The rise of the digital/downloadable market is probably gaming’s most significant and important evolutionary step across the past twenty years. Downloadable games are cheaper to distribute and buy than retail titles, easier to access, and allow smaller developers to take a risk on new ideas. Rovio’s Angry Birds series stands as a good example of the accessibility and attraction of downloadable games—which makes it especially interesting that Rovio is making an Angry Birds Trilogy that will be available at retail for consoles and handhelds, including the Nintendo 3DS, later this year. At first glance, the project seems like a waste of money and time on Rovio’s part, but making physical collections of digital hits is actually a good way to preserve game history.
Despite their cost and convenience, digitally distributed games have a major flaw: they’re difficult to preserve. Many of us who grew up with video games take some amount of pride in our old cartridge and CD collections from the days of the NES, the Super Nintendo, the Sega Genesis, the PlayStation, and so on. Digital games, by contrast, don’t feel as “real” as their physical counterparts. The game is downloaded to a storage device, you scroll through a digital instruction booklet (or read instructions online), you start to play, and Bob’s your uncle. If you play through the game until the end—provided you’re not distracted by another cheap digital offering before you can finish your first meal—you don’t shelve the game with the rest of your collection. Instead, it sits on your device’s storage medium. More often than not, you wind up deleting the game to make some space for new content.
The Nintendo 3DS version of Angry Birds Trilogy costs $29.99 USD. As millions of bird watchers around the globe already know, you can buy all three of the games on the collection (Angry Birds, Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Seasons) for a fraction of the price on the App Store. But Angry Birds is one of the biggest examples of the digital market’s success, and preserving that success with a tactile collection is a good move, if not an ironic one, regardless of the higher price.
Think about it: the retail version ofAngry Birds Trilogy won’t disappear because you need space on your flash drive or SD card. It won’t become corrupt. It won’t be doomed forever to limbo if your device fails. It can sit on your shelf and say, “Here I am. I am part of gaming history. I have mass. I exist on the physical plane.”
(Disclaimer: Angry Birds Trilogy will not actually talk to you.)
Did Rovio and Activision conceive the Trilogy with the specific intention of giving its digital success story a physical presence that will last for decades? Or is it just a quick cash-grab? Impossible to say, but let’s be optimistic for a second and go with the former, even if the latter is likelier to be true.
Speaking for myself, I would like to see more digital success stories receive the same kind of preservation as Angry Birds. The digital age is gaming’s most awesome change since arcade games first came home, and it’d be a shame to see it all vanish because someone tripped on a power cord.