David Edery, former worldwide games portfolio manager for Xbox Live Arcade, has said that “digital distribution is neither as big nor as significant [to game consoles] as it’s been cracked up to be,” and it does not have such a “long tail” as backers claim.
This means that popular titles keep getting more money, while others fade away. This is called “long-tail sales”, which is implied for games that start big, but not one with little exposure from launch.
“The hits get bigger, but the pool of money remains the same,” he said while speaking about the remake of Worms on XBLA being one of the highest selling games on the service.
Admitting that the game would not have sold as well through a retailer like Amazon, Edery stated that without an “Amazon-like recommendation engine, user ratings, ease of search and more dynamic pricing functionality allowing selective discounts and bundling, the long tail on digital download services will struggle to grow”, according to Gamasutra, and the “long tail” is incompatible with many multiplayer titles.
During his keynote speech at Develop, Edery cited NPD numbers stating that 18 percent of Xbox Live Gold members download content regularly, and only 10 percent of PSN users download free or paid content.
“The number of players in an ecosystem is crucial to a real-time multiplayer game’s success,” he said. “There are too many multiplayer games and too few players populating them. Why would a user buy a real-time multiplayer game from the long tail if they won’t have anyone else to play it with?”
Edery suggested that a viral invitation scheme would help with longevity, allowing players to invite friends to play a game for free, implementing a better matchmaking system with information, or to schedule playtimes for games like Microsoft is doing with 1vs. 100.