 the way Playstation fans did.
Now, for everyone cheering on the all-digital future, I hope you're starting to realize just what you're cheering on. You're cheering on the decreasing of options and the further eroding of whatever control that you, the customer has. As time goes on, this will only get worse if people don't start fighting back. One of the problems here is that so many gamers will say "It's going to happen anyway". That's not necessarily true. If you speak loud enough, keep that money in your wallet, and make a stand, things can change. Need proof? Look at the NFT situation. The industry tried to push that hard. Now NFT in gaming is almost all but near vanished. Need another example? Loot Boxes. Remember when the major publishers were trying to push that on us? Gamers were vocal as well as some governments across the planet. Now that seems to be on its last fumes too. My point here is when you start actually fighting for things to be better, good results can happen.
What holds us back is tribalism
This is the kind of thing that needs to stop. Stop worshiping companies just because you bought into their ecosystem. It's ok to admit when something is wrong. What's NOT ok is when there's clearly an issue and you turn a blind eye to it JUST because you like a brand and/or company. I'm a Sony guy. And when they first announced the legacy store closures I was very vocally angry about it. When Nintendo closed their store for the first time with the original Wii, I LITERALLY said Nintendo's fans need to get vocal about that.
I've said this many times before. Things that happen in the industry should matter to ALL gamers. Because good, bad, or otherwise, if it's profitable, others WILL copy. So if something is bad, we NEED to put these companies on notice, speak with our voices, and more importantly, with our wallets. No more buying it because "we'll my friends buy it" or " I already have the rest of the parts of the franchise". All of that and other deflections need to stop. Because with every shield you give these corporations, the easier it is for them to abuse your rights. You all need to ask yourselves, do you really think your games will be safe if physical games go away? If you need the answer, just ask people that bought EA's Tetris Effect all about that.