The games industry is definitely seeing--and feeling--a shift in distribution, moving from physical to retail thanks to services such as Steam, Direct2Download, and more. Actual retail stores like GameStop and Wal-Mart aren't helping matters, reducing physical copies of PC games to a mere shelf or two. But despite the trend, publishers are trying to keep the dream alive, some of which option not to publish digitally despite industry direction.
Former president of Global Retail for Vivendi Universal Games Pascal Brochier recently told Joystiq that initially it purposely avoided the digital release of World of Warcraft's Burning Crusade expansion. Although Blizzard had a clear option to go digital, it decided against the virtual release. Why? Because the midnight launch brings big, big exposure.
"When you're at the store with all of the events, you actually have people who've dropped [their subscriptions] come back," he said. "The midnight events and all of the functions help people come back who've stopped playing, but also guys who've wanted to try it will be attracted to the event and become new-found players."
He also added that retail is a very important, critical part of overall sales. "There's also a significant percentage of players who just play through pre-paid cards, and that's retail, that's a retail model," he added. "So you've got to find the balance."
Brochier said that Vivendi and Blizzard released Burning Crusade to digital channels a few weeks after the physical launch, catering to both the disc-based and digital gamers.
This is just another marketing prick talking out his ass as if he understands his clients, when 99% of WoWers don't have the time nor desire to attend a midnight party (it's just a game for chrissake). You can still have these parties for the nerds that want to attend, but how about making it easier on the other 99% of your paying clientèle (no, I've never played WoW).
As for bringing back old players, you know what brought me back to the original Everquest a while back? Cheap Prices. Steam had a deal where you could buy the first 15 (of 16) expansions for $3. Yeah, you still have to pay the monthly subscription, but when you don't have to pay $50+ to get caught back up on content its a pretty good deal. Maybe WoW should offer discounted expansion packs to previous players. You know, since you still charge them $15/month, do you really need that one-time infusion of $50 (plus the cost of packaging, distribution, etc...)?
TL;DR i love steam.
While I can understand liking the old way that things were done and having a fondness for it, it baffles me that they would basically ignore the trend with everything moving towards digital distribution. Hell, the only way I buy PC games now is off of Steam unless it is something that I must have and it is not available there. Steam is my preferred method for purchasing nowadays. No CD keys, no box that I have to keep around, no worrying about losing the disk, etc. Why wouldn't they release it in retail box if they choose to but also not ignore the digital distribution? Makes no sense to not embrace both mediums.